Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trans vs. Con (-substantiation)

In response to a line from my Corpus Christi homily that Protestants believe that the Eucharist is “just a symbol” and “just bread”, “Cynthia BC” wrote the following, “We Lutherans … do NOT believe that the Eucharist is ‘just’ bread or ‘just’ wine. We believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and in the wine”. She then cited the Lutheran Catechism which “references 1 Corinthians to assert that the bread and wine are still present in the Sacrament…1 Cor. 10, 16: The bread which we break. And 1 Cor. 11, 28: Let him so eat of that bread."

We thank Cynthia and welcome her comments on this site. She gives us the opportunity to understand more clearly what the difference between Catholic and Protestant theology on the Eucharist is. As Tom indicated with his comment, the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is “the doctrine that, at the consecration, the bread and wine undergo a change ("trans-") of substance from bread and wine to Jesus' Body and Blood, so that the consecrated Host is no longer bread and the consecrated cup no longer holds wine.” This belief has been in place since the Apostles and the doctrine has been more clearly defined by the Church in the past 1000 years.

There are many different Protestant theologies on the Eucharist because, well, there are many different Protestant denominations (30,000?). Lutherans follow what Martin Luther (1483-1546) taught: consubstantiation. Again, Tom tells us that “consubstantiation is the doctrine that, at the consecration, Jesus' Body and Blood become really present along with ("con-") the bread and wine, so that the consecrated host remains bread while also being Jesus' true body.” Cynthia references 1 Cor 10:16 and 1 Cor 11:28 to argue that St. Paul believed that the Eucharist was bread and wine along with the Body and Blood of Christ.

In response to Cynthia and the Lutheran Catechism, I begin with the words spoken by Our Lord about the Eucharist. Christ said at the Last Supper, “this is my body…this is my blood” in referring to the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is bread and wine along with Christ’s Body and Blood, he would have said, “this bread contains my body…this wine contains my blood”. At this moment of instituting the Eucharist, he makes no mention of bread and wine. Also, when he teaches about the Eucharist in John 6, he very clearly defines what the Eucharist is: “my flesh for the life of the world” (v.51). When he uses the word bread, it is a descriptive term only – much like the word “Eucharist”. The substance, as he says over and over in Jn 6:53-57, is flesh and blood. In those verses which are the solemn teaching on the Eucharist, He uses the words ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ four times but doesn’t use the words ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ once.

In 1 Cor 11, St. Paul reiterates the exact words of the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper: “this is my body”. This is the tradition that he “received from the Lord” and that he “also handed on to you”. If he really believed that the Eucharist is bread and wine along with Christ’s flesh and blood, St. Paul would have handed on the tradition that Jesus said “this bread contains my body”. Jesus never said that and, so, Paul rightly hands on the tradition of “this is my body”. This defines what the Eucharist is; this is the tradition handed on by St. Paul.

We can know that this is the tradition handed on by St. Paul by reading what his successors believed about the Eucharist. Here are some quotes from the early Church Fathers (to see them in full please click on today’s title) who give strong support and evidence for the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Justin Martyr

"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

"The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ" (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).


At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are the two positions (trans vs. con) substantially that different? Both religions believe that something supernatural occurs and that Jesus becomes physically present. They seem a lot more similar than they are different.

At 7:56 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

The two positions are substantially different. It is out of respect for that difference that I do not take Communion at Mass, and that my husband does not take Communion when we attend Lutheran services.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

While it may sound like one of those meaningless distinctions pointy-headed academics get all wrapped up in, the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation implies a difference in what actually happens on the altar, which implies differences in what the priesthood is, in the meaning of Jesus' actions and words at the Last Supper, and in how Jesus is present in His Church (not to mention differences in Eucharistic devotion and liturgical practices).

Speaking of apparently meaningless distinctions, I don't think it's entirely correct to say that Jesus becomes "physically" present. His presence in the Eucharist is neither physical nor spiritual, but sacramental.

Sacramental presence unites the past (specifically, Jesus' death on the cross), the present (as we receive the sacraments), and the future (eternal life with the Trinity). It's the fact that Jesus is sacramentally present that makes the Eucharist, not a repeat of, or just a reminder of, but a re-presentation of His death. And it's His death that brings life in all the sacraments.

At 7:29 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

I contacted my uncle, a retired Lutheran minister whose perspective I highly esteem, to get his take on this issue. Below is his response:

"The issue you raise is a lot more complex (and interesting) than it probably is able to go into. The eucharist, as you may know, is traditionally a controversial item in Christianity. This was especially so in the Middle Ages and in the 16th & 17th centuries. In the 20th century a significant ecumenical consensus has emerged and is briefly summarized in the World Council of Churches publicaton, BAPTISM, EUCHARIST, AND MINISTRY. Check it out.
The issue is as much lingustic as it is theological. Key issues:
(1) The oldest NT (New Testament) text for the Insititution of the Lord's Supper by Christ is in I Corinthians. Later texts are (1) Mark, (2) Matthew and Luke. Scholars today agree these texts must be understood in terms of the Aramaic/Hebrew heritage of Jesus in which, for example, the word "is" as we have in English and other modern languags does not appear. (Thus the issue for Jesus cannot have been what does "is" mean when He says --in NT Greek translated from the Aramaic--"This is my body." Obviously He identified Himself with the bread and wine--perhaps by a gesture. John's Gospel has no account of Jesus' Institution of the Lord's Supper. Question: Should John 6 be regarded as an equivalent to the Act of Institution or not?
(2) As the early church (e.g. Clement of Alexandria) worked primarily in Greek (not Hebrew)it typically understood John 6 as speaking of the Body of Christ in "spiritual terms" i.e. NOT as refering to the eucharist.
(3) Later, such church fathers as Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, etc, however did understand John 6 to be speaking of the eucharist. Augustine saw John 6 as referring to Christ's sacrifice of Himself in the Atonement. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas focused on the philosophical problem: how can bread be/become Body? He answered his own question by using the philosphy of Aristotle (not exactly a church father) by affirming that bread and body are both really "substances." (As you may know, science and philosophy in modern times do not use the concept "substance." When we today say that something is "substantually true" we mean its more or less true. All this may seem a bit tiresome but that was a very big deal in the 13th century.) In the 16th century, Brother Martin --like the renaissance and early modern thinkers generally, abandoned Aristotle in matters of science and much else.) Martin sought to return to the NT texts & to understand them in a way (1) that they were originally understood by Christ and the disciples, and (2) that would convey that Word afresh to people today.i. Calvin largely agreed with Martin but was more hostile to much of the medieval Catholic tradition. Zwingli had been even less inclined to follow medieval Catholic models. The Council of Trent rejected the Protestant reformers' proposals and sought to return to the theology of Thomas--a counter reformation. In this case they revived the notion of substance as developed by Aristotle.
Here's how it goes: When a legally consecrated priest officiates at the eucharist, he is able, by virtue of his ordination, to change the substance of bread into the substance of Christ's body. To be sure the body appears still to be but bread. That is because the "accidents" of the bread remain--accidents are what we see, taste, feel, etc. So its just the outer appearances that remain the same. The real substance which we do not see is what the priest has been empowered to change. This neo-thomism as restated by the Council of Trent has been the mark of Catholic traditonal theology especially since the 19th century. In the latter half of the 20th century, neo-thomism has beceome very controversial. Major catholic theologians have sought to move beyond it. Pope Benedict was one of these but in later years has moved back toward traditional neothomist perspectives.
(4) Where is scholarship today on John 6? Several views are prominent among both Catholic and Protestant scholars: (a) Some say John 6 is "sapiental," i.e. wisdom teaching like other wisdom texts in the OT and NT. (b) Some say 6:35-51 are sapiental while 6:51-58 really refers to the eucharst. (c) Some say 6:35-58 all refers to the eucharist. (d) some say 6:35-50 refers to both wisdom and to eucharist but that 51-58 refers to the eucharist alone.
You will not be surprised that there is more than one perspective on these matters. Each has something to teach us.Most Lutheran theologians today would point out that in
sum: "wisdom" is in Hebrew another word for "Word." That is, Christ is really present with us when his word, his gospel, is announced, received, heard. "Eucharist" here means the holy meal in which the risen Christ is present to give himself to the faithful in the actions of eating and drinking. Christ is with us because of his promise: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. That presence is an actual event when his gospel, his word, is preached and heard---using the natural forms of common language. It is an actual event when his presence , past, present, and future, is celebrated using the natural forms of bread and wine. He does it. Small Catechism: In this sacrament "where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation."

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

The dig at Aristotle being "not exactly a church father" is misplaced. No one has cited him as a religious authority.

The term "transubstantiation" was used dogmatically at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, about a decade before St. Thomas Aquinas was born. St. Thomas's chief theological contribution -- beyond clearly explaining the doctrine and answering the objections -- dealt with the question of how the "accidents" of bread and wine (i.e., the taste, appearance, etc.) could remain when the substance did not.

It's anachronistic to speak of "neo-Thomism" -- a movement that flourished following an 1879 papal encyclical -- at the Sixteenth Century Council of Trent. And while Joseph Ratzinger (among a number of great 20th Century theologians) never did think much of neo-Thomism, I'm puzzled by the implication that he once "sought to move beyond" the dogma of transubstantiation.

Modern philosophy may not use the term "substance"; whether that's to modern philosophy's credit is open to debate. But the truth of the dogma of transubstantiation is firmly established. The job of the theologian who doesn't like to talk about substances is, not to replace the dogma, but to rephrase it in terms he does like.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you guys are in a leaque way above my head! Cynthia's uncle was kidding when he said trans vs. sub - (stantiation) was complex, interesting and controversial. Aren't all religions complex, interesting and controversial?

When I think of all the PH.D. dissertations that are probably written on some aspect of this subject, I realize how little I know. Thanks for the history course and points of view.


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