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NOTE: We will take a moment first to look at the different views of the Lord’s Supper, and then we will discuss below whether Transubstantiation is fact or fiction, biblical or unbiblical. If uninterested in the history of; then, simply scroll beyond to the heading Transubstantiation—Fact or Fiction?
Different Views of the Lord’s Supper. The NT teaches that Christians must partake of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–32; cf. Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:14–23). In a remarkable discourse Jesus said that his disciples had to feed on him if they were to have eternal life (John 6:53–57). The setting of that discourse was the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus used the occasion to tell the multitude that it should not be as concerned about perishable food as about the food that lasts forever, which he gives them. That food is himself, his body and his blood. Those who believe in him must eat his flesh and drink is blood—not literally, but symbolically and sacramentally—in the rite he gave the church. Through faith in him and partaking of him they would live forever, for union with him means salvation.
The setting for the institution of the Lord’s Supper was the passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exod. 13:1–10; Matt. 26:17; John 13:1). In calling the bread and wine his body and blood, and saying, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus was naming himself the true Lamb of the Passover whose death would deliver God’s people from the bondage of sin. Thus, Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7; cf. John 1:29).
Transubstantiation. The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper first occasioned discord in the church in the ninth century when Radbertus, influenced by the hankering for the mysterious and supernatural that characterized his time, taught that a miracle takes place at the words of institution in the supper: the elements are changed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Paschasius Radbertus (785–860) was opposed by Ratramnus, who held the Augustinian position that Christ’s presence in the supper is spiritual. The teaching and practice of the church moved in Radbertus’s direction—a doctrine of transubstantiation; namely, that in the supper the substance in the elements of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ while the accidents—i.e., the appearance, taste, touch, and smell—remain the same. In the eleventh century Berengar objected to the current idea that pieces of Christ’s flesh are eaten during Communion and that some of his blood is drunk. With sensitivity he held that the whole Christ (totus Christus) is given the believer spiritually as he receives bread and wine. The elements remain unchanged but are invested with new meaning; they represent the body and blood of the Savior. This view was out of step with the times, however, and transubstantiation was declared the faith of the church in 1059, although the term itself was not used officially until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
The medieval church continued and refined the teaching of transubstantiation, adding such subtleties as (1) concomitance, i.e., that both the body and blood of Christ are in each element; hence, when the cup is withheld from the laity, the whole Christ, body and blood, is received in the bread alone; (2) consecration, i.e., the teaching that the high moment in the Eucharist is not communion with Christ but the change of the elements by their consecration into the very body and blood of Christ, an act performed by the priest alone; (3) that, inasmuch as there is the real presence of Christ in the supper—body, blood, soul, and divinity—a sacrifice is offered to God; (4) that the sacrifice offered is propitiatory; (5) that the consecrated elements, or host, may be reserved for later use; (6) that the elements thus reserved should be venerated as the living Christ. The Council of Trent (1545–63) confirmed these teachings in its thirteenth and twenty-second sessions, adding that the veneration given the consecrated elements is adoration (latria), the same worship that is given God.
Luther and Consubstantiation. The Reformers agreed in their condemnation of the doctrine of transubstantiation. They held it to be a serious error that is contrary to Scripture; repugnant to reason; contrary to the testimony of our senses of sight, smell, taste, and touch; destructive of the true meaning of a sacrament; and conducive to gross superstition and idolatry. Luther’s first salvo against what he considered to be a perversion of the Lord’s Supper was Babylonian Captivity of the Church. In it he charges the church with a threefold bondage in its doctrine and practice concerning the supper—withholding the cup from the people, transubstantiation, and the teaching that the supper is a sacrifice offered to God. Luther tells about his earlier instruction in the theology of the sacrament and of some of his doubts: “When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this, namely the Thomistic—that is, the Aristotelian church—I grew bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, I at last found rest for my conscience in the above view, namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ’s real flesh and real blood are present in no other way and to no less a degree than the others assert them to be under their accidents. I reached this conclusion because I saw that the opinions of the Thomists, whether approved by pope or by council, remain only opinions, and would not become articles of faith even if an angel from heaven were to decree otherwise (Gal. 1:18). For what is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed. But this opinion of Thomas hangs so completely in the air without support of Scripture or reason that it seems to me he knows neither his philosophy nor his logic. For Aristotle speaks of subject and accidents so very differently from St. Thomas that it seems to me this great man is to be pitied not only for attempting to draw his opinions in matters of faith from Aristotle, but also for attempting to base them upon a man whom he did not understand, thus building an unfortunate superstructure upon an unfortunate foundation” (Works 36:29).
Luther was feeling his way into a new understanding of the sacrament at this time, but he believed it legitimate to hold that there are real bread and real wine on the altar. He rejected the Thomistic position of a change in the substance of the elements while the accidents remain, inasmuch as Aristotle, from whom the terms “substance” and “accidents” were borrowed, allowed no such separation. The “third captivity,” the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass, Luther declared to be “by far the most wicked of all” for in it a priest claims to offer to God the very body and blood of Christ as a repetition of the atoning sacrifice of the cross, only in an unbloody manner, whereas the true sacrament of the altar is a “promise of the forgiveness of sins made to us by God, and such a promise as has been confirmed by the death of the Son of God.” Since it is a promise, access to God is not gained by works or merits by which we try to please him but by faith alone. “For where there is the Word of the promising God, there must necessarily be the faith of the accepting man.”
“Who in the world is so foolish as to regard a promise received by him, or a testament given to him, as a good work, which he renders to the testator by his acceptance of it? What heir will imagine that he is doing his departed father a kindness by accepting the terms of the will and the inheritance it bequeaths to him? What godless audacity is it, therefore, when we who are to receive the testament of God come as those who would perform a good work for him! This ignorance of the testament, this captivity of so great a sacrament—are they not too sad for tears? When we ought to be grateful for benefits received, we come arrogantly to give that which we ought to take. With unheard-of perversity we mock the mercy of the giver by giving as a work the thing we receive as a gift, so that the testator, instead of being a dispenser of his own goods, becomes the recipient of ours. Woe to such sacrilege!” (Works 36:47–48).
In his determination to break the bondage of superstition in which the church was held, Luther wrote four more tracts against the medieval perversion of the Lord’s Supper. However, he also fought doctrinal developments on the other side. Some who with him rejected Roman Catholic error were denying any real presence of Christ in the supper; against them, beginning in 1524, Luther directed an attack. In these five writings he showed that, while he rejected transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass, he still believed that Christ is bodily present in the Lord’s Supper and that his body is received by all who partake of the elements. “On this we take our stand, and we also believe and teach that in the supper we eat and take to ourselves Christ’s body truly and physically.” While he acknowledged the mystery, he was certain of the fact of Christ’s real corporeal presence inasmuch as he had said when he instituted the Supper, “This is my body.” If Scripture cannot be taken literally here, it cannot be believed anywhere, Luther held, and we are on the way to “the virtual denial of Christ, God, and everything” (Works 37:29, 53).
Zwingli. Luther’s main opponent among the evangelicals was Ulrich Zwingli, whose reforming activity in Switzerland was as old as Luther’s in Germany. While equally opposed to Rome, Zwingli had been deeply influenced by humanism with its aversion to the medieval mentality and its adulation of reason. Luther felt an attachment to the whole tradition of the church, was conservative by nature, and had a deep mystical strain and suspicion of the free use of reason. “As the one was by disposition and discipline a schoolman who loved the Saints and the Sacraments of the Church, the other was a humanist who appreciated the thinkers of antiquity and the reason in whose name they spoke. Luther never escaped from the feelings of the monk and associations of the cloister; but Zwingli studied his New Testament with a fine sense of the sanity of its thought, the combined purity and practicability of its ideals, and the majesty of its spirit; and his ambition was to realize a religion after its model, free from the traditions and superstitions of men. It was this that made him so tolerant of Luther, and Luther so intolerant of him. The differences of character were insuperable” (H. M. Fairbairn, Cambridge Modern History 2:345–46).
The chief differences between Luther and Zwingli theologically were Luther’s inability to think of Christ’s presence in the supper in any other than a physical way and a heavy dualism that runs through much of Zwingli’s thought. The latter is seen in Zwingli’s doctrine of the Word of God as both inward and outward, the church as both visible and invisible, and his conception of the means of grace as having both an external form and an inward grace given by the Holy Spirit. No physical element can affect the soul, but only God in his sovereign grace. Thus, there must be no identification of the sign with that which it signifies, but through the use of the sign one rises above the world of sense to the spiritual reality signified. By contrast, Luther held that God comes to us precisely in physical realities discerned by sense.
Zwingli interpreted the words of Jesus, “This is my body,” in harmony with John 6, where Jesus spoke of eating and drinking his body and blood, especially v. 63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” Therefore, he reasoned, not only is transubstantiation wrong but so is Luther’s notion of consubstantiation, that somehow Christ is corporeally in, under, and with the elements. The doctrine of physical eating is absurd and repugnant to common sense. Moreover, God does not ask us to believe that which is contrary to sense experience. The word “is” in the words of institution means “signifies,” or “represents,” and must be interpreted figuratively, as is done in other “I am” passages in the Bible. Christ’s ascension means that he took his body from earth to heaven.
Zwingli’s shortcoming was his lack of appreciation for the real presence of Christ in the supper in his Holy Spirit and a real feeding of the faithful on him. What he needed for an adequate doctrine was Luther’s belief in the reality of communion with Christ and a reception of him in the supper. This was to be found in Calvin.
Calvin. Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper appears to be a mediate position between the views of Luther and Zwingli, but it is in fact an independent position. Rejecting both Zwingli’s “memorialism” and Luther’s “monstrous notion of ubiquity” (Inst. 4.17.30), he held that there is a real reception of the body and blood of Christ in the supper, only in a spiritual manner. The sacrament is a real means of grace, a channel by which Christ communicates himself to us. With Zwingli, Calvin held that after the ascension Christ retained a real body, which is located in heaven. Nothing should be taken from Christ’s “heavenly glory—as happens when he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or bound to any earthly creatures.… Nothing inappropriate to human nature [should] be ascribed to his body, as happens when it is said either to be infinite or to be put in a number of places at once” (Inst. 4.17.19). With Luther, Calvin believed that the elements in the supper are signs that exhibit the fact that Christ is truly present, and he repudiated Zwingli’s belief that the elements are signs that represent what is absent.
Inasmuch as the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the supper was the key issue in the eucharistic debate, it is obvious that Luther and Calvin agreed more than did Calvin and Zwingli. The latter’s conception of Christ’s presence was “by the contemplation of faith” but not “in essence and reality.” For Luther and Calvin communion with a present Christ who actually feeds believers with his body and blood is what makes the sacrament. The question between them was the manner in which Christ’s body exists and is given to believers.
In his response to this question, Calvin rejected the Eutychian doctrine of the absorption of Christ’s humanity by his divinity, an idea he found in some of his Lutheran opponents, and any weakening of the idea of a local presence of the flesh of Christ in heaven. While Christ is bodily in heaven, distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit, who vivifies believers with Christ’s flesh. Thus, the supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with his body and blood. “We must hold in regard to the mode, that it is not necessary that the essence of the flesh should descend from heaven in order to our being fed upon it, the virtue of the Spirit being sufficient to break through all impediments and surmount any distance of place. Meanwhile, we deny not that this mode is incomprehensible to the human mind; because neither can flesh naturally be the life of the soul, or exert its power upon us from heaven, nor without reason is the communion which makes us flesh of the flesh of Christ, and bone of his bones, called by Paul, ‘A great mystery’ (Eph. 5:30). Therefore, in the sacred Supper, we acknowledge a miracle which surpasses both the limits of nature and the measure of our sense, while the life of Christ is common to us, and his flesh is given us for food. But we must have done with all inventions inconsistent with the explanation lately given, such as the ubiquity of the body, the secret inclosing under the symbol of bread, and the substantial presence on earth” (Tracts 2:577).
Calvin held that the essence of Christ’s body was its power. In itself it is of little value since it “had its origin from earth, and underwent death” (Inst. 4.17.24), but the Holy Spirit, who gave Christ a body, communicates its power to us so that we receive the whole Christ in Communion. The difference from Luther here is not great, for he held that the “right hand of God” to which Christ ascended meant God’s power, and that power is everywhere. The real difference between Luther and Calvin lay in the present existence of Christ’s body. Calvin held that it is in a place, heaven, while Luther said that it has the same omnipresence as Christ’s divine nature. Both agreed that there is deep mystery here that can be accepted though not understood. “If anyone should ask me how this [partaking of the whole Christ] takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.… I rather experience than understand it” (Inst. 4.17.32).
Transubstantiation—Fact or Fiction?
THERE was a time when it was not safe to ask whether transubstantiation is fact or fiction. As at such time as back in 1410. In that year, John Badby (1380–1410), one of the early Lollard martyrs, was a tailor (or perhaps a blacksmith) in the West Midlands and was condemned by the Worcester diocesan court for his denial of transubstantiation. He was burned at the stake in London’s Smithfield Square because he thought it illogical, lacking good sense, to suggest that Christ at the first Lord’s supper could offer his apostles his own body to eat! Badby bluntly maintained that when Christ sat at supper with his disciples, he had not his body in his hand to distribute and that “if every host consecrated at the altar were the Lord’s body, then there be 20,000 Gods in England.” Badby, who was no Bible scholar, was not alone in this view, as several Catholic priests were burned alive for doubting transubstantiation. In this time, to deny the teaching of transubstantiation was certain death, even more so than other teachings of the Catholic Church, ‘causing rivers of blood to flow.’
Regarding transubstantiation, The Encyclopædia Britannica (9th Ed.) states: “The Church of Rome teaches that the whole substance of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is converted by consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ, in such a manner that Christ in His entirety, including his human soul and His divine nature, is contained in the elements; and that with such a thorough transmutation that not only is the whole Christ contained in the wine as well as the bread, but with the same completeness in each particle of the bread, and in each drop of the wine.” The Roman Catholic Church teaches that, in the Eucharistic offering, bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. The affirmation of this doctrine was expressed, using the word “transubstantiate,” by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215. It was later challenged by various 14th-century reformers, John Wycliffe in particular.
The earliest known use of the term transubstantiation to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours, in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century, the term was in widespread use.
The Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 spoke of the bread and wine as “transubstantiated” into the body and blood of Christ: “His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been transubstantiated, by God’s power, into his body and blood.” It was not until later in the 13th century that Aristotelian metaphysics was accepted and a philosophical elaboration in line with that metaphysics was developed, which found classic formulation in the teaching of Thomas Aquinas” and in the theories of later Catholic theologians in the medieval period (saint Robert Grosseteste, the Augustinian Giles of Rome and the Franciscans Duns Scotus and William of Ockham) and beyond. There is little wonder as to why the transubstantiation doctrine was talked about throughout the Middle Ages and why Franciscans Duns Scotus stated: “the words of the Scriptures might be expounded more freely and easily without Transubstantiation.” But apparently, to evade danger, he continued to say, “the chief thing is to hold about the Sacrament what the Holy Roman Church holds.”
NO SCRIPTURE SUPPORT
Matthew 26:26, 28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf, and after saying a blessing, he broke it, and giving it to the disciples, he said: “Take, eat; this is my body.” … 28 for this is my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
The Greek literally reads (this τοῦτό is ἐστιν the τὸ body σῶμά of me μου), “this is my body,” which is followed by most translations. The exception is the paraphrase Bibles such as Moffatt (“it means my body”), The Christian’s Bible (“this means my blood”), and Barclay (“this means my body”). Interpretive translation philosophy is not the solution. It is better to retain the literal rendering of the text, that is, to say “is” and allow the readers to interpret it. “This is my body,” “This is my blood” is not Jesus claiming the bread to be literally his flesh and the wine to be literally his blood. Jesus used bread and wine as symbols.
The breaking of the bread, to which reference is made in all four accounts, must be considered as belonging to the very essence of the sacrament. This becomes clear in the light of that which immediately follows, namely, He then gave it to his disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body. To interpret this to mean that Jesus was actually saying that these portions of bread which he handed to the disciples were identical with his physical body, or were at that moment being changed into his body, is to ignore a. the fact that in his body Jesus was standing there in front of his disciples, for all to see. He was holding in his hand the bread, and giving them the portions as he broke them off. Body and bread were clearly distinct and remained thus. Neither changed into the other, or took on the physical properties or characteristics of the other. Besides, such an interpretation also ignores b. the fact that during his earthly ministry the Master very frequently used symbolical language (Matt. 16:6; John 2:19; 3:3; 4:14, 32; 6:51, 53–56; 11:11). It is striking that in all of the instances indicated by these references the symbolical or figurative character of our Lord’s language was disregarded by those who first heard it! In each case also, the context makes clear that those who interpreted Christ’s words literally were mistaken! Is it not high time that the implied lesson be taken to heart? Finally, there is c.: when Jesus spoke of himself as being “the vine” (John 15:1, 5), is it not clear that he meant that what a natural vine is in relation to its branches, which find their unity, life, and fruit-bearing capacity in this plant, that, in a far more exalted sense, Christ is to his people? Is it not clear, therefore, that the vine represents or symbolizes Jesus, the Genuine Vine? Thus also he calls himself—or is called—the door, the morning star, the cornerstone, the lamb, the fountain, the rock, etc. He also refers to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), “the bread that came down out of heaven” (John 6:58). So, why should he not be, and be represented and symbolized by, “the broken bread”? Accordingly, the meaning of “the broken bread” and the poured out wine is correctly indicated in a Communion Form which represents Christ as saying: “Whereas otherwise you should have suffered eternal death, I give my body in death on the tree of the cross and shed my blood for you, and nourish and refresh your hungry and thirsty souls with my crucified body and shed blood to everlasting life, as certainly as this bread is broken before your eyes and this cup is given to you, and you eat and drink with your mouth in remembrance of Me.”
It was the desire of our Lord, therefore, that by means of the supper, here instituted, the church should remember his sacrifice and love him, should reflect on that sacrifice and embrace him by faith, and should look forward in living hope to his glorious return. Surely, the proper celebration of communion is a loving remembrance. It is, however, more than that. Jesus Christ is most certainly, and through his Spirit most actively, present at this genuine feast! Cf. Matt. 18:20. His followers “take” and “eat.” They appropriate Christ by means of living faith, and are strengthened in this faith.—William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 909–910.
On this, Albert Barnes writes,
This is my body. This represents my body. This broken bread shows the manner in which my body will be broken; or this will serve to recall my dying sufferings to your remembrance. It is not meant that his body would be literally broken as the bread was, but that the bread would be a significant emblem or symbol to recall to their recollection his sufferings. It is not improbable that our Lord pointed to the broken bread, or laid his hands on it, as if he had said, “Lo, my body!” or, “Behold my body!—that which represents my broken body to you.” This could not be intended to mean that that bread was literally his body. It was not. His body was then before them living. And there is no greater absurdity than to imagine his living body there changed at once to a dead body, and then the bread to be changed into that dead body, and that all the while the living body of Jesus was before them. Yet this is the absurd and impossible doctrine of the Roman Catholics, holding that the bread and wine were literally changed into the body and blood of our Lord. The language employed by the Saviour was in accordance with a common mode of speaking among the Jews, and exactly similar to that used by Moses at the institution of the Passover (Ex. 12:11): “It”—that is, the Jamb—“is the Lord’s passover.” That is, the lamb and the feast represent the Lord’s passing over the houses of the Israelites. It serves to remind you of it. It surely cannot be meant that that lamb was the literal passing over their houses—a palpable absurdity—but that it represented it. So Paul and Luke say of the bread, “This is my body broken for you: this do IN REMEMBRANCE of me.” This expresses the whole design of the sacramental bread. It is to call to remembrance, in a vivid manner, the dying sufferings of our Lord. The sacred writers, moreover, often denote that one thing is represented by another by using the word is. See Mat. 13:37: “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man”—that is, represents the Son of man. Ge. 41:26: “The seven good kine ARE seven years”—that is, represent or signify seven years. See also Jn. 15:1, 5; Ge. 17:10. The meaning of this important passage may be thus expressed: “As I give this broken bread to you to eat, so will I deliver my body to be afflicted and slain for your sins.”—Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Matthew & Mark, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 282–283.
Had the wine actually become Jesus’ blood, why would Jesus then speak of shedding as still in the future: “which is to be shed for many.” Nor would he have referred to the contents of the cup as still being the fruit of the vine: “I tell you this, I shall not drink of this fruit of the vine again until I drink it with you, new wine, in the kingdom of my Father.”—Matt. 26:28, 29, Knox.
TRANSUBSTANTIATION IS IN OPPOSITION TO THE RANSOM
The fabrication of transubstantiation is in opposition to one of the most fundamental teachings of the Bible, the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. See Matthew 20:28 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6. Note what the apostle Paul shows in Hebrews 9:22, “Unless blood is shed, there can be no remission of sins.” (Knox) Transubstantiation is based on a “bloodless sacrifice” and, therefore, cannot remove sins as contended.
We too need to consider the apostle Paul, in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10, where he frequently asserts that Jesus Christ died only once. He males it clear that the ransom called for but one sacrifice is needed. This, transubstantiation would be rejecting Paul’s inspired words by claiming other sacrifices are needed. Furthermore, it would be sacrilege to hold that those imperfect men can produce the divine Christ anew daily and sacrifice him yet again.
In addition. Paul clearly shows that the high priest in Israel entered into the Holy of Holies with the blood of sacrificed animals to make atonement. In the same way, Jesus Christ entered heaven with the value of his sacrifice to make atonement for his disciples. Again, it is sacrilege to suggest that any human priest could enter heaven before the throne of God on behalf of others to acquire forgiveness for them, since “flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God.”—1 Cor. 15:50, Dy.
If Jesus said, “this is my body” and “my is my blood” supposedly miraculously changing the bread into his literal fleshly body and the wine into his blood, this would have been extremely noteworthy. There is little doubt that it would have been explicitly made clear in the Greek New Testament. But transubstantiation is not found anywhere in the text, nor is discussed or explained because it is a man made doctrine. It is not biblical.
ORIGIN OF TEACHING
From the earliest centuries, the Church spoke of the elements used in celebrating the Eucharist as being changed into the body and blood of Christ. Terms used to speak of the alteration included “trans-elementation” and “transformation.” The bread and wine were said to be “made,” “changed into,” the body and blood of Christ. Similarly, Augustine said: “Not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ becomes the body of Christ.”
The term “transubstantiation” was used at least by the 11th century to speak of the change and was in widespread use by the 12th century. The Fourth Council of the Lateran used it in 1215. When later theologians adopted Aristotelian metaphysics in Western Europe, they explained the change that was already part of Catholic teaching in terms of Aristotelian substance and accidents. Thus, that something could be transubstantiated, that is, changed from one substance to another without changing its appearance, is based on the Aristotelian misconception that all matter has a basic and invisible substance known as “accidents.” The early Alexandrian theologians philosophize the Lord’s supper, as they “obviously borrowed from the terminology of the Greek mysteries.” The sixteenth-century Reformation gave this as a reason for rejecting the Catholic teaching. The Council of Trent did not impose the Aristotelian theory of substance and accidents or the term “transubstantiation” in its Aristotelian meaning, but stated that the term is a fitting and proper term for the change that takes place by consecration of the bread and wine. The term, which for that Council had no essential dependence on scholastic ideas, is used in the Catholic Church to affirm the fact of Christ’s presence and the mysterious and radical change which takes place, but not to explain how the change takes place, since this occurs “in a way surpassing understanding.” The term is mentioned in both the 1992 and 1997 editions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and is given prominence in the later (2005) Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Early Christian writers referred to the Eucharistic elements as Jesus’s body and the blood. The short document known as the Teachings of the Apostles or Didache, which may be the earliest Christian document outside of the New Testament to speak of the Eucharist, says, “Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, ‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs.’”
Ignatius of Antioch, writing in about AD 106 to the Roman Christians, says: “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”
Writing to the Christians of Smyrna in the same year, he warned them to “stand aloof from such heretics” because, among other reasons, “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”
In about 150, Justin Martyr, referring to the Eucharist, wrote: “Not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
In about AD 200, Tertullian wrote: “Having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, This is my body, that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure. If, however, (as Marcion might say) He pretended the bread was His body, because He lacked the truth of bodily substance, it follows that He must have given bread for us.”
The Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 380) says: “Let the bishop give the oblation, saying, The body of Christ; and let him that receiveth say, Amen. And let the deacon take the cup; and when he gives it, say, The blood of Christ, the cup of life; and let him that drinketh say, Amen.”
Ambrose of Milan (died 397) wrote:
Perhaps you will say, “I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?” …Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed. …For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? …Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which was crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: “This Is My Body.” Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.
Other fourth-century Christian writers say that in the Eucharist there occurs a “change,” “transelementation,” “transformation,” “transposing,” “alteration” of the bread into the body of Christ.
Augustine declares that the bread consecrated in the Eucharist actually “becomes” (in Latin, fit) the Body of Christ: “The faithful know what I’m talking about; they know Christ in the breaking of bread. It isn’t every loaf of bread, you see, but the one receiving Christ’s blessing, that becomes the body of Christ.”
However, one exception is Clement of Alexandria, who uses the word “symbol” concerning the Eucharist.
Paschasius Radbertus (785–865) was a Carolingian theologian, and the abbot of Corbie, whose most well-known and influential work is an exposition on the nature of the Eucharist written around 831, entitled De Corpore et Sanguine Domini. In it, Paschasius agrees with Ambrose in affirming that the Eucharist contains the true, historical body of Jesus Christ. According to Paschasius, God is truth itself, and therefore, his words and actions must be true. Christ’s proclamation at the Last Supper that the bread and wine were his body and blood must be taken literally, since God is truth. He thus believes that the change of the substances of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ offered in the Eucharist really occurs. Only if the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ can a Christian know it is salvific.
In the 11th century, Berengar of Tours stirred up opposition when he denied that any material change in the elements was needed to explain the fact of the Real Presence. His position was never diametrically opposed to that of his critics, and he was probably never excommunicated, but the controversies that he aroused (see Stercoranism) forced people to clarify the doctrine of the Eucharist.
The earliest known use of the term transubstantiation to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours, in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century the term was in widespread use.
The Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 spoke of the bread and wine as “transubstantiated” into the body and blood of Christ: “His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been transubstantiated, by God’s power, into his body and blood.” It was not until later in the 13th century that Aristotelian metaphysics was accepted and a philosophical elaboration in line with that metaphysics was developed, which found classic formulation in the teaching of Thomas Aquinas” and in the theories of later Catholic theologians in the medieval period (saint Robert Grosseteste, the Augustinian Giles of Rome and the Franciscans Duns Scotus and William of Ockham) and beyond.
During the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of transubstantiation was heavily criticized as an Aristotelian “pseudophilosophy” imported into Christian teaching and jettisoned in favor of Martin Luther’s doctrine of sacramental union, or in favor, per Huldrych Zwingli, of the Eucharist as memorial.
In the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of transubstantiation became a matter of much controversy. Martin Luther held that “It is not the doctrine of transubstantiation which is to be believed, but simply that Christ really is present at the Eucharist.” In his On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (published on 6 October 1520) Luther wrote:
Therefore, it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “bread” to mean “the form, or accidents of bread”, and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine”. Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning. Moreover, the Church had the true faith for more than twelve hundred years, during which time the holy Fathers never once mentioned this transubstantiation – certainly, a monstrous word for a monstrous idea – until the pseudo-philosophy of Aristotle became rampant in the Church these last three hundred years. During these centuries many other things have been wrongly defined, for example, that the Divine essence neither is begotten nor begets, that the soul is the substantial form of the human body, and the like assertions, which are made without reason or sense, as the Cardinal of Cambray himself admits.
In his 1528 Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, he wrote:
Why then should we not much more say in the Supper, “This is my body”, even though bread and body are two distinct substances, and the word “this” indicates the bread? Here, too, out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a “sacramental union”, because Christ’s body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament. This is not a natural or personal union, as is the case with God and Christ. It is also perhaps a different union from that which the dove has with the Holy Spirit, and the flame with the angel, but it is also assuredly a sacramental union.
What Luther thus called a “sacramental union” is often erroneously called “consubstantiation” by non-Lutherans. In On the Babylonian Captivity, Luther upheld belief in the Real Presence of Jesus and, in his 1523 treatise The Adoration of the Sacrament, defended adoration of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
In the Six Articles of 1539, the death penalty is specifically prescribed for any who denied transubstantiation.
This was changed under Elizabeth I. In the 39 articles of 1563, the Church of England declared: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthrow the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Laws were enacted against participation in Catholic worship, which remained illegal until 1791.
For a century and half – 1672 to 1828 – transubstantiation had an important role, in a negative way, in British political and social life. Under the Test Act, the holding of any public office was made conditional upon explicitly denying Transubstantiation. Any aspirant to public office had to repeat the formula set out by the law: “I, N, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the teaching:
Q. What is the Lord’s supper? A. The Lord’s supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.—Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 96
The fabrication of transubstantiation has caused much damage. It promotes idolatry in that the priests and the people idolize the “host” as the body of Christ upon the priests’ saying, “Hoc est autem corpus meum.” [This is my body] Then the ringing of a bell. The belief is that that only an ordained priest can perform the mass’s sacrifice, as well as pronounce the consecration words. Therefore, the people are made entirely conditionally beholden to their priests for the forgiveness of their sins. The Bible does not teach transubstantiation.
Attribution: This article incorporates some text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Edward D. Andrews
Bibliography. D. Bridge and D. Phypers, Communion: The Meal That Unites?; G. W. Bromiley, ed., Zwingli and Bullinger; J. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Tracts Relating to the Reformation, H. Beveridge, trans.; P. Schaff, ed., Creeds of Christendom; K. B. Cully, Sacraments: A Language of Faith; K. McDonnell, John Calvin, the Church, and the Eucharist; J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works; E. Schillebeeckx, Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God; D. Willis, “Sacraments as Visible Words,” in Theology Today 37:444–57; G. S. Wurgul, Validation of Christian Sacraments. England in the Age of Wycliffe, Trevelyan, pp, 173, 174, 334, 335; History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, Stone, Vol. 1, pp. 30, 276, 374, 376; Clarke’s Commentary, Matthew 26:26; The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 573; Transubstantiation, F R. Montgomery Hitchcock, D.D., pp. 81, 89; The Encyclopedia Americana (1956), Vol. 27, p. 13; Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 2, pp. 99-101; The Two Babylons, Hislop, p. 161.
 Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 705–708.
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