Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation

The doctrine of Transubstantiation is the belief that the elements of the Lord’s table (bread and wine) supernaturally transform into the body and blood of Christ during the Mass. This is uniquely held by Roman Catholics but some form of a “Real Presence” view is held by Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and some Anglicans. The Calvinist/Reformed tradition believes in a real spiritual presence but not one of substance. Most of the remaining Protestant traditions (myself included) don’t believe in any real presence, either spiritual or physical, but believe that the Eucharist is a memorial and a proclamation of Christ’s work on the cross (this is often called Zwinglianism). The Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563) defined Transubstantiation this way:

By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (Session XIII, chapter IV)

As well, there is an abiding curse (anathema) placed on all Christians who deny this doctrine:

If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ,[42] but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema. (Session XII, Canon I)

It is very important to note that Roman Catholics not only believe that taking the Eucharist in the right manner is essential for salvation, but that belief in the doctrine is just as essential.

Here are the five primary reasons why I reject the doctrine of Transubstantiation:

1. It takes Christ too literally

There does not seem to be any reason to take Christ literally when he institutes the Eucharist with the words, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26-28, et al). Christ often used metaphor in order to communicate a point. For example, he says “I am the door,” “I am the vine,” “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14) but people know that we don’t take such statement literally. After all, who believes that Christ is literally a door swinging on a hinge?

2. It does not take Christ literally enough

Let’s say for the sake of the argument that in this instance Christ did mean to be taken literally. What would this mean? Well, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that the night before Christ died on the cross, when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” that it actually was his body and blood that night before he died. If this were the case, and Christ really meant to be taken literally, we have Christ, before the atonement was actually made, offering the atonement to his disciples. I think this alone gives strong support to a denial of any substantial real presence.

3. It does not take Christ literally enough (2)

In each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we have the institution of the Eucharist. When the wine is presented, Christ’s wording is a bit different. Here is how it goes in Luke’s Gospel: “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luk 22:20). Here, if we were really to take Christ literally, the “cup” is the new covenant. It is not the wine, it is the cup that is holy. However, of course, even Roman Catholics would agree that the cup is symbolic of the wine. But why one and not the other? Why can’t the wine be symbolic of his death if the cup can be symbolic of the wine? As well, is the cup actually the “new covenant”? That is what he says. “This cup . . . is the new covenant.” Is the cup the actual new covenant, or only symbolic of it? See the issues?

4. The Gospel of John fails to mention the Eucharist

Another significant problem I have with the Roman Catholic interpretation of the Eucharist and its abiding anathemas is that the one Gospel which claims to be written so that people may have eternal life, John (John 20:31), does not even include the institution of the Eucharist. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Christ giving the first Lord’s table, but John decides to leave it out. Why? This issue is made more significant in that John includes more of the “Upper Room” narrative than any of the other Gospels. Nearly one-third of the entire book of John walks us through what Christ did and said that night with his disciples. Yet no breaking of the bread or giving of the wine is included. This is a pretty significant oversight if John meant to give people the message that would lead to eternal life  (John 20:31). From the Roman Catholic perspective, his message must be seen as insufficient to lead to eternal life since practice and belief in the Mass are essential for eternal life and he leaves these completely out of the Upper Room narrative.

(Some believe that John does mention the importance of belief in Transubstantiation in John 6. The whole, “Why did he let them walk away?” argument. But I think this argument is weak. I talk about that here. Nevertheless, it still does not answer why John left out the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It could be that by A.D. 90, John saw an abuse of the Lord’s table already rising. He may have sought to curb this abuse by leaving the Eucharist completely out of his Gospel. But this, I readily admit, is speculative.)

5. Problems with the Hypostatic Union and the Council of Chalcedon

This one is going to be a bit difficult to explain, but let me give it a shot. Orthodox Christianity (not Eastern Orthodox) holds to the “Hypostatic Union” of Christ. This means that we believe that Christ is fully God and fully man. This was most acutely defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Important for our conversation is that Christ had to be fully man to fully redeem us. Christ could not be a mixture of God and man, or he could only represent other mixtures of God and man. He is/was one person with two complete natures. These nature do not intermingle (they are “without confusion”). In other words, his human nature does not infect or corrupt his divine nature. And his divine nature does not infect or corrupt his human nature. This is called the communicatio idiomatum (communication of properties or attributes). The attributes of one nature cannot communicate (transfer/share) with another nature. Christ’s humanity did not become divinitized. It remained complete and perfect humanity (with all its limitations). The natures can communicate with the Person, but not with each other. Therefore, the attribute of omnipresence (present everywhere) cannot communicate to his humanity to make his humanity omnipresent. If it did, we lose our representative High Priest, since we don’t have this attribute communicated to our nature. Christ must always remain as we are in order to be the Priest and Pioneer of our faith. What does all of this mean? Christ’s body cannot be at more than one place at a time, much less at millions of places across the world every Sunday during Mass. In this sense, I believe that any real physical presence view denies the definition of Chalcedon and the principles therein.

There are many more objections that I could bring including Paul’s lack of mentioning it to the Romans (the most comprehensive presentation of the Gospel in the Bible), some issues of anatomy, issues of idolatry, and just some very practical things concerning Holy Orders, church history, and . . . ahem . . . excrement. But I think these five are significant enough to justify a denial of Transubstantiation. While I respect Roman Catholicism a great deal, I must admit how hard it is for me to believe that a doctrine that is so difficult to defend biblically is held to such a degree that abiding anathemas are pronounced on those who disagree.


312 Responses to “Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation”

  1. The Christ who can multiply bread and turn water to wine cannot make Himself freely available all around the world?

    • Gary, I am not sure about this as it has the effect of separating is flesh with his spirit. If the whole of Christ is miraculously made present in millions of places, we have, IMO, both nestorianism and Gnosticism together. Christ is but one peron with one body which was miraculously created by the Holy Spirit. To created through a fiat miracle whole Christ’s all over the place undermines the incarnation through Mary. Making bread is one thing, making a person is a bit different. Could he? Of course. But would he? Not unless we undermine many essential elements of the incarnation. Good question though. I think it shows you are thinking deeply about this.

  2. Delwyn Xavier Campbell March 8, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Lutheran perspective holds that He IS present everywhere IN ALL ASPECTS. He is not chained to a throne in heaven, because He is not ONLY fully human, He is also fully divine, and the attributes of that divinity do apply to the entirety of His being. The way you describe Him DOES make Him a demigod.

    • We all hold that his person is present everywhere (or better, theologically, everywhere is in his immediate presence–this avoiding pantheism). It is his nature we are dealing with. He cannot be our High Preist representative if his humanity has become “divinized.”

  3. You see, what I am saying is that the tunes of communication present at Chalcedon still apply post resurrection. Otherwise he can’t represent is now. His human nature is still unmolested by his divine nature. Of course sometime, I beleive, some Lutherans redefine the communicatio idiomatum post resurrection (as do some Catholics), but I think this undermines the necessity of the pioneership of Christ. He is forever our representative. Post resurrection, his divine nature could communicate with his person, not his human nature.

  4. CMP,

    The link you are speaking of is missing from your last comment. I read it already, being a regular on this site, but for those folks who missed it the first time around perhaps you could give a specific link to it. Thanks.

  5. CMP,

    Guess we must have crossed posts, which due to the timing can certainly happen. So no problem. Thanks.

  6. And then there is the obvious… it doesn’t look, smell, taste like blood.
    I imagine there is a sophisticated explanation, but it seems too much like when we patronize a child giving a magic show. ‘Wow look, Billy made a dollar out of nothing!’

  7. Delwyn Xavier Campbell March 9, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I’m not certain that your Zwinglian perspective DOES see Christ as present everywhere. His omnipresence is compromised by your view of His humanity. Once He took a body, in your view, He became limited in terms of time and space. You can SAY that you believe HE is present, but in reality, it is just a legal fiction to you. If He CANNOT be present – REALLY present – in the Bread and Wine because of His human nature, He cannot be present anywhere else for that same reason. You thus require a different person – the Holy Spirit, to be REALLY present in all the places that the Bible talks about Christ being present. Thus, Christ isn’t really with us always, as He promised, but only figuratively.

    By the way, yes, I DO believe that Jesus REALLY IS the Door, because He said so. He REALLY IS the True Vine, because He said so, and He REALLY IS the Good Shepherd, just as I REALLY AM a sheep, because He said so. Now, does that mean that HE is made of wood? No, but it DOES mean that He does, in that statement, what a door does, and He does, in that statement, what a good shepherd does, etc.

  8. Surely we cannot get to the depth of this Roman Catholic doctrine of so-called Transubstantiation in one blog, but I agree that this doctrine, and really dogma is central, in Catholic theology and in the life of Catholicism. However, perhaps it is more historical to see Transubstantiation from the classic Council of Trent, which defined it as “a singular and wondrous conversion of the total substance of bread into the body and of the total substance of wine into the blood of Christ, the external appearances only remaining unchanged.” And along with this are the most certain laborious scholastic thinking & thought with or using Aristotelian logic. Which btw, should not negate all Aristotelian thinking!

    I am myself somewhere between both Luther’s doctrine and Calvin’s here, but yes, I was raised Irish Roman Catholic, and early educated there. But I am long gone in support of any bit of “transubstantiation”! And I don’t see myself Luther supporting it, note Luther himself did not even speak of the later idea of Consubstantiation! ‘Real Presence’, ‘in, above & around’ the elements, yes. And btw, we should also bring in here Augustine’s Eucharist view. Which I would place myself closer to Luther’s, and most certainly no use of “transubstantiation”. ‘Sacraments (Augustine says) have a similitude to the things they signify, and bear their names.’ Yes, for Luther and the Lutheran, the “communication idiomatum” is an ontologically real communication, though since the biblical God is “simplex” or so-called simple/real to the Text itself, and therefore without “accidents, yet He/God has attributes, such as immensity or ubiquity, and surely eternity. Sorry to get somewhat scholastic myself, but I see some aspects of scholastic thought in the Jewish Hellenism, and certainly the Greco-Roman of a St. Paul, and thus the NT Letters.

    Anyway, this is a most important subject and topic!

  9. Btw, I would agree with CMP, that the Resurrection and the Ascended Christ..on the Throne of God and Glory, is the central place of any sacrificial centre, for there Christ is now the Mediator (seated, Heb. 1: 3), in “Sessions” for the People of God and the Church of God! And any Sacrament that looses this, simply looses the reality of Christ, now in the Glory!

  10. Here are a few thoughts on the issue:
    1. My Roman Catholic theologian friend would say that it is a major misunderstanding to understand substance in a physical or chemical sense; that instead it must be understood in a philosophical sense as “the true essence of something”. Our modern understanding of substance as meaning physical or chemical substance is, in this context, called “the accidentals” (and that answers comment #10 above, doesn’t look or smell like flesh or blood).

    2. Today’s official ecumenical contacts of the Roman Catholic Church would indicate that the Church does not consider this “anathema” pronounced by Trent to be still valid today (if it ever was).

    3. As far as I can tell, the Eastern Orthodox churches accept the hypostatic union. It is the “Oriental Orthodox” churches, also known as monophysites, who historically do not (hence their name), although that may be changing.

    4. I personally tend to think that Christ is really present in the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, in some special way; I believe that is (a) required by the strong language Paul uses in 1Cor in talking about abusive practices, and (b) supported by the pretty unanimous consensus of the early church on the subject. However I also think that we — all of us — have a tendency to want to define and pin down what is essentially a mystery, and that leads to the proliferation of theological terms claiming to describe HOW Christ is present in the Supper, and to controversies and discussions which do not glorify God or extend His Kingdom.

  11. @Wolf Paul,

    As an Anglican, I would agree that the “presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, is more than todays so-called Zwinglian position. And sadly the Reformed churches have missed the real Calvin here certainly! Note as I said, I am close to Luther here somewhat, but not so much “Lutheranism”, especially todays, that is just too close to Rome on the Eucharist! Perhaps a look at the history of the Mercersburg Theology would be helpful here, as too John Williamson Nevin’s book: The Mystical Presence, etc. surely a “Calvinistic” view and position of the Holy Eucharist!

    I was at one time very close to the EO, and with the nastiness of modern Anglicanism, I thought about moving there, but in the end the EO miss badly both the Pauline doctrine of Imputation and also Adoption. Not to mention some other things. But generally their Christology and Trinitarian doctrine are ok. Also we need to see more of the Pauline idea of mystery or the “Musterion”, which is surely more of God’s Revelation, than just “hiddenness”.

    So its Reformed Anglicanism for me, noting the Irish Articles 1615. :)

  12. Wolf (and Michael): actually, the Oriental orthodox (Coptics, Ethiopians, Armenians) do accept the hypostatic union–or did back in the days of the Chalcedonian schism. (They may have gone farther by contrast to the central orthodox since then.) The point of contention is more subtle than that; they stress the subordination of the humanity of Christ in the two natures. The central orthodox (and the Church of the East, the Nestorians–a lot of “east” titles to confuse things ;) ) worried that the OriOs were thereby denying the humanity of Christ by making it of no practical effect. (And the Nestorians worried that the Central Orthodox were doing the same thing by not sharply distinguishing the two natures enough. Whereas the Orientals worried that the Nestorians and the Centrals were distinguishing the two natures two much introducing a schism between them, which the Centrals also worried about in regard to the Nestorians, even though Nestorius himself thought he was in agreement with the Pope–or rather vice versa. Nestorius wasn’t the most diplomatic person ever to live. {wry g})

    Anyway, as someone who leans on the rejection side of agnostic for the RCC doctrine of transsubtantiation, I do acknowledge they have more positive scriptural rationales for it than merely appeal to John 6 and the Last Supper wording. Rationales strong enough that I’m only leaning on the rejection side of agnostic. {lopsided g} I was surprised at how much scriptural and Jewish religious history was behind it, when I started looking into it more closely a couple of years ago. It’s strong enough that I now expect they’re getting something right that my Southern Baptist culture has inadvertently thrown out, although I haven’t figured out yet what version of real presence adds up best. I do see serious problems with trans-sub, but it avoids some serious problems with alternatives, too.

  13. Those who accept it: I would be interested on a response, especially to 2-5.

  14. Even tho I doubt I will get the time to read them unless it comes soon. :-(

  15. We Lutherans do believe that the Lord Jesus is truly present in the bread and the wine of the Supper…and in the water of Baptism, when the Word is attached to these elements. “This IS my body. This IS my blood.”

    But what we don’t claim to know (contrary to the transubstantiationalists) is exactly ‘how’ He is present.

    For us, it is enough to trust, by faith, that He is there…for us…in what He commanded us to do.

  16. Speaking as someone who doesn’t accept it (yet), but who’s pretty sympathetic toward it:

    #2.) Christ’s atonement is the action of God to save sinners and so operates at right angles to all history (so to speak) omnipresently with God. Thus it affects the past as well as the future; and can be offered by God before the historical event of the Passion as well as after. (This has strong connections to the bread of the presence offered by God in the tabernacle/temple, too, before Christ was even born.) No one anywhere denies that Christ could truly forgive sins during His prior years of ministry, do they?–but this also involves atoning sinners to God.

    #3.) The pouring of the cup may be the covenant, but Christ doesn’t say the cup is the blood. (If it comes to that, neither the cup nor the blood is holy, nor anything else at all including the saints, except insofar as Christ sanctifies it.) Also, the scriptural indications elsewhere aren’t about the cup, but about the body/blood/bread/wine. The cup isn’t Christ, the body and blood are. The cup, somewhat like the cross, is a mediant tool to deliver the self-sacrificial love of Christ and His covenantal intentions toward and with us. Similarly, the divided sacrificial animals YHWH bodily walks between in making covenant with Abraham in Genesis aren’t what is important: they aren’t the covenant, nor the self-sacrifice of God by which we exist (and much moreso by which we have eonian life in cooperation with God).

    #4.) The lack of reporting the form in GosJohn doesn’t obviate the importance of “munching” on the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, without which we have no life. It may however indicate that the ritual per se is not important in itself.

    #5.) Jesus’ body was transformed in the bodily resurrection, to something substantially different than the flesh and blood He had (and that we have), with different properties. Everyone acknowledges this; our salvation does not depend on Him keeping moral flesh.

  17. @Jason Pratt: Yes, the long history of the Orthodox does get messy on the two-natures of Christ! But generally they are all seen as orthodox. We can also note that the so-called Hypostatic Union, i.e. the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ, was the doctrine that was somewhat brought together by Cyril of Alexandria.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and Church of the East, etc. have sometimes used the term “transubstantiation” (metousiosis); however, terms such as “divine mystery”, “trans-elementation” (μεταστοιχείωσις metastoicheiosis), “re-ordination” (μεταρρύθμισις metarrhythmisis), or simply “change” (μεταβολή) are more common among them and they consider the change from bread and wine to flesh and blood a “Mystery”. The latter in reality must be seen however only in the Pauline sense, at least to my mind! Again, we all should look closely at Augustine here, his Eucharistic doctrine is simply not really a “transubstantiation” in the classic and historical sense! I like Peter Martyr Vermigli’s statement: “We say with Augustine that the sacramental symbols are visible words.”

  18. And as to #20, we simply must have biblical exegesis, before we get to dogmatic theology! This is always simply problematic for the High Church positions, and generally I would not place “Luther” here myself!

    Also, Christ really is still “Incarnate”, though glorified as risen & ascended!

  19. #2 addendum .1: God doesn’t have to be first convinced to save us from our sins, in a progression of natural history, before He will act to do so: the Son is not atoning the Father to us, but atoning us to God (in and as all three Persons).

    (Admittedly the RCCs, in their Arminianistic soteriology, tend to undermine this notion in various ways, but Calvinists (and Universalists) should appreciate the coherency there. {g!} Also, it fits the grammar of how the NT uses the term we translate “atone”; also, a bit more debatably, how the NT uses the term we translate “propitiate”. We are the objects of the action of atonement and even of propitiation; God, whether the Person of the Father or of the Son, is the doer of the action.)

    #2 addendum .2: the Son’s self-sacrifice is an eternal action of fair-togetherness with the Father, of which the Son’s self-sacrifice to atone sinners is a special mode, as is the Son’s self-sacrifice for any not-God entities to exist at all. The whole Incarnation, not only the Passion, is an enaction of this self-sacrifice as well. Temporality doesn’t restrict the action of the Son’s self-sacrifice (on the contrary, natural time can only exist because of the Son’s eternal action of loving and gracious self-sacrifice!), it only provides a created framework for modal expressions of that self-sacrifice.

    (Admittedly, RCCs in the past have leaned too hard on the spatio-temporal restrictions of the self-sacrifice of Christ, but they seem to be easing off this in the past century or so. RCC mystical tradition of the saints has, on the other hand, often emphasized the transcendent immanence, so to speak, of the living self-sacrificial action of the Son and then connected this to the transfiguration of the Mass. I would expect Von Balthasar has a ton to say about this, for example.)

  20. Delwyn Xavier Campbell March 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I have learned, as a Lutheran seminarian, to accept that some things aren’t explained, and leave them at that. Thus, I accept the Real Presence, even if I don’t know the process of His being present. do not accept the RCC teaching, of course, else I would BE Roman Catholic, right?

  21. Fr. Robert, yes the Three Great Easterns tend not to bother with the details of what happens in the Mass; and I might agree that’s the best approach for now! {g}

    Still, a lot of the debate has come about due to practical questions, such as whether we should be concerned if someone throws the Host into the sewer gutters; or what if mice eat it; or as Michael brings up, what about excrement?

    I’m sympathetic to those concerns, too, out of practical respect for what is deemed so important.

    Fr. Robert, “Also, Christ really is still “Incarnate”, though glorified as risen & ascended!”

    True, but He isn’t incarnate in mortal flesh and blood anymore, these having been transformed, thus also having their properties transformed. That’s much of the point of St. Paul’s reply to the detractor among the Corinthians, who was reducing the resurrection to something like the modern mockery of “zombie Jesus” (not because the detractor thought that, but because he thought the doctrine passed on by Paul involved that and so must be mistaken).

    Thus also our body and blood shall be taken up and transformed, putting on and swallowed up by immortality, seeing as how flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

    Consequently, whatever status of the body of Christ now, the fact that it isn’t the same flesh and blood as ours anymore is not a soteriological problem. It would be a problem if Christ had not Incarnated with our current flesh and blood, or if Christ had simply replaced the mortal flesh and blood rather than contiguously transforming it.

    As for exegetics, the RCCs actually have quite a lot of those, and from a historical standpoint I can see how the broad High Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence came from holding to and applying various scriptural testimonies. So if they’re wrong, it isn’t because they started with doctrine in a presuppositionalistic fashion.

  22. This might be of interest for some here?

    Again, I am somewhere in-between Luther and Calvin myself on the Eucharist presence. And is there anything higher than “spirit and truth”? As our Lord said: “God is Spirit (spirit), and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4: 24)

  23. @Jason: Indeed Luther’s position is about as far as I can or could go now, both biblically and theologically on the Eucharist. Note, I was raised Irish Roman Catholic in Dublin (1950’s). And I even spent some time (few years) with a group of English Benedictines in my mid 20’s (after my “first” tour as an RMC..Royal Marine Commando, (I will be 64 later this year). And yes, I still read many things “RC”! I have read Ratzinger since the 90’s.

    Btw, have you read Augustine on the Sacraments? Note, we cannot leave out Baptism here either! – As our Lutheran friend (theoldadam) has reminded us! Just a friendly point!

  24. @Fr.Robert, no, only a smattering of Augustine on the sacraments, not much more than what I’ve read in this thread I expect.

    Of course I wouldn’t leave baptism out of the sacraments. (Or marriage for that matter. ;) ) But I’m not familiar enough with RCC writing yet to opine on how they’d connect the two in ways that address the debate on the Real Presence. (I’m a bit worried I’ve gone beyond what they’d dogmatically affirm already in my attempt to make a provisional answer for them…)

    I could take a stab at how the sacrament of baptism involves our participation in the sacrificial filial cooperation of Christ, keeping in mind that the baptism of spirit (even/and fire) is the reality which the baptism of water naturally represents (or embodies?); thus connecting to the cooperation of the Mass by that route. But I might still be going off track of the post topic by doing so.

    I’m convinced in any case that the fundamentally eternal self-sacrificial action of the Son in the intrinsic self-existence of the Trinity, which we’re called and empowered to participate in (subordinately and derivatively of course), is the root reality that the sacraments modally enact or embody (not sure of the terminology there).

    I’m not talking about the Persons being modalistic, of course.

  25. 1. Literalism. That’s an argument Michael, but it’s hardly an argument in favor of your position. It’s merely a mitigating factor against the opposing argument. You can’t deny all literalism in the bible.

    2. Can OT saints get atonement from Christ? If so, what is the issue? Can’t his atonement work backwards for them too?

    3. I don’t think this is a case of the cup being symbolic per se. If I’m handing out beers and I say “do you want a cup?”, its not exactly symbolism at work. It’s more like the shorthand of language.

    4. You seem to be confusing the issue of transubstantiation with some related doctrines about the importance of partaking, which are issues that should be taken on their own merits. Nevertheless, John being written later ignores a lot of stuff in the rest of the NT material, because I think he assumes it is already known. My goodness, if we rejected what is not in John, how many “essential” doctrines even in your own framework would go missing? In any case, this is not an argument for your position, just a mitigating factor against the opposing position.

    5. This seems an odd argument for someone arguing AGAINST tradition. You assume Chalcedon is true, and then argue from there.

    Actually, scientifically speaking, even atheists believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. This is because the atoms from people’s bodies are frequently replaced, and get distributed and mixed all around the world. Mathematically there are probably atoms of his body in the Eucharist. I realise this is not the same thing, but I think it makes the point that this supposed devastating argument is really quite nonsense.

  26. What these arguments are meant to do is show how the arguments which say that one must take the “this IS my body” literally are both inconsistent and unnecessary. I don’t need to repeat the arguments as they are sufficiently stated in the op.

    However, once one realizes the inconsistencies in interpretation and the poor exegesis involved (IMO), at the very least, one should have serious second thoughts about excommunicating people from the church for non-compliance.

    Concerning the book of John. At the very least we have to admit that John at least THOUGHT that his message alone was enough (as there were “many other things he could have said), even if some may think he was wrong. The point is increadibly strong that the did not even mention the Lord’s table that night.

    Again, at the very least, even if somehow we could justify reading a real physical presence into these passages, how in the world could we think damn people to hell for non-belief here? And how can we justify . . . Too much to say. One bite at a time. (Though I can’t really hang with these comments.

    Good discussion though. Just remember what Trent says about those who don’t hold to this. Do you really want to defend Roman Catholic dogma here?

  27. a response to your #4:

    The fathers and saints and history of the Church have attested to the Real Presence….including even the reformers. So, if you are going to argue with 1500 years of Christian thought, your argument better be more sophisticated than the book of John not being explicit. We in the 21st century are not the first intelligent, insightful, or spirit-filled people to read it. Now, I’m not particularly accusing you of it, but it sure seems many Christians today think they have some monopoly on Biblical interpretation and are unwilling to trust the intelligence and wisdom of the first Christians, who had the apostles’ words “ringing in their ears”, and who loved Jesus enough to endure martyrdom. I think we shouldn’t be so quick to think we have John all figured out. We are, after all, the culture that has warnings printed on buckets about how to not drown in them.
    So, you think you, while separating yourself from Christian tradition, can interpret the book of John? I think you have underestimated him!
    Yes, John doesn’t give the Last Supper narrative. He also doesn’t relate the infancy narratives, or the parables. His is a different kind of Gospel. (I don’t need to tell you that.) Notice he calls the miracles *signs*. They point to other realities beyond themselves. John doesn’t mention the Eucharist explicitly, because Christians already know. The other Gospels have covered it. He uses the FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND as a sign to point to the mystery and give further insight. Notice its placement. Maybe I can write a comment on that later.
    But think about the mindsets of our culture and his. We are used to explicit, straightforward directions, biographies, news reports, etc. They were used to storytelling and religious connections. In John’s day, they could pick up on things that are harder for us.
    John did NOT ignore the Eucharist.

    • Irene,

      You must understand first that sola Scriptura is a doctrine that says that Scripture is the ultimate trump card. So if Scripture is not clear or is against this (which I think it is), then it is the norm that norms which is not normed. If you have been around this blog long enough (or been to the Credo House—the only Coffee Shop in the world devoted to historic theology!) you would know how much I see Church history as an authority, it just does not have ultimate trumping power. The Pharisees had in their tradition for many many years that spitting on the ground on Sunday was a violation of the sabbath as it could lead to plowing. Christ came in an over turned many of their traditions. Therefore, we need to be careful. Just because many people have believed something does not make it so. It has to be tested by the Scriptures. If John was written that people may have eternal life and he does not include the Lord’s table, this is incredibly substantial.

      But more importantly, it is not really presence that I am arguing against. It is the real PHYSICAL presence which (and don’t miss this) must be believed in order to keep from being anathematized. This is uniquely a Roman Catholic dogma and it is this which all the arguments push back on.

      And your statement about John is telling, simply showing the difference in our traditions with respect to the Bible (although Roman Catholics have incredible confessions about the Scriptures). John’s Gospel was the second most distributed Gospel in the early church. Most people did not have even one Gospel. Even today, it is distributed alone. Many times this is all they would have. Now this is unremarkable until you put yourself in the mind of John through his own world. He could have written many other things, he says. He does not say, “but you have the other Gospels, epistles, and traditions, therefore, I did not write these things. He says, “These have been written that you may have life.” One does not even have to read between the lines to see that John though his message was sufficient. But this cannot be if Rome is right and that a right practice and belief in the Mass is essential. So I would not downplay this Gospel. It was widely distributed in the early church for a reason.

      To say that he does not tell about the Last supper because Christians already know is not just speculation, but it must be wrong. He wrote this to people “so that by believing you might have life in his name.” He did not see himself as writing to those who were already Christians in order to edify this with an appendix version to what they already knew. He wrote to people so that they may believe and have eternal life.

      At the very least, you should have no problem recognizing the strength of this argument, even if you do not agree.

      Now, I know Roman Dogma enough to know that much has changed with regard to what it means to be anathmatized. I know that invincible ignorance now protects me. But this, to me, is historic revisionism and cannot apply to the details of this conversation as I am not really too worries about Rome’s view of my eternal destiny. I know that they view me as kosher now, even when I don’t believe or practice the Mass the way they do. Phew! :). But again, that is beside the point of this theological post.

  28. The Eastern Orthodox Church’s doctrine of the change in the bread and wine is very close to the Roman Catholic Church’s, though it’s the Holy Spirit, not the priest’s words, that changes them after/during the epiklēsis. From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

    Priest (in a low voice): Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.

    Priest: And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.


    Priest: And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.


    Priest: Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.

  29. Michael,

    At what point did I (the Christian universalist, of all people) ever defend the Council of Trent’s anathema?!

    Still, they hit that anathema so hard because of the insistence of Christ regarding munching and drinking His flesh and blood. As I noted, John’s omission of the ritual scene at the Last Supper may have been an indication that the ritual isn’t necessary for eonian life, but he wouldn’t have included that (unique) scene from just after the Feeding of the 5000 unless he thought that was important to believe — which in fact Jesus also says.

    As for exegesis, the Roman Catholic Church has a good bit more of it than the couple of points you mentioned in your article. I’ve found Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre a good introduction. I still think he pushes things a bit far in a couple of places, but I respected and understood the RCC rationales a lot more after reading it.

  30. David Murrell March 9, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    I never understood why transubstaniation was necessary, if he is to be taken literally. The bread is his body, but he said he already was made of bread (I am the bread of life). Therefore, no transformation us necessary.

  31. Richard Roland March 9, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    >2. … If this were the case, and Christ really meant to be taken literally, we have Christ, before the atonement was actually made, offering the atonement to his disciples. I think this alone gives strong support to a denial of any substantial real presence.

    Michael, surely you prove far too much here. God is not subject to the strictures of time. Are you prepared to deny the efficacy of Christ’s atonement for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

  32. Richard, this would simply be theological gymnastics attempting to find harmony for something that is not only exegetically unnecessary, but impossible. Of course if this was taught elsewhere we might be able to force such conclusions, but, as I have shown, I find every reason to reject the Roman Catholic understanding of Trans and the abiding anathemas for its denial.

  33. 1. Eating is used metaphorically. Jeremiah “ate” God’s word (Jeremiah 15:16). In John it refers to the “believing” in the living Word of God (John 6:47). When the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ we “drink” of Him (1 Corinthians 12:13).

    2. “It is the LORD’S Passover” (Exodus 12:11) – It represents the LORD’S Passover.

  34. I have yet to find an exegetical commentator who comes to these conclusions, even about John 6, liberal or conservative. One must overlay their pre concluded position to make this work IMO.

    The strongest argument for real presence come not from the bible but from history. But even then, the Catholic dogma does not find a comfortable home.

    Again, it is not simply a real presence I am talking about. It is transubstantiation and the anathema that abides on any who don’t agree with Rome on this. That is where the divide is the greatest.

  35. “If this were the case, and Christ really meant to be taken literally, we have Christ, before the atonement was actually made, offering the atonement to his disciples. I think this alone gives strong support to a denial of any substantial real presence.”

    You respond.

    “Michael, surely you prove far too much here. God is not subject to the strictures of time. Are you prepared to deny the efficacy of Christ’s atonement for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

    This is not the same in any sense to me. One is substantial, the other is non-substantial. One says that the substantial atonement had taken place even before it did. The other says that God passed over “in forbearance” (Rom 3) the sins previously committed. The atonement can’t be made effectual without the event. When Christ said “This is my body” this shows he was not being literal since the substantial atonement was not yet a reality. .

  36. Michael,
    still on your number 4:
    Here’s a distinction I think you’re missing. Christian history/church fathers teach a certain doctrine, and you say the Bible teaches an opposing doctrine; you are then saying Scripture trumps tradition. But here’s my point– it’s not Scripture vs. Tradition. In reality, it’s *your* interpretation of Scripture vs. *the fathers’* interpretation of Scripture. In reality, Scripture is supreme on both sides. The only difference is which *interpretation* you subscribe to.

    So applied to the issue of the Eucharist in the Gospel of John—
    You say it’s not in there. The fathers saw it there, not because tradition trumped Scripture, but because that’s what they believed Scripture said.

    Also, it wasn’t just I am the Bread of Life, it was the feeding of the 5,000. I haven’t read up again to “tune-up” my understanding, but you’re the professional. I’m sure you can read up on it more effectively than I could articulate it here. 12 extra baskets, Jesus provides bread for our Sabbath, etc.

  37. Irene,

    Do you accept everything the Fathers said? (And, yes, this is a set up).

    Like I said, very sincere Jewish Fathers believe that one is not to spit in the dirt on the Sabbath. Christ spent much of his time correcting bad tradition. Are you saying that tradition cannot go bad.

    But more importantly, Transubstantiation an the dogma of anathema certainly is an interpretation of history and, IMO, one that has to be read into history. Real presence is historically present. Transubstantiation and excommunication for non-belief, not there. So keeping focus here, I don’t find the RC doctrine in either tradition or Scripture.

    So. . . Yes, there will be many times that tradition goes astray. The regula fide becomes corrupted and added to. What starts as a short Apostle’s creed turns into fundamentalistic catachisms filled with curses for people who miss church, take birth control, do not believe in transubstantiation, and a thousand other things. I see the Protestant burden to glory in the simplicity of grace and offer freedom and mystery to those things that are not so clear.

    Can you beleive in transubstantiation. Sure, no real harm to me. But when the Church says that all have to or they are outside the church where there is no salvation or that hard working pastors who slave for Christ are declared to pastor illegitimate churches (as the pope said) then lines are crossed. Serious lines.

  38. Irene,

    Quick question (and take this in a very non-threatening spirit as there isn’t much one can say that will Hirt me too bad): since I don’t believe in Transubstantiation in the Roman Catholic sense, am I anathema?

  39. Are you anathema?
    Honestly, I can’t give you an answer that is reliably representative of the Catholic Church.
    Other than this–that the Church cannot condemn any individual person to hell. (Or determine that they are condemned). Not judas, not Nero, not Hitler. It’s not within her authority. Morality and doctrine, yes. Final judgement of the heart, no.
    If it were up to me, I’d say you were in (; because you are trying to follow God……anyway, with a humble spirit, an inquisitive mind, and all the access to history and theology you have, I could imagine you eventually becoming Catholic. (:

  40. Actually, while I have a respect for the Catholic Church, the more Protestant I become. That is almost word for word what justo Gonzalez said to me a few weeks ago when he was at Credo. I tend to agree.

    However, all you are prevented from doing is definitively pronouncing someone to heaven or hell. You certainly can express your fallible belief. Trent says that if I deny transubstantiation, I am anathema. Is that true? Am I anathema if I sent transubstantiation?

  41. In the words of Butthead . . . “Excommunication sucks . . . Ahhh hu hu hu hu”

    Bevis: “no it doesn’t Butthead. There is fire, fire, fire, fire. Burned at the stake.”

    Butthead: “Oh yeah. Excommunication rules!”

  42. Easy, fellas. First, “imprimatur” and “nihil obstat” don’t mean that such and such material is declared to be infallibly true, or even true in the normal sense of the word. It specifically means that the writing contains nothing which contradicts the official declarations of the church. There’s a difference.

    Second, here is a blip from Catholic Answers that puts the term anathema in context. So, Michael, your answer is no, you cannot be anathematized. If you were a) Catholic and b)teaching no transubstantiation, then theoretically you could be excommunicated. But just look at Catholic politicians to see how often that is actually practiced.

    But this [damned as a heretic] is not what the term means. In Catholic documents the term refers to a kind of excommunication. By the time of the Council of Trent (which Chick faults for using it), it referred to an excommunication done with a special ceremony. Thus when Trent says things like “If anyone says . . . let him be anathema,” it means that the person can be excommunicated with the ceremony. It also did not apply to Protestants since they were not part of the Catholic Church. Only someone who is part of the Catholic Church can be excommunicated from it.

    The purpose of excommunication is not to damn a person but to bring him to repentance—the same principle Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2:5—10.

    Further, though ordinary excommunication still exists, the ceremonial form of excommunication (anathema) does not exist. The 1983 Code of Canon Law ended the penalty. Thus, while one can still be excommunicated for holding beliefs against the Catholic faith, one cannot be anathematized.

  43. Irene,

    Thanks for your answers here. I have several dear Catholic friends that I value, and who who believe in His saving grace.

    I think the worst thing we can do is to doubt that they are saved too, despite our Protestant disagreemenst with some of their beliefs. Not every Catholic, I know at least, believes in what has been outlined in this post.

  44. Irene,

    Please understand the rather awkward position you put us in. First you point us away from something that has the imprimatur and nihil obstat telling us that it does not necessarily contain a correct interpretation. Then you point us to Catholic Answers video that does not even have a imprimatur and nihil obstat. Then you further offer your interpretation which contains neither as well. All the while believing that the Catholic Church is necessary to keep interpretations straight, especially about big matters. This always comes back to the age old question Who has the authority to interpret the church? Why are there so many interpretations?

    Of course that is tongue-in-cheek and simply shows how living authorities don’t solve much as we all eventually return to our own interpretations. I have had this discussion for years with some good Catholic friends, never coming to any conclusions since we can’t call up the Pope or call a council to figure this out.

    What it means to anathematize is one of those things. No dogma, only variously accepted doctrines that are hard to interpret and do not carry infallibility.

    And it is not as if this is a minor question.

    However, what you say is right from one Catholic school of thought. The ironic thing in this school is that it is actually easier to make it to heaven by remaining a Protestant than it is by becoming Catholic! Why, because we remain invincibly ignorant outside the faith. This means that if we were Catholic and denied Transubstantiation, we are in trouble as anathemas are more likely. But if we are Protestant and denied Transubstantiation, we are good since we can’t be held guilty for something we are either ignorant of or unconvinced of.

    Finally, Trent was part of the Counter-Reformation. It would not have been convened had it not been for Protestants, so I will have to disagree with you pretty strongly here . . . the anathemas were for Protestants. Besides that, there is the school of thought that any Catholic who denies any Catholic doctrine (i.e. cafeteria Catholics) is by definition, Protestant.

    But here we go again, interpreting the Church that is very difficult to interpret. All we can really do is offer our best opinion until a ordinary or extraordinary means of dogma is produced about these specific questions.

    Until then, I will have to stick with the history of the issues, rather than what I see so many doing in following the historical revisionism of the Church. Back then, excommunication was not just a slap on the wrist. It was a ticket to hell. Just ask Frederick II and follow his crusade (pardon the pun) through this issue. Outside the church there is no salvation tied in very closely with excommunication and anathemas.

    Having said that, I am glad that, from my perspective, you hold to the revisionist side of things. As MBaker said, I like you believing that I can make it to heaven even in my wrong doctrine. I agree with her that Catholics will to. Catholics and Protestants are both saved the same way in my theology: calling on God through Jesus to have mercy on them. Perfect theology, for the most part, optional.

  45. not sure I understand all the subtlely, don’t need to-
    EVERY minute, the Lord is my portion, my reward…

    The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lam 3:24 “

    Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Ps 73: 25-26

    Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:23

  46. When I was a Catholic, I believed in transubstantiation.

    It was what I was taught.

    But then I learned about faith. Not walking by sight…but trusting even against what I see. That’s when I became a con-substantiationist.

    He is in, under, and with the bread and the wine. How? Who knows. God knows.

    • God is omnipresent, but actually only indwells the believer. The Bible specifically tells us Jesus is seated on the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 3:22) and yet indwells the believer (John 14:16-18, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 1:13-14, Ephesians 4:30, Colossians 1:27).

  47. ” First you point us away from something that has the imprimatur and nihil obstat telling us that it does not necessarily contain a correct interpretation.”
    I wasn’t trying to lessen or contradict anything in that Catholic Encyclopedia article Greg posted. I was just tweaking his informal definition. Often, people will point out an imprimatur and say, “See? See, here? This means that this is official church teaching!” That is not technically true.

    ” Then you point us to Catholic Answers video that does not even have a imprimatur and nihil obstat. ”
    I pasted part of a tract about Jack Chick. Those types of things don’t typically have an imprimatur. It isn’t necessary to have an imprimatur for a piece of writing to be true and in line with the Catholic faith. Catholic Answers is a reputable group and gave a concise answer to your anathema question. I’ll have to root around for a modern piece on the anathema question with an imprimatur, if that’s what you are looking for.

    You don’t seem to accept the Catholic Answers explanation. And your reason is that there are multiple answers floating around and that the Church is confusing?
    It doesn’t make sense to say the reason for one answer being wrong is that other answers exist.

    Anathema and excommunication fall under Canon Law. The imprimatur date on Greg’s article is 1907. The Church now has the 1983 code of canon law. Before that was the 1917 code. What was before that I’m not sure. So the excommunication ceremony described in Greg’s article is from an outdated code of canon law.

    When Catholics (or any people) are confused, it’s normally because they don’t know the answer. If the Church has not given an official answer, then most likely, it has not made a dogmatic declaration on that matter, in which case Catholics are perfectly free to debate and hold differing opinions (issues such as the length of creation, nuts and bolts of predestination, and various private…

  48. …various private revelations.


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