26 October 2007

Transubstantiation Unsubstantiated

In a recent series of postings on a mailing list I am a part of, a discussion got started on the topic of Transubstantiation, a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the way in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. In the process, an article from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was quoted. One portion of the document really got my dander up...

That portion, and my response, follow.

Does the bread cease to be bread and the wine cease to be wine?
Yes. In order for the whole Christ to be present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—the bread and wine cannot remain, but must give way so that his glorified Body and Blood may be present. Thus in the Eucharist the bread ceases to be bread in substance, and becomes the Body of Christ, while the wine ceases to be wine in substance, and becomes the Blood of Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, Christ is not quoted as saying, " This bread is my body," but "This is my body" (Summa Theologiae, III q. 78, a. 5).

This is just plain lousy theology. First, it limits God based on our understanding. Second, it works against reinforcing the Dogma of the Incarnation because it promotes displacement theology - the idea that when God moves in, humanity (or, in this case, breadanity) moves out. This is in direct conflict with the Dogma of the Hypostatic Union, which states that God united with Man in the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. The man did not have to move out to make room for God, and if he had, then Jesus Christ couldn't bridge the gap between God and us.

A theology of Transubstantiation, as explained above, does far more violence to Christological truth than most any other dogmatic view concerning the Eucharist - except possibly the concept of blessed memorial (a concept that denies the plain words of Jesus).

Further, whoever prepared this particular response, while rightly quoting Thomas Aquinas, missed the boat... namely Saint Paul. Paul was able to speak of the consecrated Eucharist as bread and cup... heck, the modern Roman liturgy does too, paraphrasing Paul (When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come again). Thomas Aquinas may have been a learned, pious, and holy man, but he really overstepped what was needed and appropriate with much of his writing. This is one glaring example of that fact.


All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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