It is certainly true that the Lord willed to be crucified; it is not apparent that He willed all these
other circumstances, such as being devoured by mice, wasting away through corruption, being consumed by
fire, etc. The Lord's death by crucifixion was prophesied in the Old Testament, while none of these other
afflictions was suggested. Indeed they are ruled out by promises such as those of Psalm 16,
"For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."
If their theory requires the Lord's body to see corruption, which
will happen when some fragment of a consecrated host undergoes
spoiling and putrefaction while locked away in a cupboard, then this consequence of their theory should serve as a reductio ad absurdum proving the theory wrong, because if the Lord's body suffers corruption,
the promise of Psalm 16 falls to the ground. The Old Testament sets
forth in detail what does and what does not happen to the Lord's
body, "He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken;" (Psalm
34:20); "Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power
of the dog." (Psalm 22:20). If their theory invalidates these Bible
promises, then their theory is wrong.
This point can serve as a dividing line between Thomas' doctrine
of transubstantiation and the early church writers' understanding of
this ordinance, which focused on faith. A mouse, a tiny creature
with a little pea brain, has no faith. Yet according to Thomas, he
feasts upon the true body of the Lord. But according to Augustine,
those who have no faith are not eating the flesh of the Lord:
“In a word, He now explains how that which He speaks of comes to
pass, and what it is to eat His body and to drink His blood. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”
This it is, therefore, for a man to eat that meat and to drink that drink, to
dwell in Christ, and to have Christ dwelling in him. Consequently, he that
dwelleth not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwelleth not, doubtless neither
eateth His flesh [spiritually] nor drinketh His blood [although he may
press the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ carnally and visibly
with his teeth], but rather doth he eat and drink the sacrament of so great a
thing to his own judgment, because he, being unclean, has presumed to
come to the sacraments of Christ, which no man taketh worthily except he
that is pure: of such it is said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall
see God.'” (Augustine, Tractates on John, Tractate 26, Section 18).
Plainly, then, Augustine's belief is not the same as Thomas'; if Thomas' view may be called
transubstantiation, then Augustine was not a transubstantiationist. In
Augustine's view, the unbelieving mouse can not eat the Lord's flesh, a
spiritual sign dependent upon faith:
“Neither can these persons be said to eat the body of Christ, for
they cannot even be reckoned among His members. For, not to mention
other reasons, they cannot be at once the members of Christ and the
members of a harlot. In fine, He Himself, when He says, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him,”
shows what it is in reality, and not sacramentally, to eat His body
and drink His blood; for this is to dwell in Christ, that He also may
dwell in us. So that it is as if He said, He that dwelleth not in me,
and in whom I do not dwell, let him not say or think that he eateth
my body or drinketh my blood.” (Augustine, City of God, Book 21,
Chapter 25, p. 998 ECF_1_02).
In Thomas' system, the mouse, along with the apostate and unbeliever, quite simply and unambiguously
eats the Lord's flesh, because the bread has been converted into that substance and that's all there is to it.
Faith plays no role. Not so in the earlier writers.
This understanding, of a spiritual reality mediated by faith,
survives into the Protestant Reformation; describing the "prevailing
Protestant view," Louis Berkhof writes, "Unbelievers may receive the
external elements, but do not receive the thing signified thereby."
(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 13779).
The Part and the Whole
"Last of all, if the sacrament
is broken, have no doubt. Remember there is as much in a
fragment as in an unbroken Host."
"Fracto demum sacramento,
ne vacilles, sed memento,
tantum esse sub fragmento,
quantum toto tegitur."
(Lauda Sion, Thomas Aquinas).
Physical substances have certain irreducible characteristics. If
a physical substance is broken into two, each individual piece is not itself
as great as the whole. The theory of transubstantiation starts with a bold avowal, that
there is a material, physical conversion. But then it turns out the newly discovered physical substance has none of the characteristics
that physical substances actually have. If a theory requires a part to equal the whole, this again may serve as a
reductio ad absurdum demonstrating the theory's falsity. When the
Lord instituted this ordinance, He broke the bread and distributed it:
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
The man standing before the disciples has a whole, intact body,— one body, not many.
He does not break off pieces from His body and distribute them, nor drain His blood.
Showing how error begets error, the doctrine of transubstantiation led to the suppression
of communion for the laity in the second element, the wine which
stands for the Lord's blood. The doctrine renders this superfluous, because every particle
of bread contains the Lord complete, blood and flesh, bones and nerves. For many centuries the Roman Catholic
Church defied the Lord's instructions, supposedly out of reverence for
Him. Communion was so precious in their sight that they had to stop offering it to the laity.
Wouldn't it have shown more reverence to obey the commands as given!:
"And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and
sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is
better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel
15:22). They have since corrected this manifest error, though not the
mistaken thinking which led them into it. But if the theory of
transubstantiation leads to consequences which even contemporary Roman
Catholics understand to be in error, the theory itself must be
The doctrine of transubstantiation has the odd consequence that
the Lord's body subsists whole, entire, in each separate particle of
the broken bread. Gathering all these fragments together would yield
a very large pile. Usually when we are talking about a 'material substance,'
we must concede that a big heap is more than a little piece; the
several parts are not each individually equal to the whole. Not here, though the Roman
Catholics have insisted on physicality. What is this but a
meaningless way of talking? The 'flesh' and 'blood' are 'material
substances,' but they are not 'material substances' like any that
are known; they have their own set of properties, quite unlike any
'material substances' known on this earth. So why call them that in
the first place?
Having formulated a theory, do not
then jump out of an airplane hollering 'Banzai!' while clutching the
theory tightly to your chest. If absurd consequences follow from
your theory, then the theory is disconfirmed. Yet when these absurd
consequences are pointed out to Roman Catholics, they reply,
'Nothing is impossible to God.' But this is their theory, not His,
and these absurd consequences are theirs to explain and none of His.
To recapitulate: 1.) There are certain things we know of a
certainty about physical substances including: 'the part cannot be
greater than the whole.' This is an iron-clad rule. If one shopper rolls by
another with a big pile of bread in her shopping cart and the other has a few
little loaves in her cart, what cannot be said is, a.) the first shopper has no
more bread than the second, b.) they have the same amount of bread, c.) though
the first shopper has more the second does not have less. None of these statements can be
true about physical quantity.
2.) Yet when the Catholic church talks about the body and blood of Christ as present in the
sacrament, we learn that Christ is present entire in every little
fragment, yet the whole pile of fragments gathered together into a
giant heap by bulldozers rumbling from every compass-point would not
add up to any more than is present in each little fragment. This is
a state of affairs which is not consistent with the 'rules'
governing material substance.
Since what is ascribed to the
body of Christ in 2.) is in no way consistent with what we know
about physical substances (1. 'the part cannot be greater than the
whole'), then it cannot be true that Christ is physically present in
"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever."
This passage is the answer to Catholic concerns about mice eating Jesus' flesh.
All who eat inherit eternal life; but do mice, or unbelievers, inherit
eternal life? This promise, like others in scripture, is seized hold of
by faith, it is actuated by faith, it is made real by faith. Therefore
it is not a physical change, because if it were, mice and unbelievers
would inherit eternal life.
This question of the mice is a useful dividing line between
medieval Catholic doctrine (transubstantiation) and the teaching of
the early church authors. Augustine explains that only some who
partake of communion are actually eating the Lord's flesh, for
instance, "He then who is in the unity of Christ’s body (that is to
say, in the Christian membership), of which body the faithful have
been wont to receive the sacrament at the altar, that man is truly
said to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. . .But again,
even those who sufficiently understand that he who is not in the
body of Christ cannot be said to eat the body of Christ, are in
error when they promise liberation from the fire of eternal
punishment to persons who fall away from the unity of that body into
heresy, or even into heathenish superstition. [...] Neither can
these persons be said to eat the body of Christ, for they cannot
even be reckoned among His members. . .In fine, He Himself, when He
says, 'He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in
me, and I in him,' shows what it is in reality, and not
sacramentally, to eat His body and drink His blood; for this is to
dwell in Christ, that He also may dwell in us. So that it is as if
He said, He that dwelleth not in me, and in whom I do not dwell, let
him not say or think that he eateth my body or drinketh my blood."
(Augustine, City of God, Book 21, Chapter 25).
No mice, no unbelievers, no apostates: no transubstantiation.
During His earthly ministry Jesus worked many miracle signs. Sometimes Catholics try to pull transubstantiation over
into this category, but it's almost a mirror-image of a real miracle.
Jesus' miraculous signs allowed people to see plainly, with their
own two eyes, that the Kingdom had overtaken them. The inverse of this, transubstantiation, is all about what people
don't and won't ever see. With the real miracles, their own eyes
told them that the dead rose, the lame walked, the blind saw, and the
loaves and fishes were multiplied. But in this man-made miracle, it's
all about explaining what people don't see and don't taste. Let us
reimagine one of Jesus' miracle signs done over the Catholic way: for
instance, if the raising of Lazarus were like transubstantiation, it would have gone
Jesus called, "Lazarus come forth!" but no one answered, no
one came out of the tomb. Lazarus did not move. He looked dead,
he acted dead, he smelled dead.
That is not how a miracle works! Yet this is the daily miracle Roman
Catholicism performs. It's inside-out. They err in imagining God has been so far domesticated as to work a miracle upon human command.
Transubstantiation is the kind of 'miracle' men work when the Spirit has departed. The
supper Jesus instituted is not a miracle, it is rather a remembrance. The
gullibility of the people, combined with clerical ambition, allowed the Lord's ordinance to be miscategorized
in this way. The pride of the clergy swelled until they imagined
themselves as miracle-workers, but then when people called upon them to
produce a miracle, what they produced required to be explained: a
miracle has been performed right before our eyes, so why doesn't anyone
see or taste it?
The miracle in transubstantiation is that we don't see what is there,
because the 'accidents' of a departed substance mysteriously persist. We
see what used to be there but is not longer, like looking at a distant
star, light years away. But which of the Lord's miracle signs was anything like this?
Jesus' wonders were "signs:" "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw
the miracles [semeia] which he did." (John 2:23). Semeion is a sign,
mark, token. People saw with their own two eyes the lame walk, the
blind see, and dead come to life. They got the message about the
Kingdom because they knew that these things were prophesied, "Then
the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf
shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the
tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break
out, and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:5-6).
miracles were about what people do see not what they don't. How else
could they perform their function as "signs?" A "sign" that is
invisible does not signify. But the doctrine of transubstantiation
gives us a daily miracle to explain why we don't see what is there,
thus inverting the pattern of a Biblical miracle. If the Lord's signs had
followed this scholastic pattern, the miracle of the loaves and fishes
would have left the crowd listening to their empty bellies growl, while
the twelve apostles pantomimed picking up invisible scraps and putting
them into baskets.
Groucho Marx asked, "Who are you going to believe, me or your
lying eyes?" When it comes to the Lord's wonders, believing your
lying eyes is good enough. With transubstantiation it is not, so
either there is something wrong with transubstantiation, or there is
something wrong with your lying eyes.
The unkindest cut of all is the realization that Thomas' system
was founded upon the philosophy of Aristotle, the philosopher who
above all others emphasized the role of the senses in human
knowledge. Aristotle did not believe the senses could be mistaken
about their proper objects:
"I call by the name of special object of this or that sense that
which cannot be perceived by any other sense than that one and in
respect of which no error is possible; in this sense color is the
special object of sight, sound of hearing, flavor of taste. Touch,
indeed, discriminates more than one set of different qualities. Each
sense has one kind of object which it discerns, and never errs in
reporting that what is before it is color or sound (though it may
err as to what it is that is colored or where that is, or what it is
that is sounding or where that is.) Such objects are what we propose
to call the special objects of this or that sense." (Aristotle, On
the Soul, Book II, Chapter 6).
However, according to Thomas,
in the case of communion, sight, taste, touch, etc., are mistaken
about their proper objects, because what they perceive is an
'accident' as per usual, but it is an 'accident' of nothing: there
no subject which displays the 'white' which the senses dutifully
report. Aristotle derives all human knowledge from the five senses.
Why pick up this man's vocabulary, and then turn it inside-out? Why
is it so important to found all knowledge of the world upon the five
senses, when it then turns out the senses cannot ever give us
accurate information about what is on the altar?
Christians are forbidden to consume blood:
"For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
It would be distinctly odd for the Jerusalem council to insist so
strongly upon this point if the central observance of the Christian
church required violation. The pagans frequently accused the Christians
of Thystean feasts, i.e. of cannibalism, no
doubt from a misunderstood overhearing of Christian communion. The
response of the accused Christians is not, 'it's complicated,' but
outraged innocence. Yet it is not obvious that the Christians would be
legally innocent if what they were consuming was, in physical substance, human
"Three things are alleged against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts, Oedipodean
intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once
against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and
children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the
brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of
nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they
also recognize those from whom they receive benefits. If any one,
therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can
endure shall be deemed adequate to such offenses?" (Athenagors, A Plea for the
Christians, Chapter 3).
"Otherwise you would not have been
moved by senseless men to yield yourself to empty words, and to give
credit to the prevalent rumor wherewith godless lips falsely accuse us,
who are worshippers of God, and are called Christians, alleging that the
wives of us all are held in common and made promiscuous use of; and that
we even commit incest with our own sisters, and, what is most impious
and barbarous of all, that we eat human flesh." (Theophilus, To Autolycus, Book
Three, Chapter 4).
When you realize that the ordinance is spiritual, you understand the Christians' indignation at this
false and slanderous charge. If they had been Roman Catholics, it is difficult to sketch out their defense.