What is the Doctrine?

“Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that 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.” (Council of Trent, DS 1642, quoted Catholic Catechism 1376).

This conversion occurs in such a novel fashion that the departing substance leaves behind its 'accidents,' including its visible appearance. The replacement substances do not pick up these abandoned accidents, which have become lost, without an owner to claim them, nor have they any of their own. So in what subject do the orphaned accidents inhere? In none:

“. . .however repugnant it may appear to the dictate of the senses, no substance of the elements remains in the Sacrament; and. . .the accidents which present themselves to the eyes, or other senses, exist in a wonderful and ineffable manner without a subject. The accidents of bread and wine we see; but they inhere in no substance, and exist independently of any. The substance of the bread and wine is so changed into the body and blood of our Lord that they, altogether, cease to be the substance of bread and wine.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 221, (64-65)).

The doctrine of transubstantiation proposes that, whenever the priest speaks the 'words of consecration' over the bread and the wine, a series of miracles invariably occurs which have the net effect that no one can see the first miracle of the series, namely that the bread has been converted into flesh, and the wine into blood. Why would God thus put Himself at man's service, to perform this series of miracles upon demand, to achieve such an odd and deflating outcome? So as not to gross anybody out: ". . .for it would be horrible for the receivers, and an abomination to those looking on, if the body of Christ were received by the faithful in its own appearance." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Chapter 63 [13]).

Where did this strange teaching ever come from? From the Bible. . ?:

Bible Background History
Substance and Accidents Literally Speaking
Thomas Aquinas Bishop Berkeley
Vines and Branches Fathers Know Best
Figure Where is it?
The Mouse and the Dog Part and Whole
Eternal Life Miracle Sign
Forbidden Failure to Communicate

Vasily Polenov, Last Supper

The Bible Background

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

There are many Bible promises where the Lord assures believers He will be with them, immediately, personally, and interiorly:

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20).
“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 home with him.” (John 14:23).

Some might class the Lord's promise of His presence in communion with this group. But a materialist rises up and declares, 'No, it means the bread must change physically into human flesh, and the wine must change into physical blood.' A naive observer makes a mental note: 'I'll test that next time.' So the next time he is in church for the Lord's Supper, he looks closely at the bread: it looks like bread. He tastes it: it tastes like bread. He breaks it: it fractures like bread. Perhaps he even sends a sample out to a chemical lab for testing. He announces his results: 'Your theory is disconfirmed! The bread did not physically change into human flesh, nor the wine into blood. Try again, and be consistent this time with other Bible promises.' But the theorist replies, 'None of your data even touches my theory. The bread has changed physically into flesh, and the wine into blood, but your senses cannot discern this.' The audience wonders: what does this mean? Can there be a physical change in the world, which the senses cannot investigate, for which they cannot even supply any relevant data?



The concept of transubstantiation originated with Paschasius Radbertus in the ninth century, who held other strange and heretical views as well, including a disinclination to believe that "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24). This controversial new teaching was disputed by others when first introduced, but by the eleventh century, it had become so solidly mainstream that Berengar of Tours discovered it was no longer possible to teach Augustine's spiritual understanding of the sacrament. Thomas Aquinas records the words Berengar was forced to recite in recantation:

“I agree with the Holy Catholic Church, and with heart and lips I profess, that the bread and wine which are placed on the altar, are the true body and blood of Christ after consecration, and are truly handled and broken by the priest’s hands, broken and crushed by the teeth of believers.” (Berengar's recantation, quoted by Thomas in Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 77, Article 7, Objection 3).

The word 'transubstantiation' was used by the Fourth Lateran Council, but it was principally Thomas Aquinas who infused that word with the meaning it now holds, and the theory of transubstantiation which the Council of Trent made obligatory for Catholics is Thomas' theory. As will be seen, this is a a walk on the wild side of language, meaning and logic.


Substance and Accidents

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said, 'You can't step into the same river twice.' Certainly change is a constant of the physical world, but Socrates and his successors realized this focus on change imperiled language. If you can't step into the same river twice, to what do you refer when you say 'river'? If it's always a different river, there is no one thing in the world at which you are nodding when you say 'river'! But surely this cannot be right; 'Old Man River' will outlive us all. They began to look instead to the continuing subject of change, the 'substance.' What changed, what could change, were the 'accidents.' We can describe the substance as a noun, the accidents as adjectives; it's been pointed out, by both admirers and critics, that this paradigm looks to grammar to rescue us from the uncertainties of pre-Socratic physics.

The pagan philosopher Aristotle did not concur with the Dalai Lama, who speaks about "the misconception that objects exist in and of themselves." This worthy explains, "The reason for cultivating the wisdom realizing the emptiness of inherent existence is that even if you have mere concentration, it cannot harm the misconception that objects exist in and of themselves." (The Dalai Lama, The Heart of Meditation, p. 23). Aristotle did not particularly believe in the "emptiness of inherent existence"; what, in Aristotlean metaphysics, corresponds to the thing-in-itself is the 'substance.' The Dalai Lama does not believe it exists, and Immanuel Kant said that, even if it does exist, we can have no knowledge of it, but Aristotle thought that, not only does 'substance' exist, but we can have (partial and imperfect) knowledge of it through experience. In Aristotle's classic paradigm, the 'substance' is what does not change, the 'accidents' are what can change, without reducing their substratum to non-entity. So a 'man' might be first long-haired and then bald, but he remains a man. 'Man' is the substance, 'bald' is an accidental attribute, meaning it could be or not be. Not all attributes are accidents; 'breathing' might be offered as an example of an attribute which, if withdrawn, makes its possessor not quite what it was: 'The man is not breathing' means he's dead, and the census does not count dead men.

Transubstantiation inverts that classical paradigm. The substance of the wine and bread depart, leaving the orphaned 'accidents' of the bread: 'white, flaky,' and wine: 'red, translucent,'— to shift for themselves. The 'accidents' are what continue, while the 'substance' shifts; the 'accidents' are the constant factor, the 'substance' what collapses and mutates. Does this actually happen, in Aristotle's Categories? Say we have a 'man,' he is 'bald,' 'flabby,' and 'in Cleveland,'— does it ever happen that the 'man' disappears, but 'bald,' 'flabby,' and 'in Cleveland' remain? Not in Aristotle's Categories. How, then, does the 'substance' depart, while the 'accidents' attached to that subject remain. . .without a subject? 'It's a miracle!'

Thomas understood that he was inverting Aristotle's paradigm: "Therefore, in this conversion what takes place is the contrary of what usually takes place in natural mutations, for in these the substance persists as the subject of the mutation, whereas the accidents are varied; but here, conversely, the accident persists, the substance passes." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Chapter 63 [9]). Transubstantiation is just the other way around from classical metaphysics, which posited a continuing substance supporting shifting accidents. Here we have accidents which won't go away even though the substance of which they were the accidents is gone, and substances which are never what you think and which don't have even the shelf-life of their own accidents.

It is legitimate to criticize the theory of transubstantiation for its dependence on the vocabulary of Aristotle's metaphysics, because the theory cannot really be expressed in any other vocabulary, certainly not in common language. But the theory of transubstantiation is no continuation of classical metaphysics, rather its upending. The pre-Socratic philosophers opened up exciting vistas, but problematic ones. From the time of Socrates people realized that their focus on physical change was draining meaning from language. So they posited a continuing subject of change: substance. 'Substance,' however defined, is the continuing thing, not the changing thing: the 'accidents' change. Yet here we have 'accidents' that outlive the 'substance' which supported them. They have survived the calamity of the dissolution of their parent substance, and are startled to realize they don't need any subject, they can just be themselves, all by themselves. They are like liberated slaves who leap for joy to realize they don't need any master. We are no longer in the world of classical metaphysics. This is an inversion of classical metaphysics.

Literally Speaking

There are certain erroneous formulations of the doctrine which are popular with today's Catholic apologists, for instance,

"Catholicism holds that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when they are consecrated by the priest celebrating the Mass. . . So, it looks, tastes, feels, and smells like bread and wine, but it literally has been changed into the body and blood of Christ. That’s transubstantiation." (Francis J. Beckwith, Transubstantiation: From Stumbling Block to Cornerstone).

Is this true: that this doctrine revolves around the 'literal' use of words, i.e., taking words in their plain meaning? To the contrary! This doctrine requires our willingness to use words in a way they are never otherwise used, not in their expected, every-day significance. When the alchemist rushes into the room exclaiming, 'I have found a way to convert lead into gold,' we do not expect to see in his eager hands a lump of grayish metal, but a golden mass. When we say, one thing has been converted into another, we mean substance and accidents both, which commonly travel together. We certainly do not mean that the 'accidents' have somehow become detached, yet still hover around uncertainly, orphaned, not knowing when to leave, upheld by no substance whatever. The framework of 'substance' and 'accidents' was contrived to explain how something can change yet still remain the same: that is, the 'accidents' change while the 'substance' remains, yet transubstantiation inverts that pattern, here the 'accidents' remain while the 'substance' flees. There is no such use of language in any other instance, only here. We are not dealing with any common or 'literal' use of language, but an utterly novel and unprecedented one.


Thomas Aquinas

On the night He was betrayed, the Lord instituted the ordinance of communion, saying, "'Take, eat, this is My body.' Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant...'" (Matthew 26:26-27). Having spoken these 'words of consecration,' He then went on to describe what the disciples were drinking as the "fruit of the vine": "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29).  Paul does likewise: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26). So the elements of communion can be described both as 'flesh' and 'blood' and also as 'bread' and 'wine.' We identify things by their substance, not by accidents, nor the hitherto unknown category of abandoned accidents inhering in no subject.

Though transubstantiation has a history prior to Thomas, nevertheless this medieval idea stands or falls with Thomas' explication of it. The "substance" in which Thomas' theory of transubstantiation posits a change is the physical stuff, 'bread' and 'wine':

"We call 'substance' (1) the simple bodies, i.e. earth and fire and water and everything of the sort, and in general bodies and the things composed of them, both animals and divine beings, and the parts of these. All these are called substance because they are not predicated of a subject but everything is predicated of them." (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book V, Chapter 8).

The theory that the physical substance of the bread and wine is transformed into the physical substance of flesh and blood hinges upon taking literally the identification of the elements as 'flesh' and 'blood,' while 'spiritualizing' simultaneous references to the elements as 'bread' and 'wine.' One wonders why any change need be posited at all, because by the assumptions of this theory, Jesus had already transformed His flesh into bread when He said, "I am the bread of life." (John 6:35). By the assumptions of this theory, that statement could only be true if His body were at that moment transformed into a loaf of bread.  Since the Romans inadvertently nailed a loaf of bread to the cross, the 'hocus pocus' of the priest transforms bread...back into bread!

All kidding aside, this theory is one of the wildest ever presented.  The 'accidents' of the bread and wine remain; this is the evidence of the senses after all, and so can scarcely be denied.  Something 'white' and 'flaky' is visible.  But what presents these appearances is not the flesh and blood on the altar, into which the bread and wine have been wholly transmuted. What, then does present these appearances, the 'accidents' of bread and wine? Nothing.  That's right, nothing:

"Whether the accidents remain in this sacrament without a subject?
"...I answer that, The species of the bread and wine, which are perceived by our senses to remain in this sacrament after consecration, are not subjected in the substance of the bread and wine, for that does not remain, as stated above (Question [75], Article [2]); nor in the substantial form, for that does not remain (Question [75], Article [6]), and if it did remain, "it could not be a subject," as Boethius declares (De Trin. i). Furthermore it is manifest that these accidents are not subjected in the substance of Christ's body and blood, because the substance of the human body cannot in any way be affected by such accidents; nor is it possible for Christ's glorious and impassible body to be altered so as to receive these qualities.
"Now there are some who say that they are in the surrounding atmosphere as in a subject. But even this cannot be: in the first place, because atmosphere is not susceptive of such accidents. Secondly, because these accidents are not where the atmosphere is, nay more, the atmosphere is displaced by the motion of these species. Thirdly, because accidents do not pass from subject to subject, so that the same identical accident which was first in one subject be afterwards in another; because an accident is individuated by the subject; hence it cannot come to pass for an accident remaining identically the same to be at one time in one subject, and at another time in another. Fourthly, since the atmosphere is not deprived of its own accidents, it would have at the one time its own accidents and others foreign to it. Nor can it be maintained that this is done miraculously in virtue of the consecration, because the words of consecration do not signify this, and they effect only what they signify.
"Therefore it follows that the accidents continue in this sacrament without a subject. This can be done by Divine power: for since an effect depends more upon the first cause than on the second, God Who is the first cause both of substance and accident, can by His unlimited power preserve an accident in existence when the substance is withdrawn whereby it was preserved in existence as by its proper cause, just as without natural causes He can produce other effects of natural causes, even as He formed a human body in the Virgin's womb, "without the seed of man" (Hymn for Christmas, First Vespers)." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 77, Article 1).

Like the Cheshire's cat smile, the appearances of the bread and wine remain, after the bread and wine have disappeared!

Catholics do not believe that Christ can really be present in the Lord's supper without being physically present; to them, 'real' equates to 'physical.' Even though the 'accidents' of bread (white, flaky) and wine (red, translucent) remain, there is no 'substance' of bread and wine in which those accidents inhere; there is, conversely, a substance of flesh and blood, devoid however of any 'accidents.' Thinking about it this way negates our normal ways of thinking and talking about physical substances. If we ask, pointing at the white, flaky lump in front of us, 'is this bread. . .or some other substance?,' we can propose a variety of tests to determine what it is. We might taste it; we might crumble it; we might mix it with other things to see what happens. To say, this substance will pass all the tests that can be imagined to ascertain if it is bread, yet it is not bread — means. . .what exactly? Some would say, what we mean by 'bread' and what we mean by 'passes all the tests we can propose to discover "bread"' are not two different things. These people cannot be Christians because. . ?

Bishop Berkeley

There are different ways to approach metaphysics; supposing we ask the saintly Bishop Berkeley what 'bread' is, and he says he means by 'bread,' just 'white, flaky, frangible.' Thomas says these are 'accidents' (accidents potentially inhering in nothing, at that); Bishop Berkeley says that is 'bread.' Why must he first be transformed into an Aristotelian in order to be made a Christian? Even Aristotle, who is responsible for some, but not all, of this, understood that the physical realm is that realm to which our senses give us access. Aristotle, 'The Philosopher' so often cited by Thomas, believed that our five senses teach us what we know about the world. Yet here we are told of a physical change of which our senses can never give us any information. This all might seem to be profound. . .were it not too hard to distinguish it from a way of using language that is meaningless.

Bishop Berkeley's idealist system was never popular and cannot really be defended, but it is by no means absurd nor insincere. No reason can be imagined why a man who so believed could not be a Christian. If it seems eccentric to use words of 'accidents' only, which is the understanding of language offered by the idealist Bishop and his later 'common sense' followers, consider that so do the Roman Catholics. Bishop Berkeley thought that he could dispense with any concept of matter or material substance in his cogitations about the world; 'white, flaky, and tasty' was good enough 'bread' for him. His theories are extravagant, but Roman Catholics talk like he did: they also name non-substances which are agglomerations of accidental qualities only. The elements of communion are referred to as 'bread' and 'wine' after 'consecration,' both in the Bible and by writers they consider authoritative:

"And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 65.)

To what 'substance' do these names, 'bread' and 'wine,' answer? No substance whatsoever; this is the Catholic answer, as given by Thomas:

"But here the substance is changed, while the accidents remain intact without a subject. This is done by divine power, which as the first cause sustains them without a material cause, which is the substance caused in order that the body of Christ and the blood be consumed under a different appearance, for the reasons given above." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 663.)

The same Thomas Aquinas wrote a hymn popular with tenors, which describes the bread of angels becoming the bread of men:

Panis Angelicus
Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
Manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus et humilis.
The angelic bread
becomes the bread of men;
The heavenly bread
ends all prefigurations:
What wonder!
The Lord is eaten
by a poor and humble servant.

Thomas refers to the consecrated element as "bread of men," intending to refer to accidents only. These accidents are marooned, they are unclaimed property, devoid of any substance to call them its own. What else do these self-sufficient accidents need to be just as capable as substances? Nothing, they have it all: "Therefore, it seems better to say that in the consecration itself, just as the substance of the bread is miraculously converted into the body of Christ, so this is miraculously conferred on the accidents: that they subsist which is proper to substance, and, as a consequence, are able to do and to suffer the things which the substance could do and suffer if the substance were present." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Chapter 66 [10]). What argument is left against Bishop Berkeley's idealism?

The 'accidents' of bread and wine persist, but they do not inhere in any 'substance;' not 'flesh,' not 'blood,' not, of course, the departed 'bread' and 'wine' which were once there but are no more. Bishop Berkeley is not allowed to be a Roman Catholic, because Thomas' theory of transubstantiation cannot be translated into his philosophic vocabulary, which is devoid of any category of material substance. What arrogance, to deny this man the ability to be a Christian, because he is not an Aristotelian! This gentle man travelled to the new world, in hopes of training missionaries to teach Native Americans. To add insult to injury, in the oddest aspect of Berkeley's system, the application of names to 'accidents,' they do just the same as he does. In fact they blazed the trail he travelled.

Bishop George Berkeley, by John Smibert
Bishop George Berkeley

Indeed Bishop Berkeley's idealist philosophy is the Roman Catholic conception of transubstantiation, generalized to the entire cosmos. He thought the category of 'material substance' unnecessary; 'accidents' would suffice, i.e. percepts. But Roman Catholics had already found it possible to dispense with the category of 'substance,' in the case of the surviving but orphaned bread and wine, 'accidents' dissevered from their parent substance:

"As God has created all things out of nothing by His own power, without the aid of other causes, He can produce all natural effects without using secondary causes. Therefore, although, naturally speaking, substance upholds accidents; God can preserve accidents without the help of substance. . .Not only does God enable accidents to exist without substance; but He enables them to do, and to suffer, that which substance would do and suffer, were the accidents joined to substance, e.g., to nourish, to intoxicate, to putrefy, to burn, etc." (Girolamo Savonarola, The Truth of Our Faith Made Manifest in the Triumph of the Cross, Book 3, Chapter 17).

If you don't need the category of 'material substance' to explain coming-to-be and passing-away, and the Roman Catholics tell us you do not, then what is the deficiency in Bishop Berkeley's idealist system of metaphysics? Thomas Aquinas was the pioneer who first discovered that the 'accidents' could declare independence, go their own way, and get on just as well without their parent substance. If his self-sufficient 'accidents' are allowable, so must be Bishop Berkeley's.

Vines and Branches

Jesus tells His followers that they are branches of His vine:

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5).

Now somebody says, "You either believe Him or you don't. Though the believers' bodies look like flesh not wood, they are really, physically wood, because the branches of a vine are made of wood. When the priest repeats Jesus' words, their fleshly bodies are physically transformed into wood. However, the end product of this physical transformation does not look like wood, feel like wood, or pass any of the physical tests we can propose to determine whether something is wood or not. Nevertheless one must believe that the 'accidents' of our bodies appear like flesh, whereas the 'substance' is really wood.' These 'accidents' (flesh-colored, elastic) do not inhere in the substance 'wood,' nor in any other substance; they're like the Cheshire Cat's smile, just hanging."

How foolish! This is a crass, carnal misunderstanding of what the Lord said. He was not talking about the physical substance making up our bodies, but of our abiding in Him and depending solely on Him. That Israel is a vine and God the vine-dresser is a familiar Old Testament theme; He is promising here, that we become part of Him when we believe: "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23). It trivializes this great promise to dial it downwards toward the physical 'stuff' of which we are made, because God is not talking about that 'stuff.'

But even the Catholics don't say that about John 15:5. Why not? Why not insist that Jesus is physically a 'door,' with a bright brass knocker, and all the other things He said He was? He must be physically transformed into those things when the priest repeats the words, or else the words cannot be true. This is how they arrive at transubstantiation: if you can only understand statements about what a thing is to be statements about the physical stuff of which the thing is made, then, against nature, the bread and wine must turn into flesh and blood (or to phrase it more precisely, the bread and wine must go away, and the flesh and blood appear. . .but do not appear, the departed bread and wine meanwhile having left behind their 'accidents,' a circumstance not otherwise known to happen). This transiting downward to physicality is a mistake, arrived at by taking a wrong turn, into carnality, away from God and into the world.

It is not correct that the Lord's language requires this interpretation, nor do people commonly so interpret references of this sort: "Supposing there were two pictures, and I were to say, 'That is my mother, and that her sister,' who would dream that the pictures were transubstantiated into my mother and aunt?" (J. N. Darby, Familiar Conversations on Romanism, Eighth Conversation).

Fathers Know Best

Transubstantiation is a medieval doctrine; the set of circumstances proposed can only be expressed in the scholastics' peculiar vocabulary. The early church writers had never heard of any such teaching. While they no doubt vividly felt the presence of Christ in this remembrance, as believers do today, their way of speaking does not suggest they thought the point of the ordinance was to effect any physical change in the bread and wine:

"Indeed, up to the present time, he has not disdained the water which the Creator made wherewith he washes his people; nor the oil with which he anoints them; nor that union of honey and milk wherewithal he gives them the nourishment of children; nor the bread by which he represents his own proper body, thus requiring in his very sacraments the “beggarly elements” of the Creator." (Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Book 1, Chapter 14).

Even those early writers who are often cited by Catholics do not affirm Tridentine doctrine; Justin for example describes communion as a memorial. The cup we drink is "in remembrance of His own blood":

"Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [allusion is made] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 70).

What is given us to eat? "Bread." When do we eat it? After the words of consecration have been spoken, when, according to modern Catholics, there is no bread (anathema on you if you say otherwise). Many Catholic apologists of the present day do not really try to defend this strange doctrine; they substitute 'real presence,' a much easier, more ancient, and far more defensible idea. The real thing is a jaw-dropper: something never seen, barely comprehensible, and expressible only in one special, very recondite vocabulary. How much simpler was the faith of the early church:

“Then, 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.” (Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter 40.)
"For so did God in your own gospel even reveal the sense, when He called His body bread; so that, for the time to come, you may understand that He has given to His body the figure of bread, whose body the prophet of old figuratively turned into bread, the Lord Himself designing to give by and by an interpretation of the mystery." (Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Book III, Chapter 19.)

That we are dealing here with 'symbols' is explained by the Apostolic Constitutions: "Instead of a bloody sacrifice, He has appointed that reasonable and unbloody mystical one of His body and blood, which is performed to represent the death of the Lord by symbols." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6, Section 4, Chapter XXIII, p. 916).

Not only the faith of the early church, but the faith of the apostles, does not fit very easily in this materialist mold, or else why would Paul have said, "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." (2 Corinthians 5:16). Why would the Lord have said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing:. . ." (John 6:63), if life and salvation were after all in the flesh not the spirit? They should have drawn back from the elevation of material things, which comes from outside of scripture, indeed from a pagan philosophy, and returned to the scriptural road.

"But doth the flesh give life? Our Lord Himself, when He was speaking in praise of this same earth, said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.”. . .It seemed unto them hard that He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you:” they received it foolishly, they thought of it carnally, and imagined that the Lord would cut off parts from His body, and give unto them; and they said, “This is a hard saying.”. . .But He instructed them, and saith unto them, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I have spoken unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Understand spiritually what I have said; ye are not to eat this body which ye see; nor to drink that blood which they who will crucify Me shall pour forth. I have commended unto you a certain mystery; spiritually understood, it will quicken. Although it is needful that this be visibly celebrated, yet it must be spiritually understood."

(Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 99, Section 8).

"For in respect of His majesty, His providence, His ineffable and invisible grace, His own words are fulfilled, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” But in respect of the flesh He assumed as the Word, in respect of that which He was as the son of the Virgin, of that wherein He was seized by the Jews, nailed to the tree, let down from the cross, enveloped in a shroud, laid in the sepulcher, and manifested in His resurrection, “ye will not have Him always.” And why? Because in respect of His bodily presence He associated for forty days with His disciples, and then, having brought them forth for the purpose of beholding and not of following Him, He ascended into heaven and is no longer here. He is there, indeed, sitting at the right hand of the Father; and He is here also, having never withdrawn the presence of His glory. In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples, “Me ye will not have always.” In this respect the Church enjoyed His presence only for a few days: now it possesses Him by faith, without seeing Him with the eyes."

(Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 50, Section 13).

Yoking Christian doctrine to the vocabulary of a particular pagan philosopher had lasting consequences for the Catholic church. They were obliged to condemn, not only Galileo for disputing Thomas Aquinas' astronomy, but also any proponents of the atomic theory, because they did not use the vocabulary of substance and accidents. This included Descartes: "French Cartesians faced an effective censorship, and so had to be careful what they said: Descartes' Meditations of 1641 were placed on the Catholic Church's Index of Prohibited Books in 1663 because Descartes' corpuscular philosophy (since, like Lucretian atomism, it denied that there was such a thing as substance or form) was held to be incompatible with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (which declared that during the Mass there was a transformation in t he substance of the bread and wine, even though thy retained their original outward appearance)." (The Invention of Science, David Wootton, p. 451). Admittedly, Descartes' spinning vortices were rather fanciful, and so those cut off from this source of information were not really being denied cutting-edge science. However, the atomists did, in the end, turn out to be on to something. What business did the Catholic Church ever have asserting otherwise? The Meditations is not a dangerous book.

Neither are the transubstantiationists really remaining faithful to Aristotelian science. When Aristotle worked up his distinctive vocabulary, he was not trying to develop the idea that what we see and hear might have no meaningful relation to what is out there, because the 'accidents' of one thing might somehow get detached and pasted on to replace the 'accidents' of something else. Rather the intent is to show that we can gain real knowledge of the things in the world through our senses of smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight, even though none of these senses directly deliver to us the essence of things as they are in themselves. The theory of transubstantiation undermines this whole paradigm. The ancient Greek skeptics had introduced an uncertainty into the project of learning about the world through empirical investigation. What we see, taste, hear, etc., is not in any simple or direct sense also what is out there. An oar placed in water will appear bent, water will feel warm to an observer whose hand was formerly in cold water, cool to one whose hand was formerly in hot water. The language of 'substance' and 'accidents' provides reassurance that perception is not simply subjective and unreliable; there is something underneath it that stands still. Knowing this, we can correct for perceptual illusions. So the language of transubstantiation, while it depends upon Aristotle and nothing but Aristotle, does nothing to advance Aristotle's goals in working up that language, it's no more than graffiti scrawled on a monument. An interpretation of a certain doctrine that requires us to trash both modern and ancient science is not readily defensible.


Augustine likewise calls this ordinance a 'figure:'

“'Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,' says Christ, 'and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.' This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 3, Chapter 16, 24).

"But at the present time, after that the proof of our liberty has shone forth so clearly in the resurrection of our Lord, we are not oppressed with the heavy burden of attending even to those signs which we now understand, but our Lord Himself, and apostolic practice, have handed down to us a few rites in place of many, and these at once very easy to perform, most majestic in their significance, and most sacred in the observance; such, for example, as the sacrament of baptism, and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord. And as soon as any one looks upon these observances he knows to what they refer, and so reveres them not in carnal bondage, but in spiritual freedom. Now, as to follow the letter, and to take signs for the things that are signified by them, is a mark of weakness and bondage; so to interpret signs wrongly is the result of being misled by error." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 3, Chapter 9, 13).

"For if sacraments had not some points of real resemblance to the things of which they are the sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. In most cases, moreover, they do in virtue of this likeness bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body, and the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood, in the same manner the sacrament of faith is faith."

(Augustine, Letter 98 to Boniface).

Other early writers, not only Tertullian and Augustine, also describe the Lord's Supper as a symbol or figure. Of course none of them say a 'mere' symbol or a 'mere' figure, language reserved for opponents of the apostolic understanding of this ordinance:

"For since He no more was to take pleasure in bloody sacrifices, or those ordained by Moses in the slaughter of animals of various kinds, and was to give them bread to use as the symbol of His Body, He taught the purity and brightness of such food by saying, 'And his teeth are white as milk.' This also another prophet has recorded, where he says, 'Sacrifice and offering hast thou not required, but a body hast thou prepared for me.'" (Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospel, Book 8, Chapter 1).
"Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 22, Section 3).
"As then in the case of the Jews, so here also He hath bound up the memorial of the benefit with the mystery, by this again stopping the mouths of heretics. For when they say, Whence is it manifest that Christ was sacrificed? together with the other arguments we stop their mouths from the mysteries also. For if Jesus did not die, of what are the rites the symbols?" (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 82, Section 1).

Catholics should not object when people today use the same vocabulary as did the 'Church Fathers,' authors whom they consider authoritative. . .when they agree with them!

This common usage, describing the elements of communion as 'figures' or 'symbols,' ran into resistance from John of Damascus, who insisted the bread and wine are not figures:

“The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!) but the deified body of the Lord itself: for the Lord has said, 'This is My body,' not, this is a figure of My body: and 'My blood,' not, a figure of My blood.” (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 13).

This author might almost be credited with inventing the doctrine, were his own understanding more precise. He insists upon a change, but into what?: "But [char]coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity." (Ibid.) "Bread united with divinity"? Up until the Middle Ages, authors are found who continue to use language inconsistent with any physical change of substance, though all Christian authors insist upon the spiritual worth of the ordinance. In this dialogue of Theodoret, 'Orthodoxos' defends the orthodox faith:

"Orthodoxos. — But our Savior changed the names, and to His body gave the name of the symbol and to the symbol that of his body. So, after calling himself a vine, he spoke of the symbol as blood.
"Eranistes. — True. But I am desirous of knowing the reason of the change of names.
"Orthodoxos. — To them that are initiated in divine things the intention is plain. For be wished the partakers in the divine mysteries not to give heed to the nature of the visible objects, but, by means of the variation of the names, to believe the change wrought of grace. For He, we know, who spoke of his natural body as corn and bread, and, again, called Himself a vine,  dignified the visible symbols by the appellation of the body and blood, not because He had changed their nature, but because to their nature He had added grace." (Theodoret, Dialogues, Dialogue 1, PNF 2.03, pp. 326-327).

"Eranistes. — As, then, the symbols of the Lord’s body and blood are one thing before the priestly invocation, and after the invocation are changed and become another thing; so the Lord’s body after the assumption is changed into the divine substance.
"Orthodoxos. — You are caught in the net you have woven yourself. For even after the consecration the mystic symbols are not deprived of their own nature; they remain in their former substance, figure and form; they are visible and tangible as they were before. But they are regarded as what they are become, and believed so to be, and are worshipped as being what they are believed to be. Compare then the image with the archetype, and you will see the likeness, for the type must be like the reality." (Theodoret, Dialogues, Dialogue 2, PNF 2.03, pp. 401-402).

In the fourth Lateran Council under Innocent III in 1215, transubstantiation was adopted as the faith of the church. It was made a capital crime to deny this novel teaching, dating back only to Paschasius Radbertus of the ninth century. Resistance to it 'went underground' until the Reformation, when it again became safe to state the obvious. Those who point out that it looks like bread, smells like bread, and tastes like bread need no longer suffer the fate of Jan Hus. You could be burned at the stake for saying no more than this, unless you were willing to append the affirmation, 'it is a little piece of nothing which looks like bread and tastes like bread, because these 'accidents' inhere in no subject, they are just there, or maybe nowhere since they inhere in nothing. . .' This teaching was reaffirmed by the Council of Trent, and for good measure all those early church writers who did not believe in it were anathematized and expelled from the church:

"If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, Second Canon, Thirteenth Session).

Where Is It?

The Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation proposes that the bread and wine depart but their 'accidents,' i.e., 'white,' 'flaky,' remain. Where do they remain? It is characteristic of things to occupy a local place, in Aristotle's metaphysics, yet these 'accidents' belong to no 'substance' in the world, no 'subject;' they are orphaned. 'Accidents' do not occupy a place. So where are they? Nowhere, and in nothing? Where the bread and wine were, as a sort of a memory? But they move! And not only that, but the flesh and blood move with them!

According to this theory, you cannot see the flesh and blood though they are there, although you can see the bread and wine though they are not there. As the celebrants move the bread and wine about, we must take it on faith that the flesh and blood are likewise somewhere in the vicinity. How did they get 'stuck' together like that? Somehow the "dimensions" which the bread once had are still there, though the bread is gone: "...the dimensions of the bread remain." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four: Salvation, Chapter 64 [4]). Just as the Cheshire Cat's smile is still there though the cat is gone, so the "dimensions" of the bread just keep right on travelling around, though the bread itself is a non-entity. We are not in Kansas anymore.

The Mouse and the Dog

According to Thomas, a mouse or a dog can devour the Lord's body, fire can destroy it, and the processes of spoiling or putrefaction waste it away:

"Even though a mouse or a dog were to eat the consecrated host, the substance of Christ’s body would not cease to be under the species, so long as those species remain, and that is, so long as the substance of bread would have remained; just as if it were to be cast into the mire. Nor does this turn to any indignity regarding Christ’s body, since He willed to be crucified by sinners without detracting from His dignity; especially since the mouse or dog does not touch Christ’s body in its proper species, but only as to its sacramental species."

(Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part Three, Question 80, Article 3, RO3).

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." (Psalm 16:10).

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." (Matthew 26:26-28).

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 re-examined.

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 the sacrament.

Eternal Life

"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." (John 6:54-58).

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.

Miracle Sign

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 like this:

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).

The Lord's 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." (Acts 15:28-29).

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 flesh:

"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?" (Athenagoras, 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.

Thriceholy Radio

Failure to Communicate

The Pew Research Center asked Catholics the following question:

"44. Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?

"The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or
The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ?" (Appendix B).

What answer did they receive?: "More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ." (p. 8, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, September 2010, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life).

This teaching is so incomprehensible, they have not even convinced Catholics of it. Perhaps these modern Catholics who gave the 'wrong' answer are reverting to the simple and clear teaching of the early church writers, who understood that the Lord's ordinance operates through the spirit not through the flesh: 

“Now, if 'everything that entereth into the mouth goes into the belly and is cast out into the drought,' even the meat which has been sanctified through the word of God and prayer, in accordance with the fact that it is material, goes into the belly and is cast out into the draught, but in respect of the prayer which comes upon it, according to the proportion of the faith, becomes a benefit and is a means of clear vision to the mind which looks to that which is beneficial, and it is not the material of the bread but the word which is said over it which is of advantage to him who eats it not unworthily of the Lord. And these things indeed are said of the typical and symbolical body. But many things might be said about the Word Himself who became flesh, and true meat of which he that eateth shall assuredly live for ever, no worthless person being able to eat it; for if it were possible for one who continues worthless to eat of Him who became flesh, who was the Word and the living bread, it would not have been written, that 'every one who eats of this read shall live for ever.'”

(Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Book 11, Chapter 14, ANF 10, p.740).

Clement goes so far as to call the sacrament a "metaphor," though this overshoots the mark:

"Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat ye my flesh, and drink my blood;” describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both, — of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood. . .Thus in many ways the Word is figuratively described, as meat, and flesh, and food, and bread, and blood, and milk. The Lord is all these, to give enjoyment to us who have believed on Him." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 6).

Augustine comes closer to the target, "Commenting on John's gospel (6.50), he wrote, '"This then is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that the one eating it shall not die." But these words apply only to the validity of the mystery, not its visibility—to an inner eating, not an external one; to what the heart consumes, not what the teeth chew.'" (quoted in Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant, pp. 133-134).


On the Altar

Thomas' monumental life work, building upon his predecessor Albertus Magnus, synthesized Christianity with Aristotle's philosophy. Many had thought this couldn't be done; the pagan philosopher Aristotle, after all, believed in the eternity of the universe versus the Biblical doctrine of creation; he doubted the soul's ability to survive separation from the body, endangering the Christian doctrine of the 'intermediate state;' moreover, in some of his writings, Aristotle's first god would seem to be. . .a really big sphere. Thomas forged on through all these difficulties, crafting a purported conflict between 'reason' and 'faith' (Aristotle = reason, Bible = faith), and patched the thing together. The resulting theory of everything' proved irresistible to many, then and now.

As late as the early thirteenth century, Aristotle's works were publicly burnt, because a heresiarch named Amauri de Bene had woven strands of Aristotle's natural philosophy into his system: "A few executions took place elsewhere, such as that of one of the heresiarchs, Maitre Godin, who was tried and burned at Amiens; the remains of Amauri were exhumed and exposed to the dogs, after which his bones were scattered in the fields; the writings of the enthusiasts were forbidden to be read; the study of natural science in the university was suspended for three years, and the works of Aristotle, which had given rise to the heresy, were publicly burned." (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Book II, Chapter VI, Kindle location 18508). Given that Christianity had gotten along just fine without Aristotle for 1,200 years, why the rush to synthesize the two streams of thought? Keeping up with the Joneses. The Muslims had already rediscovered Aristotle, and consequently Muslim authors like Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes are frequently cited as authorities by the scholastics. The irony is that Aristotle is, for the Muslims, the road not taken; later generations did not appreciate his divergences from orthodoxy:

"The opinion then generally held of Avicenna and Suhrawardi is reflected in another little story in which one man sees the Prophet in his dream and inquires what is his attitude to Avicenna. 'He is a man whom God made to lose his way through knowledge,' the spirit replies.'" (Soheil M. Afnan, Avicenna, His Life and Works, p. 188).

Imagine the possibilities if the Muslims had stuck with atomism, with some of their earlier thinkers! There are Catholics to this day who believe every word of this pagan/Christian fusion. But as Martin Luther complained,

"It is false to say that no one can become a theologian without Aristotle. I state this in opposition to common opinion." (Martin Luther, 'Disputation Against Scholastic Theology,' No. 43).

How, indeed, can anyone compel a Christian to believe in the philosophy of an unregenerate pagan like Aristotle? What about all those believers who struggled and contended before Thomas revived this pagan philosopher?:

"Moreover, the Church had the true faith for more than twelve hundred years, during which time the holy Fathers never once mentioned this transubstantiation—forsooth, a monstrous word for a monstrous idea!— until the pseudophilosophy of Aristotle became rampant in the Church, these last three hundred years, during which many other things have been wrongly defined. . ." (Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Volume II, Kindle location 3677).

The scientific aspects of a 'theory-of-everything' based on Aristotle had to be modified a long time ago. What can you do with the impossibility of a vacuum, spontaneous generation, and geocentrism? The participants in the scientific revolution were obliged to part company with Aristotle and his Christian defenders: "He was not alone: 'The Aristotelian Philosophy is inept for New discoveries,' wrote Joseph Glanvill in 1661." (The Invention of Science, David Wootten, p. 53), and so it was. Henry Power, early investigator of the barometer, wrote in 1664, "This is the Age wherein (me-thinks) Philosophy comes in with a Spring-tide; and the Peripateticks may as well hope to stop the Current of the Tide, or (with Xerxes) to fetter the Ocean, as hinder the overflowing of free Philosophy; Me-thinks, I see how all the old Rubbish must be thrown away, and the rotten Buildings be overthrown, and carried away with so powerful an Inundation." (quoted in The Invention of Science, David Wootten, p. 54). When Thomas Aquinas took up Aristotle's Peripatetics, his science was already more than a millenium old. It has not aged well, and in some aspects, simply must be discarded. What is the value of adopting a theological understanding which can only be phrased in the language of an antique and suspect school of metaphysics? Which, incidentally, was pagan to the core? Aristotle was no believer in transubstantiation, but the fact that you cannot express the concept without employing technical terms from his metaphysics, is a problem.

Martin Luther, in his correspondence with his friends, expressed disdain for the pagan Aristotle:

"What will they not believe who have credited that ridiculous and injurious blasphemer Aristotle? His propositions are so absurd that an ass or a stone would cry out at them." (Martin Luther, Letter to John Lang at Erfurst, Wittenberg, February 8, 1517, p. 26, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Preserved Smith, Chapter IV.)

To Martin Luther, an adequate solution to the 'Aristotle' problem was substituting Augustine, thus Plato.

"Our theology and St. Augustine prosper and reign here, by God's help. Aristotle is gradually tottering to a fall from which he will hardly rise again, and the lectures on the Sentences are wonderfully disrelished." (Martin Luther, letter to John Lang of May 18, 1517, quoted p. 26, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Preserved Smith, Chapter IV).

But Plato in his turn is a pagan philosopher! Better to leave metaphysics to the realm of Christian liberty, rather than formulating doctrine that can only be expressed in the technical terms of a particular teaching. There are many competing schools of philosophy; some doubt them all. Why is this one to be made obligatory for Christians? But the manifest outrage of demanding that all Christians follow Aristotle did not stop Pope Leo XIII from so doing:

 Pope Leo XIII 
Aeterni Patris

At this Thomists, both secular and Catholic, of whom to this day there remain many, may well protest, that what is true, is true, regardless of where it came from. If you overheard the truth spoken by a voice from a stall in a public restroom, it is still the truth and if demonstrated is to be credited. This is so but the history of this development in thought is so remarkable that it cannot be passed over. And if it happens that what is false has an embarrassing pedigree, adherents may find it hard to live down. Classical civilization was overwhelmed by a tide of barbarian migrations sweeping across Europe. As these people came to adopt civilization, often at the same time they adopted Christianity, they progressed but with an underlying sense of inferiority. From the east also barbarian hordes of semi-civilized Arabs swept all before them, submerging the brilliant civilization of Constantinople, though the city itself, on a dwindling foot-print, held out until 1453. At first the Arabs had no interest in the culture of the conquered regions. The story goes, that when John the Grammarian begged of the Arab conqueror of Egypt the volumes of the library at Alexandria, this worthy replied that the contents of these books either repeat that of the Koran, in which case they are superfluous, or else they differ, in which case they are heretical and are to be burnt, thus consigning a priceless treasure to the flames. The celebrated library became fuel for the fire of the bath-houses of Alexandria.

Whether this story is apocryphal or not, Muslim attitudes toward classical civilization changed, and they began to translate these works rather than burn them. Aristotle, though he had been dead for more than a thousand years, became the very latest thing, accumulating Muslim commentators and adherents. Moses Maimonides, a Spanish Jew, picked up the torch. Just as Americans in the 1950's felt helpless and outclassed when they saw the Soviets' Sputnik go winking by in the sky, the European intelligentsia felt they had to catch up. And so they imported it all, lock, stock and barrel, changing very little:

"As the simple idea of one God was the basis of the whole religion of Mohammed, so we can scarcely conceive a hypothesis which the Arabs would not connect with this idea, or deduce from it, while they carried it into their metaphysical speculations, and made it the subject of their lofty encomiums, sentences, and maxims. . . Sects arose among them which, in their disputes, already exercised a refined criticism of abstract reason, and indeed scarcely left the schoolmen of the middle ages anything more to do than to adapt their notions to the doctrines of European Christians. The Jews were the first scholars of this metaphysical theology; afterwards, it came to the newly erected Christian universities where Aristotle appeared first wholly in the Arabian mode, not in the Grecian, and greatly polished and whetted the speculations, polemics, and language of the schools."

(Johann von Herder, Johann. Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man (Kindle Locations 12135-12142). Random Shack.)

How could any Christian possibly be held accountable for such a historically arbitrary development? How can a Christian doctrine be formulated in such a way as only to be meaningful under a particular technical vocabulary, connected with the Muslim-mediated import of a pagan original? The history is so arbitrary! If Aristotle had never found favor amongst the Muslims, a people submerged in error, would scholasticism ever have developed? It would be a shame for humanity if Aristotle's works had been lost, given his clarity in discussing logic, and his positive achievements, for instance pioneering the field of zoological classification. But if they had been lost, how could that possibly have made a difference to Christianity? How can Christian doctrine possibly hang upon phrasing things in just this way, which no Christian ever would have done had the Muslims not done it first?

If an inquirer, observing that the bread and wine neither appear nor taste any different after the 'words of consecration' are spoken, concludes that this is not a physical transaction but a spiritual one, mediated by symbolism, where is the harm? On what basis can the demand be made that he employ a tendentious vocabulary, which was never formulated for any such purpose in the first place, although he finds it meaningless and incomprehensible?

End Times

A central theme of the New Testament is the second coming of Jesus Christ. In the Nicene Creed, Christians confess their hope that "He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead..." Yet evangelical Christians often hear Roman Catholics with whom they discuss this topic interpret scriptural promises of the second coming as referring only to individuals' personal death. How did this happen?

There is an 'intermediate state' described in the Bible, subsequent to personal death but prior to the general resurrection. This condition is a temporary vestibule to eternity, not eternity itself, and should not monopolize attention as it is prone to do in Catholic preaching:

A Catholic Miscellany

Call no Man Father Upon this Rock
Where the Spirit Is The Temple of the Lord
Purgatory Sow the Wind
Once and for All Authority Figures
Forbidding to Marry On the Altar
Immersion End Times
The Thirty Thousand Geocentrism
Socrates the Christian Sistine Ceiling


The Roman Catholic Church has been captured, in modern times, by the same kind of 'liberalism' which has desolated the 'main-line' Protestant Churches. These liberal scholars point out, for example, that the prophet Isaiah talks about events which would only occur hundreds of years after his life-time, such as the return of Israel from captivity. Yet, as everyone knows, it is plainly impossible for a man to know things which had not yet happened; therefore, Isaiah, a historical figure with a known dating, did not write this material, but rather 'Second Isaiah' and 'Third Isaiah.' Inventing these two latter characters solves the dilemma! Is there any reason for a Christian to embrace these ideas?:

Mary   Mary: Mediatrix?