Friday, March 13, 2009

A Closer Look at Transubstantiation

by David E. Lister, published by Moriel Ministries (2002)

Transubstantiation is derived from the Latin term tansubsubstaniato, meaning ”change of substance”. This term was incorporated into the creed of the Forth Latern Council in A.D. 1215.

Transubstantiation is defined by the Roman Catholic Church’s Council of Trent as follows: “By the consecration of the bread and wine, a conversion (or change) is made 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; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.”

The Catechism of the Council of Trent expands this belief by stating: “In this sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ, and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ whole and entire”. It also explains, “Christ whole and entire, is contained, not only under either species, but also in each particle of the same species.” (Species = bread and wine)

The Church of Rome teaches that when the priest in the Mass blesses the bread, it is no longer bread but Jesus Christ himself and similarly the wine is Jesus Christ himself.

This poses a question. Has this Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation always been taught since the time of the Apostles? Has this doctrine that the bread and wine of communion actually transforms into the actual body of Christ, been understood and accepted by the early Christian laity and Apostles? In the book of Acts, Chapter 2, verse 42 and in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10 verse 16, the term used for what we know as communion today was “breaking of bread.” The term communion seems to become the common vernacular by the Councils of Elura and Arles in A.D. 314 and again at Nice in A.D. 325. In A.D. 418, the term the Lord’s Supper is used in the notes from the Council of Carthage. Irenaeus used the term Oblation to agree with biblical terminology found in 1 Corinthians Ch. 11:20. Pliny uses the term Sacrament in a letter to Trajan and also to Tertullian and Cyprian. The original meaning of the term Eucharist, was simply thanksgiving and in this sense was used by Ignatius, Irenaeus, Origen and others. Justin Martyr, Origen, Eusebius and Chrysostom also call the communion ”Memorial”. The Latin terminology of the “Mass” originally signified the dismissal of a Church assembly. It then came to be applied to the assembly itself, as Eusebius uses it in his History of the Church, and from there it came to denote the Communion Service. It was not until Ambrose, that the term Mass was used to denote communion. At no time in the early history of the church was the doctrine of Transubstantiation used or employed to mean that the bread and wine turn into the body of Jesus. But we do know there seems to be an introduction of heresy that would affect how the Roman Catholic Church would eventually practice “communion,” in the 4th century when the queen of heaven, under the name of Mary, was beginning to be worshiped in the Christian Church, this ” unbloody sacrifice” was also brought in. Epiphanius states that the practice of offering and eating it began among the women of Arabia; and at that time it was well known to have been adopted from the Pagans. (Se Epiphanius, Adversus Hoereses, Vol.1 P 1054.)

With the passage of time and further introduction of pagan practices into Roman Catholicism, a friar named Anastatius, In A.D. 637, rejected the figurative language and employed the doctrine of ”Real Presence”. In A.D. 754, at the Council of Constantinople, John Damascene, a condemned image-worshipper wrote: “The bread and wine are supernaturally changed by the invocation and coming of the Holy Ghost into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are not two, but one and the same… The bread and wine are not the type or the figure of the body and blood of Jesus Christ - ah, God forbid! - but the body itself of our Lord deified.” Pashus Radbert the Abbot of Corbie advanced this doctrine even further. In A.D. 818 he wrote a treatise, which finally overthrew both the Scriptural belief and the early church history. He stated, “What was received in the Sacrament is the same flesh as that which was born of the Virgin Mary, and which suffered death for us; and though the figure of bread and wine doth remain, yet you must absolutely believe that, after consecration, it is nothing but the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.” This doctrine was further developed and finally made a dogma by Pope Innocent III.

However, it was not without opposition from within the Roman Catholic Church that this doctrine came to pass. Pashus Radbert writes ”that there are many that in these mystical things are of another opinion.” Others who were against this doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church were Aefric, Abbot of Malmesbury (A.D.905) and Berengarius, Peter Lombard (A.D.1150) and Bede in the 8th Century. The early church fathers opposed this doctrine. They never acknowledged any change in the elements or believed in any corporal presence. Tertullian stated “Christ, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, made it His body by saying, “This is my body’, that is, the figure of my body.” Even Orgien, acknowledges “that they (bread and wine) are figures which are written in the sacred volumes; therefore as spiritual not as carnal, examine and understand what is said. For if as carnal you receive them, they hurt, not nourish you.” Both Cyril of Jerusalem and Eusebius of Caesarea denied Transubstantiation. Cyril stated, “Under the type of bread His body given unto thee, and under the type of wine His blood given unto thee.” Eusebius qualifies communion as “Christ Himself gave the symbols of the Divine ceremony to His own disciples that the image of His own body should be made. He appointed to use bread as a symbol of His own body.” Furthermore, supporters of Rome and the papacy suggested that “there was nothing in the Gospels that may enforce us to understand Christ’s words properly, yea, nothing in the text (’This is My body’) hinders but those words may as well be taken in a metaphysical sense, as the words of the Apostle, ‘the Rock was Christ’… That part, which the Gospel hath not expressed, viz., the conversion of the bread in the body and blood of Christ, we have received expressly from the Church.” Bellarmine, another Roman scholar admitted “there is no express place of Scripture to prove Transubstantiation without the declaration of the Church.”

Since Roman Catholic Church scholars cannot find a scriptural basis for this doctrine, is it any wonder that those who believe that the Bible is God’s word (and it is complete for instruction in life, doctrine and righteousness), also are unable to find a scriptural basis for Transubstantiation and therefore would reject it as a Truth from God and necessary for salvation. Therefore, as we have been given a sound mind and are instructed to search the scriptures to see what is true and then to hold fast to what is true, we find the doctrine of Transubstantiation illogical! The Lord Jesus at the Last Supper handed the broken bread to the apostles and stated, “This is my body”. However He was in his earthly body, 100 percent human. Yet this doctrine would destroy human nature by having the ability to be in multiple places at one time. Rome teaches that Christ is corporally on the altar but without any “accidents.” Accidents mean color, scent, form, and taste, the very things that make substances discernable. Yet again, we are to deny all logic and sensibility to believe that Christ is present upon the altar!

Christ warned that deceivers would come among us to deceive us and to tell us that He was here or there and that we were not to believe them. Christ also warned us that we were to be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, those who teach the precepts of man as the doctrines of God. Again, Rome is at variance with it’s own scholars and the early church fathers, as it teaches a doctrine (Transubstantiation) from men as the precepts of God. With this unbiblical form of teaching in the Roman Catholic Church, is it any wonder that they end up perverting the sacrament of communion by withholding the communion cup from the laity. The Council of Constance in A.D.1414 first formalized this doctrine. Pope Innocent III formalized it later and pronounced it a doctrine and then The Council of Trent (1537) confirmed his heresy. Even though the Council of Constance freely admits, “that the cup was received by all in former times,” they nonetheless go ahead and destroy the sacrament, this precious sacrament that the Lord Jesus Christ himself gave to us. “Do this in remembrance of me”

If you are Roman Catholic, we would ask you to turn to the Holy Scriptures and re-read the passages that teach about this sacrament and see if you can find the doctrine of Transubstantiation without the filter of the Roman Catholic Church. May God open your eyes and may the scales fall from them in order that you may come to His table and enjoy this sacrament, both the bread and the wine, in truth. Then ask yourself can there be salvation in a communion in which it is declared to be a fundamental principle, that the Madonna is ” our greatest hope; yea, the SOLE GROUND OF OUR HOPE ”? (The language of the late Pope Gregory, which was substantially endorsed by the late Pontiff John Paul II). The time is come when charity to the perishing souls of men, hoodwinked by a Pagan priesthood, abusing the name of Christ, requires that the truth in this matter should be clearly, loudly, unflinchingly proclaimed.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Thanks for this very informative article. This one goes in my files!

George Weis said...


I will have to read this over more thoroughly, but I can tell you one thing. As I read the ECFs I am not seeing what this fellow is seeing.

Matter of fact, Justin Martyr was the first guy I picked up, and he whacked me over the head with his description of the Eucharist. This is the very thing that made me approach the subject in a completely different way.

I started on the offense... hoping to find support in the ECFs to deny the Roman position... since Justin gave me a bonk followed by Ignatius, Clement of Rome and Eusebius (One of my fav books "HOC") I continue to be struck with opposing thoughts. At the very least, the overwhelming ideas voiced by these early Christians is at least 85% more Catholic in nature.

I continue to delve deeper. Yes, I know there have been opposing views here and there... I wrote a post last year about a debate between 2 monks before the dogmatic declaration was made on Transubstantiation... but even the great Augustine's teachings were taken with a grain of salt. Some things were supported... others not so much.

Anyway, I could get into it, but I am not big on long-winded comments :)

Blessings in the name of Christ our Lord,

Marie said...

Hi George,

Thanks for your comment. Actually, Justin Martyr did not believe in the transubstantiation, as his writing on the Eucharist has been understood by theologians through the centuries. On his First Apologetic specifically:

Justin Martyr (A.D. 151) writes:

For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was make incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh are nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66).

“The change of which our body and flesh are nourished” is not a reference to transubstantiation. According to Catholic author William A. Jurgenes, “The change referred to here is the change which takes place when the food we eat is assimilated and becomes part of our own body” (Jurgens W, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume I, p. 57).

Justin Martyn calls the Eucharistic bread and wine "the flesh and the blood" of Jesus. Justin believed in the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. However Justin also believed that the bread and wine do not cease to be bread and wine. He speaks of their partaking "of the bread and wine" over which thanksgiving was pronounced. Elsewhere Justin calls the consecrated elements “bread” and “the cup.” They are the flesh and blood of Christ insofar that they are given in remembrance of his incarnation and 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).

Clearly, while Justin believed in the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, he also believed that the elements remained bread and wine given in remembrance of Christ. Therefore Justin Martyr's view on the Eucharist is dissimilar from the Roman Catholic transubstantiation, and as such he is anathemized by the Roman Church.

(Me again) So his view could most closely be compared to the Lutheran view of "consubstantiation". It goes without saying that all the ECFs were human and therefore fallible (I'm currently studying early apologetics on the Atonement, and the ranson/propitiation terminology was not clearly defined in the earliest period of the Church), but nowhere do they reflect the standard Roman view on the Eucharist.

A synopsis on Augustine's writing:


Catholic authors often misuse Augustine’s figurative writings to support the doctrine of transubstantiation. The following example is a case in point:

That bread, which you can see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That cup, or rather what the cup contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. It was by means of these things that the Lord Christ wished to present us with his body and blood, which he shed for our sake for the forgiveness of sins. If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive. You see, the apostle says, We, being many, are one loaf, one body (1 Cor. 10.17). That's how he explained the sacrament of the Lord's Table; one loaf, one body, is what we all are, many though we be (Augustine, Sermons, 227).

Augustine believed that in a sense the elements are the body and blood of Jesus. “The bread…is the body of Christ…that cup…is the blood of Christ.” In what sense is he speaking? Is the substance of the bread changed into the body of Christ? Or is bread the body of Christ in a symbolic sense? We can readily discover the answer to this all important question.

First, looking at the context, it is clear that Augustine is using figurative language. Just as he asserts that the bread is the body of Christ, he is equally emphatic that Christians are one loaf, one body. Clearly, he means that the one Eucharistic loaf represents the unity among believers. Similarly, “by means of these things” - the bread and the cup - the Lord presents his people with his body and blood. The Eucharistic elements are the figure or sign of Christ, as Augustine asserts explicitly elsewhere in his writings:


The Lord did not hesitate to say: “This is My Body”, when He wanted to give a sign of His body” (Augustine, Against Adimant).

He [Christ] committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood” (Augustine, on Psalm 3).

[The sacraments] 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” (Augustine, Letter 98, From Augustine to Boniface).

The Eucharist is the figure of the body and blood of Jesus. Since the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, it is acceptable to call them His body and His blood. The bread resembles the body; therefore it is called the body even though it is not the reality it represents. That is perfectly normal in figurative language.

Augustine believed that the bread and cup were signs, which he defines in this manner: “a sign is a thing which, over and above the impression it makes on the senses, causes something else to come into the mind as a consequence of itself” (On Christian Doctrine, 2, 1). Therefore, when we see the bread, something else comes to mind, namely, the body of Christ. The mistake of the modern Catholic Church is to confuse the sign with the reality it represents.

Augustine rightly warns that "to take signs for the things that are signified by them, is a mark of weakness and bondage" (On Christian Doctrine 3,9). Augustine is here referring to the sacrament of baptism and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord. Thus, to confuse the bread (the sign) for the body of Christ (the signified) is, according to Augustine a mark of weakness and bondage.

Eusebius underscored the symbolic meaning of the communion bread in his work, as well.

Marie said...

Here's a thorough explanation of how and why transubstantiation is completely unsupported, either scripturally or in the early Church:

George Weis said...


I do understand what Justin's particular statement was... that is why I said it is at least 85% more Catholic... and yes... perhaps Lutheran (Catholic Light if you will).

I have not Hit Eusebius portion on that yet... so once I do I talk about it with you :)


George Weis said...

So what position do you take Marie? Con, Real Pres (Anglican style), Spiritual Presence or Memorialist?


Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie said...

Hi George,

Memorialist and Spiritual Presence aren't mutually exclusive; they both have Scriptural support. Although I don't fully understand the way in which Christ is present with us through the sacrament -- (can anyone, really?) You can't argue against Spiritual Presence - but it is a mystery how, exactly, He is among us. The sacraments He left us are memorials and commands, but I don't think we can fully or perfectly understand the symbolism inherent in them. All we have to go on is Scripture, and His instructions are clear. Trying to go beyond what the Bible says in matters of faith is risky (although tempting!) I constantly try to figure it all out perfectly, although as Paul said "now we see through a glass darkly". Just another motivation to keep studying, I guess.