Francis Beckwith explains (in a blog entry / column titled: “Transubstantiation: From Stumbling Block to Cornerstone“):

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a real stumbling block to some Protestants who are seriously considering Catholicism. It was for me too, until I explored the subject, historically and scripturally.

Transubstantiation is one of those Roman dogmas that spectacularly fails the tests of history and Scripture, so it was interesting to read what Beckwith wrote. It was particularly interesting because Beckwith views transubstantiation as a cornerstone, whereas for us (Reformed), the cornerstone of our theology is the Word of God.

Beckwith begins by allegedly setting for the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Catholicism holds that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when they are consecrated by the priest celebrating the Mass. Oftentimes non-Catholics get hung up on the term transubstantiation, the name for the philosophical theory that the Church maintains best accounts for the change at consecration.

There’s a tiny problem that Beckwith hasn’t accurately represented his church’s position. The position of Rome is that:

And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; but the Body indeed under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, by the force of that natural connexion and concomitancy whereby the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are united together; and the divinity, furthermore, on account of the admirable hypostatical union thereof with His body and soul. Wherefore it is most true, that as much is contained under either species as under both; for Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof.

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion 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.

– Trent, Session XIII, Chapters 3-4

Notice what is actually involved:

1) The bread becomes not just the body of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains bread.

2) The wine becomes not just the blood of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains wine.

These can perhaps be seen in the first three canons that Trent set forth in the same session:

CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, 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 denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.

Notice that is not simply viewed as “the best explanation.” It’s so central to the Roman faith that if you deny it, you are under Trent’s anathema. It’s as central as the divinity of Christ is, to a Christian.

Beckwith argues:

There are several reasons why it would be a mistake to dismiss transubstantiation simply because of the influence of Aristotle on its formulation. First, Eastern Churches in communion with the Catholic Church rarely employ this Aristotelian language, and yet the Church considers their celebration of the Eucharist perfectly valid. Second, the Catholic Church maintains that the divine liturgies celebrated in the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome (commonly called “Eastern Orthodoxy”) are perfectly valid as well, even though the Eastern Orthodox rarely employ the term transubstantiation. Third, the belief that the bread and wine are literally transformed into Christ’s body and blood predates Aristotle’s influence on the Church’s theology by over 1000 years. For it was not until the thirteenth century, and the ascendancy of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought, that Aristotle’s categories were employed by the Church in its account of the Eucharist. In fact, when the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) employed the language of substantial change, St. Thomas had not even been born!

I answer:

First, the primary reason to reject transubstantiation has nothing to do with Aristotle. The primary reason to reject transubstantiation is that it is not taught by Scripture. In fact, the teachings of Scripture contradict transubstantiation.

Second, it is unclear what relevance Beckwith thinks that the approval of Eastern-rite liturgies that don’t use the term “transubstantiation” is. Even the Latin-rite New Order of the Mass doesn’t use the term “transubstantiation.” (as can be seen by reviewing this pdf). Those points are totally irrelevant to the question.

Third, yes – the term “transubstantiation” (transsubstantiatio) was used by the 4th Lateran Council, 10 years before Aquinas was born. But the 4th Lateran Council affirmed much less than what Trent affirmed:

There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us.

(Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 1)

Notice that there is nothing there about each species being the whole Christ, nothing there about the soul and divinity being present, and nothing about the substance of the bread being absent. No doubt the teachings of the Fourth Lateran Council were in error, but they were not as extreme as Trent was.

As for the claim about “1000 years,” it’s a hollow claim. He continues that claim this way:

It was that third point that I found so compelling and convinced me that the Catholic view of the Eucharist was correct. It did not take long for me to see that Eucharistic realism (as I like to call it) had been uncontroversially embraced deep in Christian history. This is why Protestant historian, J. N. D. Kelly, writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.” I found it in many of the works of the Early Church Fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110), St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 151), St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A. D. 251), First Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A. D. 350), and St. Augustine of Hippo (A. D. 411) . These are, of course, not the only Early Church writings that address the nature of the Eucharist. But they are representative.

The problem is that Beckwith has been convinced to accept the Roman view despite the evidence. The evidence of “Eucharistic realism” is one thing, and perhaps it is an important thing to the Roman position.

Nevertheless, there is no teaching during the first 800 or so years of the church that has these characteristics:

1) The bread becomes not just the body of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains bread.

2) The wine becomes not just the blood of Christ, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, and no longer remains wine.

Yet that is what Trent teaches and makes central to the Roman faith. You may find fathers who echo the Scriptural metaphor of the bread being the body and the cup being the blood. You may even find some fathers who go further, and insist that the relationship is more than a mere symbol, but instead is a symbol with power. You may find fathers that talk about a spiritual presence. But you won’t find what Trent teaches.

I openly challenge the Roman apologists to bring forth any example of a church father who says that after the consecration the bread is the blood of Christ, much less any church father that teaches both (1) and (2) as explained above. In short, any father of the church that teaches what Trent makes central to the faith.

Two of my favorite example of the metaphors of the fathers are from Ignatius:

You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith (which is the flesh of the Lord) and in love (which is the blood of Jesus Christ).
Greek text: Ὑμεῖς οὖν τὴν πραϋπάθειαν ἀναλαβόντες ἀνακτίσασθε ἑαυτοὺς ἐν πίστει, ὅ ἐστιν σὰρξ τοῦ κυρίου, καὶ ἐν ἀγάπῃ, ὅ ἐστιν αἷμα Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd. ed., The Letters of Ignatius, To the Trallians, Chapter 8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 163.

And again:

Ignatius (@ 110 AD): I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love.
Greek text: Oὐχ ἥδομαι τροφῇ φθορᾶς οὐδὲ ἡδοναῖς τοῦ βίου τούτου. Ἄρτον θεοῦ θέλω, ὅ ἐστιν σὰρξ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, «τοῦ ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυίδ», καὶ πόμα θέλω τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγάπη ἄφθαρτος.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, eds. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd. ed., The Letters of Ignatius, To the Romans, Chapter 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 175.

And, of course, there are fathers who seem to have taken a view that is inconsistent with the crassly carnal view of Rome, such as Tertullian:

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.

ANF, Vol. 3, Against Marcion, 4.40.

Beckwith doesn’t really make a Biblical argument. He does reference the Bible though, and he does so in this way:

This should, however, not surprise us, given what the Bible says about the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-25; Lk. 22:7-23), which we commemorate at Holy Communion, he referred to it as a Passover meal. He called the bread and wine his body and blood. In several places, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1: 29, 36; I Peter 1:19; Rev. 5:12). Remember, when the lamb is killed for Passover, the meal participants ingest the lamb. Consequently, St. Paul’s severe warnings about partaking in Holy Communion unworthily only make sense in light of Eucharistic realism (I Cor. 10:14-22; I Cor. 11:17-34). He writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? . . . Whoever, therefore eats and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 10:16; 11:27)

But, of course, nowhere does Scripture confuse the symbols and call the bread his blood or the cup his body. Nowhere does the Scripture deny that the bread is still bread or that the cup still contains actual food.

Moreover, Scripture is rich in metaphor – including metaphor:

  • in which the body of Christ is called “true meat” and his blood is called “true drink” (John 6:55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.)
  • in which Christ is called the “bread from heaven” (John 6:32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.)
  • in which Christ is called the “bread of Life” (John 6:35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.)

as well as other metaphors in which Jesus is a vine (John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.), a door (John 10:7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.), and a shepherd (John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.). But, of course, no amount of evidence that metaphor is abundant or that exactly the opposite metaphors are also used, will persuade those who seek to impose their heretical doctrine on Scripture.

Beckwith concludes:

In light of all these passages and the fact that Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:41-51) and that he said that his followers must “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” (John 6:53), the Eucharistic realism of the Early Church, the Eastern Churches (both in and out of communion with Rome), and the pre-Reformation medieval Church (fifth to sixteenth centuries) seems almost unremarkable. So, what first appeared to be a stumbling block was transformed into a cornerstone.

Notice how blindly Beckwith cites John 6! That metaphor (“Bread of Life”) is exactly the opposite of the metaphor (“This is my body”), but yet Beckwith seems to easily grasp one metaphor while stumbling over the other as though it were intended quasi-literally (I don’t say “literally” because literally that would mean that both the accidents and substance of a body were present – this “substance-only” idea is not “literal”).

Beckwith fails to consider that Jesus explains his hard words that he uttered in John 6:53, only a few verses later:

John 6:61-63
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

And if Beckwith had studied Augustine more, he would have seen that Augustine explains this the same way:

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.” It was they who were hard, not the saying; for unless they had been hard, and not meek, they would have said unto themselves, He saith not this without reason, but there must be some latent mystery herein. They would have remained with Him, softened, not hard: and would have learnt that from Him which they who remained, when the others departed, learnt. For when twelve disciples had remained with Him, on their departure, these remaining followers suggested to Him, as if in grief for the death of the former, that they were offended by His words, and turned back. 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.

NPNF1: Vol. VIII, St. Augustin on the Psalms, Psalm 99 (98), §8.

So, while there may be some vague “Eucharistic realism” out there in the fathers, that does not convert Jesus’ metaphors into the Tridentine absurdity, in which the bread is said to be not only the body of the Lord, but his blood, soul, and divinity as well – and not at all to be bread, except as to appearances. Had Beckwith founded himself on the Word of God, rather than on the traditions of men, he would not be led into this error. Since he has rejected, however, the Word of God, he has a new cornerstone for himself.


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