Transubstantiation (in Latin, transsubstantiatio) is the actual change of the substance of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ occurring in the Eucharist according to the teaching of some Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, while all that is accessible to the senses remain as before. In Greek it is called μετουσίωσις (see Metousiosis).
When at his Last Supper, Jesus said: "This is my body", what he held in his hands still had all the appearances of bread: these "accidents" remained unchanged. However, the Roman Catholic Church believes that, when Jesus made that declaration, the underlying reality (the "substance") of the bread was converted to that of his body. In other words, it actually was his body, while all the appearances open to the senses or to scientific investigation were still those of bread, exactly as before. The Church holds that the same change of the substance of the bread and of the wine occurs at the consecration of the Eucharist.
Because Christ, risen from the dead, is living, the Church holds that, when the bread is changed into his body, not only his Body is present, but Christ as a whole i.e. body and blood, soul and divinity. The same holds for the wine changed into his Blood. This belief goes beyond the doctrine of transubstantiation, which directly concerns only the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
In accordance with this belief that Christ is really, truly and substantially present under the remaining appearances of bread and wine, and continues to be present as long as those appearances remain, the Catholic Church preserves the consecrated elements, generally in a church tabernacle, for administering Holy Communion to the sick and dying, and also for the secondary, but still highly prized, purpose of adoring Christ present in the Eucharist.
The Roman Catholic Church considers the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is about what is changed, not about how the change occurs, the best defence against what it sees as the mutually opposed interpretations, on the one hand, a merely figurative understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (it teaches that the change of the substance is real), and, on the other hand, an interpretation that would amount to cannibalistic eating of the flesh and corporal drinking of the blood of Christ (it teaches that the accidents that remain are real, not an illusion, and that Christ is "really, truly, and substantially present" in the Eucharist, not physically present, as he was physically present in the Palestine of two millennia ago).
In the acrimonious arguments which characterised the relationship between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism in the 16th century, the Council of Trent declared subject to the ecclesiastical penalty of anathema anyone who "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" and anyone who "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. Many Protestant groups now celebrate Holy Communion more frequently than in years past, and no longer see such a practice as 'Roman'. There is also the tendency in some Protestant denominations to consider Christ to be present in the Eucharistic elements, though none would subscribe to belief in transubstantiation.
As already stated, the Roman Catholic Church insists that the "accidents" that remain are real. In the sacrament these are the signs of the reality that they efficaciously signify.And by definition sacraments are "efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.
Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, who together constitute about two thirds of Christians, hold that the consecrated elements in the Eucharist are indeed the body and blood of Christ. Some Anglicans hold the same belief. They see as the main Scriptural support for their belief that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are actually changed into the Body and Blood of Christ the words of Jesus himself at his Last Supper: the Synoptic Gospels and Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians recount that in that context Jesus said of what to all appearances were bread and wine: "This is my body … this is my blood." Belief in the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is based on these words of Christ at the Last Supper as interpreted by Christians from the earliest times, as for instance by Ignatius of Antioch.
Many Protestants do not accept this literal interpretation of these words of Jesus. They say that Jesus repeatedly spoke in non-literal terms e.g. "I am the bread of life", "I am the door", "I am the vine", "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" etc. Figurative language in the Synoptic Gospels, the gospels that give the words of Jesus at his Last Supper, includes: "You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world" and many other verses. They believe that because what Jesus was holding when he said "this is my body" appeared to be bread, it was very obvious to the apostles that he was not speaking in a literal sense and rather using a metaphor. They quote David's words in , where, speaking figuratively, he said of water that had been obtained at the risk of men's lives: "Is not this the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?" They point to , where Jesus spoke of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees": the disciples thought he said it because they had brought no bread, but Jesus made them understand that he was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. However, such Christians do not view the bread and wine of the Lord's supper as common bread and wine but respect them as symbols of the body of Jesus Christ.
Believers in the literal sense of Christ's words, "This is my body", "This is my blood" claim that there is a marked contrast between metaphorical figurative expressions that of their nature have a symbolic meaning and what Jesus said about concrete things that he held in his hands and presented to the apostles.
The Gospel of John presents Jesus as saying: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you … he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" and as then not toning down these sayings, even when many of his disciples thereupon abandoned him shocked at the idea, which appeared to be in conflict not only with ordinary human sentiment but also with the Noahide Law's prohibition against consuming the blood even of animals (see , , cf. and Council of Jerusalem).
In response to a report that, when Corinthian Christians came together to celebrate the Lord's Supper, there were divisions among them, with some eating and drinking to excess, while others were hungry Paul the Apostle reminded them of Jesus' words at the Last Supper and concluded: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" ().
In general, Orthodox and Catholics consider it unnecessary to "prove" from texts of Scripture a belief that they see as held by Christians from earliest times, since the Church and its teaching existed before any part of the New Testament was written, and the teaching of the apostles was thus transmitted not only in writing but also orally. They see nothing in Scripture that contradicts the traditional teaching that the reality beneath the visible signs in the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Instead, they see this teaching as definitely implied in the Bible.
Christians of Protestant tradition postulate that the only doctrines that need to be held are those expressed or implied in the Bible, and deny that the Bible implies that the bread and wine are in reality changed into the body and blood of Christ. They claim that this belief contradicts what they see as the central message of the gospel of Christ and that it is therefore heretical. They say that inspired Scripture documents strange doctrines infiltrating the Church even while the apostles were still living, doctrines that had to be defended against by the "elders of the church".
In early writings, the elements of the Eucharist were sometimes spoken of as "symbols" or "antitypes". However, it seems that there was likely no intention of denying the belief in a transformation of the elements. Later, as the earlier conception of a "symbol" as that which conveys and is what it represents gave way to the understanding of it as being other than what it represents, the description of the bread and wine as symbols dropped out or was denied.
The short document known as the Didache, which may be the earliest Church document outside of the New Testament to speak of the Eucharist, makes no statement affirming or denying that it is the body and blood of Christ, but speaks of it as a "sacrifice": "On the Lord's Day come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure; but let none who has a quarrel with his fellow join in your meeting until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice be not defiled.
A letter by Saint Ignatius of Antioch of about the same date as the Didache is an early apologetic defense of the belief in the Eucharist as the same body and blood in which Christ died and was raised again. Ignatius's teaching was directed against the Gnostics. Writing to the Christians of Smyrna, in about 106, he warned them to "stand aloof from such heretics", because, among other reasons, "they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.
In about 150, Justin Martyr wrote of the Eucharist: "Not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
The Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 380) says: "Let the bishop give the oblation, saying, The body of Christ; and let him that receiveth say, Amen. And let the deacon take the cup; and when he gives it, say, The blood of Christ, the cup of life; and let him that drinketh say, Amen.
Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) wrote:
Other fourth-century Christian writers say that in the Eucharist there occurs a "change", "transelementation", "transformation", "transposing", "alteration of the bread into the body of Christ.
The earliest known use of the term "transubstantiation" to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133), in about 1079, long before the Latin West, under the influence especially of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1227-1274), accepted Aristotelianism.
The objective reality of the Eucharistic change is also believed in by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the other ancient Churches of the east, where Aristotelian philosophy never prevailed.
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council used the word transubstantiated in its profession of faith, when speaking of the change that takes place in the Eucharist. It was only later in the thirteenth century that Aristotelian metaphysics was accepted and a philosophical elaboration in line with that metaphysics was developed, which found classic formulation in the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas."
In 1551 the Council of Trent officially defined, with a minimum of technical philosophical language, 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.
In line with this definition, rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation was considered heresy during the five-year reign (1553-1558) of Mary I of England. John Frith, John Rogers, and Rowland Taylor were executed for refusing to accept it, as recounted in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Mary's successor Elizabeth declared that: "Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions"; and made assistance at Mass illegal.
Anglicans generally consider no teaching binding that, according to the Articles, "cannot be found in Holy Scripture or proved thereby." Consequently, some Anglicans (especially Anglo-Catholics and High Church Anglicans) accept transubstantiation, while others do not. In any case, the Articles are not considered binding on any but Church of England clergy, especially for Anglican Churches other than the Church of England. While Archbishop John Tillotson decried the "real barbarousness of this Sacrament and Rite of our Religion", considering it a great impiety to believe that people who attend Holy Communion "verily eat and drink the natural flesh and blood of Christ. And what can any man do more unworthily towards a Friend? How can he possibly use him more barbarously, than to feast upon his living flesh and blood?" (Discourse against Transubstantiation, London 1684, 35), official writings of the Churches of the Anglican Communion have consistently upheld belief in the Real Presence. Some recent Anglican writers explicitly accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, or, while avoiding the term "transubstantiation", speak of an "objective presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. On the other hand, others hold views, such as consubstantiation or "pneumatic presence", close to those of Reformed Protestant Churches.
Theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church has produced common documents that speak of "substantial agreement" about the doctrine of the Eucharist: the ARCIC Windsor Statement of 1971, and its 1979 Elucidation. Remaining arguments can be found in the Church of England's pastoral letter: The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity.
A few Protestants apply to the doctrine of the Real Presence the warning that Jesus gave to His disciples in : "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not", believing that "secret chambers" (also translated as "inner rooms", "a secret place", "indoors in the room") fits as a description for church tabernacles in which consecrated hosts are stored. They thus do not believe the words of those who say that Jesus Christ's person, spirit and divinity reside inside church tabernacles in host form. They believe that Christ's words at the Last Supper were meant to be taken metaphorically and believe that support for a metaphorical interpretation comes from Christ's other teachings that utilized food in general bread and leaven as metaphors. They believe that when Christ returns in any substance with any physical form (accidental or actual), it will be apparent to all and that no man will have to point and say "there He is".
Protestant Churches that hold strong beliefs against the consumption of alcohol replace wine with grape juice during the Lord's supper. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also referred to as Mormons), a Restorationist sect, uses bread and water to commemoratively symbolize Christ's body and blood.
Others, such as some Presbyterian denominations, profess belief in the Real Presence, but offer explanations other than transubstantiation. Classical Presbyterianism held the Calvinist view of "pneumatic" presence or "spiritual feeding." However, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) signed " A Formula for Agreement" with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, both affirmed belief in the Real Presence.
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