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Supper at Emmaus sml


Supper at Emmaus

This post continues from last week’s Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist. I suggest you read that post first. This post is part of a dialogue with other sites proposing “virtualism” as a new way forward, a “middle way” between real presence and receptionism.

I contend that the Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements of consecrated bread and wine is a mystery beyond our comprehension. We seem to be able to live with mysteries – I cannot even explain how my phone works, but I know it does, and I am happy to use it. I have a similar approach to Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.

But (as with phones), there are models which point to how Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist works. Receptionism is towards the “Real Absence” end of the spectrum (Real Absence: Christ is present everywhere EXCEPT in the consecrated bread and wine). Receptionism seems intent on opposing the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and others by holding that Christ’s presence is not in, with, or under the bread and wine, but Christ is present in the believer’s heart. What is fascinating is that the same mockery that Receptionists apply to those (majority of Christianity) who reverently hold to Christ’s Eucharistic Presence isn’t applied by them to their own theory: how is Christ present in the believer’s heart? Is Christ physically found in the right atrium or the left ventricle? Have there been scientific investigations to compare a believer’s heart to a non-believer’s heart? And before and after receiving communion? And so forth…

My point: reality cannot be accessed neat. We, humans, approach reality with signposts, metaphors, and models. This is no more true than with our language about God, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and in this case, Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.

Aristotle came up with an understanding of “substance” and “accidents”. The substance is bread; the accidents are the way it looks, tastes, etc. Transubstantiation borrows this concept and uses it for a model for the Eucharist. It looks like bread; if analysed, it appears in every way as bread – but, after consecration, it is the the Risen and Glorified Christ who is fully present under the appearance of bread; similarly, the Risen and Glorified Christ is fully present under the appearance of consecrated wine.

It might be argued that Aristotle would not agree with this usage of “substance” and “accidents”. For him, accidents cannot exist without its substance as its subject. Others would argue that Aristotle left a grey area: that it is often difficult to define what a substance is. What, we would say nowadays, is the substance of bread? And that Thomas Aquinas, for example, exploited this grey area. I would suggest that it is not necessary to hold to Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accidents”, and that “transubstantiation” can be used as a model. But, in doing so, one must continuously remind people (including those with an anti-RC bias) of what the model is actually teaching, and what it is not teaching.

I conclude this post by highlighting, for example, that transubstantiation insists that Christ’s Eucharistic Presence is not local. Thomas Aquinas was clear: “In no way is Christ’s body locally in this sacrament.” And, when the consecrated bread and wine is moved, the Presence of Christ is not.

To be continued…

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20 thoughts on “Transubstantiation”

  1. What the teaching is to me on the receiving of the concentrated bread and wine is the proof on God’s existence in my physical life. This is brought about through good faith in the acciental communing with others at the altar and the wellbeing feeling I take with me as I leave. Thanks for sharing Bosco. Blessings.

  2. It is interesting to compare the way that we believe. Jesus said that blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.

    When I was raised in the RC Church, the teaching of Jesus’ presence in the elements of the Eucharist was one of the things that you had or were expected to believe, and as a child, I took that on board.

    Subsequently, when I became an Anglican, I accepted the teaching that the Eucharist was a commemoration of the Sacrifice on the Cross, and that Jesus was alongside us as we celebrated the Eucharist.

    Now, a much more mature Anglican, I seem to have reverted more towards my childhood belief, that Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is real and that the elements once consecrated are the sacred body and blood of Christ. When they are raised, I am drawn to say my childhood prayer “My Lord and My God”, I have no understandable explanation for this, apart from my being exposed to the teaching of the Sacramental nature of the Anglo Catholic wing of the CofE.

    George Guiver in his book “The Fire and the Clay” opened my eyes and heart to a whole aspect of being an Anglican, and I thank God for his teaching, which inspired a renewal in my heart, mind and body of something essentially catholic, but available to me in my Anglican Context.

    Belief or how we come to believe is a mystery, but one that I am thankful for. God draws us to himself in different ways, and I am thankful for that, and the insights of those who have opened my eyes to a wider picture and imagery of Jesus and how we commemorate him.

    1. Thanks, Ernie. I have been helped by George Guiver’s writings too – now I have another of his books to get 🙂 Blessings.

        1. Thanks, Laurence. I’m struggling to see how you connect purgatory into this conversation; I’m also struggling with where, exactly, “The Letter to the Hebrews negates the concept of both transubstantiation”. A little more to substantiate your claim would be appreciated. Blessings.

  3. “Christ is present in the believers heart” sounds like a straw man to me. 50 years in the church and I’ve never such a thing, (except sentimental hymns like “He lives within my heart” – but that’s headly in the context of discussing Eucharist). References please Bosco

    1. Your comment did give me the image of Jesus the straw man present in the believer’s heart, Fred 🙂 I don’t know what church you’ve been 50 years in, so I can’t make any comment why you’ve never heard of Receptionism (did you actually try a dictionary?) Cranmer’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer would be a starter in your search for references:

      Take and eate this, in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeving.

      Beyond that, Fred, you’re going to have to do some work and research further yourself.


  4. Thank you, Bosco, for this. I think your last point, about the non-locality of Christ’s presence, is important and not often made. It would be good to hear you expand that one some more.

    1. Thanks, Gareth, for the encouragement. I’m not sure how I might expand on that? Ideas? It seems pretty obvious to me – akin to the understanding of God’s substance? Blessings.

  5. I probably incline toward a receptionistic view of Holy Communion, but I don’t believe I’ve ever mocked those who believe in a local presence in the elements. And the reason I’ve never asked whether Christ is physically present ‘in the left atrium or the right ventricle’ is that it is entirely obvious to me (as it is to you, Bosco) that ‘the believer’s heart’ is a metaphorical phrase – which is why we can say ‘Lift up your hearts’ without reaching into our chests and physically lifting up the pump that drives the blood around our bodies!

    1. Thanks, Tim. I wonder, however, if you’ve missed one of the essential points of the post: the doctrine of the Real Presence is not “believing in a local presence in the elements”. Just as the doctrine of the Incarnation is not believing that God is a 5 foot 7 inch male aged 32 snoring on balmy beach. Blessings.

      1. OK, now I’m lost.

        ‘It looks like bread; if analysed, it appears in every way as bread – but, after consecration, it is the the Risen and Glorified Christ who is fully present under the appearance of bread; similarly, the Risen and Glorified Christ is fully present under the appearance of consecrated wine.’

        Sounds local to me. What am I missing?

        1. Thanks, Tim.

          I think the point is that when you walk, carrying the consecrated bread, from the altar to distribute communion, the Risen and Glorified Christ hasn’t moved 5 meters East. Is that a clarification?


          1. OK – so the point of those RC processions, carrying the consecrated bread (sorry for my ignorance, I genuinely don’t know what they were called) was…?

          2. Come on Tim, you can use Google just as easily as I can 🙂 [Or DuckDuckGo, or whatever you use]. Firstly, this isn’t simply an RC procession (nor is it past tense) – it’s the first sight I see when I visit some Anglican websites. Secondly, surely you aren’t suggesting that you think this is bringing Christ to where Christ is absent, and that as the consecrated bread is carried five foot above the ground, the Risen, 6cm-diameter Christ is drifting around the block? RC Canon Law describes the procession as a “public witness”. Pope Benedict particularly connected it with evangelisation, following the Risen Christ, and His Great Commission. Oh, by the way, Tim – I’m really not advocating this particular devotional custom. But I don’t think it confirms a local presence – which seems to be what your comment is indicating. Blessings.

      2. But be that as it may, I wonder if you have not also missed one of the essential points of my comment: that you seem to have caricatured those who hold a receptionist view just as surely as (you claim) they caricature transubstantiation.

        1. Thanks, Tim.

          That was precisely the intention – to take Receptionists’ fallacious comments about Real Presence and apply them exactly to what they suggest solves the conundrum. I hope that clarifies.


    1. Thanks, Jo. Being “really present” is an important part of the Eucharist – and a great connection to what is important in life. People may misunderstand “experience”, of course, and what experiencing the Real Presence might (or might not) involve. Blessings.

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