Monday, April 27, 2020

Identity Marker

As we have already seen, transubstantiation, in its affirmation or denial, is an important identity marker for both Catholics and Protestants, even while many people in both groups do not clearly understand whet the term entails.

The practice of the ecumenical movement in its official documents has been to ignore or marginalize the term transubstantiation.  Some have lauded this move, as it allowed for dialogue on the concept and meaning, as opposed to a focus on the term itself. 

It would seem to me a good way to start.  Avoid the term; just discuss what each group understands about the eucharist.  Are the concepts aligned or not?  If the concepts are aligned, does the terminology matter?  In any case, the attempt to downplay the term failed. 

It would seem that the decision to avoid or marginalize the term actually created anxiety about it, while a decision to address it head-on would have relieved such anxiety.

Ignoring the elephant in the room does nothing to change the reality that the elephant is, in fact, in the room.  Salkeld suggests that given some of the writing of participants in such movements, these had the capacity to address the issue directly.  For example, an Anglican bishop would write “…that Christ himself is really present…”, a phrasing with which Catholics who have studied the term could agree.  Salkeld suspects that Lutherans could also accept such language.

Yet, Catholics needed reassurance that what their Church understood as transubstantiation was “indicated adequately”; Anglicans were worried that the term was allowed through the back door; a third group was glad to see it marginalized!

Neither of these latter groups, however, demonstrated any knowledge about what the term in question actually means.

One of the commissions would write “becoming does not here imply material change.  Nor does the liturgical use of the word imply that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in such a way that in the eucharistic celebration his presence is limited to the consecrated elements.”

It does not imply that Christ becomes present in the eucharist in the same manner that he was present in the earthly life.  It does not imply that this becoming follows the physical laws of this world.  What is here affirmed is a sacramental presence in which God uses the realities of this world to convey the realities of the new creation: bread for this life becomes bread of eternal life.

Salkeld finds this paragraph – written by a joint commission – is a very satisfying paragraph to a Catholic.  Yet because the term goes unmentioned, it doesn’t clear up the confusion regarding the term.  Is the term repudiated or affirmed?  Does the word “becoming” without reference to the term “transubstantiation” diminish the meaning of the latter?  Does “transubstantiation” imply material change while “becoming” does not?

Had the commission adverted to the fact that the above quoted paragraph aligns very precisely with what Catholics actually mean by “transubstantiation,” both the Catholic and the Anglican reader would have been reassured.

Following further clarification, it would be determined that the Final Report of the commission expressed what was intended by the Council of Trent in the use of the term.  So, what’s the problem?  Largely, Christians will not accept statements of faith if these are not articulated in accustomed language. 

What is affirmed as an outcome of ecumenical dialogue must be deemed synonymous with one’s faith.  The terms need not be the same, but the statement must affirm that the meaning conforms to the terms.  But this is the largest hurdle on the term transubstantiation. 

Paul VI did not deny, in 1965, the legitimacy of fresh ways to express the change, even by using new words, as long as these words reflected the intention.  For example, Rome recognizes the eucharistic faith of the Orthodox Church, even though they use a different term to describe it.

When it comes to the laity, if the term is not affirmed – no matter that the intention is captured – many Catholics will not be satisfied.  If the term is not denied, Protestants will be equally put off regardless of the meaning.  Yet all affirm Christ’s presence.  The identity marker will be the stumbling block.


Many churches that are careful to reject transubstantiation make no attempt to define it.

What do the Orthodox mean by the “transformation” of the elements?  How else might the Catholic Church express what is happening?  For those Protestants that deny any “essential change,” what, exactly, are they affirming? 

…if there is to be any rapprochement on the question of eucharistic presence between the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant groups, then the issue of transubstantiation must be tackled head-on.

Salkeld will offer: what is being rejected by the various Protestant groups is almost the opposite of what Aquinas intended.  What if he is correct?


  1. "even while many people in both groups do not clearly understand whet the term entails."

    As I was researching this, I ran across this from Pew Research:

    Transubstantiation – the idea that during Mass, the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ – is central to the Catholic faith. Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that “the Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’”

    But a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching. In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.”
    [end quote]

    Further down in the same article:

    Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.

    So it's a mixture of not knowing for the most part, or knowing and disagreeing. It seems to me that the Protestants are winning this argument considering they have the majority of the people on the other side agreeing with them. Which is strange to say the least.

    Quotes source:

    1. As Salkeld says, people in both camps (Catholic and Protestant) misunderstand the meaning - both disagreeing with what was never intended by Thomas.

  2. It will be very difficult to keep transubstantiation strictly on the communion bread.

    I grew up HRC and remember visiting the different churches on Crucifixion/Good Friday where the priest would bring out this thing, containing a consecrated bread (in Spanish, Ostia) inside a small glass enclosure in a metal (gold?) sunburst looking pattern.


    The Infogalactic's information corresponds with what I remember.

  3. One of my favorite movies is "Cromwell". Cromwell is played by Richard Harris while King Charles I is played by Alec Guinness, who also played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

    In the following YouTube video, Cromwell makes a scene in church. The Protestants and the Catholics have been going at it for quite a while now.

    Cromwell: Away with this popish idolatry!

  4. Ahmed, thanks for the stats. It was a good surprise to see today's Catholics rejecting such "popish idolatry".

    I think much of that movement is due to people having a Modern mind set, but it is also supported by an exegetical read of the Biblical text. Looking at the various places where Communion or Bread/Wine is mentioned recently, metaphor or symbolism is a very rational interpretation with nothing REQUIRING the view that Jesus is in any why sacramentally present with the elements.

    I was sad to hear thought that Tom Woods believes that in that the Euacharist is a sacrifice of Jesus. Just hear that on one of his podcasts today. That belief was actually one of the things that led him away from the Lutheran Church.

  5. I personally a fine with people believing in transubstantiation in the most extreme way possible, as long as I am not forced to believe it and have church options where that is not official teaching.

    My big worry about the doctrine though is that it is necessary to believe in transubstantiation if you believe in the Catholic doctrine of justification and sanctification. My understanding is that you must be infused with grace through the sacraments, the most important and efficacious one being Eucharist. It literally mean the good grace. That idea is never mentioned in Scripture. But then again Catholic teaching is that Scripture isn't sufficient for teaching. 2 Timothy 3:16 clearly teaches it is.

    We can differ on the specific belief of transubstantiation and still work together in other areas where we do agree. But as the other ideas are woven together with it, there does start to be problems that are hard to work through and worship together.

  6. "But then again Catholic teaching is that Scripture isn't sufficient for teaching. 2 Timothy 3:16 clearly teaches it is."

    What scripture is Paul talking about?

    Furthermore, in the same chapter, verse 8: who are Jannes and Jambres? How did Paul know their names? Their names aren't in the Septuagint.

    John 21:25. I suppose John and the others of the remaining disciples who knew Jesus remained silent about all these other things that he did? There's no tradition allowed at all if it's not in scripture?

    I can keep going. I can use "only this" to show that you can't use "only this."

  7. All, I think I have made a mistake expanding on this book at this blog. I was thinking of exposition, not debate. It isn't working out this way.

    I prefer that this dialogue does not continue.

    I will have a post tomorrow furthering my thoughts.

  8. Good points, but I think the idea of Canon covers this. There is some difference between denominations in their list, but there is wide agreement.

    I understand that Jannes and Jambres are not from the Canonical bible. But that really doesn't contradict my comment about 2 Timothy 3. I can look at secular history and apply that added knowledge to my understanding of Daniel 11 for example. That doesn't mean that secular history is part of the Canon.

    On the flip side, Paul using the names Jannes and Jambres in Scripture lends credence to those names being historical. They don't have to be. There are issues of speaking to a specific audience and the like too.

    John 21 says "if they were written". It means they weren't written, so can't be Scripture. If there is some non-Canonical account you can look at it to see what it says but how would that be authoritative?

    You can keep on going. So far you have included the Talmud and potentially unwritten speculation on Jesus' miracles. What else do you want to include the gnostic gospels, Joseph Smith's revelation, Augustine, Aquinas? I personally find Augustine and Aquinas valuable for formulating ideas about God and Society without elevating them to the level of Scripture. I don't see any of the examples you raise as problematic in my delineation of Scripture and other religious writing.

    Also, Jesus Himself spoke out against religious tradition which contradicted Scripture. His statement was that it led them away from God. That is why I hold there are differences in importance between the two. At the same time, I follow certain traditions of worship style, liturgy, ritual, preaching style, etc. But I know none of it is "inspired by God" because it isn't Canon. It is an extension from.