December 26, 2007

Aristotle and Transubstantiation (Some More)

Tim Troutman (formerly known as "The God Fearin' Fiddler") of The God Fearin' Forum has responded to my latest discussion of Eucharistic theology and Aristotle. Perhaps I have not been very clear. Whatever the case, Tim persistently misunderstands both my claim and my argument for it. I am going to try to make what I am claiming very clear here:

The doctrine of transubstantiation, as expounded by Trent, is rendered incoherent by any system of metaphysics sufficiently different from Aristotle's.

This should not be confused with any of the following claims, which I do not make:
  • Transubstantiation was "borrowed" from Aristotle. This claim (mentioned in Tim's post title) doesn't even make sense. Aristotle was a Pagan and lived before the time of Christ and therefore could not possible have had any doctrine of the Eucharist to borrow. Transubstantiation was not borrowed from Aristotle.

  • The development of the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Latin west began only after the renewed popularity of Aristotle in the high middle ages. This is not true either. The word transubstantiation, at least, clearly predates the renewed popularity of Aristotle, and event he word itself implies some of its content. The development of this doctrine was probably not begun by people who were intentionally following the philosophy of Aristotle; in fact, the people who first began to develop this doctrine were probably not even familiar with Aristotle.

  • The Catholic Church intentionally canonized the philosophy of Aristotle when it propounded the doctrine of transubstantiation. This is probably not so, though much of the philosophy/theology of Aquinas has been canonized, and Aquinas relies heavily on Aristotle. The Church was interested in propounding a theology of the Eucharist, not a theory of metaphysics.

  • Any theology which relies on the theories of Pagan philosophers is wrong. This isn't true. In fact, there is some reason to believe that parts of the New Testament were influenced by the works of Plato. What I do hold, however, is that Christianity is a revealed religion and, as such, Christian dogma must be based on what has been supernaturally revealed by God, and not on what has been discovered by natural revelation, i.e. by reason apart from Scripture. This doesn't imply that any theology based on Pagan philosophers is wrong, but simply that it would be very difficult to demonstrate that such a thing ought to be a matter of dogma.

Now that I've cleared that up (I hope), let me further explicate my claim and argue for it again. In case you've forgotten, here is my claim:

The doctrine of transubstantiation, as expounded by Trent, is rendered incoherent by any system of metaphysics sufficiently different from Aristotle's.

Recall that transubstantiation is the view that at a certain point in the liturgy the substance of the bread and wine are entirely replaced by the substance of Christ's body and blood, with no change to their species accidents. This relies on, at least, the following controversial metaphysical claims:
  1. Every material object has a "substance" which is distinct from its accidents (i.e. properties) and species (i.e. impression on the senses) and in which its accidents inhere.

  2. There are some material objects (at least Christ's body and blood) which have no essential properties - i.e., all of their properties can change while their identity remains intact. [Update 1/3/2008: As Jeremy points out in the comments, there is a problem with this formulation, at least under most of the major theories of properties, because there ought to be properties like "being Christ's body," which the body and blood will certainly have essentially. There are various ways of restricting the scope of the assertion to fix the problem. The point is that there are certain types of properties that Christ's body and blood cannot have essentially in order for transubstantiation to work. This will include at a minimum all perceptible properties.]

  3. The identity of material objects over time does not require spatiotemporal or causal continuity. (Note, however, that all Real Presence views require this claim.)

Now, in my previous post, I argued that many of the Fathers, including notable the Alexandrian school and Augustine, were too Platonist too accept (1) or (2), and therefore could not have made sense of transubstantiation. All three points are difficult metaphysical issues, and there are philosophers who disagree with all of them. I think it's safe to say that most philosophers who are not down-the-line Thomists agree with at least one of them, plus transubstantiation probably has further metaphysical commitments that I didn't list. An Aristotelian/Thomist, however, has no problem with the doctrine, metaphysically. This is what I meant in claiming that it depended on Aristotle.

Posted by Kenny at December 26, 2007 1:43 PM
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Comments

Kenny, I think you'd do well to be a bit more clear in your writings.. For example, first you said:

"When they proclaimed transubstantiation as dogma, they came very close to making Aristotelian metaphysics dogma"

and now you say,

"This should not be confused with any of the following claims, which I do not make:"
...
"The Catholic Church intentionally canonized the philosophy of Aristotle when it propounded the doctrine of transubstantiation."

Which was all I was attempting to disprove by quoting a fellow Protestant historian who doesn't like Transubstantiation any more than you do. (He eventually got too deep in history and abandoned Protestantism and now does believe in Transubstantiation or rather did before he died).

Your doctrine -- "Christian dogma must be based on what has been supernaturally revealed by God, and not on what has been discovered by natural revelation, i.e. by reason apart from Scripture" is itself reason apart from Scripture therefore I may reject it and I do whereas with Transubstantiation, it was decreed by an ecumenical council in union with the successor of Peter just like Acts 15. If Luke hadn't recorded Peter's decree then, would it still have been dogma?

The Church considers the sacred tradition and the magisterium all part of the Word of God, just as the Scriptures are. Furthermore when the whole Church speaks with a unanimous voice on something, it is dogma. We believe the Church was a divine institution not an divinely abstract idea.

The Church has been unanimous for 2000 years on Real Presence / Transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is more developed than the earliest views of Real Presence but they're talking about the same thing which was what this debate was over in the first place. There's no contradiction in saying that the early fathers taught transubstantiation. They taught that at a certain moment the bread ceased being ordinary bread and became the Body.

Saturday I will celebrate the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at an Eastern Catholic Church - identical to the Orthodox liturgies still celebrated----complete with the ancient "Aristotlean" Epiklesis.


Posted by: TimTroutman at December 26, 2007 2:27 PM

Tim, there is no contradiction between the two quotes you start with. The Catholic Church did not intentionally canonize Aristotle's philosophy, but it came close to doing it anyway. I do not see a contradiction in those two assertions. In fact, even if I had said that it unintentionally canonized Aristotle, that seems coherent to me as well.

You have still failed to refute my claim that the Alexandrians and Augustine - at least - would have failed to recognize, or even make sense of, the modern doctrine of transubstantiation, and on the point of Augustine, the Catholic Encyclopedia agrees, as previously discussed, but you nevertheless go around claiming that the Church has been unanimous for 2000 years. Furthermore, on our last discussion, and Eastern Orthodox believer was here asserting that the Orthodox doctrine of metamorphosis is quite distinct from transubstantiation. Finally, you need a non-question begging way of excluding Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin from the Church, in order to claim unanimity. You must recognize that as long as I hold that the Reformers are also part of the Church (though, of course, I recognize the Church that went before them), it must be clear that I will not accept your claims of unanimity. Most of the Fathers stuck close to the Biblical language and did not engage in metaphysical exposition, so it is difficult to show that they hold one theory of the Eucharist rather than another, since all of the theories are theories of the exposition of this language.

Also, where on earth did you get the idea that the epiklesis was Aristotelian? What could that possible have to do with Aristotle?

Posted by: Kenny at December 27, 2007 12:49 PM

"Tim, there is no contradiction between the two quotes you start with."

I never said there was.

"The Catholic Church did not intentionally canonize Aristotle's philosophy, but it came close to doing it anyway."

I think this statement sheds light on why we're clashing on this issue or at least part of it. Truth is truth regardless of who discovers it. Let's say that the Church were involved in science and they canonized the 'doctrine' of gravity. Would they be canonizing Isaac Newton's doctrine (or coming close to it or nearly intentionally doing it or whatever else you want to say)? No. They're canonizing universal truth that Newton discovered also. It has nothing to do with Newton it has to do with truth and reality. Same thing with the Eucharist.

Jesus told us "this is My body" the Church only later came to define certain truths about the entire ordeal to protect from certain errors.

"You have still failed to refute my claim that the Alexandrians and Augustine - at least - would have failed to recognize, or even make sense of, the modern doctrine of transubstantiation"

Well I haven't intended to refute that claim. I don't necessarily take issue with it (not that I agree with it).

Things like this quote from Augustine raise strong suspicions for me "What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction"

or even clearer this one showing that there is a definite time which having been sanctified becomes the body and blood:

"I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord�s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ"

But even if it is true that Augustine didn't or wouldn't have arrived at the exact fullness of Transubstantiation on his own is irrelevant.

"but you nevertheless go around claiming that the Church has been unanimous for 2000 years."

When I say Church I'm not saying "Christianity" I'm saying the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. There are none who deny Transubstantiation within this.

As for the Orthodox guy who came online, I've talked with plenty of Orthodox in my day and that guy just sounds like a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy. Maybe I'm wrong but at any rate, he doesn't know what he's talking about.

While it is true what he said - the Orthodox do not allow Catholics to receive their Eucharist and they may not receive ours, from our end, they ARE allowed to receive. Orthodox see receiving the Eucharist as absolute full communion whereas Catholics see it possible as long as proper belief in the Eucharist is present and they are baptized into the Church.

So my point here was not that everything is perfectly ok between East & West but rather that the top theologians of the Catholic Church see no difference in the faith of the Orthodox on the Eucharist and our faith on it. So while you or that other Orthodox Christian may personally see some difference, it's irrelevant. I don't know all the ins and outs of their beliefs but those who do say - "we're on the same page, come and receive with us".

"Finally, you need a non-question begging way of excluding Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin from the Church, in order to claim unanimity."

Now to use Protestant language so we're both on the same page - the entirety of Christianity was 100% unanimous on this doctrine from the earliest days of the New Testament until the 14th century when Wycliffe became the first to deny it.

Orthodox Christianity (East & West) retain the doctrine to this day. In terms of numbers they still far surpass all Protestant denominations combine. So for the first 1300 years, Christianity was completely unanimous on it and for the last 6-700, the huge majority still believes in it.

The doctrine has grown as has the doctrine of the Trinity. The growth of a doctrine does not in any way detract from its truth.

"Also, where on earth did you get the idea that the epiklesis was Aristotelian?"

I was being facetious.

Posted by: Tim Troutman at December 29, 2007 11:43 AM

I don't understand you. The Church today is not unanimous on transubstantiation, and the early Church wasn't either - in fact, in the early Church, no one believed the doctrine: it hadn't been "discovered" or "formulated" or whatever. (You just accepted the idea of doctrinal development, so I assume we are agreed on this point.) Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that certain prominent members of the early Church would not have accepted it if it were presented to them. You can, of course, make the claim that if they were alive today they would accept it on the authority of the Church and change their metaphysical views. THAT claim would be much harder to refute. But there is certainly no unanimity of transubstantiation, except in the Roman Catholic Church of the late middle ages and the modern era. Now, if you backed off and claimed only unanimity on the Real Presence, your argument would be much stronger and the quotes from Augustine at least strongly suggest that he did accept this doctrine. But there is no way you can claim that no one within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has ever denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, unless you make that part of the definition of the Church, in which case it isn't a particularly interesting claim, and you will have to exclude some people who seem obviously to be members of the Church.

The Eastern Church accepts the Real Presence, but not transubstantiation. Augustine accepted the Real Presence, but probably would not have accepted transubstantiation (at least, he could not have without a radical realignment of his metaphysics). If you back off of your claim about transubstantiation and make the same claims about the Real Presence only, then you will be in rather a strong position, and I confess that it would be very difficult to refute. Your current position is, however, indefensible, as it is based on demonstrable factual errors.

Posted by: Kenny at January 1, 2008 2:24 PM

I don't see how anyone could accept claim 2. Even transsubstantiation requires some essential properties. The material properties certainly all change, but it's still got the property of being Christ's body/blood. That is indeed an essential property. If it lost it, it wouldn't be the same thing. So by definition it's essential to it. It also has historical essential properties, e.g. having once been flowing in Christ's blood vessels, etc. Then there are the completely trivial essential properties that everything has, e.g. being identical with oneself. Maybe there's a better way to say what #2 was supposed to capture, but it can't be that it has no essential properties. I don't think that formulation is even coherent.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 3, 2008 5:49 PM

Jeremy - you are, of course, correct. I have made an insertion in the text above to clarify. Thanks.

Posted by: Kenny at January 3, 2008 10:39 PM

"There are some material objects (at least Christ's body and blood) which have no essential properties - i.e., all of their properties can change while their identity remains intact."

I think you are very much mistaken here. The doctrine of transubstantiation - the doctrine that the substance of the bread/wine is converted to the substance of the body/blood of Christ - does not posit that the accidents of bread/wine become the accidents of the Christ's body/blood. The properties of Christ's body and blood do not change. Aquinas is very clear that the Eucharistic accidents subsist without inhering in *any* substance, because the substance of Christ's body/blood are not the appropriate kind of substance for these accidents. The accidents are miraculously preserved without any subject and the substance of Christ is wholly present wherever the accidents are. Also, being-Christ's-body is not really a 'property' of Christ's body, but existing spatio-temporally, being alive, and, perhaps, making Christ present are, and these properties are all preserved. None of them can be changed, they are essential.

Posted by: DavidM at July 24, 2012 7:29 PM

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