November 2, 2007

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The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence

The God Fearin' Fiddler has a post up on the historical significance of transubstantiation which has led to some interesting discussions. The principle problem with this post and the discussion that follows it, however, is that no one seems to understand the difference between transubstantiation and the Real Presence. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert on this either, but I do think I know enough to clear up some historical and metaphysical confusion. I am going to use two principal sources - session 13 of the Council of Trent, and the relevant article from the Catholic Encyclopedia - to explain the historical development and specific content of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and then attempt to show two things: (1) no such doctrine is affirmed by Ambrose in the passage the Fiddler likes to quote in this connection, and (2) it would be very difficult for Christians with strong Platonist leanings, such as Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and most early Christian theologians, to even make sense of this doctrine, which renders it highly unlikely that they implicitly accepted it, or that they would have accepted it had it been explained to them.

Let us begin with an outline of the history. From the beginning, Christians used the words Christ himself used in describing the Eucharist. Christ himself said "this is my body" and "this is my blood." This is in essentially all of the records of the words of institution, including 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, the passage most churches read before serving the Eucharist. Christ also speaks this way in John 6, which is one of the most important texts on the theology of the Eucharist.

Now, all Christians, including even Zwingli, have used and still use this language in describing the Eucharist, so it is important to note that if Zwinglian or similar interpretations will work for the text of the New Testament, they will also work for most writers who merely adopt the New Testament's language and don't attempt to describe it in any more detail. Zwingli specifically argued for a symbolic interpretation by pointing out all the places in Scripture where "is" is used to mean "signifies." There appears to be a more or less uncontestable example of this even in the words of institution themselves, as they are recorded in Luke. Jesus says "this cup is the new covenant" (Luke 22:20, emphasis added), but the cup clearly isn't actually the new covenant (how could it be?). Rather, it is the sign and seal of the new covenant. I don't think that either Catholic and Orthodox believers, who like to interpret the words of institution literally, or fundamentalists, who like to interpret everything but the words of institution literally, would want to say that the cup literally is the new covenant.

I am not an expert on patristics (though I am working on it), but I suspect that most of the fathers, especially the earlier ones, simply used the same language as Christ and didn't provide or attempt to provide much further analysis. The question at issue here doesn't hinge on whether we affirm these words to be true. All Christians agree on that. We all agree that these words express some important truth; we don't agree about what truth they express. (Actually, there is some agreement, but there is a lot of disagreement about the details.)

That said, a case can probably be made that many of the fathers explicitly affirmed the doctrine of the Real Presence (certainly at least a few of them did), and that no writings survive from an otherwise orthodox writer in the early period of Christianity who denies this doctrine. The doctrine of the Real Presence is simply the claim that these words are to be interpreted literally: the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, any attempt at further analysis meets with suspicion. However, as we shall see, the Roman Catholic Church has not only given a metaphysical theory of this doctrine, but has elevated that theory to the status of dogma (that is, all members of the Church are in principle required to assent to it).

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article, transubstantiation properly so-called (at least the details of the theory) is a uniquely Western doctrine. The word was first used by Hildebert of Tours around 1079. Note that this is contemporary with Anselm, the first of the Scholastics, but before the wide availability of the words of the Arab Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (aka Averroes) and through him the works of Aristotle in the West. This will become significant later.

Of course, the history of the word is not a history of the doctrine. I have already outlined the doctrine of the Real Presence (it really is that simple). The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation sets up a mighty bulwark around the dogma of the Real Presence and constitutes in itself a distinct doctrinal article, which is not involved in that of the Real Presence, though the doctrine of the Real Presence is necessarily contained in that of Transubstantiation." So when did this distinct doctrine develop? Before or after the use of the word? Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find an answer to that question, and I don't know enough about Anselm and friends to know whether the philosophical commitments of the 11th and 12th century Western Christian philosophers and theologians left room for full transubstantiation. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that the word first entered Catholic dogmatic definitions at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, but the text of that council says only "[Christ's] body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed [Lat. 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." Here we do have the word "form" (presumably Latin "forma") which is often a synonym of "species", a Scholastic/Aritotelian technical term used in later discussions of the doctrine. Nevertheless, since outside the technical jargon of scholasticism, "forma" just means "shape" and "species" just means "appearance," in order to show that the Fourth Lateran Council actually affirms transubstantiation as we know it today, rather than just using the word, it would have to be shown that the word already had the present day meaning. On the other hand, the word itself would seem to have some Aristotelian baggage (I promise I'm about to explain all of this - I apologize if anyone has to read this long post twice due to my poor organization): the bread and wine are not trans-formed - they retain their original form. Rather they are trans-substanced. The form remains the same, but the substance changes. This is the essence (that's another loaded term in Aristotle/Aquinas talk) of the doctrine. So it is probably affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council.

At any rate, it is quite clear in the Council of Trent in 1563. Here are some excerpts from the thirteenth session (translated by Philip Schaff):

Chapter I ... after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ ... is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things ...

Chapter IV On Transubstantiation. 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.

The Canons anathematize anyone who disagrees with this (Canon II even anathematizes anyone who doesn't want to call it transubstantiation!), but don't really add anything.

Here is the metaphysical background: Aristotle was a proponent of what is called a "hylomorphic" metaphysics. That is, he affirmed that material objects were made up of "matter" (Gr. hylas) and "form" (Gr. morphos). There is a lot more complexity than this, but this is the basic idea. This is related to his distinction between "substance" or "essence" (Gr. ousia) and "accident" (I don't know the Greek word for this). The matter of an object is the stuff it's made out of, and it's form is its shape or organization. For the Scholastics, the Latin "species" seems to have been related to Aristotle's "form" but been more closely related to our cognition (the Catholic Encyclopedia article on this didn't make that much sense to me). Objects also have an essence, which is that in virtue of which it is the thing it is, and various accidents, or properties that could change without the object being destroyed. Often, the essence of an object is thought to be a collection of essential properties; thus I might be essentially human.

For the Scholastic/Aristotelian, the doctrine of transubstantiation is kind of weird, but no weirder than the Incarnation of the Trinity, and, more importantly, it is coherent. It is to be explained as follows: the substances or essences of the bread and wine are fully replaced by the substances or essences of the body and blood of Christ (I'm not sure if the matter is also replaced), but there is no change to the accidents, or to the form/species. Thus it still appears to be bread and wine, but it actually is the body and blood of Christ, since essence is what determines identity. Technically, the bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood, but replaced with the body and blood, since you can't change the essence of a thing and still have that same thing. Let me note that, while I'm not an expert on Aristotle, I suspect he would find it preposterous to claim that the essence of a material object could be replaced with another essence (and thus the material object be replaced with a different object) before our eyes without any perceptible difference in the matter before us.

Now we are going to examine Ambrose, and then the philosophical commitments of Augustine and his fellow Christian Platonists.

The Fiddler quotes Ambrose as saying:

Perhaps you will say, "I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?" And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

... [Ambrose discusses miracles performed by the prophets] ...

We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet's blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: "He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created." Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: "This is My Body." Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name,after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.

In order to show that Amborse accepts transubstantiation, we have to show that he explains the words "this is my body" by the claim that the form and accidents of the bread remain, but its essence has been replaced by the essence of the body of Christ. Do you see that in the above quotation? I don't see any such thing. Ambrose certainly affirms the Real Presence: he says that if God can become human flesh, certainly he can become bread. He says that we shouldn't be surprised if Christ's body doesn't follow the ordinary course of nature, since God often performs miracles in Scripture, and since even Christ's human birth did not follow the ordinary course of nature. But I see nothing here about form and matter, or about substance and accident, or about species. And I'm not just looking for the words, I'm looking for the content. All Ambrose says is "this may look like bread, but it's actually the body of Christ, and God certainly has the power to make what looks, feels, and tastes like bread into the body of Christ." That is the doctrine of the Real Presence.

The last thing I want to cover is the issue of the Platonist leanings of many of the early fathers, notably the Alexandrians and Augustine. I shouldn't have to take pains to show this, because the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "even Augustine was deprived of a clear conception of Transubstantiation, so long as he was held in the bonds of Platonism." Nevertheless, I will at least try to explain it.

Platonism holds that material objects are what they are in virtue of their "participation" (more literally: "having a share") in a transcendant, changeless, immaterial "form" (not morphos, but eidos or idea, which Aristotle also uses, but in a somewhat different meaning than morphos, I think). You and I are both human because we participate in the form of Human, or, as Plato often says Humanity Itself. The bread is bread because of its relationship to Bread Itself. Things are, of course, generally participants in multiple forms, and everything is a participant in Goodness Itself to a greater or lesser degree because Plato holds to a privation theory of evil (which is where Augustine got it), so anything that had no goodness at all would not exist. Christian Platonists generally want to avoid the idea that the forms are co-eternal with and independent of God, so they say that they exist in God's understanding.

A Platonist does not have a concept of an essence as an Aristotelian does. Furthermore, Plato himself, and I believe most Platonists following him, generally cashes out "participation" in terms of "being patterned after." It is very difficult to see how the bread could change from being patterned after bread to being patterned after the body of Christ without any perceptible change. In what would the patterning consist? How does this object resemble a human body, and how Christ's body in particular? Now, there must be some way of getting this to work, because Father Nicolas Malebranche was a very intelligent Platonist Catholic priest in the 17th/18th century, after the Council of Trent, and he must have come up with something, but I don't know what he said.

At any rate, it is highly unlikely that any Christian Platonist held to anything like transubstantiation prior to Malebranche, and a great many of the early fathers, including, as I have said, the Alexandrian school and Augustine, were Platonists.

The situation is even worse for idealists such as myself (or 18th century Anglican Bishop George Berkeley). We don't believe that there is any such thing as the essence or substance or matter of the bread. All that exists, according to idealism, is what the Scholastics would call the "species." Transubstantiation is thus puzzling for the Aristotelian, more puzzling for the Platonist, and completely incoherent for the idealist. I should also note that most contemporary philosophers don't believe in any of these three theories, but transubstantiation is probably also incoherent for them, since material objects don't have undetectible essences (though they may have essential properties).

Now, a Christian idealist does have to come up with some explanation for the bodily resurrection and be able to say that the body that is raised is in some sense the same body although it is radically transformed in terms of its phenomenal properties. Whatever solution one comes up with for this problem could probably also be used to make sense of the doctrine of the Real Presence. However, this view cannot possibly look anything like transubstantiation, for the reasons discussed above.

Posted by Kenny at November 2, 2007 6:09 PM
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Kenny, I'm not following your arguments. Let's keep this simple because I'm not steeped in classical thought. Give me one or two sentences on what you think is the difference between Real Presence and Transubstantiation. And then one or two sentences on why you reject Transubstantiation. I keep hearing you saying things that to me sound like the same thing in different words and you reject one and accept the other.

Also, I find myself wondering why you ended the Catholic Encyclopedia's quote on Augustine so soon. How about the rest of it:

"On the other hand, complete clearness on the subject [transubstantiation] had been attained by writers as early as Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria in the East, and by Ambrose and the later Latin writers in the West."

Finally, let us remind ourselves that the doctrine is merely a clarification and theological protection of a Scriptural and Traditional Truth (Real Presence). It can easily be compared to the Trinity (which you did) and the things which could be said of Augustine on Transubstantiation could be more easily said of St. Paul (for example) on the Trinity. That is: Paul didn't understand the Trinity (at least not as fully as the doctrine eventually developed in the late second and early third centuries) as is evident from his epistles.

One final thing, Protestants have a bad habit of trying to pull the Eastern Orthodox on their side. Regardless of what you might think, we share one Eucharistic table (although imperfectly) with the East. They may receive the Eucharist at our Church, you may not (even if you say you believe in the Real Presence). They tend to have different theological methods, but not different conclusions which is the most important thing. Protestants and Protestant converts to Orthodoxy often make huge deals out of the very trivial differences between the East and the West. We may use different terminology for the Eucharist and the Transubstantiation process and we may have arrived at our theologies by different methods - but we believe the same thing.

Posted by: TheGodFearinFiddler at November 3, 2007 2:27 PM

Real Presence: The bread and wine of communion literally are the body and blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation: at the moment in the liturgy known as the epiklesis, the essence or substance of the bread and wine are replaced with the essence or substance of the body and blood of Christ, though without any detectible difference in the elements.

Transubstantiation is a theory of the metaphysics of the Real Presence, and, as such, there's no way you can explain it without appeal to metaphysics. What I've just said is about as simple as it gets.

The difference between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on this point is that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn't accept any particular metaphysical explanation as dogma, and is skeptical of the possibility of providing a metaphysical explanation of this mystery. To use the Trinity analogy, this is as if someone were to say "I believe that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, that Jesus is not the same as the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Father is not the same as the Holy Spirit, but I nevertheless believe that there is only one God" but then confessed agnosticism about Nicea and Chalcedon. Ultimately, everything is in place in terms of "practical piety" or whatever. Nevertheless, Nicea and Chalcedon did more than just specify what words we are to use: while they didn't eliminate or attempt to eliminate mystery, they did make substantive metaphysical claims about the Trinity.

Most Orthodox theologians would not go so far as to say the Catholic Church is wrong, they would simply say that Catholics have made into dogma something that is mere speculation, namely their metaphysical explanation of the Real Presence.

Posted by: Kenny at November 3, 2007 4:42 PM

That clarifies it a bit. Then let me ask you this, hypothetically if you accepted Real Presence and still rejected Transubstantiation, what is meant by 'the bread is literally His body' if there can be no definite point at which it ceases being bread and becomes His body? Since, as the bread is baked in the oven prior to mass we couldn't dare call it the body of Christ -- when we have the flour we don't have part of His body -- yet assenting to Real Presence -- at the time of consumption we do say it is literally His body.

As for the Orthodox v Catholic issue - I'm not very knowledgeable about that but what I do know is that those who are see us on even ground on this issue (hence the fact that they are welcome to partake of the Eucharist with us - whereas Lutherans or Anglicans are not regardless of what they say they believe about the Real Presence).

And historically, when Eastern Churches have returned to communion with the Catholic Church, they retain their liturgy (even their older version of the Nicene creed) and become Eastern Rite Catholics. The Eastern Rite Catholics also have the epiklesis (although the exact rubrics are slightly different) we both understand the same thing to be happening.

Posted by: TheGodFearinFiddler at November 3, 2007 9:07 PM

First, a correction: I said Council of Chalcedon, but that wasn't correct. For some reason I make this mistake frequently. Chalcedon applied certain terminology to the Incarnation, which later councils (not sure which ones exactly) applied to the Trinity.

When I talk about rejecting transubstantiation but accepting the Real Presence, what I mean is giving a different explanation or no explanation of the metaphysics of the situation. If you don't believe material objects have essences, as most philosophers today don't and many early Christians who thought about such things didn't, then you must do this. The Orthodox not only don't give a metaphysical explanation, but don't explicitly state that at exactly the moment of the epiklesis the transformation takes place instantly. Rather, the epiklesis is seen as a particularly important part of the process, and they claim that Christ is present in body by the time the gifts are consumed. What I'm saying is that, on this point, the Orthodox don't say that the Catholics are necessarily wrong about anything (which is presumably important to the question of intercommunion), it's just that the Orthodox Church is less specific about the whole thing. So that's one option: don't try to explain it at all.

For my part, I tend to try to explain things, even in cases where I'm probably going to be wrong (that is, after all, a philosopher's prerogative). My own explanation would be rather complicated, and it isn't fully worked out, so I will try to write a blog post very soon that will outline it (and I'll try to make it such that you don't need a philosophy degree to understand it).

Let me state, however, that there certainly are metaphysical views that are incompatible with the Real Presence, and not just with transubstantiation, but I think such views are inconsistent with Christianity on other points. For instance, some philosophers hold that identity for material objects necessarily involves historical continuity, but that makes difficulties for the bodily resurrection (though Peter van Inwagen, a Christian who holds such a view, has demonstrated that it is not strictly logically contradictory, just weird, which is only to be expected). Another view, called mereological universalism, holds that any collection of parts makes up an object, but this would make the Real Presence meaningless, since we would have to just define Christ's body as the mereological sum of his human body and all these pieces of bread throughout the ages and the theory says there is also an object made up of my body plus all of those pieces of bread! (Mereological universalism has all sorts of weird consequences like this.)

Something that might work better and would be much less metaphysically loaded would be to talk about the bread and wine being related to Christ's soul in the same way that his physical human body is. This explanation is totally generic (you still have to flesh out - no pun intended - the relationship of soul and body), but it carries very little metaphysical baggage that (most) Christians aren't already committed to. All it requires is that the relationship of soul and body be such that it is possible for bread and wine to bear that relationship to the soul of Christ.

Posted by: Kenny at November 3, 2007 10:13 PM

Something that might work better and would be much less metaphysically loaded would be to talk about the bread and wine being related to Christ's soul in the same way that his physical human body is. This explanation is totally generic (you still have to flesh out - no pun intended - the relationship of soul and body), but it carries very little metaphysical baggage that (most) Christians aren't already committed to. All it requires is that the relationship of soul and body be such that it is possible for bread and wine to bear that relationship to the soul of Christ.

There are a number of Fathers who make this sort of analogy; when taken as an account of the Eucharist it's usually called impanation. It tends to be rejected because it is been found difficult to reconcile with the account of the Incarnation elaborated at Ephesus and Chalcedon.

I'm not really sure that there's any explanation that will avoid heavy metaphysical baggage here. There seems only a finite array of options:

Is the explanation of Real Presence that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ?

If so, they either remain bread and wine, in which case we have impanation -- the bread and wine become a sort of body for Christ in the way his human body does; or they are changed into the body and blood of Christ, in which case we have transubstantiation.

Is the explanation of Real Presence that the body and blood become present in the bread and wine?

If so, we have consubstantiation (usually associated with the Lutherans).

Is the explanation of Real Presence that the body and blood become present with, but not in, the bread and wine?

If so, we have a spiritual presence account (often associated with strands of Calvinism that are not Zwinglian).

On the other hand, if one takes a symbolic presence account and denies the Real Presence, that's a pretty hefty metaphysical denial, too.

Posted by: Brandon at November 4, 2007 9:16 AM

I still didn't get an answer to my question about when precisely it becomes the body & blood (assuming for the sake of the argument Real Presence as taught by the Fathers is true) if not at the Epiklesis due to Transubstantiation.

Furthermore, aside from irresponsibly ignoring the proper title of "mystery" regarding the Eucharist, I feel like this discussion is also disregarding the other proper title of the event - miracle.

Posted by: TheGodFearinFiddler at November 4, 2007 9:30 AM

The answer to your question is, in general (among those who accept the Real Presence but deny transubstantiation), "we don't know," and that is why I haven't answered it. Since your question is "when," we can say probably some time after the beginning of the liturgy and before it is consumed. However, I did have an interesting conversation with my Orthodoxy professor regarding the following three facts: (1) of the two most used Orthodox liturgies, one words the Epiklesis along the lines of "change these gifts into Your body and blood," as in the Catholic liturgy, but the other has something along the lines of "reveal these gifts to be your body and blood." (2) The words of institution as they appear in 1 Corinthians 11 appear (to me) to admonish us to remember the Lord's body anb blood whenever we eat bread and drink wine, and not only during the sacrament. (3) Bread plays an important role in the popular piety of the Orthodox, especially in Greece; there are a lot of bread-related religious customs besides just the Eucharist. Take what you will from these three facts what you will. They had me wondering whether we might want to say that bread is always in some weak sense the body of Christ, but is only such in the fullest possible sense when it is blessed in the appropriate manner during the liturgy. I was thinking along the lines of the view, held by some of the Fathers, that the Church is constituted, albeit imperfectly, wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, but the Church is only the Church in the fullest possible sense when it gathers under the authority of a bishop to celebrate the Eucharist. Just some food for thought. The Orthodox allow much more room for disagreement on most issues than either the PCA or the Roman Catholic Church.

On mystery - this is just what many of those who deny transubstantiation (or at least are unwilling to fully assent to it) are trying to preserve: they think that transubstantiation is far too detailed an account to try to give of something so mysterious.

On miracle - I'm not sure what you mean. I can tell you that I don't hold anything like a Thomistic account of the miraculous. You can read about the account I do hold here (short, but somewhat technical, blog post) and here (very short blog post, linking to a long and rather technical philsophy paper). On this theory of miracles, I think it is clear that the Eucharist will be miraculous on pretty much any theory of the Eucharist.

Posted by: Kenny at November 4, 2007 2:50 PM


I think you�d be surprised at the explicit language of many of the early Fathers such as Ireneaus and Ignatius, especially against Gnosticism. I think it might be helpful to distinguish between giving an analysis and explicating an idea.

Plato�s notion of participation isn�t as opaque as I think it is popularly held to be. To participate means to be caused by some other power. Effects participate in their causes because they are the extension of the same causal power but to a diminished degree. Aristotle and Plato disagree on the priority of forms qua powers verses activities. Aristotle takes the later to be prior and Plato the former. This is why secondary substances for Aristotle always depend on and never exist apart from primary substances. So the distance between them qua essence isn�t very far.

Perhaps the best way to understand being "patterned after� is not in a Platonic but in a Pauline sense per Romans 6. Our baptism is after the pattern of Christ�s death, that is, our baptism is our actual dying with Christ, it just takes place at our baptism. Consequently, the Eucharist is �patterned after� the humanity of Christ because it is there that the deified humanity of Christ is present. Since Christ�s humanity is deified it isn�t necessary that its presence follow the mode of naturally undeified human presence nor that it exclude the nature of the elements.

The problem with Idealism is essentially Nominalism, that only sensible particulars exist. That is a problem not just for the Eucharist, but for the consubstantiality of all humans with Adam and then with Christ as well as the Trinity. I�d recommend dropping your idealism. After all, what room is there for matter, let alone its redemption?

Given official statements by all of the Orthodox Patriarchates in the 19th century, and in other places, I do think they would say that Rome is definitely wrong on major points, including the Eucharist. A faulty methodology produced a faulty view. That is the entire scholastic edifice of using dialectic which distinguishes objects through opposition or contradiction is simply inadequate for Christian theology as is made clear in the Christological controversies. Transubstantiation as opposed to the Orthodox view of metamorphosis is just another instance-in order for Christ to be present in his creation he doesn�t have to negate it for his glory didn�t replace his humanity. The issue is fundamentally about the distinction and relation between nature and grace and how God is related to his creatures. If God is all, do creatures have to be less or nothing? If God is active are creatures necessarily passive? If God is good, are creaturely necessarily evil, lest God�s goodness be compromised?

As for 1 Cor 11, I think anemnesis or remembrance refers to whenever the eucharist is celebrated and not merely when they happen to eat. As for bread, the Orthodox have more than seven sacraments. Today we had the blessing of the Five loaves, which is also a sacrament. Everything in the Church is sacramental. The bread received after the eucharist while blessed is not the same as the Eucharist. It is the left over bread (andidoron) after the center of the bread for the eucharist has been taken out. This can be received by anyone, but the Eucharistic bread only by the faithful.

As above, the issue is the nature of the relationship between deity and humanity. Is Christ�s humanity deified? If so, how? How can human nature simply appear and disappear as in the post-resurrection appearances? On what view of God is deification of human nature even possible since it is obvious that we do not become deified by participating in the divine essence itself. Is there something more to God than the essence?

You might try looking in Darwell Stone�s two volume, A History of the Doctrine of the Eucharist, for the history. The best work I ever read on Prot/Cath was Robert Isaac Wilberforce, The Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.

Posted by: Perry Robinson at November 4, 2007 4:03 PM


Unfortunately both Catholics and Protestants like to simply use Orthodoxy without any significant familiarity with it. If they can�t make their positions stick without Orthodoxy they should give them up or become Orthodox. So, we do not share communion with the Catholics for the Catholics dogmatized heterodoxy-filioque, created grace, purgatory with its created fire, etc. While Rome permits under specific circumstances Orthodox to partake of Catholic Eucharist, the same is not true from the Orthodox point of view. The Orthodox Eucharist is life giving, which is why it has to be leavened bread, rather than an appeasement of wrath of a dying Christ.

The Orthodox view of metamorphosis is not the same as Transubstantiation for the following reasons. First, we do not think doctrine develops. We do not think Basil had a better understanding of the Trinity than Paul. And we do not think that doctrine develops because dialectic is not a suitable tool to explicate Christian doctrine. If things are distinguished by the dialectic or opposition of same/difference, this will have disastrous effects in Christology for the two natures of Christ are not distinguished via opposition or contradiction. It is not adequate for example to say that to be human is not to be divine and vice versa given the imago dei and the Incarnation. Christ wills two simultaneously different things in the Passion without one being good and the other sinful. Further, the Orthodox and Catholic views of God differ significantly with Catholics following the Platonists thinking of God as a simple essence who�s activity is identical with its essence, where as the Orthodox distinguish between God�s completely incomprehensible essence (hence no beaitific vision) and the divine activities or energies. This is why we do not have the same Eucharistic doctrine, let alone the same doctrine of veneration of the saints, for we do not have the same doctrine of deification and that because we do no thave the same doctrine of God, to bring it full circle.

But granting the distinction between Real Precense and Transubstantiation, it wouldn�t matter anyhow since Protestants, barring the Lutherans and some High Church Anglicans don�t believe in the Real Presence anyhow. This only makes a difference to those Protestants who affirm the former but not the later. And not to be rude, but if Kenny is a member of Calvary Chapel, he doesn�t affirm either. If he does affirm the former, it isn�t because of what CC teaches. It seems to me that you are barking up the wrong tree.

Posted by: Perry Robinson at November 4, 2007 4:06 PM

Perry, thank you for your comments. I am not an expert on patristics, so there may be a lot of stuff that I've got wrong in that respect, and I would be happy to be corrected. If you can give specific citations where Ignatius and Irenaeus discuss this issue, I would be most grateful.

I wouldn't call myself an expert on Plato either, but I have studied him quite a bit. You say "To participate means to be caused by some other power," but this is certainly not an accurate interpretation of Plato. The Greek word Plato uses for participation means, etymologically, "having a share in." When Plato explains it (e.g. in Republic 10.596), he usually talks about the Form being the paradigm for the particular that participates in it. This view appears to be refuted in the Parmenides, but Plato goes on to use it again in the Timaeus, which nearly all scholars agree is later than Parmenides (Parmenides is a rather puzzling dialog).

I like your discussion of a Pauline sense of "patterned after' (essentially, the concept of typology), but I'm not sure it's really that much different from Plato (though it's clearly not identical).

Idealism doesn't deny the existence of immaterial substances, and I'm not at all convinced that "the consubstantiality of all humans with Adam" is a point of orthodoxy at all. This comes form the Cappadocians, doesn't it? I don't have anything against the Cappadocians (quite the contrary), but this is a doctrine I don't find it in Scripture or in the creeds, and I don't mind disagreeing with saints, no matter how well-respected, when they go beyond what I find in the creeds and, especially, in Scripture. I don't see any reason why I need matter to be ontologically fundamental (remember, idealists don't deny that matter exists, but only that it is ontologically fundamental) in order to line up with Christian orthodoxy.

I found your discussion of the Orthodox view quite interesting and informative. Thanks again for contributing to the discussion!

Posted by: Kenny at November 4, 2007 4:22 PM

Perry - regarding the end of your second comment, I have said to the Fiddler before that I take the doctrine of the Real Presence seriously, but I find transubstantiation absurd and/or incomprehensible. For me, this is mostly an academic matter (trying to correct the clearly false claim that the early Fathers believed in transubstantiation), though I certainly find the discussion interesting!

I was once fairly confident in my Zwinglian view of the sacraments, but have recently been moving in the direction of the Calvinist "spiritual presence" view, and have even started to take the idea of the Real Presence seriously. You are, of course, correct that Calvary Chapel teaches a completely Zwinglian (symbolic) interpretation of the sacraments.

Posted by: Kenny at November 4, 2007 4:30 PM


I�ll have to dig up references for Ignatius and Ireneaus since I am not at home. As for Plato, I still find that I must disagree with your assessment. I agree that effects have a share in their cause for the simple reason that they are fundamentally the same power, albeit to a diminished degree. I�d recommend look at what Plato says about powers in say the Phaedo as well as the Republic carefully. Forms for Plato are not abstract since they are the causes of things and abstract entities cause nothing. Forms are the models for instances since their causal activity is continuous whereas their signs or energies are temporary. Consequently effects participate in their cause imperfectly and the relation is asymmetrical.

The difference between Paul and Plato will be that for Paul our participation in the death of Christ isn�t causally a temporary and causally deficient instance of a superior unified power. It fully is both the death of Christ and our death with Christ, consequently there is no opposition between Christ and the creature. Christ is active and I am fully active for his life is mine. Consequently Pauline theology is non-dialectical in that sense and so anti-Platonic.

Idealism may not deny the existence of immaterial substances, though that is a different question as to whether it is consistent with such a thesis. More troubling though is its apparent inconsistency with the kind of consubstantiality all of humanity shares with Adam and with Christ. You may not think that such a doctrine is not in Scripture. I of course disagree. I think it is and it is easily demonstratable that it was in the mind of those who formulated the Creeds. It is arguably implicit in the doctrine of the general resurrection. (1 Cor 15:21ff) In Adam all died, and in Christ all will be raised, consequently all are consubstantial with Adam and Christ and this is why even the wicked enjoy a degree of immortality. Moreover such a denial of consubstantiality reveals deeper problems of making sense of the consubstantiality of the members of the Trinity. It is no accident that the dominance of extrinsic relations during the 17th century in idealism also witnessed the reviving of Arianism. If Christ is extrinsically related to the Father then the Son certainly isn�t deity by essence.

I understand your position on authority, but for me it sounds funny, as in odd. I am not sure why if the judgment of those who knew God in a kind of direct experiential way is not normative why you would take your own to be so. If they can error, so much the more reason to refuse to take your own judgment as having adequate normative force to bind the conscience.

Practically, there were many things I didn�t judge to be present in the Scriptures (and this of course in part depends on which canon of Scripture one subscribes to) but of course I came to see them much later on. I would have been a fool to reject some belief in a Cliffordian manner. So I find problematic the assumption that a belief is to be rejected or left idle until such time as a demonstration is brought forward. Sometimes beliefs are not guilty until proven innocent. More to the point, I don�t think every theological position is in principle revisable.
As for matter, well Berkeley obviously had a hard time with it and Plato certainly did, not to mention the whole era of middle and late Platonism. In fact I�d argue that in the history of Christian theology it is quite evident that matter posed a significant problem when trying to adapt Christian theology to philosophical explication such that the result was always heterodox. (Origen, Doketism, Arianism, Nestorianism, & Iconoclasm.) The problem isn�t only the supposed autonomy of matter qua extension post Galileo, but the opposite in idealism that matter has no character of its own.

I wouldn�t argue that transub is absurd, but I do think it is wrong on theological grounds, specifically that it is incompatible with Chalcedonian Christology. Of course, I think the same thing is true for the Zwinglian and Calvinist takes as well.

As for CC, I must say I am at a loss as to why someone with your abilities goes there but perhaps you could take some time to explain. How many other people in CC read Dionysius, let alone translate him?!

Posted by: Perry Robinson at November 4, 2007 7:21 PM

Perry - this is getting quite interesting!

Are you using the terms "dialectic" and "idealism" in their Hegelian senses? If so, I have to confess that I am ill-equipped to respond. When I talk about idealism, I mean Berkeley, certain interpretations of Leibniz and, to a lesser degree, Schopenhauer, as these are the writers I am familiar with. Berkeley and Leibniz are of course both Christians, and Berkeley was an Anglican bishop, but I don't know of anywhere where either of them deals directly with the issues you raise. I am, as I say, working on it. Give me some time to work out the theological consequences of my view, and if I can't make it consistent with historical orthodoxy as I understand it or come to understand it, I will certainly reject it since, in light of my personal experience, and the testimony of others, and, yes, abstract arguments also make a contribution in my mind, I am far more certain of Christianity as revealed in Scripture and expounded through the Church than I am of any metaphysical hypothesis which I accept on the basis of uninspired reasoning.

You do mention the 17th century and Berkeley, but when you are talking I'm not sure we have completely the same understanding of idealism, and that's why I mention Hegel. Of course, on a Berkeleian view, if idealism is incompatible with the existence of immaterial substances, then idealism is incoherent, since it won't work without immaterial substances (namely "spirits," especially God).

My general view on these Scriptures is that they speak mostly in plain language (technical terms of Greek philosophy are rare in the New Testament), and they have meanings in plain language, with or without philosophers. When we start doing metaphysics, we have to ensure that our metaphysics doesn't render these plain language statements incoherent, but we ought not to try to read them as theories of metaphysics. The level of philosophy is not the level they are written to, and a wide variety of theories are capable of providing the philosophical underpinnings of these statements.

For your comments on authority, I said I don't mind disagreeing with the saints, but I do mind disagreeing with all of them. On the other hand, I have a broader view of the Church than you do, and Scripture calls all the members of the Church, living and dead, saints, so I get to include George Berkeley and Peter van Inwagen (who doesn't even believe there's any such things as bread!) among the "saints." Of course, some saints' views are more authoritative than others. I am working hard right now (contrary to my upbringing and the various faith communities I have been in to date) to situate myself firmly within the Christian tradition, and to interpret Scripture in that context. This is a major reform to my pattern of thinking, and it requires that I absorb a lot of material I haven't been exposed to before. Nevertheless, even with this perspective, I don't think I have to accept everything the Cappadocians said, just as I don't imagine you think you have to accept everything Augustine said (noting that he affirms the theology of the filioque).

I agree that what you say about beliefs holds in general. I'm not sure what exactly I said that that was a response to. I was just saying that there is a certain standard of proof or authority that has to be shown before I consider a theological claim to be something I am required to hold, as a matter of orthodoxy. We hold many beliefs for many reasons, and we sometimes hold beliefs that have theological relevance for reasons that aren't really theological. Certainly there is a standard of evidence/authority for when such beliefs are permissible, and I think idealism passes the test of permissibility with no problems whatsoever.

Why does matter need a character of its own?

On Calvary Chapel: your point is well taken and all too well understood. I happen to think that Calvary Chapel is on the whole pretty good at applied Biblical studies, but it is unfortunate that that's about all they do in terms of study or teaching, and where they do go beyond that, they sometimes hold views that aren't very well thought out (views of soteriology that mix-and-match on the points of Calvinism, which is very difficult to make work logically; certain forms of dispensationalism; etc.). I'm getting married soon in Tenth Pres. of Philadelphia, a PCA church where my fiancee is a member. After we're married, we'll be moving away and we're not sure what kind of church we'll be in, but it's likely that it won't be another Calvary Chapel, partially because my views have changed over time, partially because my situation and spiritual needs have changed over time, partially because my fiancee has different needs, and partially because my fiancee prefers a more structured style of workship. By the way, the reason that I talk about Eastern Orthodoxy all the time (and thanks for showing up to correct me; I know I'm underinformed) is that two major forces in my views shifting in a more traditionalist direction over the last couple of years are (1) Richard Swinburne's book Revelation (I think he wrote that before he converted to the Orthodox Church, but I'm not sure), and (2) a class on Eastern Orthodoxy with Marcus Plested. That said, in my reorientation, the five solas are not in question as to their basic substance, they are just getting more moderate interpretations (and the interpretations given by the reformers themselves are moderate compared to most of Protestantism today).

That said, the Calvary Chapel I am in now has been very good for me, for precisely the reasons you and I might criticize it. As Metropolitan Kallistos has pointed out, there has been a very unfortunate tendency in Christianity (and in my mind this is one thing the Reformation made worse rather than better) to split over things that aren't actually points of orthodoxy and get all the Christians who are just alike in the same churches without anyone whose different, totally contrary to what's presented in Scripture. We end up with one body made of all hands, and another made of all ears. Instead of splitting, our different perspectives should be balancing each other out. So, the long and short of it is that I recognize in myself a natural tendency to turn Christianity into just another philosophical theory, and Calvary Chapel has consistently challenged me not to do that, and shown me examples of people who, despite a third grade education (one man in my church who died recently literally dropped out of the third grade) and very little understanding of theology, nevertheless have a very real and living faith in Christ. I hope that I have also challenged people in Calvary Chapel to care about pursuing intellectual understanding of the faith, and not to be so suspicious of intellectual pursuits.

I doubt if anyone else in Calvary Chapel has ever heard of Dionysius :)

Even among pastors, it's difficult to find someone who knows more Greek than what's found in Strong's Lexicon.

Posted by: Kenny at November 4, 2007 10:24 PM

Kenny, a month and a half later - I respond.

Posted by: Tim A. Troutman at December 13, 2007 6:09 PM

Kenny (if I may): Don't know if you're still interested in this, but...
I'm only getting into this a bit now myself, so I may well be wrong (which is why it might be especially likely that I can benefit from comparing notes), but, in my current state of uncertainty, I am inclined to disagree with this part:

That said, a case can probably be made that many of the fathers explicitly affirmed the doctrine of the Real Presence (certainly at least a few of them did), and that no writings survive from an otherwise orthodox writer in the early period of Christianity who denies this doctrine. The doctrine of the Real Presence is simply the claim that these words are to be interpreted literally: the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ.

I think "real presence," in any sense that can make sense of the many claims one hears about how many orthodox theologians believed in RP, cannot require that those words about the body & blood are literally true.

As a graduate of Calvin College (who therefore only semi-voluntarily studied Calvin quite a bit), I start with the observation that even Calvin will at times speak of the "real presence" ("praesentia realis") of Christ at the supper, and I certainly don't think he believed that the bread & wine are literally the body & blood of Christ.

But what's interesting about Calvin here for our present purposes is not what he himself thought/said (since he's not in the relevant way "early"), but that he took himself to be following Augustine here, and there seem to be good reasons for thinking he's right about this.

Did Augustine believe that the bread & wine are literally the body & blood of Christ? Well, here (copied & pasted from a web site) is Augustine on the figurative (the second passage is esp. telling):

"He admitted him to the Supper in which He committed and delivered to His disciples *the figure of* His Body and Blood." (Augustine, on Psalm 3.)

"If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, "and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, III.)

Augustine seems to think taking these words literally would make the Eucharist a bad thing, so we know to take them figuratively.

So, since we don't want to leave Augustine behind, perhaps we should understand "Real Presence" as follows: Whether or not Christ's body & blood are literally present, Christ is miraculously but really present to the believer. Really present: it's no illusion, no mere feeling. So, positively, what is going on? Well perhaps we should stay big-tent-open on that, but presumably, God can miraculously be specially present to people in ways that don't necessarily involve Christ's body & blood being literally present to them, and we can understand "real presence" as the view that something like that is going on. That seems something that Calvin, and, more importantly (to our current purposes), Augustine believe.

Or if we do mean by "Real Presence" that the bread & wine literally become Christ's body & blood, then it looks like Augustine doesn't believe the doctrine, so various claims about all the early important orthodox theologians accept RP seem to be dashed (unless the standards for "early" rule Augustine out).

Posted by: Keith DeRose at August 12, 2010 7:24 AM

Dear Professor DeRose,

Thank you for stopping by. This post is, as you can see, rather dated, but I don't think I've found anything to be too terribly embarrassed about in it, though I've certainly learned a lot about Aristotle since 2007.

Anyway, as I understand it, Calvin's view is typically called 'spiritual presence', and the term 'Real Presence' is sometimes used so as to exclude spiritual presence and sometimes used so as to include it. Here, I was using it in the narrower sense.

I had not seen the first Augustine quote you mention, and when I read On Christian Doctrine I somehow managed to miss this application of that second quote. So those are very interesting; thank you for pointing them out. If Augustine does indeed reject Real Presence (in the narrow sense), then that is a very significant point. Of course, Augustine did a lot of writing over a very long period of time, and his views changed some, and it would take some serious scholarship to figure out exactly what he thought about the Eucharist and whether it changed over time. But these passages are very suggestive.

Also, while you're here, I hope you won't mind if I make so bold as to point out that I have recently been writing about some of your work in epistemology. (Actually, it's mostly about Williamson, but does include a favorable reference to your "Assertion, Knowledge, and Context.")

Posted by: Kenny at August 12, 2010 10:38 AM

Though I haven't checked enough for this observation to be worth much, I'm starting to think "real presence" is kind of working in the exact opposite way of "author of sin." In many disputes/discussions among reasonably orthodox Christian theologians about God's relation to evil, one seems to adjust what one means by "author of sin" so that, whatever one's own view is, it does not count as making God the "author of sin." That a position makes God the "author of sin" is something one says only about an opponent's position. Indeed, insofar as it can be at all plausibly done, one adjusts what one means by the phrase so that one's opponent does count as making God the "author of sin." In the case of "real presence," one adjusts what one means so that one's own view preserves "real presence" (of Christ or his body), and, insofar as possible, so that one's opponent's view counts as one on which there is no "real presence." So, I imagine, on most Catholics' use of "real presence," there is no real presence on Calvin's view. It's interesting if, as you say, transubstantiation goes beyond "real presence" even in the narrow sense.

Not as a claim about how the terms are usually used, but as how it would make the most sense to use them, given the meaning of the words involved, it seems that "real presence" should be opposed to something like "subjective presence," and "spiritual presence" should be opposed to something like "bodily presence." The result would be a taxonomy like this: At the top, you get a distinction between "real presence" vs. mere "subjective presence." Then, as sub-categories of "real presence," you get a distinction between "spiritual presence" vs. "bodily presence." Then as sub-cat's of "bodily presence" you can get a division between transubstantiationist vs. "other" (probably unspecified?) versions.

Posted by: Keith at August 13, 2010 9:30 AM

Well, while many people want to make their view count as 'real presence', and this makes the term rather fluid, other people want their view NOT to count as real presence. It's my understanding that Calvin was in the latter camp, but I don't have a citation for that.

Incidentally, on the subject of the fluidity of the term, I once heard Harriet Baber give a paper at a conference in which she presented an account of real presence so deflationary that Zwingli would count as believing it. I was kind of confused about what the point of having such an account was, but I think she thought that accepting real presence, even on her deflationary account, left one without any good objections to the adoration of the Eucharist.

On your taxonomy: that seems like an improvement. Perry was correcting me above on the EOC views. As it turns out, the 'real presence but we don't know how' view is held mostly in the Anglican tradition. The EOC has a view called 'metamorphosis', which I don't understand, and which is supposed to be a specific account of real presence different from transubstantiation.

Posted by: Kenny at August 13, 2010 10:34 AM

The Augustine passage seems to be for real. It can be found here:

and here:

Posted by: Keith at December 21, 2010 3:20 PM

Thanks for the references. I didn't mean to question that it was really in there; I was just surprised that it didn't stick out to me when I read the book!

Posted by: Kenny at December 21, 2010 5:07 PM

No worries: I didn't take you to be questioning it. I had my own doubts about it, so long as I just had it from some comment in an on-line discussion.

Posted by: Keith at March 14, 2011 10:36 PM

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