A summary of a recent conversation

over at the Register:

Church: The Eucharist is not bread and wine, but the body and blood of Jesus,  according to his own word.
Protestant: So then, you’re saying the Eucharist is bread and wine.
Church: No, I’m…
Protestant: So since you believe the Eucharist is bread and wine, you’re saying God is bread and wine.
Church: No. I’m saying that there is no brea…
Protestant: So you teach that the Eucharist is God,  Man, bread and wine.
Church: What?
Protestant: Man!  I am *hammering* you  with my brilliance!  It’s amazing nobody for 2000 years thought of this  till I came along.
Church: Er…
Protestant: No need to thank me. I was obviously born for this hour, to lead the Church out of this amazingly simple mistake they’ve been making for two thousand years.  Now let me tell you what you believe about the Trinity.   You’re never gonna believe it!

Memo to Protestants eager to save Catholics from the Catholic faith. Before refuting something, find out if the thing you are refuting is what the person you are refuting believes. Begin by finding out if the belief you are refuting is even in the same galaxy as the person you are speaking with.

Here’s the deal with the breezy “Obviously the Church is wrong and the Eucharist is just a symbol and I can tell that by a brief glance at my Bible” line of argument:

In the first thousand years of the Church you simply cannot find anybody who regards the Eucharist as “just a symbol”. Everybody understands it as the body and blood of Jesus. The reading of Scripture you regard as “self-evident” (essentially Zwinglian) is an extremely late and obviously divergent view from what *every* apostolic Church—not just us dread mackerel snappers, but Orthodox, Coptic, Chaldean, Indian—*every* apostolic Church understood Jesus to mean for 2000 solid years. That view is traceable not only back to people like Ignatius of Antioch, who heard John with his own ears, (as well as multiple other Fathers, with *nobody* taking the Zwinglian view) but to the plain meaning of Scripture itself: “This is my body. This is my blood. If you receive unworthily, you are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. This bread is my flesh, etc.” Indeed, even many early reformers such as Luther and the Anglicans are much closer to Catholic belief about the Eucharist than your crackers and grape juice “symbolism” view.

So, what you are asking me to believe is that *everybody* everywhere in the ancient Church—north, south, east, west, across the entire ancient world from India to Spain and from Scotland and Norway down to Egypt—all of them—were so massively stupid that they could not grasp that Jesus was obviously speaking symbolically and they—all of them—stupidly concluded that this obviously symbolic language really meant that it was the body and blood of Jesus. You are asking me to believe the apostles were epically bad teachers who spent some fifty years teaching the gospel, only to reap of harvest of moron so dumb that they couldn’t tell the difference between a symbolic piece of bread and the body of Jesus. You are asking to believe that you are 2000 years smarter and have just figured it out, along with a tiny minority of fellow Protestants.

I’m also to believe that the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history, including people who heard the apostles with their own ears, made such a bone-headed and illiterate blunder with no record of anybody ever saying, “Dude, Jesus was just using a figure of speech. Learn to read!” And all this happened without these same bone-headed Christians ever declaring that Jesus had a doorknob for a nose, or that Jesus was covered with wool because he was literally a Lamb, or that Jesus was made of asphalt because he was the Way. In short, you are asking me to be believe all Christians everywhere were massively stupid about the Eucharist (until you came along) but no Christians anywhere were massively stupid about all the other symbolic things Jesus said. They could figure out that Jesus not literally a door, a road, or a shepherd, but they could not understand that the bread and wine were just symbols–till you.

Excuse me if I think your stupendous arrogance is blinding you to the possibility that you haven’t thought things through clearly. The simple fact is, if Jesus and the apostles wanted to teach a purely symbolic view of the Eucharist they could and would have done so very easily. Indeed, it is was in their interest to do so since, as John 6:66 makes clear, the doctrine of the Eucharist as the flesh and blood of Jesus was massively offensive. But they did not. And the proof of that? The fact that nobody, anywhere, understood the Eucharist to be a symbol once the apostles were done founding the first generation of Churches.

Think again, and abandon the amazingly vain supposition that wisdom was born with you.

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  • Why waste your breath with such people? They do not argue in good faith. They always twist your words to mean things you never intended.

    • rakowskidp

      I agree, Sean. I’ve been through this same scenario too many times to fall for it again.

      A few years ago, I engaged in a lengthy correspondence with a Reformed Baptist dude who used to be Catholic, who sent me a message stating that he was interested in returning to the Church. He asked some of the typical questions about Mary, the Eucharist and papal authority, but then rejected every one of my answers and launched into his scripted evangelical appeal (thus proving himself to be a liar, using his feigned interest in returning to Rome as a pretext for evangelism). It ended with him stating that I’d fallen prey to the doctrine of demons.

      I no longer waste time on people who refuse to have discussions in good faith.

      • John C

        Agree. Some Protestants turn the Faith into a debating society. Some use it to advance their business ventures. I’m tired of Protestants, and I’m tired of ecumenism. I always remember this thought from Kierkegaard: “Catholicism has a conception of the Christian ideal, which is to become nothing in this world. Protestantism is worldliness through and through”.

        • Albert

          where did kierkegaard write that? i’d like to use that quotation, but want to know where to point people when they ask me where did kierkegaard write that?

          • John C

            Albert: I got the quote from Jacques Barzun’s “From Dawn to Decadence”, I believe the first chapter. It may come from “Training in Christianity”.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Sean, I certainly sympathize with the sentiment you present, I really do; but we are called to evangelize to all, not just those who seem receptive. Such discussions, as sterile as they seem to us, can still be fertile ground for God’s grace. What might seem extraordinarily stupid obstinacy at the moment might prove to be, years later, a chink in the armor through which Truth flowed.

      • rakowskidp

        True enough… but when the discussion devolves to the point of hostility, twisted words or one-sided evangelism (preaching vs. sharing/learning), it’s probably the time to end it.

      • Ivan, I agree we are called to always evangelize, but we are not called to put ourselves into situations where an obviously hostile and dishonest person goads us into losing our temper and doing or saying something we’d regret later. Sometimes, the best evangelizing is to shut our mouths and walk away.

        I’m also mindful of passages in the Gospels where Jesus faces the same situations: “He could work few miracles there, because of their lack of faith,” and “If a town will not receive you, shake the dust from your feet and leave” (I know that’s not an exact quote; going off of memory here).

        This Eric fellow did not show up in the NCR comboxes to debate, or to try to understand better about Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist. He came there to obfuscate, and to try to trip up some Catholics. He is like the scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees trying to trick Jesus into some error or self-contradiction.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Sean, somehow I missed the link at the top of the post, and didn’t have the context. Scanning through the comments, I understand the context better. Yes, sometimes you just have to walk away, and I’d agree that this is one of those cases.

        • No problem, Ivan. Thanks.

    • I struggle with this, I really do…on the one hand, having these discussion can seem like “casting our pearls before swine,” so to speak. On the other hand, we have a priceless treasure in the Eucharist that our Protestant friends desperately need. Shouldn’t we continue to hold out the truth, in the hopes that someday a little glimmer of light will shine through and they will decide to join us in celebrating the Panem Coeli?

      As a recent convert from the evangelical world myself, I remember thinking and speaking the same way the Protestant from this dialogue did. I was brutally antagonistic to Catholicism…and then, little by little, the truth got through to me. I’m incredibly grateful for people like Mark who take the time to write books and blog articles, knowing full well that jerks like me are going to attack them, because they know that if the Holy Spirit can raise the dead, then He can certainly open Protestant eyes to the wonderful truth of the Eucharist…

  • Evan

    Please tell me that someone mentioned to him that the Bible, which he claims as his sole standard of truth, was compiled by the Catholic Church.

    • THIS! Even if one knows nothing about the particular Bible verse slung his way, one can turn the discussion to the origin of the Bible and what this means for the authority of the Church (or for the reliability of the Bible)

    • Jared

      Yep. But they had “certain criteria” to determine that these books are the inspired word of God, so it’s okay to accept the teaching of the Magisterium this one time.

    • Talk about Catholic nonsensical arguments. The scriptures to Jesus and the Apostles were the law, the prophets and the psalms. Unless you want to go Eastern and say that Greek Translation of the OT is the real scripture – it just won’t do to go around saying the church invented the scripture. You might say that the scriptures were revealed by the Holy Spirit using means (namely the church and before that Israel) but to confuse the means with the source, is a poor argument. Protestant Sola Scriptura is better translated as Word Alone. The Word is Jesus Christ, He is revealed for all everywhere in the Scriptures, but that Word is still active through the Spirit. Where it reduces to scripture alone is that any Word given can be tested by that universal revelation. A good protestant confronted with something like oh say Mudjorgorge (sp?) could take the private revelations, compare it to scripture especially where it is clear and say it is a fraud. Scripture is the norming norm. There can be other norms: creeds, confessions, synods – but they are all tested by Scripture.

      And please don’t saddle all of us heretic protestants with that Syphilitic Zwingli. Symbolic my ample backside. If its a symbol so is the grace on offer and you are still in your sins.

      • ivan_the_mad

        No, sola scriptura is not better translated “word alone”. That’d be solum verbum.

      • Rob

        it just won’t do to go around saying the church invented the scripture

        I’m sure somebody somewhere has said that sometime. Just nobody here and now.

  • Nate

    I realize it’s a tired requisite to bring in Flannery O’Connor’s quip, but it captures an important sentiment. If you don’t believe in the Real Presence, then what does your world look like? What does your God look like? What does your Jesus look like? You’re seeing things all wrong, so much so that I don’t even recognize your version of the world and of God and of salvation and much else besides. What’s the point, really? What are you doing with yourself? If you don’t have a sacramental theology, then you might as well be an atheist. Because practically speaking, you already are. The Holy Spirit is kinder than both me and Flannery, but I’ll take her words to the bank.
    Really: no Real Presence? Then the hell with it.

    • CJ


      As a protestant considering apostolic Christianity (I lean towards Orthodoxy, but still) I can tell you that I didn’t consider our “crackers and grape juice” communion useless. It was a solemn reminder of the sacrifice of the Son of God for my sins, one that Christ ordered us to carry out. That’s not nothing. When we were about six, my best friend drank his little cup of grape juice, smacked his lips and said “AHHH,” causing his mother to backhand the snot out of him. My mom, having a more irenic disposition, explained to him that we have to treat communion with respect because Jesus told us to do it to remember what He did for us. O’Connor’s quote notwithstanding, there’s a big gap between “not transubstaniation” and “to hell with it.”

      • CJ –

        Ah, yes. A scene from my Baptist childhood: As I watched the plate of tiny crackers and the tray of grape juice glasses being passed over my head (before I myself was baptized by immersion at the age of 13), I remember feeling a great longing for the knowledge and the presence of Jesus that my Sunday School teachers told me was there, somehow – I don’t even know if I could have defined the word ‘symbol’ at that time.

        At the age of 32, when I began investigating the claims of the Catholic Church and started visiting Masses, it dawned on me that, though true communion and unity of all Christians is presently broken (as symbolized by my not being allowed to receive Communion and having to walk in the reception line with my arms crossed in an X across my chest), I still was eligible to receive a blessing. And: 1) this blessing had a tangible form (the priest or minister touching me and/or praying audibly for my spiritual wellbeing), 2) the content of this blessing derived from the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and 3) the blessing would be measured to me in the degree that my heart/mind/soul could embrace it. It further dawned on me that whatever ‘blessings’ or consolations I had received from Protestant celebrations of the Lord’s Supper were precisely echoes of this same blessing.

        That said, I subscribe with Nate to F. O’C.’s characterization of the Eucharist, because the Sacrament’s existence depends on what your view of the world really is. Is it the kind of world where God can dwell with man, or do we just say that and ‘believe in’ it? Is it possible that God could transform matter’s substance and really, actually _be there_ under the appearance of bread and wine? Can the Spirit of Christ really live, really make His home in, really feel comfortable in, your human body? Or is that too crass, too much for God, too dirty or humiliating for Him to do, since spirit=good and matter=bad? If you don’t believe that God can transubstantiate bread and wine, do you believe that He has transubstantiated _you_? Or (I ask this with gentleness) – at heart, are you still a Gnostic?

        Dear brother in Christ, I encourage you to _want more_.

        • CJ


          Thanks for sharing. I should mention that it’s more than likely that I convert at some point ,as Cardinal Newman’s words ring true, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.

          Still, I do think it’s a *bit* of a strawman to say that one who doesn’t believe in Transubstantiation is semi-Gnostic or something. It’s not that we were taught that God *can’t* do it, it’s just that we were taught that he *didn’t.* We totally believed in the resurrection of the body, the Incarnation of the Word, the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, etc. But to believe that it can happen in general isn’t the same as believing than that it happened in any specific instance.

          I would just caution Catholics discussing this issue with Protestants not to immediately jump to the Gnostic characterization. The person you’re speaking with may be perfectly willing to believe that God *can* transform bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, but you’ve got the task of demonstrating (from Scripture, Tradition, miracles, etc.) that that’s what He meant.

  • Ben the Atheist

    Which is more likely: that a priest is able to bend the laws of the universe with divine help to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of someone who lived 2,000 years ago? Or that its just, you know, bread and wine.

    • Nate

      Hi Ben,
      This probably isn’t the most fruitful thread for you to air your grievances. This is two levels in from where you’re at. We’re dealing here with sundry versions of Christianity, which is already a level in from the debate between atheist vs. non-atheist versions of reality.

      I say this all with the charitable assumption that you aren’t just trolling.

    • o.h.

      While of course you have your own agenda, I’d point out that you’re making Nate’s point for him fabulously, that Erik’s variety of Protestantism is only a step removed from atheism.

      • Tom R

        > “that Erik’s variety of Protestantism is only a step removed from atheism”

        Well, Erik probably at least believes that Adam and Eve existed.

        > “every* apostolic Church understood Jesus to mean for 2000 solid years”

        So if there had been protestants around in the first two or three centuries after Christ, they would have found themselves against the entire (Christian) world. Or, to use the original Latin of the Bible, “contra mundum”.

        If there’s one point the Bible is very clear on, both Old and Newer Testaments, it’s “When you’re outvoted, dude, God’s against you.”

    • RUs

      Hey, Ben. The problem is that you presuppose radical materialism as if it were the established code of truth and beyond reproach. (In other words, you are blatantly begging the question.) I understand that’s the popular modern bandwagon, and therefore the parlance of the common man, but to reach deeper into the nature of reality, we have to get past these false ideologies.

      It’s just as easy for me to beg the question from different beginnings:
      “Which is more likely: that the all-loving God lied to us about sharing his divine presence with us, or that he actually, through is all-powerful grace, changes the bread and wine into His body?”

      Grant it, you can start picking at the assumptions and lead into much more involved conversations, but any first-year philosophy student can do the same to your statement. So, used as rhetorical devices to beg the question, neither statement is all that valuable. Both rely upon much bigger questions.

  • It’s because I admire your generally accurate blogs, Mr. Shea, that I’m all the more disappointed that you sometimes say that in the Eucharist the bread and wine have been changed into Christ himself. Admittedly, such statements may be allowable loosely or poetically; and admittedly, to receive Our Lord’s sacred body and blood is to receive Our Lord himself. But clearly He, an infinite divine Self, is not himself his finite body and blood.

    • Rosemarie


      The bread and wine are not changed into the Divine Person of the Word or the Divine Nature, but into the Sacred Humanity of Christ, which is hypostatically united to His Divine Person since the Incarnation. Since the Sacred Humanity is part of Christ Himself, the bread and wine do indeed get changed into Christ Himself – specifically His human nature. His Divine Nature also becomes present in the Eucharist, naturally, since His humanity cannot be separated from His Divinity.

    • Amy

      The Eucharistic Presence is defined as Christ truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. So it is accurate, not just poetic, for Mark to refer to It as Christ Himself.

      • Amy

        The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1374) quotes the Council of Trent saying:

        “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.”” (emaphasis in original)

  • I’m happy that +J.M.J rightly states that the Eucharistic bread is not changed into the Divine Person or Divine Nature of Our Lord, and that Amy rightly states that the whole Christ — body, blood, soul, and Divinity — is truly, really, and subatantially contained. And admittedly, His human nature is part of Him, and is not at all separate from him. His sacred humanity nevertheless remains distinct from Him, as (finite) part from (infinite) Whole, and is not identical with Him.

    • Rosemarie


      His Sacred Humanity is not identical with His Divine Nature. They are two distinct natures yet His Divine Person is united to both. I’m pretty sure Mark agrees with all this and does not mean to say that the bread and wine are changed into the Divine Nature, which cannot happen since the Divine Nature is eternal and immutable.

      Yet it is not incorrect to say that the bread and wine are changed into Christ Himself, any more than it is wrong to call Mary the “Mother of God.” True, she gave God the Son only His human body, not His Divinity, yet the Child she bore and raised is God Incarnate so she is truly the Mother of God. She is not just the Mother of His human nature; we can’t sever His humanity from His divinity.

      In a similar manner, the Eucharist does become Christ Himself, not because the bread and wine change into the Divine Nature but because, when they become His Sacred Humanity the whole of Christ becomes instantly present as well, even as His Divinity became present in Mary’s womb at His virginal conception. We can’t sever His humanity from His Divinity; where His human nature is, His Divine nature and Person are as well.

      Again, we can correctly say that God died on the Cross. No, His Divinity did not die, yet the Second Person of the Trinity did truly experience death in His human nature. His human Soul separated from His Body, so it was a true human death. Yet, interestingly, His Divinity remained united to both, His Body never lost Its Hypostatic Union with the Eternal Word, not even in the tomb.

    • Amy

      Maybe I’m missing something…. Are you OK with saying the whole Christ is present in the Eucharist or not? If so, why is it a problem to say that the Eucharist is Christ Himself? If not, can you explain how that does not contradict the Catechism?

    • As Amy pointed out with her quote from the Catechism, Rosemarie did not accurately convey Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist. She does not get much wrong, but she got this wrong. The Eucharist is Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity.

      • Rosemarie


        The Eucharist is indeed Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. I didn’t deny that. I was just explaining that the bread and wine do not change into the Divine Nature (which they do not) yet we can still say that the whole Christ is fully, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

        • Rosemarie


          Let me explain this a little more clearly.

          The Divine Nature is uncreated, simple (not composite) and unchanging. Bread and wine are finite creatures made by God. That which is created cannot become Uncreated, nothing can be added to the simple Divine Nature. Therefore, bread and wine cannot be actually transformed into the Divine Nature, as if we could add something on to the unchanging God.

          Christ’s Body and Blood, OTOH, are all part of creation. Bread and wine could certainly be changed into another creature. There is no doubt whatsoever that both the bread and wine change substance into both the Body and Blood of Christ while retaining the accidents of bread and wine respectively. When this happens, Christ’s Soul and Divinity become instantaneously present in the Eucharist as well, since they are inseparable from His Body and Blood. Therefore, at the consecration, Jesus becomes truly and fully present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in both the species of bread and of wine.

          Was that clear enough?

  • Yes, Amy; I’m quite OK with saying the whole Christ is present in the Eucharist. (I stupidly failed to include the phrase “in the Eucharist” in my previous comment.) And that the Eucharist is Christ Himself, I have no trouble with, either. And Our Lady is indeed mother of God the Son, not of His human nature, and that God the Son Himself, not His human nature, died for us. What I maintain is that He is not Himself His finite human nature — which is indeed intimately, hypostatically, united with His infinite Self.

    • Rosemarie


      Yet if we can call Mary the Mother of God even though she only gave God the Son His human nature…

      …if we can say that God died on the Cross even though Christ only died in His human nature…

      …then we can say that the bread and wine have been changed into Christ himself even though they are, strictly speaking, only substantially changed into His Body and Blood. He still becomes truly and completely present – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – under the appearances of bread and wine. It’s instantaneous; once the bread and wine change substance the Soul and Divinity are there.

      Moreover, it all occurs by the divine power of Christ Who is Priest, Victim and Altar at that very moment. He is never absent from the miracle of transubstantiation.

  • (I apologize to Rosemarie for confusing her name with her introductory “J.M.J” in a previous combox.)

    • Rosemarie


      No problem. 🙂