Time for a Few Facts

Time for a Few Facts February 13, 2011

Ok.  I’ve been reading through the swiftly growing comment threads about Catholic doctrine relating to the Eucharist (part of this series on P.Z. Myers and sacrilege) and plenty of points have been settled to my satisfaction.  It’s been clear that plenty of atheists don’t understand the theology of transubstantiation in detail (understandable, since it’s not that relevant to our lives), but I think anyone who advocates sacrilege should do a little due diligence on the ideas they’re blaspheming.  This post is a quick sum-up of the ideas that emerged as common misconceptions about Catholic thought.  Many thanks to Charles, dbp, and Sister Spitfire for going into detail in the threads.  If I’ve misrepresented anything below, let me know

Is the Eucharist made of actual flesh?  If transubstantiation is true, can I extract Jesus’s DNA from it?

No.  There’s no test an atheist could perform on an unconsecrated wafer that would be capable of differentiating it from a consecrated wafer that had been transubstantiated.  But pointing this out to a Catholic or doing any of the relevant experiments is not a disproof of their theology.  The Church doesn’t teach or expect that anyone could detect the difference using scientific means.

If it’s indistinguishable by all physical tests, then what’s the change when it’s consecrated?

The Church teaches that the accident (the form of bread) remains the same while the essence changed from that of bread to the real presence of Jesus Christ.  It’s not a physical change, so if you’re an atheist and a total materialist, that last sentence probably made no sense, since you don’t recognize essence as a valid category with any connection to the real world.  If you’re a Catholic and a materialist, you have some serious problems with either your metaphysics or your theology.  If you’re me, and you lean towards dualism when it comes to human beings, this idea is understandable, could be reasonable, but I don’t see any compelling reason to believe it.

Well, how does all that changing of essence stuff work?

I don’t have the foggiest idea.  And most Catholics don’t either.  But, as far as I can tell, this is not regarded as a problem in Catholic theology.  Asking how the Host is consecrated is not like asking how an engine runs but more like asking how the Son of God became man.  It doesn’t operate in the same world of physical causes that we’re used to doing all our reasoning in.

Doesn’t this all sound a little like invisible dragon logic (see link)?

Yeah, a bit.  Once you start talking about a theology that has no physical consequences, it’s reasonable to be suspicious that someone sacrificed relevance for consistency.  Atheists can’t attack these beliefs, if nothing empirically testable follows from them.  Catholics do claim supporting data in anecdotal experiences of people who experience Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  This kind of claim gets really messy, really fast.

To start with, there are all the normal problems of self-reports coupled with the fact that only people who believe Catholic doctrine are eligible to receive the Eucharist and undergo these experiences.  From the outside, it’s pretty much impossible to figure out whether the Catholic or the atheistic explanation better fits the anecdotal data.

I know my boyfriend is happier and healthier when he takes Communion regularly.  Receiving the Host during the Mass definitely seems to bring him a kind of unique peace.  Is that because he is accepting the grace of Jesus Christ or because he wrongly believes he is, and draws comfort and strength from that belief throughout the week?  I can’t settle the question on any smaller scale that discussing the truth or falsity of all of Catholicism.

(P.S. The invisible dragon analogy is originally by Carl Sagan, but I found it for the first time in the excellent story Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which is written by the author of the essay linked above)

But either way, the Catholics are really having a cannibalistic feast, right?

No.  Even the most die-hard materialist ought to be able to imagine thinking like an Aristotelian and realize that consuming body and blood in essence is different enough from consuming them in physical form that it’s probably wrong to talk about them the same way.  It’s certainly true that Catholics have thought of Communion as fundamentally different from cannibalism throughout the history of their faith as the below quote from Aquinas demonstrates”

“I answer that, It is evident to sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ’s flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine. Secondly, lest this sacrament might be derided by unbelievers, if we were to eat our Lord under His own species. Thirdly, that while we receive our Lord’s body and blood invisibly, this may redound to the merit of faith.”

My quasi-dualism doesn’t put me on firm enough ground with regard to essences to really analogize them to any physical behaviors, and I doubt the materialists will do better.  I’m inclined to say that tie-goes-to-the-people-who-actually-think-in-this-framework.


Courtier’s reply not withstanding, getting into arguments with religious people about doctrine is probably a mistake if you don’t know anything about doctrine.  Christians have had 2000 years to argue with us and with each other, so, regardless of whether their beliefs are true, the obviously dumb or contradictory bits of theology would be expected to be fixed or cleverly rationalized.  At this point, it’s certainly not going to be felled by an argument about cannibalism.

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  • NFQ

    Very clearly written, and certainly cleared things up for me quite a bit. I suppose most of my remaining problem with transubstantiation is that invisible dragon part — it just seems completely nonsensical to conclude, "this changed into the body and blood of Christ, except not in any perceivable way whatsoever."I wonder if part of the (at least my) confusion stems from stories such as this one, in which Catholics freaked out triumphantly when a communion wafer supposedly transformed into heart tissue, as though this confirms what they knew all along. That makes it seem like they really are okay with actual cannibalism, at least in this one very specific context.Could you say a bit more about the materialist/dualist business here? Maybe I'm just so deep into a materialist framework that I'm having trouble seeing out of it — I've never really followed your statements about being a "quasi-dualist" in the context of human beings — but how does dualism even help here? I mean, let's say that we had a magic spell that transformed the "essence" of a person to that of a hamburger. Could I then eat the person (who for all practical intents and purposes does seem to be a person) without technically being a cannibal? In other words: is the Catholic caveat that as long as the physical nature of something is not human, it isn't cannibalism, or is it that as long as something is not *both* physically and essentially human, it's not cannibalism?

  • Yeah, I think it's safe to say that I 1) probably didn't even really get it as a Catholic (as in, even if I could summarize dogma, there would have been no comprehension of what was happening) and 2) now that I don't believe… I really will never get this.I can't bring my mind to comprehend how bread can have the "essence" of flesh, and even after reading that Aquinas quote posted by Charles for the third time, it still sounds an awful lot like Aquinas is saying, "Yes, it's really flesh, but because that's so repulsive to us, god made it seem like bread to all senses and diagnostics."I keep bringing about my counterpart — if I could cut off some skin, transmute it somehow so that it was absolutely indistinguishable from bread… would it still be my flesh?Or are we actually saying that the only difference between cracker and eucharist is that one contains spirit?I keep feeling like I'm short circuiting because there's a constant pull away from "flesh" while still insisting that one is eating Jesus Body and Blood (capitalized). It's not flesh, but it is his body? But (according to Charles) it's heresy to say that Jesus body is only spirit?Despite (like NFQ said) you doing a great job lining up the points up there (and I'd say I have been in line with them)… it doesn't help the fact that I'm not wrapping my head around how they can actually be consistent, no matter how many years and thinkers have hammered on the issue.One last thing… if an "essence" property exists — would it show up anywhere other than where god meddles supernatural-ness into material things? As in, can we find this property appearing anywhere else?

  • How is it not cannibalism if it's still the body and blood of Christ, but merely in a different substance? You are still literally eating the body and blood, albeit invisibly. Aquinas is saying "It's not cannibalism because it's a different substance *frantic philosophic arm-waving*, BUT it's still the actual body and blood of Christ but we just ingest it invisibly." Or, as Hendy said, it's STILL REALLY flesh. It's not that we are misunderstanding the theology, we are taking it to its logical conclusion.

  • dbp

    Thanks, Leah, for your attempt at clarification and fairness to both sides. I really appreciate it, as I'm sure do others.I will try, hopefully with some success, to offer a little less theologically obscure illustration of how I understand the situation. This is analogy and thus imperfect anyway, and furthermore is not something I can tie directly to an authority like Aquinas or the Catechism in its particulars.Hendy, you struck on a fairly important point, about the identification of "me" for parts of your own body. I think it's a critical one, and offers me a very convenient segue to how I wanted to discuss this.Let's talk about something very concrete: my knee and its many permutations. For example, if I were to cut it off (two quick hacks to sever it from my upper and lower leg), it would instantaneously take a big step in the transformation from being a part of me to being something else. Aside from the simple change in position (and even before any cells begin to change or die), it suddenly stops being my knee inasmuch as it can no longer function as such and inasmuch as its integral relationship to the rest of my body is lost.Thereafter, it will slowly continue its transformation. I am alive but the tissues will begin to die at varying speeds. The flesh will deteriorate and the joint (while initially probably as flexible as ever) will cease working properly. It may at some point cease to be visually identifiable as a knee, and finally, in the last step many years in the future, even the DNA, proteins, and other biological matter will be broken down and the last connections to me will cease to exist.Yet, to a certain degree, its identification with me, while imperfect, does continue to exist on a spectrum while the deterioration is still in progress. I can look at the newly-severed knee on the floor and say, "that's a part of me." But this whole mode of thought is in a way somewhat mystical, as indeed is the whole concept of "me" to begin with. (This is why some extreme flavors of materialism will steadfastly deny that "I" exist in any meaningful way.)On the other hand, suppose I swiftly replace the severed knee with an artificial joint and synthetic tissue. Despite definitely not being human tissue as we normally think of it, it nevertheless becomes identified with me in most other meaningful ways: it harmonizes deeply with and facilitates my movements. It becomes an integral part of my body, and if you were to kneecap me with a baseball bat I could legitimately accuse you of an assault on my person and not just destruction of my property. At some point, in fact, the new knee becomes more "me" than the old one despite retaining physical characteristics which seem at a glance to be incompatible with being part of a human body. You might call this a metaphysical understanding of a physical thing. (continued next)

  • dbp

    (continued)So, as nebulous as it is, we do in fact treat the essential nature of things separately from their physical appearance. It is in this sense that the reality of the bread becomes the reality of the Body of Christ. It is, even as a physical reality, newly identifiable as a part of that Body despite retaining its outward characteristics. This, too, is a metaphysical statement, but it isn't a statement merely about some unseen 'essence' alone, but about what the physical thing is that we are looking at. In this metaphysical understanding, it would be less proper to understand the bit of bread as a part of the loaf it was just broken from (as the ceremony was originally celebrated) than with the body of Christ on the cross.It is so in various ways: in the special connection of that bit of matter with the spiritual reality of God, in the fact that its purpose has been wholly subsumed into the sacramental purpose for which it was consecrated, and probably in deeper ways that we do not fully comprehend but trust on faith. It is like the artifical knee whose most sublime identification is no longer as a mechanical implement but rather as a part of a living human.Since this has already gotten very long, I will end this here, despite there being rather a lot more that I feel could be said. I hope this clarifies things somewhat. It won't make anyone think it less magical (for indeed the Real Presence is a mystical proposition), but hopefully you can at least begin to understand how it can fit into a rational framework.

  • Anonymous

    depends what you mean by exist! Essences and aristotelian 'substance' don't refer to a material or physical concept, so you can't test for them physically. You continue to confuse your materialist thinking into their non-materialist explainations. It is safe to assume aquinas would have though cannibalism only applied if the 'species' were human flesh. Meaning that if your flesh became bread it would still be your flesh in 'substance' but I would never be a cannibal for eating bread, regardless of the 'substance'' you will note it aquinas' wording his faith meant he would have eaten flesh if he had to!To understand the idea of aristotelian substance think of how a single cell "is" human after conception even if it has none of the 'accidents' you attribute to. A human. Or (again the actual name escapes me) of the ship that gets boards replaced as they wear out, eventually every piece of wood and nail has been entirely replaced over many years, is the ship the same ship? In substance yes! Once again Charles as anon, since my iPod won't let me log in.

  • @ dbpNo matter how much I assert that my synthetic knee is a part of me, I am mistaken. It is an essential part of my functionality, but it does not have many of the similar features of identity that my other body parts have: nervous connections, blood flow, muscle tissue, bone, ligaments, etc. Saying that the knee is "mine" is simply an implicature that means that it serves an essential role in my functioning, not that it is composed of the same matter or actually one of my "parts". It's also a poor analogy because functionality is not an inherent part of wafers.The Eucharist, on the other hand, is actually making the claim that the blood and body of Christ are REAL(ly) PRESENT. This is why Aquinas says: "And therefore Christ's FLESH AND BLOOD are set before us". Now, Aquinas makes the distinction that they are "under a different species" but this does not preclude the fact that they are LITERALLY the blood and body of Christ.@CharlesIt's becoming painfully obvious you are completely out of your element when talking about Aristotle. You might consider another route.Aristotle's proposed solution for the Ship of Theseus has absolutely nothing to do with his conception of category and substance. Aristotle had a conception that there were four causes: formal, material, efficient, final and that in determining identity one was to use the "formal cause" (design of the ship, in this case). His argument was that it was the same ship because even though all of the planks may be replaced, its initial formal cause did not alter.You also seem very confused on what Aristotle's conception of substance actually was, somehow using it to show that a "cell" is "human". Aristotle's conception of substance is an incredibly intricate one, but there are two essential parts; matter and form. Matter is what the particular substance is composed of, or in the case of a human being, cells, muscle tissue, bone, organs, etc. Form is the actual human being, who we could call "Joe". To try and argue that a cell from Joe is Joe (or human) by virtue of substance is a mistake, it is merely a part of his substance, namely matter.

    • Ismael

      1 – You are wrong because cannibalism is CONSUMING a human body or part of it.
      Christ, however, is not consumed by the process. This is a key point. In cannibalism you eat Billy Bob and then you poop it out (or the undigested Billy Bob at least).
      Billy Bob is gone. No more. Maybe his most nutritious parts are in you, but that’s it.
      Something very different happens when you consume the Eucharist. The bread and wine as such are consumed. Jesus is not consumed. We poop and pee the undigested bread and wine, not Jesus.
      So yes the Eucharist IS the real blood and flesh of Jesus (not to mention soul and divinity) but the way we ‘eat’ the flesh and blood of Jesus is radically different than cannibalism.

      2- Cannibalism is, as a fact, consuming the ‘accidental ‘ (i.e. visible to the senses) flesh and blood of a human being, not merely it’s ‘substance’ (no substance in Aquinas does not mean the same as we understand it now). In the Eucharist, although the substance is the flesh and blood of Christ, the accidents are bread and wine and remain bread and wine, so it’s not cannibalism.
      The same way that many pieces of bread are many pieces of Jesus but they all contain the Real Presence of Jesus and indeed there are not ‘many Jesuses’ but only ONE Jesus.
      This is because transubstantiation is NOT a material (physical or chemical) process, not it was ever claimed to be a material process at all! So you cannot think about it through physics or chemistry, it’s like measuring temperature by hammering your fingertips… it just won’t work and you’ll make a fool of yourself.
      As Aquinas puts it “Yet this change is not like natural changes, but is entirely supernatural, and effected by God’s power alone.”
      3- You say “if you are consuming the actual blood and body of Christ, you are eating another human body.”… depends, see #2.

      Transubstantiation changes the SUBSTANCE (in the sense Aquinas meant it) NOT the accidents (i.e. the physical and material properties) of bread and wine, but, as Aquinas also says, the bread and wine themselves are not annihilated in the process (Summa Theol. III, 75, 3).

      For the same reasons Vegans can receive the Eucharist.

      Cannibalism is not eating the SUBSTANCE of a person, but the material part of a person in its physicality, a process entirely different in many aspects to the Eucharist. So your arguments is like a boat full of holes.
      As Leah said: “getting into arguments with religious people about doctrine is probably a mistake if you don’t know anything about doctrine […] At this point, it’s certainly not going to be felled by an argument about cannibalism.”

      Perhaps you ought to study what transubstantiation means before writing about it.
      You should also understand Aquinas before you quote it.

  • A few things:1. In response to: "I know my boyfriend is happier and healthier when he takes Communion regularly. Receiving the Host during the Mass definitely seems to bring him a kind of unique peace. Is that because he is accepting the grace of Jesus Christ or because he wrongly believes he is, and draws comfort and strength from that belief throughout the week?"That sounds like a clear case of the placebo effect. Just because consecration makes some people happy doesn't change the utter lack of evidence that transubstantiation changes anything about the cracker's properties.2. For me to take transubstantiation seriously, I need to be shown that something changes between a standard wafer and a consecrated one. If it's a change in essence? Tell me what a change in essence is, exactly. Any claims that the only changes that happen make no impact and are unfalsifiable are meaningless. 3. You're probably the only example of a dualist atheist I've ever encountered. What observations lead you to a dualist position?I really don't get your argument here. It seems to boil down to clearing up the misconception that Catholics think physical transformation occurs, followed by your admission that the term "transubstantiation" refers to a meaningless process (outside of inducing a placebo effect).Long story short: Transubstantiation is roughly on the same level as homeopathy.

  • Bravo Leah! I think that you've done a remarkable job of spelling things out. If I'm ever an atheist, I want to be just like you.

  • Anonymous

    Matt DeStefano: I made the mistake of mixing technical theological uses of some of those terms with non-technical uses. For that I apologise, However at no point did I claim to be commenting on Aristotle at all, I was commenting n how Catholics view things with the hlp of Aristotle.You and I may not buy the story that a single cell is a "human" but it is ACTUALLY the example used by Fr. Hardon in the talk I linked to.

  • dbp

    Mr. DeStefano:No matter how much I assert that my synthetic knee is a part of me, I am mistaken. It is an essential part of my functionality, but it does not have many of the similar features of identity that my other body parts have: nervous connections, blood flow, muscle tissue, bone, ligaments, etc.It seems extremely silly to me to call a person who considers their artificial knee a part of them "mistaken." It's simply a matter of definition, especially as the owner of the knee in question is about as unlikely to think the knee has transmuted into his own flesh as it is for a Catholic to think that there's necessarily DNA in his consecrated Host. It's a simple difference in method of categorization. That it isn't biologically integral to the person's body is beside the point.And furthermore, I maintain that this interpretation would be backed up in court: can you honestly think of a single instance in which treatment of the knee would be anything but that of a natural knee?So while I agree entirely that biologically there is and will always be a distinction, but that's the point. You're speaking from a very narrow and limited vantage point that is not the only one possible.As for the rest of it, I think you misunderstood me. I agree that the Body and Blood of Christ is literally present. That bit of matter that you see held up after the consecration (if you actually attend a Mass)? That is the Body and Blood of Christ. It has become so despite retaining all outward appearances it had before. And it does so partly, though only partly, through functionality, similar to the example of the prosthesis.You say "functionality is not an inherent part of wafers" (which incidentally is lousy atheism, if that's what you adhere to– "functionality" isn't inherent in anything in pure atheism because it implies purpose, which even evolved structures do not exhibit). Well, it takes on the fullness of the functionality of the historical Body of Christ, which died on the Cross. The Eucharist exists to join us to that sacrifice, to let us participate in that Body, that Christ's expiation for sins may apply to us as well. The Body which was created solely and above all for the purpose of reconciliation of mankind to God is made present again on the altar, that we may obtain that reconciliation directly, body and soul.So if indeed a mere wafer has no "functionality" of its own, then the case is all the stronger that the consecrated Host, which is the most profoundly "functional" object we are likely to encounter, should be properly identified as something categorically different.As I said, that's only part of the reason the Host is considered to be a new thing: if the soul (a spiritual existence) is the form of the body in mankind, then surely the spiritual presence of Christ which inhabits the bread in much the same way makes him the form of the consecrated Host, in which case the newness of form necessitates a newness of identity, even if physical characteristics remain the same.

  • dbp

    Two final notes, and then I will leave off. The first is quite short: I should merely note that the transubstantiation of the Host is much more profound than the prosthesis, and we do in fact hold it to be a more proper "transformation" than that of the mechanical knee into the supposed part of a person. My point, however, is to illustrate that we very often regard things as categorically different even when the physical characteristics of the object have not changed.Second, I think the point about cannibalism, which has repeatedly surfaced in the comments, should be addressed. Yes, we believe we are honestly and physically consuming the Body and Blood of our Lord, albeit under a different species. However, the similarities to natural cannibalism end there. Some points:1) The action in question does not harm or detract from the Body from which it comes. The resurrected or glorified Body of Christ is incapable of sustaining harm, and so far from destroying a piece of that Body (which would happen if I chopped a lump of flesh from you and ate it), it actually contributes to and strengthens that Body, because I am joined to that Body and become a part of it (for I am brought into communion with the Church, which is also identified with the Body of Christ).2) The "victim" of the "cannibalism" (A) offered himself willingly, and (B) had the prerogative to do so (which no other victim of cannibalism would have, no matter how willing he might be). Every other human body ever created had human owners as subsidiaries, but we were not given unlimited license to use those bodies for any purpose whatever; offering ourselves as food for others is simply beyond our rights. Since Christ the man was also God, he and he alone had the right to do so.3) There is no risk of moral hazard from this act of "cannibalism." Since this situation is utterly unique, there can be no confusion that might lead to acts of conventional cannibalism.There could be many additional reasons cited, including the lack of disease propagation that might attend normal cannibalism, but suffice it to say that none of the evils that go along with cannibalism go along with consumption of the Host. And given that the Host retains all the accidents of bread, I'd say there's so little in common that there is no useful way– not even aesthetically– in which the Eucharist can be compared to cannibalism. So I guess I would reject the name for what we do, even if we do confess the Real Presence.

  • Much earlier in the discussion I observed, half in jest (but only half) that the Catholic belief is not that the wafer is turned into the body of Jesus, but that the body of Jesus is turned into a wafer.Since a Jesus wafer is physically indistinguishable in every way from an ordinary wafer, no one, not even a Catholic, not even Jesuit, could tell, simply by observing two wafers, whether one, both, or neither, was the body of Jesus. The only way of distinguishing, apparently, is by what amounts to a chain of custody.This raises an interesting possibility. PZ Myers is accused of desecrating a Eucharist. But how do we know that he actually did? True, he claimed that he did, but there really is no forensic test to determine whether he drove a rusty nail through the body of Jesus or through an ordinary wafer, is there? So apparently we'll just have to take PZ's word for it. While I am inclined to do so, I think it is nevertheless worth asking whether the degree of dickishness we attribute to PZ changes if instead of being truthful about having desecrated a Eucharist, he did not desecrate a Eucharist but only falsely claimed that he had?Perhaps I'm wrong in characterizing a Eucharist as Jesus' body turned into a wafer. Perhaps the Jesus essence is somehow only IN the wafer but not really OF the wafer. In that case, it should be possible to separate the Jesus essence from the Eucharist simply by removing all the wafer bits. Whatever remains would necessarily be pure essence of Jesus-body. Perhaps it could be stored in a vacuum flask.Those of you who wish to determine if you have supernatural powers might try duplicating Jesus' feat at the wedding of Cana by turning water into wine. If you undertake this experiment, you might find as I did that what you end up with looks and tastes just like the original water you started with. Yet who among us would be so bold as to say that the essence of the liquid had not been turned into wine? What can I say? It's a miracle….

  • Hey, P.Coyle. March Hare brought up a similar objection in the "Debunking a Debunking" thread. You can read his comment and my response over there.

  • Thanks, Leah, I missed that exchange.You wrote in your post, "I know my boyfriend is happier and healthier when he takes Communion regularly. Receiving the Host during the Mass definitely seems to bring him a kind of unique peace. Is that because he is accepting the grace of Jesus Christ or because he wrongly believes he is, and draws comfort and strength from that belief throughout the week? I can't settle the question on any smaller scale that discussing the truth or falsity of all of Catholicism."In principle it would be possible to settle the question by setting up an experiment in which you boyfriend, at weekly intervals, ingests wafers without knowing whether they were consecrated or unconsecrated. Let us imagine that half of the wafers in the sample are consecrated, and half unconsecrated. Whether your boyfriend received a consecrated or an unconsecrated wafer in any given week would be determined randomly, and of course your boyfriend, as test subject, would not be allowed to know which he had received. He could report, each week, whether he experienced unique peace or not, and his reports could be compared with the the type of wafer he had received that week.Unfortunately, I don't think it would be possible to set up such an experiment without, apparently, stealing or fraudulently obtaining a bunch of Eucharists to use in the experiment. I can't imagine that the Church would make them available willingly, in the name of science. But at least they would not end up being desecrated.

  • @dbpI was illustrating your analogy fails because conditions of identity with respect to humans often tie into functionality (i.e. this is my knee, because it serves the same function my biological knee would ). It's not a part of ME in that I would identify it was part of my biological make-up. However, since you agree that real presence means it is actually the blood and body of Christ, we're back at square one. Your points against the assertion that it is cannibalism are rather beside the point: if you are consuming the actual blood and body of Christ, you are eating another human body.

  • dbp

    Mr. DeStefano:You yourself just agreed that identity can reasonably be definied in more than one way, which was the whole point of the analogy and the only point it was brought in to support. I was obviously not trying to argue that the Eucharist is a prosthesis.Yes, the Real Presence does in fact mean it's actually the Body and Blood of Christ. But what we mean by that is, again obviously, not that it takes on the biological characteristics thereof. But since we can meaningfully talk of identity in ways other than strictly empirically biological identity, we can use similar tools in meaningfully discussing transubstantiation.Regarding cannibalism, again, your thinking is excessively narrow. Cannibalism isn't just a word without meaning. It fits into a whole range of social thinking, from sanitary concerns to moral ones. Aside from the simple words "eating a human body," which are arguably correct in our worldview, none of the other predicates of cannibalism can be predicated of the consumption of the Eucharist. Not one. I therefore propose that the association with normal cannibalism is equivocal.

  • To piggy-back on the wonderful dbp: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. So isn't it possible to consider, through his divinity, that Catholics are consumming Christ's divine and bloodless sacrifice? We are certainly not consumming his finite human body (which would be long gone by this point, seeing as he died and rose over 2,000 years ago and billions of Roman Catholics later), and the peace Leah's boyfriend gets from the Eucharist is not a happy tummy feeling but a happy soul one.This is what the Priest says before the consecration: "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have, this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life." and "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have, this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink." To which we reply, "Blessed by God forever." It is very much a spiritual experience, as well as physical, given to us by Christ at the Last Supper, and preserved by the Church through the centuries, firmly cemented by our gift of Scripture and faith. :)Also, this book was released yesterday and looks utterly fascinating: http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/02/jesus-and-jewish-roots-of-eucharist.html

  • Technically, "Eucharistic Miracles" where the host is said to turn into actual, identifiable flesh are *not* examples of transubstantiation. Only when the accidental features, such as atomic composition, remain those of bread and wine does it fall under the rubric of transubstantiation; elsewise it is transmutation, which is *not* what the Catholic doctrine is saying. Fr. Herbert McCabe, O.P., has an interesting article on this topic that many of y'all might find interesting:"It is important to recognise that, in using Aristotelean language, St Thomas is not giving an ‘Aristotelean’ explanation of the Eucharist.He uses it because it was the commonphilosophical currency of the time; but he usesit to give an account of something that simplycould not happen according to Aristotle.Transubstantiation, like creation or incarnation, does not make sense within thelimits of the Aristotelean world-view. StThomas uses Aristotle’s language, but itbreaks down in speaking of the Eucharist. Itdoes not break down because there is somemore accurate language in which the wholething can be explained. It breaks down becauseit is language. We are dealing here withsomething that transcends our concepts and can only be spoken of by stretching language to breaking point: we are dealing here with mystery."http://www.scribd.com/doc/3259821/McCabe-on-Eucharist

  • You referred to: “the world of physical causes that we’re used to doing all our reasoning in”. Wait, “all”? Clearly not “all” or you couldn’t “lean towards dualism” — presumably, you do some reasoning in both parts of your worldview (or else, what makes you think there are two parts). So if it’s not “all” but, say, “most” — then whatever part of your reasoning that *can* be done “outside” the “world of physical causes” should apply to the Eucharist. Where did I go wrong?

    (Note, I have not read the full post or the comments yet — I apologize if this is resolved therein.)