Trans-Accidentiation June 27, 2009

I have been writing in this forum on some topics that, while important, are not the major focus in my academic work.  I am, by trade, an ecumenist.  I will be writing my doctoral dissertation on the question of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist as a topic of ecumenical dialogue.  In my first year of doctoral studies I was preparing a class presentation on the Eucharist with my professor when I casually mentioned Christ’s ‘physical presence’.  She stopped me and said, “But Brett, that’s a heresy.”

After checking with her to make sure I understood where the problem lay, I was absolutely delighted.  I knew that many Catholics would happily teach that Christ is ‘physically present’ and feel that they were accurately representing the Church.  I also knew that this was a major stumbling block to our ecumenical partners who suspected that such a claim was nonsense.  If it was not, in fact, appropriate for Catholics to refer to Christ’s presence in this way, then there was certainly room for ecumenical progress.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who uses the term ‘physical’ to describe Christ’s Presence is a heretic.  Many people use the term simply to emphasize the ‘reality’ of his presence while holding an altogether orthodox understanding.  Still, this descriptor should not be used for at least two reasons.  First of all, it concedes that reality is no more than materiality, something Catholics should have obvious problems with.  Secondly, such an emphasis leads to a lot of confusion about what the Church actually means when it insists on Christ’s Presence.  Take this letter to the editor in Catholic Insight Magazine from June 5, 2009.  George Mealey of Edmonton, Alberta writes:

I did wish to tell you of the great sorrow, shame, hurt and yes, anger, that those who would preach the Gospel instruct and advise us that due to a flu epidemic, receiving the chalice might cause the recipient to become a victim of the sickness.

The teaching last Sunday, May 5, 2009 (the Sunday of The Good Shepherd), is that the Holy Mass is not really the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, but like in some other churches just a memorial ritual.

“This is My Blood,” according to last Sunday’s gospel, does not mean His Blood any longer.

Maybe it is time to stop worrying about what the President of the U.S. does or does not believe.  Maybe it is time to stop parading and writing letters or sending e-mails to our government over Human Rights Legislation.

Maybe it is time to stand and really insist on what Our Lord’s Holy Church teaches and tells us of the truth of His Sacrament.  If some people do not wish to believe it, there are other places for them.  But for bishops and clergy to even hint that one might receive sickness from the chalice of Christ’s Holy Blood, consecrated by Him, is nothing short of “leaving the sheep as hired hands.”

Mr. Mealey, it must be said, does not believe in transubstantiation, but rather trans-accidentiation.  The Church, and especially the work of Thomas Aquinas, is very clear that all of the accidents of bread and wine, including their ability to communicate disease, remain after the consecration.  To deny this is at least fideism, where one acknowledges something that is irrational because one erroneously believes that the Church insists upon it, and maybe even full-blown capharnaism, named for the Jews at Capernaum who misunderstood Jesus and asked, “What, will this man give us his flesh to eat?”

There is much hand wringing in the Church today about lack of faith in the Real Presence.  Many people are willing to accept such nonsense as that exhibited by Mr. Mealey, just as long as Real Presence is verbally affirmed.  It is a much bigger problem, these people tell me, that many reject the Real Presence than that some who accept it are caught up in material heresy.  When you go about making your fine theological distinctions about Church teaching, they continue, you are just contributing to the problem.

This is not only silly; it is dangerous.  Of course, not every Christian will understand every doctrine that she or he affirms.  Nevertheless, suggesting that fervent affirmations of falsely understood Church teaching can supply for theological precision, especially when the material heretics are trying to excommunicate the orthodox, indicates that what you value isn’t faith proper, but an un-Catholic form of obedience that is unrelated to truth.  It places voluntarist fervor above the first theological virtue.  Furthermore, it ignores the obvious fact that the reason many Catholics do not profess belief in the doctrine of the Real Presence is because they think it means exactly what Mr. Mealey thinks it means.  The only difference is that he is a fideist and they are not.

If those who emphasize Christ’s Real Presence were not presenting Church teaching in such an unorthodox way, far fewer Catholics would see it as nonsensical.  It is not surprising that many Catholics cannot accept transubstantiation as some sort of magic trick.  They shouldn’t.  It is a scandal to insist that “If some people don’t wish to believe it, there are other places for them,” when the ‘it’ in question is material heresy.  If someone is going to reject Christ’s Real Presence, let him or her do so because of the real scandal of the Eucharist:  that we believe Christ is changing the whole of creation (including ourselves) into his glorified body, bread first.

[Incidentally, I have numerous examples that indicate an understanding similar to Mr. Mealey’s.  The problem is widespread.  Nevertheless, the vast majority of my examples are anecdotal.  In other words, they won’t do much to convince people who don’t think that this is a real problem.  I would be very grateful if my readers would direct me to any other published pieces that indicate a belief in what I have called ‘trans-accidentiation.’]

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • digbydolben

    If someone is going to reject Christ’s Real Presence, let him or her do so because of the real scandal of the Eucharist: that we believe Christ is changing the whole of creation (including ourselves) into his glorified body, bread first.

    I’m extremely proud of you for saying this; it is something that no Protestant-influenced, neo-Calvinist American Catholic could EVER say: just think what it says to those who believe that “salvation is by faith alone,” that it is blasphemous to attempt to “build the Kingdom” on earth, that “grace” is pre-destined, OR that individuals are “saved” separately–through radically individualist cerebration–and divorced from their families and communities (unlike what the Orthodox say: “man is damned separately, but ‘saved’ with his brothers and sisters, to the degree that he is JOINED TO THEM, IN COMMUNION).

    It is really good to know that there ARE still in America some genuine Catholics left whose religion isn’t ALL about the “papal monarchy” and its prescriptive sexual morality.

  • David Raber

    Heresy-hunting has had a bad rap in the modern world because it smacks of policing thoughts and all that, but looking at the history of the Church has given me a lot of respect for the whole centuries-long process of weeding out “heresy,” i.e., figuring out the best words we can to describe divine realities. We ought to respect this process of intellectual and spiritual work carried out by our forebears: I take it that this is a great part of what it means to be “Catholic.”

    So I applaud you, Brett, for doing your bit of heresy hunting, which in this case serves to indict a point of view that tends to be partisan and divisive within the Catholic fold.

    It is too bad that the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist–which is a Christian Tradition with a capital “T” if there ever was one–seems to be a stumbling block to most Protestants. In this case, i would have to say it is mostly their own fault, and a grievous mistake. It seems to be one of those things that the early reformers latched on to as something particularly Catholic, and therefore something they ought to take exception to.

  • David Nickol


    I was looking for something else when I stumbled across this statement by Mother Angelica

    He gives me an example of obedience for He comes down in the form of bread at the command of His priests. He stays in the tabernacle day after day, month after month, year after year, just so I may go to Him with my joys and sorrows. He humbles Himself and becomes my food so His own Body and Blood may course through my veins and I may be able to grow into His Image and please the Father.

    It seems to give the impression that Jesus obediently leaves whatever it is he would prefer to be doing when his presence is “commanded” by a priest, and remains uncomfortably confined in a tabernacle so that she may communicate with him. I don’t know if it is an example of what you are looking for, but it is an example of something I find it difficult to believe the Church is actually saying.

    A question: Does asserting the truth of transubstantiation (an explanation of the Real Presence) rather than asserting the truth of the Real Presence itself require belief in a particular theory of the nature of physical reality? Do the concepts of substance and accidents come into play in describing anything other than transubstantiation? And can transubstantiation be called miraculous? It would seem to me that physical or scientific laws are formulated based on observation of “accidents,” and since transubstantiation is scientifically unobservable and undetectable, it does not violate any empirically arrived at principles that I can think of.

  • david

    I fail to see how Mother Angelica’s statement is relevent; you seem to link it to the heresy Brett writes of.

    The humilty of Jesus is evident in the Blessed Sacrament.

  • Elise B.

    The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are present in the consecrated Host and Wine. And this is done when the priest says the words of the Consecration, so Mother Angelica’s comment would be correct.
    Elise B.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me the question is how “the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are present.”

    Is Jesus “obeying” a priest’s “command” to appear at the moment of consecration? Jesus in the Gospels is certainly portrayed as obedient to the Father, but is it correct to say he is obedient to “the command of his priests”?

    And where does he “come down” from? Heaven? Isn’t God (and therefore Jesus) omnipresent?

    Brett says that it is incorrect to speak of Jesus as “physically” present, and yet Mother Angelic seems to say that Jesus obeys the command of a priest to “come down,” which to me clearly implies movement through space. And she says Jesus “stays in the tabernacle day after day.” How can that not be interpreted as physical presence? Also, am I misreading her, or is she implying it is unpleasant for Jesus to be confined like that? How can Jesus be confined in a tabernacle? (And of course there are many thousands of tabernacles, which also seems to me to confuse the issue.)

    Of course, Mother Angelica was speaking devotionally, not theologically in making this statement, but I think Brett’s point is that speaking imprecisely about the Real Presence sets up unnecessary stumbling blocks on the road to a possible common understanding by Christians. I don’t know how many Christians (including Catholics) are willing to believe that Jesus obeys the commands of priests, or that he is somehow performing an unpleasant chore in “coming down” and staying in tabernacles for days on end, or even that it is humbling for him to be present in the Eucharist.

    Mother Angelica’s whole notion seems to be based on spacial and temporal notions and require some kind of physical presence, and as I understand Brett, he is saying that Christ is present in the Eucharist, but he is not physically present.

  • brettsalkeld

    I cannot engage in any debates in this forum. (My spiritual health and family life suffer too much from this.) But I am willing to offer some clarification since this topic is a confusing issue for many Christians, Catholic and otherwise.

    As far as I can tell, the quote from Mother Angelica does not exhibit a physical understanding in the way Mr. Mealey’s letter does, although her second sentence comes closest. I propose taking her comments one sentence at a time.

    The first sentence is half right and half wrong. Jesus is obedient in the Eucharist because the Sacrament is the Sacrament of his sacrifice wherein he showed perfect obedience to the Father. But he is not obedient to the priest. It is, in fact, the priest (as representative of the Christian community) who acts in obedience to Christ who commanded that we do this in memory of him. Christ fulfills his promise to us when we are obedient. That is not the same as being obedient to us or to our community’s representative.

    The second sentence is the most problematic because it does make the tabernacle sound like a prison. Jesus’ Presence in the tabernacle is sacramental. In other words, it functions on the logic of symbol. Not ‘mere’ symbol, but symbol nonetheless. (This concept may have to be a future post.) Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father, no matter how many tabernacles contain his sacramental presence in this way. This sentence does, however, capture an important aspect of Eucharistic theology, namely that the Eucharist is the most intense fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to be with us ‘to the end of the age’.

    The third sentence seems quite fine to me. It is probably true that it could be understood in a heretical way by someone already operating in a heretical framework, but Mother Angelica can hardly be held responsible for that. It looks like a play on Augustine to me. “You will eat me, but I will not be incorporated into you. Rather you will be incorporated into me.”

  • I wrote this post to describe how I think we ought to understand Christ’s physical presence in the Eucharist. In short, we Americans think of “body” as meaning the physical constituents – body parts, cells, atoms, that can be studied by science. But the real meaning of our bodies is our physical experience of them, which cannot be broken down the same way. The Eucharist is Christ’s body not because it has his cells, but because he experiences it as his body. If you touch the consecrated host, he can feel it, the same way that I will feel it if you stroke my arm.

    It IS a physical presence, not just a spiritual one, but it is not at all the “accidental”, DNA/cell-based sort of presence that we are used to thinking of when we say “physical presence”.

  • brettsalkeld

    A few more things.

    In the Eucharist Jesus does ‘condescend’ to us as an extension of the Incarnation (see Philippians 2). Nevertheless, since heaven itself is not exactly a place, any spatial language must be understood as metaphorical.

    Also, the question of miracle is an interesting one. The idea of ‘miracle’ as something outside the explanatory possibilities of science is a modern one. Indeed, such a concept cannot exist before modern science. In any case, this understanding of miracle is quite common and it is correct to note that, under this definition, the Eucharist is not a miracle. Absolutely nothing measurable (i.e., the accidents) changes.

    Even writing before the rise of modern science, Aquinas was at pains to indicate that what goes on by God’s power in the Eucharist is not the same kind of thing that goes on anywhere else. He said that transubstantiation was like creation ex nihilo in some ways, but not all. Details aside, in the broad sense of miracle as a direct act of God, the Eucharistic change is certainly miraculous.

    This is, of course related to the question of how transubstantiation relates to Real Presence. The Church does not demand of her dialogue partners the use of the term transubstantiation. As long as objective change (Thomas used conversio far more often than transubstantio.) is acknowledged, we are satisfied. Transubstantiation is the attempt, in one particular metaphysical system, to explain the ‘how’ of the change and the Church has called this explanation ‘apt’ at Trent. It is not, nevertheless, all-embracing and definitive in the sense that nothing more can be said.

    Furthermore, like any other term being used 800 years after it was coined, we must be careful of our hermeneutic when we read it so that we can be sure to grasp just what Thomas meant to capture in using it. That actually takes some serious theological effort. A polemic, anti-Protestant hermeneutic, beyond being simply anachronistic, will almost certainly force the Catholic reader into error. Thomas was at least as concerned with ‘physicalism’ as with a mere ‘symbolism’. Probably moreso.

  • brettsalkeld

    The Church does say Christ is bodily present, but not that he is physically present. We should keep these terms straight.

    We must also be careful not to separate spiritual presence from bodily presence. In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul tells us that Christ’s resurrected body is a ‘spiritual body’.

    False dichotomies only confuse the situation.

  • brettsalkeld

    I’m not sure how we could possibly claim that Christ ‘feels’ things that happen to the Eucharistic species. It is quite outside the Catholic theological tradition to suggest this. One wonders what it ‘feels’ like to be dissolved in stomach acid. I’m sorry, but that looks about as off as the idea that the species can’t communicate a virus.

  • Charles Robertson

    Hey Brett! Good piece, and I’m glad you acknowledge the difference between devotional language and theological language. Speaking about Jesus as a “prisoner of love” in the tabernacle is certainly an example of the former and has had long use in the lingo of the faithful. I see no need to “purify” this language, since no faithful Catholic really thinks that the God who cannot be contained can really be constrained. Also, I think that we would profit from a clearer presentation of the term transubstantiation, which is not the sacrament, but, as you say, how the sacrament comes about. So then, as sacrament, all that the eucharist is is the body and blood of Christ. It represents no more, and no less. But the soul and divinity of Christ are present because of the substantial union of the Word with that body and blood. Thomas says that if, ex hypothesi, one of the apostles had celebrated mass when Jesus was in the tomb, that the human soul would not have been present along with the Eucharistic species. However, what I’m not clear on, is whether the divinity of Christ would be present. Comments on this bit of speculation?

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP


    I think a lot of confusion would be avoided if you replaced ‘physical presence’ with ‘local presence’. True, Aquinas does say that Christ is not locally present in the Eucharist, such local presence being an accident. According to Aquinas, Christ is not really moving when a priest blesses you at Benediction, nor is Christ crushed into tiny particles when you chew the host, nor is he confined or trapped in the tabernacle. However, the Church, within certain limits, tolerates people using such language in their personal piety. The reason? When trying to understand the Real Presence our mind is confronted with a supra-intelligible reality, i.e., the Real Presence is exceedingly difficult to understand. To deny people this language is often to invite misunderstandings worse than the original- it is very hard for people to understand how Christ can be really present in the Eucharist without being locally present. There seems to be no ‘there’ there, as Gertrude Stein would say. What is at issue is how we commune with Christ in the Eucharist without his abandoning his place (local presence) in glory to appear, in his entirety, on many altars simultaneously, a contradiction and therefore an impossibility, according to Aquinas. This is a difficult problem and it is exacerbated by the fact that the definitive and classic exposition of the ‘how’ of the Eucharist -transubstantiation- is formulated using the conceptual categories of Aristotelian-Thomistic discourse. While such discourse remains valid and comprehensible for those willing to learn it -how could a Dominican say otherwise 😉 -it presents problems on a nominal level when speaking to an audience unfamiliar with the Thomistic idiom since such words as ‘substance’, ‘accident’, and ‘presence’ are used, in the contemporary milieu, in ways radically different than in the XIIIth Century. Because of this translation problem, when you say that we do not believe in Christ’s physical presence, people may understand you to be saying that we don’t believe Christ is present bodily, since people tend to conceptually tie the notion of ‘body’ to ‘physicality’, the latter being understood principally as extension in space. In fairness, one can say that denying Christ’s local presence causes similar problems, if not worse. However, Aquinas only concerns himself with local presence and extending his thought to exclude physical presence (however this might be understood) is only inviting more problems. What is crucial in understanding Aquinas’ writings on transubstantiation is to recognize that no human being has ever seen, smelled, touched, tasted or heard a substance. The objects of our sensible experience are always accidents, whether such sensibilia be proper (color, taste, smell, sound, etc.) or common (those aspects of our sensible life which are grasped by way of proper sensibles- such common sensibles include size, number, shape, motion, location, etc.) It is by way of these sensible accidents that we apprehend something as a substance, such ‘apprehension’ being not sensible but intellectual (what E. Stump, following Wilfred Sellars, calls seeing as rather than just seeing). Your eyes allow you to see something black and white moving across a green patch in your visual field (this is misleading, we never really see brute sense objects, truly human seeing will always be, to some extent, seeing as, but I need to speak this way to make my point)- your intellect allows you to see that black and white ‘something’ as your cat running across the yard. In the case of the Eucharist- we never see, taste, touch, smell, or hear Christ- only the common and proper sensibles (accidents) of bread and wine. Christ is only apprehended at the intellectual level, specifically by way of an assent of faith. We see this round, white thing which the priest is holding over the altar as the body of Christ, but only on the testimony of Christ. The senses fail here and so, to a great extent, does the intellect. It assents to something without being able to completely comprehend it. The Church gives us the example of Aquinas as best formulating (and, in some sense, in a definitive way) the ‘how’ of the Real Presence, but any good student of Thomas will realize that the Master is at his most tentative and faltering when writing about this great mystery.

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP


    Yes, the divinity or Christ would be present in this case because the Word remained hypostatically united to Christ’s body, blood and soul- even though these things “seperated” at his death. The Word is, as it were, the principle of unity causing Christ to be one even in his seeming dis-integration on the cross. This was actually an important point of contention between Aquinas and Bonaventure.

  • Brett,

    I’m beginning to wonder in what sense you think Jesus IS bodily present. If Jesus doesn’t experience the Eucharist as part of his body – if he doesn’t feel what happens to the Eucharist – and if he is not *physically* present, then what good is it to say that he is bodily present? Cut off from any connection to our bodies as we look at them or even as we experience them, what other connection to a body is there that makes the Eucharist his Body? What other possibility is there besides a purely spiritual presence (which is, after all, everywhere)?

  • Charles Robertson

    Thanks Br. Matthew! I’m looking forward to digging into Aquinas a bit more over the next few years–I’m headed to the Center for Thomistic Studies in Houston this August. I recently read Abbot Vonier’s Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, and I must confess that I had never before read about the hypostatic union with respect to the dead Jesus. This would also have serious implications for vonBalthasar’s view of the descent to Hell, would it not?

  • Did I link to the wrong post of mine earlier? Try this.

  • brettsalkeld

    I am afraid I need to extricate myself from this. It is simply not possible for me to respond in detail to each point and then await a response and respond in detail to that. That is what I promised my wife I would not do when I agreed to join this blog.

    I will make some final comments and then allow the conversation to go on without me. Rest assured I will take that conversation into account as I compose future posts on this topic and as I continue in my doctoral work. You will be hearing more from me on this topic. Don’t worry.

    1. Language does fail us here. That is why I acknowledge that people can use the term ‘physical’ to mean simply ‘really’ or ‘bodily’, both of which are clearly Church teaching. Nevertheless, the term physical, having no theological pedigree, does import all kinds of errors such as the idea that the species cannot communicate disease or that Christ ‘feels’ things that happen to the species the same way your arm does. I could give a dozen other examples here.

    When someone’s erroneous view of the Eucharist leads them to chastise their pastors and bishops in the way Mr. Mealey does, some theological precision is needed. It is also needed when such views misrepresent Church teaching to our ecumenical dialogue partners and exacerbate the division of Christ’s Church.

    2. One thing that is needed is a clearer understanding of the role of symbol. A sacramental presence is predicated on a symbolic representation. Catholics have ignored this to a degree because one strand of Reformation thought (Zwingli, and others to a lesser extent) understood Christ’s Presence as merely symbolic, meaning not objectively real. But the Catholic tradition says that it is both symbolic and fully real. In fact, a Catholic understanding of reality is fully sacramental. Everything in creation expresses itself symbolically. Aquinas says we don’t have to worry about many tabernacles and many altars and division into crumbs etc. precisely because the presence is sacramental.

    3. Finally, I think we need a more sophisticated theological understanding of what a body is. Anna’s concern that I advocate a non-bodily presence because I deny that Christ experiences ‘feeling’ as we feel when he is under the species of bread and wine showcases some confusion here. A theological definition of body does not require sense organs any more than it requires cells or DNA. I am not sure how Anna can abstract from cells and DNA, but not from sense organs. If Christ can feel without nerve cells, can he smell without a nose? Hear without ears? See without eyes? Surely he knows what is going on in material reality, but that is a function of omniscience, not ever-present sense organs.

    In order to get past this conceptual block, the first step is to realize we are talking about Christ’s resurrected body. The New Testament is clear that this body behaves rather oddly. For instance, Jesus has gaping wounds, but he does not seem to be at all bothered when Thomas puts a whole hand inside him. Resurrected, what Paul described as ‘spiritual’, bodies simply do not function in material reality the way our current bodies do.

    In my reading on the theological definition of a body I have found at least three authors quite useful: Benedict XVI (in his Eschatology), Gerald O’Collins (in his Jesus Risen), and Gustave Martelet (in his The Risen Christ and the Eucharistic World). The major theme seems to be the body as the soul’s relationship to matter. A body is where a soul expresses itself through matter. It is in this sense that the species of bread and wine can be called Christ’s body. This is also the same logic that allows Paul to call the Church the body of Christ. As Ratzinger says, the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church. The one difference (why we genuflect before one and not the other) is that the bread is participating perfectly in Christ’s glorified body – in the eschaton. We, on the other hand, participate only haltingly. It is the ‘already’, we the ‘not yet’.

  • david

    An excellent summary of the Real Presence.

    manentibus dumtaxat speciebus panis et vini

  • lewiscrusade

    If His Body and Blood are present, then He is physically present. You are engaging in the heresy of Karl Rahner, who tried to convert “substance” into something spiritual or ideological rather than material.
    Substance is the basis of matter.

    Secondly, the letter to the editor you’re criticizing is neither materialist nor fideist. Whatever philosophical speculations you or Thomas Aquinas want to make about the Eucharist (I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said, “Jesus said, ‘Take and Eat’; not ‘Take and understand'”), IT’S JESUS

    Jesus doesn’t spread disease.

    The substance changes but the accidents remain, OK.

    That makes sense to anyone who understands substance.

    But substance is still material, and that is where you and your professor are wrong.

    The question at stake is a metaphysical one: what is “substance”? And that question cannot be answered in this case, since it is wrong to scientifically analyze the Eucharist.

    What about the many Eucharistic Miracles there have been over the centuries: Hosts bleeding blood all over altars–altars that are still stained with said blood? Hosts turning to flesh? Hosts elevating themselves above the altar? Hosts dripping blood (My dad has seen this several times in his career as an organist)?

    Read Paul VI’s _Mysterium Fidei_.

    The nature of your “specialty” just indicates a desire to compromise the authentic Catholic faith to get along better with Protestant heretics.

  • lewiscrusade

    Or, to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, “If it’s not physical presence, then to Hell with it,” because then Jesus was lying.

    I’m not going to take the word of some anonymous female theologian at an American “Catholic” University over a lifetime of reading, the witness of the Saints, and the clear word of Sacred Scripture.

    “Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.”
    That’s all there is to it. “This is my body.”
    I have never heard of a “Heresy of Capharnism.” If there is such a thing, it’s the heresy of the Protestants, who take offense at the Real Presence.

    Jesus says it: “My flesh is real food; my blood is real drink.”

  • Elise B.

    at 11:32, you mention that the priest represents the Christian community. The priest, acting as a priest, is not a representative; he “is” the person of Christ – acting “in personal Christi Capiti” (CCC, no 1548). The Christian assembly does not need a representative in order to participate “fully and actively” in the sacrifice of the Mass. The priest, acting as Christ Himself, leads the community to the Father.
    at 12:06 you say “language does fail us”. Indeed. The best discourse on the Eucharist is, in my humble opinion, the Lauda Sion… composed by saint Thomas Aquinas. I remember a priest, at a Corpus Christi Mass, inviting the assembly to recite the Lauda Sion very attentively, because that would replace his homily.
    Elise B.

  • brettsalkeld

    I am afraid I cannot engage Lewis. His comments speak for themselves. In any case, I thought it worth noting that the ‘anonymous female theologian’ so maligned in his post is currently (and has been for decades) appointed by the Vatican to represent the Catholic Church on several commissions on precisely this topic. His concerns, then, are not with me or her but with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that vetted her and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that appointed her.

  • Br. Matthew beat me to it. I’ll just second everything he said.

    Some major points though: it is legitimate to say that Christ is “physically present” because he (soul and divinity entire) are only present through the mediation of his body and blood being present: the Divine Word is concomitantly present with them. Secondly, Christ’s body and blood are present under the aspect of substance, which means that they are not there “as a thing is in a place” (locally), because the accidents of a substance are what render it locally present. Yet the substance of his body and blood is still the substance of a corporeal reality, a physical reality, even if not present via accidents (like extension, the way we normally understand “physical” and “bodily”, etc.).

    So to say that Christ’s body and blood are not present physically has the potential to avoid one problem at the expense of drawing near to another: Scylla for Charybdis. One could easily begin to think of the substances involved as intrinsically spiritual entities, as things that float above and apart from the physicality of Christ’s body.

    So in short, the answer to this issue is a rather technical “yes and no”: according to Thomas, you get away with a strong physical presence (Jesus’ body and blood are just as physically present as yours and mine) while not necessitating that Jesus be locally present in space, the way other things are (through their accidents). Christ’s glorified body is only locally present in heaven because there the accidents of his body remain. In that sense, it is proper to say that Jesus is in heaven the way our bodies are in places.

    Pax Christi,

  • David Nickol

    Christ’s glorified body is only locally present in heaven because there the accidents of his body remain. In that sense, it is proper to say that Jesus is in heaven the way our bodies are in places.


    Doesn’t that imply that heaven is a physical place with a location?

  • David Nickol

    I have never heard of a “Heresy of Capharnism.” If there is such a thing, it’s the heresy of the Protestants, who take offense at the Real Presence.


    Not that I knew this before, but “Capharnaism is a name given to the belief that the Body of Christ in the Eucharist is his physical Body miraculously concealed from our senses in order that we might not be shocked by seeing that we are eating human flesh. The term is a reference to the Jews of Capernaum in the gospels who asked, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)”

    So it is not a term used to refer to those who deny the Real Presence, but to those who interpret the Eucharist to be a kind of grisly cannibalism made tolerable by disguising as bread and wine what is, and would otherwise look like, meat and blood.

    To say that Jesus is present “Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity,” and under both species, is far different from saying that consecrated bread is actually meat from the bones of Jesus and wine is blood from his veins.

    In a detached piece of flesh or in drops of spilled blood from Jesus would not have contained him Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. If the soldier in John 19 who pierced Jesus’s side with a lance had caught and swallowed the blood the flowed from the side of Jesus, he would not have been receiving the Eucharist. He would have been drinking human blood.

    What about the many Eucharistic Miracles there have been over the centuries: Hosts bleeding blood all over altars–altars that are still stained with said blood? Hosts turning to flesh? Hosts elevating themselves above the altar? Hosts dripping blood (My dad has seen this several times in his career as an organist)?

    Whether or not such things happen, and why, I don’t know. But if they are used as evidence of Capharnism, that would be contrary to the teachings of the Church.

    Of course, let me acknowledge again that I never heard of Capharnism until Brett mentioned it, and I am by no means an expert on Eucharistic Theology. So everything here is ISTM (“it seems to me”).

  • david

    I think you should read the post again. You are overreacting and misreading Brett. To say that Christ is physically present denies transubstaniation.

    This physical, and not merely optical, continuance of the Eucharistic accidents was repeatedly insisted upon by the Fathers, and with such excessive rigor that the notion of Transubstantiation seemed to be in danger. Especially against the Monophysites, who based on the Eucharistic conversion an a pari argument in behalf of the supposed conversion of the Humanity of Christ into His Divinity, did the Fathers retort by concluding from the continuance of the unconverted Eucharistic accidents to the unconverted Human Nature of Christ.

    You are being scandalized by the Eucharist.

  • lewiscrusade

    So, how many saints are guilty of this “Caphernism,” since that’s exactly what the Fathers *say* of the Eucharist? That it is hidden under the appearance of bread and wine to protect us from grisly cannibalism.

    How am *I* being scandalized by the Eucahrist?
    You are the people who deny it!

    Jesus told the truth in the Bread of Life discourse, or He did not.

    Jesus is corporally present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Corporally means physically.
    It is ridiculous to say that those of us who believe the Eucharist has miraculous properties are thereby materialists!

    No, you are scandalized by the reality of the Corpus Christi–so much that you’re completely denying the evidence of Eucharistic miracles, which scandalize *your* intellectualism and belief in worldly compromise.

    I’ve seen some shocking claims on this website, but this is offensive to the core of any true Catholic.

  • Pingback: The shoe drops « The Lewis Crusade()

  • lewiscrusade

    If it’s a choice between Thomas Aquinas, who denied the Immaculate Conception, believed life didn’t begin till “quickening,” taught that Christ’s salvific grace was limited to time after the Salvific act (the two reasons he denied Immaculate conception), and delved far too deeply into Pagan philosophy, versus St. Therese of Lisieux, who confined herself to the Bible, the Imitation of Christ, and the writings of St. John of the Cross, and whom John Paul II called perhaps the greatest Doctor of them all, I’ll choose St. Therese.

  • digbydolben

    To me, Mr. Lewiscrusade, the most interesting thing about you here is your hysterical tone.

    I could not hope to keep up with these individuals in their philosophical discussion of the “real presence” or “transubstantiation,” and so I mostly just keep quiet and read, presuming that their obviously well-informed discussion of these things will benefit my understanding of something I don’t hope, ever, to fully understand. However, unlike you, I fail to find, anywhere in their discussion, any desire to undermine ANYBODY’S faith in the “real presence.”

    You, however, seem to find it EVERYWHERE in some of their pronouncements. Why do you suppose that is?

    I’d like to suggest that the reason for your vitriolic attack on their quite harmless and sometimes illuminating erudition is that YOUR faith in the Blessed Sacrament is so weak that you lash out against any attempt to nail down verbally what has obviously eluded precise definitions for thousands of years.

    Have YOU ever seen “hosts dripping blood”? Of course you haven’t! I’d like to suggest that most of those who did THOUGHT they were seeing such a thing because their minds were so captivated by the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice that they produced the hallucination themselves–which is fine and wonderful, and to their credit.

    YOUR mind, however, would never produce such a vision because, for you, the “real presence” is all about PROVING that you and your Church are “right.” For you and your ilk, the “real presence” is not a miracle of love, but a “miracle” of highly cerebrated “faith”–which can only mean that YOU are the real “Protestant” in this discussion, not bretsalkeld, who quite sensibly feels his spiritual health being undermined by what should be sung about, lyricized, painted and, sometimes, speculated about (but in a wistful tone, rather than one of theological “apologetics”)–but certainly never “debated.” It’s YOU who have introduced “debate” where these ladies and gentlemen, quite rightly, don’t wish to hear it.

  • Spirit of Vatican II

    Br Miller beat me to it too. The Eucharist is the presence of the resurrected body of Christ (present in the dynamism of his paschal mystery — the entire meal-event is transubstantiated into a partaking in the paschal mystery), but perhaps one must say that it is a spiritual presence thereof rather than a physical present. What is physically present is the bread and wine (the human meal-event) and the Eucharistic reality is present in a different mode. Thomas Aquinas clears the air and corrects the excesses of crude interpretation of the 1079 declaration against Berengarius. The substance of the sacrament is the risen Christ, the form of it is a human meal. The form is local, but the substance is not moved locally (or bitten when someone bites the host).

  • GodsGadfly

    Listen, I love the Eucharist. I dont’ see any point in this post except a desire to compromise with the Lutherans–and I use the term the way St. Teresa of Avila used it as she mourned the blasphemies they were committing againt the Real Presence..

    So, the Risen Christ does not have a physical body? Ever read the Gospel? He ate and drank. They could touch His side.

    The problem is a limited understanding of “substance,” and a limited understanding of “physical.”
    The idea that the Eucharist is merely a “spiritual” presence was taught by Karl Rahner and refuted by Paul VI in _Mysterium Fidei_, when he emphasized that we must believe in a corporal presence.

    All of this seems to be justificatoin for Eucharistic desecration. How much time have any one of you spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament?

    Digby, the many miracles of the Eucharist are well-documented and not hallucinations.

    Or do you agree with the habitless nun in my old parish who laughed when the Host went rolling down the floor after she removed it from the Monstrance. Nothing wrong with that, since it’s just a physical piece of bread, right?

    Or when she said to Eucharistic adorers, “Jesus is just as present outside in the garden as in this Church”?

    Is the Eucharist the source and summit of our faith or not?

    It’s the only reason to be Catholic, most certainly. So if you strip it of all significance down to a symbol or “spiritual reality,” agreeing with the Baptists who say the “Lord’s Supper” is just a spiritual communion, you’ve removed all reason to be Catholic.

    Secondly, my objection to the flu thing has to do with the real presence of God in the Eucharist. 1 Cor 11 is very clear that one cannot get sick from partaking of the Eucharist while in a state of grace.

    As for the “moving around” part, I don’t know. I know that, when I am adoring Him in the Host, I am in the Presence of Christ. What Christ does inside the Eucharistic presence is, as far as I’m concerned, none of my business, and something that is impossible to know.

    I know that the Eucharist should be treated with the utmost reverence, *as if* to harm it is tot do physical harm to the body of Christ. And, certainly, when we show reverence for Christ in the Host, we make atonement for what was done to Him in His life.

    Does Christ get “lonely” in the Tabernacle, left alone?

    Not in the sense we do, no. But it is just another symbol of human indifference, that He has left us this wonderful gift of His continuous Presence on earth, just sa real as at Palestine in the First Century, and we ignore Him.

    Then we develop abstract philosophical arguments to justify ignoring Him.

  • digbydolben

    I think you should wish to change your “user name” to “GodsPeoplesGadfly.”

  • Henry Karlson

    LC/GG (same person)

    You are going way overboard in an area you have not explored too well. What does it mean to be corporeal (don’t forget, St Paul talks about the resurrected body as a ‘spiritual body’ vs a ‘fleshy body’)? What does it mean to say “substance of Christ”? That you have already said you would attack St Thomas Aquinas if he doesn’t agree with you should give you some pause, but it doesn’t. This is not to say one must agree with St Thomas, but one should respect him and, unless his view is condemned (it is not) one should know it is one possible view.

    Nothing which has been said here is 1) compromise (do you know the Lutheran view, btw? it appears you do not; they believe in the real presence, too! they just see it is mixed with bread and wine, and indeed, they are more like you in what they think is in the mixture) 2) nor disrespect (if you want to bring in the fathers, read about St Macrina and the eucharist).

    Now, instead of assuming the worst of someone else, assuming you understand them when you clearly do not, and making all kinds of oppositions which are not there, perhaps you would do better to inquire further — the thing is the eucharist is a mystery, and you seem to ignore that. If you want another way to understand it, read Bulgakov’s The Holy Grail & The Eucharist. You will learn more about the distinctions you fail to acknowledge.

  • brettsalkeld

    FYI: Catholic Insight Magazine is extremely conservative. Nevertheless, the editor replied to Mr. Mealey thus:

    In the Eucharistic mystery, the Body and Blood of our Lord comes to us under the species of bread and wine. Therefore if someone who drinks from the chalice has a virus such as the swine flu, he may by touching the cup leave traces of the virus that the next person may pick up. The Church is well advised at this time to ask the faithful to forego drinking from the chalice. We cannot presume that the Real Presence removes our responsibility for common sense.

  • brettsalkeld
  • M.Z.

    Not to derail the discussion, however, the CDC hasn’t ever found an instance of communicable disease being spread by sharing communion. I would imagine this would at least in part be because people don’t backwash. Such is not to claim it wouldn’t be possible for disease to spread in such a way, just that it hasn’t been observed. Hands on the other hand are a good transfer medium, often having both concentration and frequent contact with the mouth.

    If I’m not mistaken, Lutherans believe the Presence of Christ in Eucharistic form lasts as long as communion. They do not to the best of my knowledge reserve the Eucharistic elements that remain after communion.

  • David Nickol

    Not to derail the discussion, however, the CDC hasn’t ever found an instance of communicable disease being spread by sharing communion.

    The statements of the CDC (and similar ones by the Public Health Laboratory Service Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London, U.K.) are of course based not on observing only Catholic churches, but all Christian churches in which a common cup is used. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that a common cup is simply not a very effective transmission vehicle for viruses and bacteria. If the absence of disease transmission were due to a miraculous effect of the Real Presence, then Catholics would certainly expect the common cup to be unsafe in Protestant services. That does not appear to be the case, nor would one expect the CDC or its UK counterpart to be offering an opinion that drinking from a common communion cup carries a low risk of disease transmission because of divine intervention.

  • Ronald King

    A quote from physicist Lee Smolin in 1997- “…if we want to give a complete description of an elementary particle we must include in the description every particle it may have interacted with in the past.”- may reveal something to be reflected upon in relationship to the Eucharist.
    In 2Cor 5:16-17 “Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
    The risen Christ breathing on His apostles and they in turn breathing in particles of His risen breath, which, unites them to Him as new creations being given all power to create the sacraments that we experience today just through the breath and word that Christ had given them is a starting point for me in reflecting on the Eucharist.
    This mystery of the Eucharist seems to be a mystery that begins with the knowledge that God is Love and the extent to which we are open to Love seems to be the extent to which we are able to resonate with the Love that is in the Eucharist-that Love being Christ.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    Who said the sacrament of unity? Maybe he underestimated the pernicious power of the Catholic blogosphere…..

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP


    St. Therese is certianly an authority with regard to her spiritual doctrine, but I think that she more than anybody would be a little uncomfortable with people seeing her as an authority on the technicalities of Eucharistic doctrine over and against St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is, on the other hand, not only essential in understanding the development of Eucharistic thought in the West (and, as Brett has indicated, opening up ecumenical possibilities with other Christians), he also laid the foundation of eucharistic liturgical piety in his composition of the texts of Corpus Christi. While Aquinas was wrong on some matters, as you have pointed out, you would be doing yourself a great disservice to write off his eucharistic theology.

    I, in turn, second your excellent clarifications.

    Brett et al.,

    If you want to hear an excellent lecture on eucharistic theology, go to the itunes search function and type in “Denys Turner” and “Augustinian Institute”- that should, by way of ItunesU, direct you to a lecture by Denys Turner called Faith, Reason and the Eucharist. Check it out.

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you Brother Matthew. I am always looking for more sources here. In a similar vein, I have just finished Robert Barron’s Eucharist. If anyone needs an introductory study that is both lucid and theologically reliable, I cannot recommend it too highly. Father Barron’s tone is moderate but his convictions are profound and thoroughly Catholic. I, for one, find such a combination eminently desirable.

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP


    Good luck at the Center for Thomistic Studies- I hope you find the experience fruitful and come away with a deeper understanding of Thomas. I’m not really sure what the implications would be for Balthasar’s speculations about Holy Saturday, mostly because I have not studied Balthasar much, or have studied secondary sources, many of which were less then favorable to Balthasar’ theology, so I don’t feel like I’ve got the best perspective on him as yet.

  • GodsGadfly

    First off, I am the same person. I got sick of you people calling me “lewis” since, after I joined WordPress, it started posting my name as “lewiscrusade”. So I figured out how to change my WordPress username. I intended no subterfuge.

    Br. Matthew,

    I’m not throwing out St. Thomas. I’m throwing out Thomism. As Peter Kreeft points out, they are two very different things, and most people commenting on St. Thomas take him to lengths he would not agree with.

    You spoke of the Church permitting “pious language” to avoid greater errors. OK, that’s my point exactly, but I see it more as “pious language.” What is the point of Eucharistic devotion if not to a) increase our faith in the Real Presence and b) atone for the physical offenses Jesus endured in His life on earth?

    If we say Jesus is “lonely in the tabernacle,” that’s not just “Pious language.” It isn’t completely literal, eiither. But it’s still something that should not be dismissed as “pious language” employed by those nice ignorant uneducated old ladies, whom rich white kids that can afford Catholic university like to scoff at.

    The greatest mystics of the Church use this language that you have scoffed at, Brother. That’s what I’m saying. And in terms of what’s getting someone to Heaven, I’d rather take the way of the mystics than that of the philosophers.

    There are two basic elements of the “Spirit of Vatican II” (which is no the same as the teachings of Vatican II):
    1. Everyone gets to make up his or her own moral law on the basis of “conscience”
    2. The Eucharist is just a spiritual symbol (Rahner’s “Transignification”), and the “real Presence” of Christ is the “breaking of the bread.”

    Mr. Salkeld expressed glee at the idea that Jesus is not “physically” present at the Eucharist, that he doesn’t want to give offense to Lutherans. I, for one, am sick of the post-Vatican II attitude that Catholics shouldn’t “give offense” to other religions that spread lies about our Blessed Lord. We should be willing to stand up for Truth, as Jesus did, and say what we mean, even if it gives offense to *everyone*. St. Teresa of Avila says God only needs 2 people to keep the Church alive.

    You can scoff at Mother Angelica, but read _Way of Perfection_. Not much difference between St. Teresa then and Mother Angelica now: a passionate woman professing her passionate love for the Lord, and for a strict adherence of Catholic doctrine and faith, and being dismissed by the “intellectual experts” as a stupid uneducated woman who didn’t understand the finer points of theology.

    And the real question is why anyone needs to understand them? What is the *point*?

    St. Francis Xavier condemned those who were debating theology in Paris when there will billions of souls in the world in need of saving.

    It seems to me that the main point for most theology majors is to say, “Hey! Look at how smart I am!” “Look at how much better I am because I’m rich and can afford $40,000 a year to go to college!”

    “Hey! I’ve figured out how to use philosophy to justify my compromises with the world! I don’t have to worship the Eucharist! It’s a community meal! I can believe it’s just a community meal with a spiritual presence, and I don’t have to offend my Protestant friends!”

    (Yes, and I know what consubstantiation is, Henry).

    If I weren’t a) poor, and b) a Marfan, I could have gone to a Catholic university. I turned down a Ph.D. fellowship to St. Louis University when I was 20. Had to turn it down because I couldn’t afford the other costs.

    But my main motivation was to show up all the liberal Catholics who insulted me and claimed my orthodoxy was based upon ignorance.

    And when I faced death at 19, I realized that philosophy was useless at getting me to Heaven.

    There is a difference between advocating intellectual simplicity and advocating stupidity.

    When I read the Church Documents, Catechism, St. Thomas, the Fathers, etc., it increases my devotion to the Eucharist. It increases my rejection of Protestantism and other false religions. It increases my rejection everything progressivist and liberal.

    But this post is not, in reality, based upon any of those. It is based upon an *interpretation* of Church teaching offered by some unnamed female theologian.

  • brettsalkeld

    How about a named male theologian?

    In Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on Question 75 of the 3rd part of the Summa, Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt writes:

    Thomas denies that Christ is present only symbolically in the elements of the Eucharist, but he also denies that Christ’s presence is a physical one – that is, that Christ’s body is present, for example, in the same way in which it was present in Mary’s womb or on the cross. If this were the case, then Christ’s body could not be present on many altars at the same time. Nonetheless, Thomas still wants to claim that the body that is present in the Eucharist is the same one that was in Mary’s womb and that hung on the cross. This apparent contradiction is the result of a distinction Thomas makes between what – or, better, who – is present, and in how this presence occurs. What Thomas wants to say is that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is neither purely symbolic nor physical; rather it is a way of being present that is unique to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    The back of the book features endorsements from three more named male theologians: Aidan Nichols, Matthew Levering and Stephen Spencer. Hardly a collection of revisionists. Nichols asserts that Bauerschmidt’s “explanatory notes are thoroughly reliable, historically and theologically.”

  • David Nickol

    Mr. Salkeld expressed glee at the idea that Jesus is not “physically” present at the Eucharist, that he doesn’t want to give offense to Lutherans.

    I don’t see anything in Brett’s message about Lutherans or “giving offense.” He doesn’t say Catholics should compromise the truth so as not to “offend” Protestants. He says Catholics should be sure they are accurately describing Catholic doctrines in case inaccurate descriptions cause unnecessary division.

    If no one ever took up theology, there would be no highly developed understanding of the Real Presence to argue about. You don’t go from the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper to transubstantiation without a tremendous amount of highly intellectual theological work.

  • GG,

    I think you are letting your own experience color this question perhaps a bit too much. Dichotomies and generalizations are coming out that don’t exist. For starters, there is a difference between Thomas and Thomism, but to act as though there is a wholesale divergence and infidelity in the latter isn’t very honest. You would need to do a bit more careful demonstration than that. One wouldn’t say “I’m not denying Jesus, just the Apostles; there’s a difference.”

    You also need not oppose the mystics to the “philosophers” (and presumably theologians). No one on either side of that would, I think, accept that distinction as one of opposition.


    That’s a great question. In a sense, yes, heaven can be described as a “physical place” with a location. This is simply inherent in the fact that matter-bodies- exist there, and we will exist bodily there: that is, we will ultimately experience heaven as ensouled bodies with accidents, including the extension that allows there to be distinction between our body’s various parts. The real question is: granting the Resurrection, does it make any sense at all to talk about “bodies” without extension? Without terms like “Physical” and “space?” What must we affirm of “bodies,” at the very least, to ensure that they are ontologically (and logically) distinct from purely spiritual realities? If our bodies had all of the same qualities of pure spirit, then we might as precisely what about them makes them bodies anymore?

    The real kicker is that of course, as we know, our glorified bodies will be of an entirely different nature (see Paul) than what we have to work with now, while nonetheless remaining the same union of form and matter. And this point, I think, is one we can only remain silent on: what exactly will our bodily existence be like? How unimaginably different will it be? The thing, I think, we can say at the least though: is that our bodies will entail that they exist with extension.

    Also, we know that the locality of heaven doesn’t relate to our space-time existence one the same plane, such that we could (given the right technology) simply fly to heaven.

    Pax Christi,

  • David Nickol

    Also, we know that the locality of heaven doesn’t relate to our space-time existence one the same plane, such that we could (given the right technology) simply fly to heaven.


    I was thinking in terms of a very tall tower.

  • If only we all spoke the same language, maybe we could get our act together 😉

    Pax Christi,

  • GodsGadfly

    I am not the one who posited the dichotomy: Br. Matthew did when he dismissed “certain pious language” that the Church, in his words, merely “permits,” even though such language can be found in the mystical doctors.

    There isn’t wholesale infidelity in Thomism, but it can get people off into crazy areas. “The heart has reasons that reason doesn’t know.”

    That quotation has several key points:

    1. Physical: The definition of “physical” you are using is *extremely* limited. First, the Eucharist *is* a physical thing. As Christ is present in the Eucharist, He is physically present, because the Eucharist is physically present. The consecrated bread is not a phantasm.
    2. Secondly, Christ is “not present in the same way” as He was present in Palestine in the First Century, but He is *just* as present. That does not defy physicality. It just defies our limited concept of physicality.
    Which leads to
    3. Albert Einstein was fascinated by Transubstantiation. He made numerous requests of priests for good quality, German language books on Transubstantiation because he felt there was a possibility of explaining it according to the theory of relativity. Physics does not just include matter. It includes energy and aspects of the universe we are only just now discovering. Both the definitions of “physical” and “spiritual” at play are extremely limited.
    4. But the word “physical” also pertains to the physical properties of matter.

    But “substance” in transbustantiation is something physical. It is what makes something what-it-is. If the substance of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity are present in the Host, then that has to be the presence of physical, not just spiritual, substance. But that also does not mean that it must necessarily be something *material*. The matter is just the vessel for the substance.

    Jesus’ resurrected body is not just an illusion: it is a physical body that can eat and can be touched.
    But the resurrected Body of Jesus can also bilocate, and it can pass through walls, and it can appear as a boy or a man, and it never grows hungry, or cold, or weary.

    So too the Eucharist cannot grow, in a sensory sense, cold, or hungry or weary. Jesus can be present in the Eucharist in multiple locations, etc.

    None of that is any different than what we know of resurrected bodies from Scripture.

    But anyone who has ever been alone with the Monstrance knows that there is a physical presence there. You are in the presence of a Man, not just a piece of bread.

    One “accidental” property of the physical body is the feeling of its presence. I can feel the presence of my children in the next room. I can feel the presence of my wife downstairs.

    That is an accidental property that the Eucharist does have, even by the testimony of many atheists and non-Catholics who have either converted or still refused to convert in spite of that realization.

    Yet, because it is not a necessary condition of the Eucharistic presence, it is easy to see why many Catholics who take the Eucharist for granted would miss it or not be aware of it.

    It is easy to “believe” in something when one has intellectually abstracted it to a comfortable level. The real trick is to experience and relate to it, to love it with your entire being and mind.

  • David Nickol

    Albert Einstein was fascinated by Transubstantiation. He made numerous requests of priests for good quality, German language books on Transubstantiation because he felt there was a possibility of explaining it according to the theory of relativity.

    This seems to be a rather extravagant elaboration of a one-time meeting between Einstein and Fr. Charles McTague, the only account of which is apparently in a book by Richard L. Byrnes titled
    Christ with a Priest’s Face. The complete account of the meeting is reprinted here.

    Of course, what Einstein thought or didn’t think of transubstantiation is neither here nor there.

    But “substance” in transbustantiation is something physical.

    Brett said, “Transubstantiation is the attempt, in one particular metaphysical system, to explain the ‘how’ of the change and the Church has called this explanation ‘apt’ at Trent.” My understanding is that Catholics are not required to adopt the metaphysical system that describes the world in terms of “substance” and “accidents.” So I don’t know that a discussion of whether substance is physical gets us anywhere.

  • Dan

    “Both the definitions of ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’ at play are extremely limited.”

    You can make a square peg fit into a round hole quite nicely if you widen the hole to the point that it fits.

  • Br. Matthew Augustine Miller, OP


    I have not scoffed at anybody. Saying the Church permits certian a kind of language in its Eucharistic devotion is not to scoff at it.

    “…whom rich white kids that can afford Catholic University like to scoff at.”

    Ad hominem. Your repeated use of informal fallacies is not helping your case here GG.

    “I’d rather take the way of the mystics than the philosophers.”

    Aquinas wasn’t a mystic?

    I’m glad you want to defend orthodoxy, but tilting at windmills is not defending orthodoxy. I would like to have a dialogue with you, but if you continue to resort to ad hominems I’m not going to waste my time.

  • digbydolben

    Actually, it really IS too bad that so many ad hominems tossed about here, because this discussion of the Eucharist and its varying interpretations seems to me to be very important.

    I actually endorse STRONGLY the last paragraph of what “godsgadfly” wrote immediately above. He is correct about “intellectualizing” everything to the point that one can simply wish it away, but I think he’s WRONG that the other writers here actually want to “wish” the Eucharist “away.”

    The mystery of the Eucharist is one of the few things that makes the Church both immanent and time-transcending, because it connencts the “Body of Christ” on earth with that of the “holy dead,” and it also connects the Catholic and Apostolic Church with some of the “truth” of older, more primitive religions whose wisdom antedates the Revelation of Christ.

    I suggest that everybody here calm down and stop “excommunicating” each other.

    There’s more to agree on among us than to disagree, and, it seems to me, that, if we can iron out the commonalities, then we can go to Communion as friends and allies.

    Allies against what, you ask?

    Allies against those who REALLY do think that veneration of the Eucharist is proof that Catholicism is rank superstition.

    Those include “liberals,” “conservatives,” “neocons,” agnostics, atheists, but, most especially, the extremely anti-Catholic Founders of the American Republic–about whose attitudes toward Christian orthodoxy American religious conservatives (including Catholics) are constantly LYING to themselves.

    I wonder, do you Anglo-Saxon/American Catholic exceptionalists who pontificate here have any idea where the expressions “jack-in-the-box” and “hocus-pocus” come from?

  • The Eucharistic panic expressed here is a Catholic pathology familiar to all of us from childhood. Can we not get back to a sober, serene and sane view of the Eucharist, beginning with an effort to imagine what Jesus was up to at the Last Supper and what the early Church was up to when they developed the Lord’s Supper on the basis of the Last Supper?

    The teachings and the spirit of Vatican II will help in this — Vatican II gave a perspective to the Eucharist that no previous Council had attempted, linking Christ’s presence in the Community and in his Word to his presence in the eucharist signs themselves. Some say that the spirit of Vatican II is not the teaching of its documents — but note that the phrase “spirit of Vatican II” and “spirit of the Council” was used on very many occasions by Paul VI, and also by John Paul II. Evidently they believed that the texts of the Council had to be interpreted in accord with the spirit of the Council. Many current interpretations of those texts seem designed to thwart the spirit of the Council and to pretend that ‘nothing happened’ at Vatican II.

  • hocus-pocus is from Hoc est Corpus. Jack in the box is from the tabernacle??

  • Wikipedia has: 1570, originally a name for a sharp or cheat, “who deceived tradesmen by substituting empty boxes for others full of money” [Robert Nares, “A Glossary of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions,” London, 1905]. As a type of toy, it is attested from 1702.

  • brettsalkeld

    But “substance” in transbustantiation is something physical. It is what makes something what-it-is. If the substance of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity are present in the Host, then that has to be the presence of physical, not just spiritual, substance. But that also does not mean that it must necessarily be something *material*. The matter is just the vessel for the substance.


    So not only is his body ‘physically’ present, so are his soul and divinity? They are not even physical things!
    Dare I ask, “Is God physical?”

    You have simply expanded the definition of ‘physical’ to mean ‘real’. As I said earlier, if people use ‘physical’ to mean ‘real’, there is no heresy. The problem is, for almost every English speaker ‘physical’ means ‘material’. To equate ‘physical’ and ‘real’ is simply to confuse the faithful about the nature of reality. (Materialism!)

    You are very anxious that I am leading people away from the Eucharist, but if you reread my initial post you will see that one of my main concerns is that the faithful are already being lead away. And that what we need to bring them back is not louder and louder affirmations of things that don’t make sense. (Fideism!)

  • brettsalkeld
  • Brett,

    After some reflection, I think I’d like to respond to a couple points you made in my direction. Feel free not to respond to them, (I encourage you to listen to your wife, since I’m a wife, too 🙂 ), but I thought I would try to add something to your pondering.

    If Christ can feel without nerve cells, can he smell without a nose?

    The short answer is, at least, a definite maybe. Think for a moment about how you experience your body. You know your fingers are part of your body because you experience them as part of your body; they move when you will them to, you feel the wind moving the hairs between the knuckles, etc. This awareness may not be absolute (sometimes at most it is subconscious, sometimes certain medical conditions may disrupt your experience), but that is the general pattern. If you turn around and look at yourself from the outside, then science can tell you all sorts of things about the *mechanisms* of your experience: nerve cells, ears, sense organs, etc. But science cannot capture the “feel” of your experience: the raw, direct, and subjective experience itself. The experience of physical sensations can only be experienced from the inside, not by studying from the outside.

    It is this kind of subjective physical experience that I suggest is present in the Eucharist. It is Jesus’ body because he experiences it as his body. Although in the normal course of things our experience of our body is dependent on the mechanisms that provide us with that experience – sense organs and such – I suggest that Jesus’ experience of the Eucharist as his body is independent of the normal mechanisms – that the raw, subjective experience is there, mystically and miraculously, instead of through the normal way.

    Does this experience of the Eucharist as his body fall into one of the normal five senses, all of them, or something else? I don’t propose to say; I don’t know. I relate most to the idea of touch, so I use that as my imagery. Eucharistic miracles that show the Eucharist as part of a heart muscle could be taken to suggest that Christ experiences the Eucharist as we experience our physical hearts.

    One wonders what it ‘feels’ like to be dissolved in stomach acid.

    Let me address this aesthetic objection. I would suggest that the pain that we would feel on being dissolved in stomach acid is the result of having little pieces of our body torn off and our ceasing to experience those little pieces as part of our body. When we cease to experience them as part of our body, they become dead flesh, and it is the pain of these little deaths that we feel. As long as Jesus continues to experience the pieces of the host as part of his body, they are not dead flesh, but a living part of his body. So I would suggest, or argue, that he need feel no more pain on the dissolution of the host than we feel when we pull our hands apart after a clap.

    In the end, I am agreeing with you that we need a more sophisticated theological idea of what a “body” is than our current “scientific”, materialistic idea. But while you draw a distinction between a bodily presence and a physical one, I have not seen you (in this thread) suggesting what sort of presence such a bodily, non-physical presence would *mean*. It is a GIVEN that Americans contrast the material body with the spiritual soul. To talk of a spiritual body means nothing to us – it is the “green ideas fly furiously” thing – unless you explain it in some way that makes it meaningful to us.

    If you don’t suggest what a third alternative to a material body and a spiritual soul might look like, then denial of a material presence of Jesus in the Eucharist sounds the same as denying any bodily presence at all, even if that is not your intent.

    My idea of drawing a distinction between the Korper (material body as studied by science) and the Lieb (body as subjectively experienced) is an attempt to describe just such a third alternative, based on some concepts in the German language. If this doesn’t work for you, then I think that you need to come up with a third alternative of your own, and try to explain it in a way that others might be able to grasp it, despite the difficulty of pinning down incomprehensible thoughts into words.

  • David,

    Though this is a bit off topic, I’d be interested to hear what you would propose as an alternative to the metaphysics of substance and accident, and what prompts you to find them inadequate. Would you still have a means of distinguishing between things like qualities, and the entities that have those qualities?

    And though this may not apply to this case, it is worth noting that articles of faith can entail definitive philosophical positions, while not endorsing any philosophical system as necessarily “Catholic.” Take for instance, Vatican I’s teaching on the natural knowledge of God: its clear that in the article of faith about what we can naturally know about God’s existence, certain philosophical systems are automatically out (namely, any account of human reason as agnostic, as unable to attain to knowledge of God). Thus entailed in dogmatic truth is a certain adherence to a particular understanding of human reason and what it can do.

    Pax Christi,

  • David Nickol

    Eucharistic miracles that show the Eucharist as part of a heart muscle could be taken to suggest that Christ experiences the Eucharist as we experience our physical hearts.

    Assuming Jesus has a glorified body, does anyone even know if glorified bodies have internal organs? Also, as God –omniscient and omnipresent — wouldn’t sensory data be redundant? Human senses are very limited ways of experiencing the physical world. Why even assume that the Second Person of the Trinity has them or needs them? Also, there are questions about the experience of the passage of time. Obviously as a human being between birth and death, Jesus experienced time in the same way as we do. But is there any reason to assume he does now? It is a basic assumption of theology that God exists outside of time. In order for sensory data to be meaningful, there must be the passage of time.

    I think you are trying to imagine what it must be like to be the risen Jesus, which is beyond human imagination.

  • GodsGadfly

    Spirit of Vatican II, one of the points of the encyclical _Mysterium Fidei_ was to tl

    Brother Matthew,
    My issue with what you said is that you used the word “permits”, as if “looks the other way. You said the Church is permitting a lesser error to avoid a greater one. My point is that the “error” you speak of (e.g., referring to Jesus as being lonely in the tabernacle) is found in the Mystical Doctors.

    An ad hominem is only a fallacy if it has no bearing on the argument.

    But one of my greatest problems with the Church are those who use it as a means of status: whether it’s the “prep school” mentality prevalent at many Catholic K-12 schools or the attitude, expressed equally by graduates of Notre Dame and Christendom, that a degree from a Catholic college somehow makes one a superior Catholic, even though the teaching at the school in question may be bound up with all sorts of other issues and agendas.

    To such people, I point to the example of Little Therese.

    To anyone who would attack Mother Angelica, I point to St. Teresa of Avila or St. Catherine of Siena.

    No. I have “expanded” physical only to mean that which is encompassed by the study of physics.

    Angels are real; but they are not, so far as we know, physical.

    The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the same as the omnipresence of God nor the spiritual presence of angels.

    The problems you seem to be concerned with are different:
    1. Is the Eucharist, strictly speaking “a man”? No. (I.e., does it experience what human beings experience the way we do?)
    2. Is the Eucharist the Presence of Jesus Christ, the Divine Healer? I certainly hope so. I certainly hope that the sacrament which is supposed to heal our souls and give us superabundant grace and even to heal our bodies of disease can also heal the common cold.

  • brettsalkeld

    If you don’t suggest what a third alternative to a material body and a spiritual soul might look like, then denial of a material presence of Jesus in the Eucharist sounds the same as denying any bodily presence at all, even if that is not your intent.

    My idea of drawing a distinction between the Korper (material body as studied by science) and the Lieb (body as subjectively experienced) is an attempt to describe just such a third alternative, based on some concepts in the German language. If this doesn’t work for you, then I think that you need to come up with a third alternative of your own, and try to explain it in a way that others might be able to grasp it, despite the difficulty of pinning down incomprehensible thoughts into words.

    Thank you for your thoughtful (and civil) response. I will not go into much detail here at all, except to say that it is not for me to come up with a third alternative. The Church (at Trent) has defined the presence as ‘sacramental’. That is the alternative. All of Jesus, the physical (Body, Blood) and the non-physical aspects (Soul, Divinity), are present sacramentally. Perhaps the worst part about the insistence on physical presence is that it makes non-sense of the claims about the presence of non-physical things. It is really surprising to me that in all this discussion of Christ’s presence no one even mentions sacramental presence. I listed it as one of the things that needs elaboration in my post of 12:06, but no one has touched it. It is a glaring lacuna.

    Thomas says that the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is unique, so we search in vain for workable analogies from our spatio-temporal world. Furthermore, the theological tradition is virtually unanimous in the affirmation that spiritual bodies (and that is what Christ’s resurrected body is) are beyond our imagining. The search for imaginable metaphors will be of no help to us here.

    All that said, it seems that what is necessary is an investigation of what the Church actually means by ‘sacramental’. At some point in the next few days I will try to post on this question. Hopefully that will serve to clear up some confusion.

  • brettsalkeld

    Barring Eucharistic miracles, which, as Thomas points out, are not examples of transubstantiation, the “study of physics” will find nothing in the Eucharistic species but complex carbohydrates. Physics studies accidents. What is present ‘physically’ (if it means “that which is encompassed by the study of physics”) are the accidents of bread and wine. Thomas is crystal clear on this point, as is the Church. It is the constant and definitive teaching of the Church that, though the Eucharistic Presence is objectively Real, it is only discernible to faith. Thomas even wrote some hymns to this effect.

  • GodsGadfly

    But *what* is being discerned?

    What is the point of the Eucharistic Presence if we cannot relate to it?

    If we cannot relate to it, then “Spirit of Vatican II” and his/her namesake attitude is right: it’s just a meal. Eucharistic worship is a sham of Christ’s “true intention.”

    But if John 6 is just a big metaphor, and we’re to condemn the people for taking Jesus too literally, then the whole thing falls flat.

    The relationship of the communicant and Christ is a physical relationship. That’s not just “pious language”; that’s a profound truth.

    The relationship between Christ and the Adorer is a physical bond. There’s a reason we adore Christ in the Monstrance and not just in the Tabernacle.

    All the prescriptions for safeguarding the Host which have been so dismissed in the last 40 years are based upon the sacredness of the Body of Christ.

    If we merely dismiss the whole thing, if we claim that ‘physical presence is a heresy,’ none of that matters.

    Everything that makes the most sense about being Catholic loses its import.

    I’m a Catholic because, in the Eucharist, I can encounter Christ physically. If I can’t do that, what’s the point?

  • Dan


    It seems to me that you’ve found tremendous value in the simplicity of the Faith as represented by St. Therese et al. I don’t think anyone here would disagree with you on that point. Where our concern arises is that you take this to the extreme and reject outright any intellectual speculation on the mysteries of the faith as vain. That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    A body needs both a head and a heart to function. The Body of Christ is no different. Intellectual pursuits help us to achieve a deeper understanding of our Faith, which in turn allows us to open our hearts in new dimensions. As Mr. Nickol so eloquently said, we would have no knowledge of the Eucharist as more than a symbol were it not for the intellectual endeavors of the Church. This knowledge, in turn, provides the foundation and framework for the simple faith of St. Therese. In turn, the simple faith of St. Therese reminds us of the end of such intellectual endeavors – greater faith and greater love.

    You are correct that an overabundance of speculation and intellectualizing at the expense of faith is problematic. But so is blind faith without understanding. The heart and the mind are complementary. They only become in conflict when they are out of balance. As long as care is kept to ensure that faith is guided by understanding, but not obscured by it, I think we can all agree that’s the best of all worlds.

  • brettsalkeld

    I never said we can’t relate to it. That is a huge and un-Catholic leap. Our souls aren’t physical, but we relate to them. Angels aren’t physical, but we relate to them.
    In the sacraments the medium is physical, but don’t mistake the visible sign for the invisible grace.

  • David,

    Two things. First, I was trying to avoid making my ideas about Jesus experiencing the Eucharist as his body be dependent on the Eucharist being Jesus’ *glorified* body, since one thought that occurred to me was that, if Jesus in his final moments on the cross experienced every piece of Eucharist that ever existed as his body, right then, that would make some real sense of the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist makes present the sacrifice on the cross. (Although I also try to avoid making my idea dependent on the Eucharist *not* being Jesus’ glorified body, since I know that is common thought.)

    Second, I don’t know why you think that passage of time has anything in particular to do with sensory data, but I will say that I do believe, rather firmly, that our glorified bodies will continue to have everything that they had one earth, except pain and deficiencies. They will be more, not less, than they are now. And being more doesn’t mean taking away what is a perfectly good part of God’s design now. (This isn’t to say we will use all those body parts… but I think we will still have them.)

  • Brett,

    I don’t think naming the difference between a material body and Jesus’ body in the Eucharist as “sacramental” really helps shed any light on what that mean. Given the typical distinction (and it is typical – so much so that we have trouble conceiving of anything else) between material body and spiritual soul, the word “sacramental” is generally taken by American Catholics to mean “material + spiritual”; that is, something spiritual that is tied to something material. So the word by itself doesn’t really clear up how Jesus can be *bodily* present without being materially so.

    However, if you post something about what the Church *means* by “sacramental presence”, I will be interested in reading it. (I don’t check Vox Nova very often, so if you post a link in the comments in this thread, so I will receive a notification email, I would appreciate that.)

  • GodsGadfly

    But the thing is, the two should never be completely separate. What I love about St. Thomas is that he is, as someone mentioned above, also a mystic. But I keep running into fundamental flaws in his thought that derive from his premises, which in turn are based in obsolete Aristotelian science and/or being too logical.

    Mystical Theology without introspection gets you Charismatic Spirituality or Medjugorje.

    But “the heart has its reasons the reason does not know.”

    Let’s put it this way. NFP is “marriage building.” But you can’t have a marriage based upon NFP alone. Knowing the mechanics of the body definitely helps the marital relationship in a lot of ways.
    For example, NFP gives an understanding of physiology and nutrition that expands into parenting, such that most serious NFP families are also into organic food and stuff.
    But that technical knowledge cannot, in itself, create the relationship.

    To call for only technically correct systematic theology in terms of the relatoinship with God, and avoiding “certain kinds of pious language” is similar to reducing the marital relationship to biology and dismissing the romance as unscientific.

  • Dan


    I agree that technical knowledge cannot create the relationship, but I’m not certain that’s what Brett is doing here. The tone and content of Brett’s article does not indicate that he’s trying to dismiss the romance of the faith – quite the contrary. Nor do I think he’s “compromising”, as what he says appears to be in line with the Church’s teaching on the subject.

    To borrow your relationship analogy, what Brett appears to be doing is akin to a marriage counselor – he’s providing insight into aspects of a relationship which may not be apparent to those within the relationship to help strengthen it.

    If my spouse is trying to communicate with me (double-meaning intentional), and I don’t have a full understanding of what my spouse is trying to communicate, and misinterpret it, then I’m not in as full communion with my spouse as I could or should be. Even though I may think everything is fine, my spouse may not, and I may be totally oblivious to the fact. It’s quite common in relationships.

    That’s where articles like Brett’s are helpful. Are we certain that our “pious understandings” of the Eucharist are actually what God intended the Eucharist to be? If not, then our feelings about the Eucharist, while perceived as helpful to us, may be a stumbling block to the true message that God is trying to communicate.

    In that sense, Brett, and the endeavors of those like him, are actually helping us grow closer to God.

  • GG,

    Again, I’m not sure why you feel the need to make this about an imagined dichotomy between the “logicians” and the “real mystics.” I haven’t heard one argument directly addressing why St. Thomas’s distinctions (as presented by Br. Matthew) are inadequate, due to an “outdated” Aristotelianism and his being “too logical” Rather, they seem to express exactly the point you want to defend, but without the confusion.

    Personally, I think the conversation in this combox was resolved in about 8 centuries ago.

    Pax Christi,

  • David Nickol

    I’d be interested to hear what you would propose as an alternative to the metaphysics of substance and accident, and what prompts you to find them inadequate.


    I thought this thread had died, but there you are!

    In answer to your question, and dredging something up from college philosophy courses I took longer ago than I care to admit, it would seem to me that if one holds to something like Bishop Berkeley’s subjective idealism, then the concept of the Real Presence would still be possible, but you would have to come up with something other than “substance” and “accidents” to explain it. As I understand it, what we perceive as physical reality would really be ideas in the mind of God.

  • Ronald King

    The physical appearance of who I am is not the substance of me. I appear this way because gravity or a force unseen holds me together and my interaction with human beings is through this accident of time and space but the substance of me can never be seen it can only be experienced by me and others based on the operation of grace which is another substance that doesn’t have an accident to identify itself as being.
    Whatever what was said above is an accident of some sort and I claim no responsibility for it. I have no filter at this time of day nor perhaps any other time of day.