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Transubstantiation: From Stumbling Block to Cornerstone Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 21 January 2011

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a real stumbling block to some Protestants who are seriously considering Catholicism. It was for me too, until I explored the subject, historically and scripturally. What follows is a summary of my deliberations.

Catholicism holds that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when they are consecrated by the priest celebrating the Mass. Oftentimes non-Catholics get hung up on the term transubstantiation, the name for the philosophical theory that the Church maintains best accounts for the change at consecration. The Church’s explanation of transubstantiation was influenced by Aristotle’s distinction between substance and accident.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), like most philosophers of his time, wanted to account for how things change and yet remain the same. So, for example, a “substance” like an oak tree remains the same while undergoing “accidental” changes. It begins as an acorn and eventually develops roots, a trunk, branches, and leaves. During all these changes, the oak tree remains identical to itself. Its leaves change from green to red and brown, and eventually fall off. But these accidental changes occur while the substance of the tree remains.

On the other hand, if we chopped down the tree and turned into a desk, that would be a substantial change, since the tree would literally cease to be and its parts would be turned into something else, a desk. According to the Church, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the accidents of the bread and wine do not change, but the substance of each changes. So, it looks, tastes, feels, and smells like bread and wine, but it literally has been changed into the body and blood of Christ. That’s transubstantiation.


        The Communion of the Apostles by Luca Signorelli (c. 1500)

There are several reasons why it would be a mistake to dismiss transubstantiation simply because of the influence of Aristotle on its formulation. First, Eastern Churches in communion with the Catholic Church rarely employ this Aristotelian language, and yet the Church considers their celebration of the Eucharist perfectly valid. Second, the Catholic Church maintains that the divine liturgies celebrated in the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome (commonly called “Eastern Orthodoxy”) are perfectly valid as well, even though the Eastern Orthodox rarely employ the term transubstantiation.  Third, the belief that the bread and wine are literally transformed into Christ’s body and blood predates Aristotle’s influence on the Church’s theology by over 1000 years. For it was not until the thirteenth century, and the ascendancy of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought, that Aristotle’s categories were employed by the Church in its account of the Eucharist. In fact, when the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) employed the language of substantial change, St. Thomas had not even been born!

It was that third point that I found so compelling and convinced me that the Catholic view of the Eucharist was correct. It did not take long for me to see that Eucharistic realism (as I like to call it) had been uncontroversially embraced deep in Christian history. This is why Protestant historian, J. N. D. Kelly, writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.” I found it in many of the works of the Early Church Fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110), St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 151), St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A. D. 251), First Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A. D. 350), and St. Augustine of Hippo (A. D. 411) . These are, of course, not the only Early Church writings that address the nature of the Eucharist. But they are representative.

This should, however, not surprise us, given what the Bible says about the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-25; Lk. 22:7-23), which we commemorate at Holy Communion, he referred to it as a Passover meal. He called the bread and wine his body and blood. In several places, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1: 29, 36; I Peter 1:19; Rev. 5:12). Remember, when the lamb is killed for Passover, the meal participants ingest the lamb. Consequently, St. Paul’s severe warnings about partaking in Holy Communion unworthily only make sense in light of Eucharistic realism (I Cor. 10:14-22; I Cor. 11:17-34). He writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? . . . Whoever, therefore eats and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 10:16; 11:27)

In light of all these passages and the fact that Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:41-51) and that he said that his followers must “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” (John 6:53), the Eucharistic realism of the Early Church, the Eastern Churches (both in and out of communion with Rome), and the pre-Reformation medieval Church (fifth to sixteenth centuries) seems almost unremarkable. So, what first appeared to be a stumbling block was transformed into a cornerstone.

 
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He tells the story of his journey from Catholicism to Protestantism and back again in his book, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic. He blogs at Return to Rome.

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Comments (44)Add Comment
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written by Achilles, January 21, 2011
Thankyou Dr. Beckwith! THe day before my first Holy Communion I was struggling with belief and Thomas A Kempis in his Imitation of Christ straightened me out. Chapter 18 book 4.
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written by Howard Kainz, January 21, 2011
I've always considered it strange that Protestants are satisfied with virtual or "spiritual" communion because of their disbelief in the Real Presence.
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written by Other Joe, January 21, 2011
A well-known (obviously intelligent and well read) Presbyterian radio minister recently accused the Catholics of demonic superstition for believing that communion was more than a symbolic reference to the original Sacrifice. He apparently carried his stumbling block wherever he went and pitched it down in front of him whenever he needed something to distract himself from his doubts. It would seem to be clear to all that if he is wrong about the Eucharist, the ground fails beneath his feet and the next stop is a long way down with no hand holds to slow the fall. His attitude illustrates two great failings of modern thinking. First, it substitutes man’s frame of reference for God’s prerogatives (it doesn’t make sense to me) and secondly, it cuts the present time off from thousands of years of a deeply experienced tradition – that of the meaning and ritual of sacrifice (we’ve reformed all that).
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written by Bill, January 21, 2011
I find the one salient point missing in all these discussions is the concept of the Elect. There is a Catholic predestination. No one can come to Christ unless He wills it. Instead we bog down in discussions ad infinitum with people who have not(yet?) received the grace for understanding and faith. We cannot convince "Catholics" of these truths.
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written by Natalie, January 21, 2011
This was a very enlightening and helpful introduction to this debate. I was wondering, however, if you could articulate the arguments and reasons Protestants rejection of this doctrine.
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written by Louise, January 21, 2011
The following is from Belloc's "The Great Heresies", the last chapter, 'The Modern Phase.' (Available on line.)

"There is no such thing as a religion called "Christianity"; there never has been such a religion.

"There is and always has been the Church, and various heresies proceeding from a rejection of some of the Church's doctrines by men who still desire to retain the rest of her teaching and morals. But there never has been and never can be or will be a general Christian religion
professed by men who all accept some central important doctrines, while agreeing to differ about others. There has always been, from the
beginning, and will always be, the Church, and sundry heresies either doomed to decay, or, like Mohammedanism, to grow into a separate religion. Of a common Christianity there has never been and never can be a definition, for it has never existed.

"There is no essential doctrine such that if we can agree upon it we can differ about the rest: as for instance, to accept immortality but
deny the Trinity. A man will call himself a Christian though he denies the unity of the Christian Church; he will call himself a Christian though he denies the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; he will
cheerfully call himself a Christian though he denies the Incarnation."

One must ask, if men insist on calling themselves "Christian" while rejecting the central truth of the Church that Jesus Christ gave us, how much Truth CAN men accept and/or reject and still claim to be "Christian."

"Receiving the grace of understanding and faith" is essential, and it is a vital part of the package. Re: the discussion the other day of how the Church got off the track: I wonder how much our attempts at ecumenism contributed to the problem. Our pastor often repeats from the pulpit that Jesus told us that He is THE Way and the Church that He founded IS that Way--the only Way. Sounds pretty snippy to modern ears, doesn't it. Are he and Belloc both wrong? (BTW, our Mass goes out on Community TV twice a week, and that message goes right along with it. No wonder the number of registered parishioners at his parish has quadrupled and that people come from three states every Sunday, and the week-day Masses never lack for communicants.)
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written by Bill, January 21, 2011
Thank you, Louise, for GREAT points. Some items. Ecumenism. The original understanding in the Spirit of the Council was people of all religions could be saved by adhering to their religious beliefs. (Demonstrated by Assisi I and Assisi II)There was no need to become Catholic. What was the most stunning thing that mainline Protestants began as a result of this change in thought? For the first time in 5,750 years of Judaeo-Christianity,THEY ORDAINED WOMEN MINISTERS! That signalled they had NO interest in ever becoming Catholic. Result? We modified "catholicism???" in order to make it more pleasing to them. End result? No protestantism and no catholicism survived. Voila!
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written by Lee Gilbert, January 21, 2011
Louise, You write:
"BTW, our Mass goes out on Community TV twice a week, and that message goes right along with it. No wonder the number of registered parishioners at his parish has quadrupled and that people come from three states every Sunday, and the week-day Masses never lack for communicants.)"

Since Father is obviously not publicity-shy
why not mention who he is, where the parish is etc? I often see these oblique references in the Catholic blogshere and cannot for the life of me understand the reason for it, especially when something so wonderful is happening.
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written by Louise, January 21, 2011
Thank you, Bill and Lee, for your very complimentary and kind words. I have been blessed to be led to authors who have given me what I need when I have needed it--even, if you can believe it, P.D. James and Wallace Stegner. God is good.

"Why not mention who he is,"

Well, I guess I'm just not comfortable in identifying him without his permission. I guess I could ask him. He also has a community TV show in which he describes in each episode some treasure in the church--an icon, a statue, a carving, and they are available to buy from the parish, also. He works harder at evangelization than the next 10 priests combined. He is a wonderful pastor. He does all those wonderful devotional things that many priests and bishops consider old fashioned--40 hours, processions, midnight Mass at midnight, Confessions available before every Mass, among others. He is a dear, dear man, and, like so many he has more than his share of physical suffering. I will call him tomorrow.
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written by Louise, January 21, 2011
A short addendum:

When our pastor came to this parish in 1986, it had only a very small, very elderly immigrant congregation. The church and the rectory were both in a very bad state of repair. With Father's faith, love of the Church and our Blessed Mother, and a lot of hard work, he has made the parish a vital, blessed spiritual home for lots of devoted Catholics whose love he always directs to our Lord and His Mother, never to himself. He is a treasure.
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written by Louise, January 21, 2011
"He also has a community TV show in which he describes in each episode some treasure in the church--an icon, a statue, a carving, and they are available to buy from the parish"

CDs, of the TV episodes are available from the parish, not the treasures.

Sorry. My apologies for taking up so much of your blog space, too.
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written by Larry, January 21, 2011
Louise, I appreciate that you would want to ask his permission to reveal his name but your pastor has a community TV program, which makes him a public figure. If you are going to speak of him and his ministry in such glowing terms, please at least reveal the parish name and city.
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written by Louise, January 22, 2011
Fr. Charles says, "Go right ahead. Anything that you can do to promote evangelization is fine."

Fr. Charles DiMascola,
Our Lady of Czestochowa
84 K Street
Turners Falls, MA 01376
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written by pgepps, January 22, 2011
My conviction that "transubstantiation" was no great obstacle considerably predates my realization that re-evaluating Catholicism was a viable (and now a necessary) step of faith for me. It seems to me that even a viable Protestant evangelicalism will, at some point, have to travel as far as--and then a bit farther than--Calvinist "real presence." It is exactly the need for Real Eucharistic Presence--Christ *really* here, now, *really* constituting His Body both as sacrifice and as Church receiving/offering Him--which leads me to submit my other hindrances and scruples to His Spirit's leading through His Word within His Church. All else washes away in words about words, written in sand.
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written by Lojahw, January 22, 2011
Dear Francis,

Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 uses the phrases "eat the bread" and "drink the cup" of the consecrated elements - which seems counter to your interpretation.

Could you also explain how Christ's human nature at the Last Supper defied the Chalcedonian Definition (451 AD)?

“One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.”

Since "at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved” - it seems that Christ's flesh and blood could not be present in the bread and wine in the way that transubstantiation claims it was.

Blessings,
Lojahw
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written by George Sim Johnston, January 22, 2011
It should be added that at the end of his Eucharistic discourse in John 6--"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, and have died. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven ... unless you eat [literally: munch, crunch] the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you shall not have life in you." Many of the disciples are shocked--"This is a hard saying"--and turn from Jesus. Christ made no effort to correct them; he did not say, "Wait a minute! I'm speaking figuratively!"
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written by Lee, January 22, 2011
Lojhaw overlooks two things: Catholic teaching is that Christ is fully present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the consecrated Bread and Wine; and that Catholics - consistent with St. Paul - acknowledge that the "accidents" remain.
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written by Mary, January 23, 2011
Lojhaw may also be overlooking the Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves - where thousands had their fill with no diminution of the original supply - a foreshadowing of the Eucharist; as well as the nature of Christ's glorified Body after the Resurrection, when He could bi-locate. In short, there's no inconsistency between Catholic belief in the Hypostatic Union of Christ and His Real Presence in the consecrated elements. Remember too that, as God, Jesus is not bound by the limitations familiar to us. Peace.
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written by Lojahw, January 23, 2011
Dear Lee and Mary,
Thank you for your comments, but I have not overlooked your points. I know the Catholic teaching: I am challenging it. And since Paul was not an Aristotelian philosopher, but a Jewish rabbi, your interpretation of his words makes no sense. Paul says that we eat the bread, not the accidents of the bread.

And Mary: equating Jesus’ human body with the loaves of bread is an error of category. What Jesus did with the bread does not apply to his human flesh and blood, which the Ecumenical Council declared "at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved.” That is, the bishops confirmed that Jesus’ flesh and blood retained throughout his earthly life only the properties of human flesh, which substance cannot be separated from its “accidents” nor can it be multiplied as Jesus effected with the feeding of the 5000.

Furthermore, although the multiplication of the loaves set up Jesus' "bread of life" discourse, He said: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” That is, coming to Him and believing in Him is the nourishment for true life. And, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." So Jesus is saying that coming to Him and believing in Him is the antidote to hunger and thirst – the way to eternal life.

It was in response to the Jews grumbling about what He said, that Jesus spoke figuratively about eating His flesh and drinking His blood (see Jesus’ own words in John 16:25, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language” and in Matthew 13: “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand"). To make sure Jesus’ true disciples later got the point, he concluded his teaching in John 6 with the words: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” The flesh profits nothing, according to Jesus. Yet, your church teaches that the Eucharist is flesh and that the ritual itself gives life. That is not what Jesus taught. Rather, Jesus taught: “he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

Blessings,
Lojahw

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written by Francis Beckwith, January 23, 2011
Lojahw:

Just as I Cor 11 refers to the Eucharist as bread and wine, so does the Catholic Catechism, which affirms transubstantiation. The reason for this is that the accidents still remain the accidents of bread and wine. So, it is not inaccurate to refer to them as such. But what's key to the reading I offer is that the severity of Paul's warnings and the way in which he describes the Eucharist is not only inconsistent with the symbolic view, but supports the realist view (emphasis added): "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." So, if you don't see it as the body, then be forewarned. That's pretty strong stuff.

As for Chalcedon, by that time in Church History we have fully in place the liturgy of St. Gregory, fully realist. So much so that both East and West, today, embrace that liturgy. Second, St. Thomas, eloquently addresses your query in the 13th century. I produce it below

I answer that, It is absolutely necessary to confess according to Catholic faith that the entire Christ is in this sacrament. Yet we must know that there is something of Christ in this sacrament in a twofold manner: first, as it were, by the power of the sacrament; secondly, from natural concomitance. By the power of the sacrament, there is under the species of this sacrament that into which the pre-existing substance of the bread and wine is changed, as expressed by the words of the form, which are effective in this as in the other sacraments; for instance, by the words: "This is My body," or, "This is My blood." But from natural concomitance there is also in this sacrament that which is really united with that thing wherein the aforesaid conversion is terminated. For if any two things be really united, then wherever the one is really, there must the other also be: since things really united together are only distinguished by an operation of the mind.

Reply to Objection 1. Because the change of the bread and wine is not terminated at the Godhead or the soul of Christ, it follows as a consequence that the Godhead or the soul of Christ is in this sacrament not by the power of the sacrament, but from real concomitance. For since the Godhead never set aside the assumed body, wherever the body of Christ is, there, of necessity, must the Godhead be; and therefore it is necessary for the Godhead to be in this sacrament concomitantly with His body. Hence we read in the profession of faith at Ephesus (P. I., chap. xxvi): "We are made partakers of the body and blood of Christ, not as taking common flesh, nor as of a holy man united to the Word in dignity, but the truly life-giving flesh of the Word Himself."

On the other hand, His soul was truly separated from His body, as stated above (Question 50, Article 5). And therefore had this sacrament been celebrated during those three days when He was dead, the soul of Christ would not have been there, neither by the power of the sacrament, nor from real concomitance. But since "Christ rising from the dead dieth now no more" (Romans 6:9), His soul is always really united with His body. And therefore in this sacrament the body indeed of Christ is present by the power of the sacrament, but His soul from real concomitance.

Reply to Objection 2. By the power of the sacrament there is contained under it, as to the species of the bread, not only the flesh, but the entire body of Christ, that is, the bones the nerves, and the like. And this is apparent from the form of this sacrament, wherein it is not said: "This is My flesh," but "This is My body." Accordingly, when our Lord said (John 6:56): "My flesh is meat indeed," there the word flesh is put for the entire body, because according to human custom it seems to be more adapted for eating, as men commonly are fed on the flesh of animals, but not on the bones or the like.

Reply to Objection 3. As has been already stated (75, 5), after the consecration of the bread into the body of Christ, or of the wine into His blood, the accidents of both remain. From which it is evident that the dimensions of the bread or wine are not changed into the dimensions of the body of Christ, but substance into substance. And so the substance of Christ's body or blood is under this sacrament by the power of the sacrament, but not the dimensions of Christ's body or blood. Hence it is clear that the body of Christ is in this sacrament "by way of substance," and not by way of quantity. But the proper totality of substance is contained indifferently in a small or large quantity; as the whole nature of air in a great or small amount of air, and the whole nature of a man in a big or small individual. Wherefore, after the consecration, the whole substance of Christ's body and blood is contained in this sacrament, just as the whole substance of the bread and wine was contained there before the consecration.
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written by Louise, January 23, 2011
"I believe all that the holy Catholic Church teaches because She can neither deceive nor be deceived."
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written by Lojahw, January 24, 2011
Dear Francis,
Thank you for your kind response. Unfortunately, Aquinas’ argument is circular: he assumes that Christ is present in the bread and wine, and then argues that because He is present, He is wholly present in body and blood. This does not answer the objection I identified from Chalcedon: human flesh and blood (which has retained all of its natural properties) cannot be separated from its “accidents.”

Can you find a better argument for why transubstantiation does not conflict with the declaration of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451 A.D.? “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved.” Human flesh is incapable of being separated from its “accidents” and being “multiplied” as Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread.

Re: John 6, Augustine wrote: "If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, "and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." [John 6:53] This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us." (On Christian Doctrine, 3:16)

Augustine, therefore, supports what Jesus says in John 6: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” And “"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:63). Please note that Jesus uses the word “flesh” in John 6, but the word “body” at the Last Supper. They are different.

Your argument against Paul’s words is an argument from silence, counter to the evidence he gives us: “for as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you problem the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord … But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:26-28). Nowhere does Paul ever say “eat the flesh of Christ” or “drink His blood.”

Moreover, at the Last Supper, the Passover Feast, Jesus revealed the previously hidden significance of the ancient elements: the afikomen (the second of three parts of the unleavened bread, which is broken and placed in a cloth and hidden during the meal, then brought back to be shared by all afterwards) and the cup of blessing. At the Last Supper Jesus declared the broken bread to be a type of Himself, whose body was to be broken (crucified), hidden (in linen cloths in the tomb), and restored (resurrected). Likewise, Jesus declared the cup of blessing to be a proclamation of the new covenant in His blood. One must be careful not to mix the metaphors: Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God, had not been sacrificed at the Last Supper; neither was the bread to be confused with the sacrificial lamb. Therefore, the Last Supper did not constitute the sacrifice of Christ’s flesh and blood, but Jesus taught that it would henceforth proclaim his pending death until He comes again. To dishonor this memorial of Christ’s death is to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

Blessings,
Lojahw
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written by Francis Beckwith, January 24, 2011
Lojahw: "Accidents" are not "properties," and thus accidents by their very nature can be separated from a substance. The substance of flesh and blood need not look like flesh and blood. The embryonic Jesus possessed the properties of flesh and blood even though he lacked the accidents of flesh and blood. So, bread and wine can have the properties of flesh and blood without the accidents as long as it is the substance of Christ.

It isn't circular to offer clarification to what you already believe. Aquinas' purpose is not to argue for Eucharistic realism, but to offer a philosophical account of it. For example, if I ask the question, "Why is murder wrong?," it would not be a response to your answer to say that you are assuming murder is wrong, since that is not the point under dispute.

If God can raise Jesus from the dead, create something out of nothing, and save our souls, I am confident that he can cause bread and wine to undergo substantial change and become the body and blood of our Savior.

The Eucharist is both symbol and reality in Catholic theology, in much the same way that the "sign of Jonah" is both sign and reality. As for Augustine, you have to look at his whole body of work. He is clearly and unambiguously a Eucharistic realist. A simple google search will provide a wealth information in that regard. (see, e.g., http://www.cuf.org/faithfacts/...p?ffID=122) But the quote you reproduce from On Christian Doctrine is shaped by Augustine's training as a teacher of rhetoric. If you read the quote closely, the "figurativeness" applies to the nature of the command and not the nature of the thing commanded. In fact, it is under a section called "Rule for Interpreting Commands and Prohibitions."

Thus, for Augustine, the command--"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, says Christ, and drink His blood, you have no life in you"--seems to tell us what we should ] do in order to avoid life. Thus, Augustine's answer: "This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share [communicandem] in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory [in memoria] of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us." He's not addressing the true nature of the Eucharist, but rather, the nature of the rhetoric in the issue of commands and prohibitions.
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written by Mary, January 25, 2011
Dear Lojhaw,

If you seek the truth with a sincere heart, asking for the Holy Spirit's guidance, and with genuine openness to whatever the truth is, you cannot go wrong. In addition to Dr Beckwith's excellent points, I'd recommend Mark Shea's excellent book, "This IS My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence" and Dr Scott Hahn's "The Lamb's Supper."

Also, keep in mind that Our Lord founded His Church with His Apostles, whom He commissioned
To go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them ALL that I commanded you (emphasis added). He also told them, "He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me." Thus, what the Apostles taught about Eucharistic realism is vital to understanding Jesus's true teaching. The "Didache," the writings of those who learned at the feet of the Apostles (eg Ignatius of Antioch) can only be profitably consulted. Having a personal relationship with Jesus would seem to presume having that relationship on His terms.

Peace.
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written by Lojahw, January 25, 2011
Dear Francis,
You and Aquinas approach the question of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist from the perspective of the bread, but that does not address the conflict between the declaration of the bishops at Chalcedon and what you claim occurred with Jesus’ flesh and blood at the Last Supper. The statement of Chalcedon goes deeper than properties and accidents, but to human nature itself. Whatever one calls the “properties” are inherent in human nature, from embryo to adult, that is what the bishops affirmed: that Christ was fully human, and that his human nature was unmixed with his divine nature.

You seem to be reading back into the bishops’ concept of human nature ideas which were foreign to them and to their culture in order to distinguish (anachronistically) between “accidents” and “properties.” As you know, the church fathers always considered unborn babies to have an identical human nature with mature humans. The DNA which determines the properties of embryonic cells is identical to that of adult cells. The appearance of adult features in no way changes the common properties of human flesh and blood from embryo to adult. (I think this should be common ground.)

I do not deny that Aquinas believed in transubstantiation – his interpretation of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but to say that the “substance” of what was bread and wine is replaced by Christ’s flesh and blood, although all measurable properties of the bread and wine, i.e., the accidents, remain, requires that Christ’s flesh and blood differ substantially in nature from the flesh and blood of all other human beings. This, the bishops of Chalcedon denied. Therefore, as I said Aquinas begs the question: in what way is Christ present in the Eucharist?

It might be helpful if you would compare and contrast Christ’s presence in the Eucharist with the following:
Matt. 18:20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
Matt. 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always.”

Your interpretation of Augustine is novel. Historically, Augustine has been understood to consider the crime to be cannibalism, of which pagans sometimes accused Christians. Nevertheless, Augustine explicitly declared that John 6:53 should be interpreted figuratively.

With all due respect to Mary, I have listened to the Holy Spirit, particularly as He teaches in His Word, on this for many decades. I have yet to hear an explanation that would persuade me to accept transubstantiation.

Blessings,
Lojahw
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written by Lee, January 26, 2011
Lojahw writes, "human flesh is incapable of being separated from it's 'accidents' and being 'multiplied' as Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread." Oh really? Where else in history or human experience - other than the Gospel accounts of Jesus' multiplication of loaves - are loaves 'capable of being multiplied' as Jesus multiplied them? So Lojahw posits that the latter miracle is a "capable" one but the former is not? Are not all things possible with God?

Lojahw's method of argumentation may be persuasive to Lojahw but it is a form of sophistry. In fact there is no inconsistency between the statement at Chalcedon and the Church's belief and teaching on Eucharistic realism. In fact, the Church believes there IS no division in Christ, miraculously and undividedly present in the One Bread and the One Cup. This presence is miraculous, and is therefore immune from the limitations of 'capability' that Lojahw seeks to impose.

Quoting Church Fathers out of context, and setting up false inconsistencies based on hidden premises grounded in no authority other than one's own ipse dixit, are unworthy, I respectfully suggest, of any true seeker after Christ and His Church. In 1837, denominational founder Alexander Campbelll challenged Bishop Purcell - the Catholic Bishop of Cincinnati - to a public debate "on the Roman Catholic Religion." Campbell used rhetorical methods reminiscent of Lojahw's, and ably dispatched by thelearned Bishop Purcell. Later, a man named Peter Burnett read the published debates. A lawyer, Burnett was greatly disappointed by the performance of his then-denomination's founder - particularly his persistent reliance on secondary sources and out-of-context citations, and he commenced a journey that ultimately led him "home to Rome." He later went onto become Governor of California and wrote of his conversion in his book: "True Church: The Journey that led this Protestant Lawyer into the Catholic Church".
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written by Mary, January 26, 2011
I think care should be taken not to suggest Lojahw has or would knowingly engage in disingenuous argumentation. My fervent prayer for Lojahw and all others similarly situated is that they will one day arrive by grace at the Eucharistic realism belief of the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and all Christendom for 1500 years - and the belief of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to this very day, and that they may one day, and frequently thereafter, partake of this Heavenly Meal and receive all its boundless graces - so important to Our Lord to confer on His people in this way. Foreshadowed and foretold in so many ways - the Passover Meal (where partakers actually had to eat the lamb, and not just a symbol or memorial of the lamb, to receive its benefits; Abraham telling Isaac that "God will supply Himself the lamb"; John the Baptist's identifying Jesus as The "Lamb of God"; Jesus calling Himself the Living Bread come down from Heaven and saying this Bread was superior to the manna in the desert; and Jesus' very birthplace - Bethlehem - meaning "house of bread." So I would urge Lojahw and others similarly situated to seek with a sincere heart, not as a partisan or advocate for a particular point of view but rather as a judge or juror who must be persuaded. Do that, praying all the while for the Holy Spirit's inspiration, and you can't go wrong. This ground has been plowed by many; why not avail oneself of their writings and testimonies? I speak particularly of former Protestant and Evangelical clergy who, at great personal cost, "crossed the Tiber" since that is where their love for Our Lord and their sincere search for Truth led them.

Peace.
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written by Mark V E Y, January 26, 2011
Lojhaw,

Yes, it is written:

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." (Jn 6:35)

So what naturally follows is that I (and the Church continuous to) BELIEVE what Christ proclaimed:

"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (Jn 6:55-56)
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written by Peter Baker, January 26, 2011
Being fundamentally an Aristotelian, I have no particular problem with the transubstantiatian idea, but I do not think it is a concept that is particularly helpful in thinking about the Eucharist in the current context. In the article above there is a sentence to the effect, Catholics believe that bread and wine become literally the body and blood of Christ. I think the word "literally" adds nothing to the basic concept, and obscures the fact that almost all Christians revere the Lord's Supper and believe that those who participate in it are united to the sacred body and blood of Jesus, our Lord. Some Calvinists make a similar silliness by saying things such as, Jesus is not literally present in the Eucharist. We ought to think and speak of the Lord's Supper in ways that emphasize our unity in this matter as Christians. The Catholic Church is not some little sect in which we differentiate ourselves from other Christians by bringing forward all these petty little theological oddities. Let us emphasize the main ideas, and get rid of the the sectarian language.
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written by john Mushenhouse, January 26, 2011
written by Louise, January 23, 2011

"I believe all that the holy Catholic Church teaches because She can neither deceive nor be deceived."

Louise what about the pedophiles lying for years when higher ups knew about it. they just shifted it around.

Plus show me Biblical proof that the RCC can't deceive or be deceived.

There were 3 Popes at one time. Somebody was deceived and several fathers were followed as Popes by their hidden out of wedlock children.
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written by Lojahw, January 26, 2011
Dear Mary,
Thank you for your charitable response, unlike the ad hominem attack by Lee. Please know that I have studied not only Scripture, but also the church fathers and the CCC on this subject. The combined witness of all of these sources while sincerely seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction has persuaded me not to accept transubstantiation. Language about the nature of Christ’s presence can be problematic, as the Orthodox who do not teach transubstantiation attest.

For Mark, the last words in an extended discourse typically carry great significance. The last words in Jesus' John 6 discourse are not found in verse 53, but in verse 63: "the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." Again, Jesus did not use the word “flesh” at the Last Supper, but “body.” On this subject Paul later wrote:

“Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Paul here associates the bread of the Eucharist with the mystical body of Christ: “we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” So Christ presence, promised in Matthew 18, is linked with both the Eucharist and the assembled body of Christ. In the gathering of the members of the body of Christ around the memorial to His death, Christ is truly present.

The ancient Didache, in teaching about the Eucharist, bears witness to Paul’s teaching: “We give thanks to You, our Father, for the life and knowledge that You made known to us through Jesus, Your Servant. Glory to You forever. As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was brought together becoming one, so gather Your Church from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom, for You have all power and glory forever through Jesus Christ.” (Didache, ch. 9).

In my previous post I invited comparison and contrast between Christ's presence at the Eucharist and His promise in Matthew 18: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Christ's promise to be present does not depend on whether the Eucharist is being celebrated; however, since He has promised to be present when the members of His body are gathered, it would be the supreme insult in that setting to dishonor the memorial to His death - knowing that He is present as He promised in Matthew 18!

I affirm Christ’s real presence any time that two or more of His disciples have gathered together in His name; the question is why or how His presence might differ during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Blessings,
Lojahw
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written by Brendan McGrath, January 26, 2011
About the question of how the accidents of Christ's humanity can be separated from the substance of His humanity -- according to Aquinas, they're not. The accidents of Christ's humanity are present in the Eucharist, but they are present according to the manner of substance (though what that means would be another question). I'm too lazy to look up the references, etc.
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written by Mary, January 26, 2011
Mr Baker, the doctrine of the Real Presence is not some "petty little theological oddity" but rather, as Dr Beckwith aptly calls it, a cornerstone. If the adverb "literally" offends you, perhaps we could agree on the Council of Trent's phrasing, i.e., the "whole Christ" being "truly," "really" and "substantially" contained in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. While unity among Christians should certainly be sought and prayed for -- as indeed Our Lord prayed for it at the Last Supper -- it should not be declared to exist when salient and unfortunate divisions remain. Without full participation in the Church that Jesus founded, one is deprived of its full benefits. While it's true, as the Catechism teaches, that salvation is POSSIBLE outside the Church - it's possible in the same sense that it's possible to move a ton of earth with a teaspoon; it's much more EFFICIENT, however, to use a backhoe; similarly, the most efficient way to salvation is that provided by Our Lord, Who, just as He promised, did NOT leave us orphans but in fact established a Church, a Church to which He gave authority to teach, to baptize, to forgive sins, and that He promised would endure to the end, a Church to which He promised to send the Paraclete to guide us into all Truth, a Church with which he pledged to remain always, "even to the end of the age," and a Church that has all seven Sacraments providing sanctifying grace of infinite value, chief among those Sacraments being the Holy Eucharist. The further unmoored one becomes from the True Church, the more one loses: one does become an "orphan," tossed about on the waves of an endless succession of splintering, from splintering, from splintering, with (today) well over 40,000 denominations all claiming to be Christian but teaching things so inconsistent that they could not all be true, and whose existence, continued proliferation and divisions would seem to make of Our Lord either a liar who broke, or a deluded braggart who proved powerless to keep, His promises. To be out of communion with the Catholic Church is to miss out on the Truth that Jesus promised it would be led to by the Paraclete; it's also to miss out on its diamond mine of Sacraments and their sanctifying grace.

Peace.
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written by Lee, January 26, 2011
John Mushenhouse's comments misapprehend Catholic doctrine regarding the teaching authority of the Church and Papal Infallibility. The Catholic Church has never held that its membership or leaders were or are immune from sin. That is a straw-man distortion of Catholic teaching that - although widely believed by the misinformed - has never been true.

Indeed, Our Lord Himself stated in the Gospels that "scandals must indeed come, but woe to him by whom the scandal cometh," and He further stated that weeds would be sown among the wheat and would be tolerated by the Master until the harvest. He also made clear that not everyone who says, "Lord Lord" would be saved but only those who truly did the Father's will.

Salvation History shows that the Jewish people were deeply flawed sinners and that God never in Salvation History had more than a "faithful remnant" to work with; at one point this remnant of the righteous was confined to Noah and his immediate family. Nevertheless, and through it all, Scripture makes clear that God's infallible teaching through the Spirit was conveyed, to and through this flawed people, to the world. Catholics believe that it is the Holy Spirit who speaks infallibly through the Church in certain circumstances and through certain means specified in, among other places, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For example, when the Pope pronounces ex cathedra or the bishops speak in union with the Pope, on matters of faith and morals, or the bishops and the Pope convene in ecumenical council to resolve an issue (as they first did at Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles), Christ's promise of the Paraclete's guidance into all truth protects His Church from error. This belief is highly scriptural, as it is a necessary corollary to Christ's explicit promises listed above.

There were never three Popes at once. There were three persons who claimed to be Pope, but only one was the real Pope. If three people claim to have your wristwatch, does that fact make you have three wristwatches? In any event, those who were deceived about who the Pope really was at that particular time in history were not deceived by the real Pope, but by one of the false ones. Moreover, deception as to matters of faith and morals by the real Pope, is what you'd need to find in order to prove your point. Many have tried, but no one has ever been able to do so, in the long history of the Catholic Church.
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written by Marc, January 27, 2011
One important point that must not be overworked: Jesus' glorified and deified human body and nature acquiers properties not common to our fallen human nature (especially within you uniqueness of the hypostatic union) - such as going through closed doors and ascending to heaven.

Therefore his unmixed human nature is, as the liturgy of St Chrysostom says, "broken but not divided, forever eaten and never consumed."
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written by Caeli Francisco, February 03, 2011
Romans 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
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written by David, February 08, 2011
The thief on the cross was saved, therefore he must have, according to John 6, eaten "the flesh of the Son of Man" and drunk his blood. He accomplished this without ever taking communion, although I am certain that he was filled with "eucharist" (thanksgiving).
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written by herb, February 15, 2011
David, As St. Augustine said, though we are bound by the Sacraments, God isn't. God can does what He sovereignly chooses. St. Dismas of Calvary didn't have the opportunity to receive the Eucharist (in anything but a spiritual manner, which, for him, through the grace of Christ, was sufficient). But had he survived (somehow) his crucifixion, he, like the Apostles, would likely have devoted himself to the Apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). thanks
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written by Phantom Menace, February 23, 2011
Beckwith,

I find it interesting that you seem to indicate that you were able to embrace the doctrine of transubstantiation because it was taught "early" in church history (probably no earlier than the third century though). That amazes me when I consider the fact that serious error had encroached into the church at Galatia even while Paul was still alive. Sounds to me like you wanted to find justification for the view, rather than being convinced on its own merits.
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written by rc shoun, March 04, 2011
it seems to me that the commentor called phantom menace from feb 23 has it right. just because your people in history had it wrong, doesnt now make it right. in fact what i really want to say is that someone has been aruguing this for 2000 years and there still is this divide. even if i state the truth now only those who are born of the spirit of God are going to believe it and the rest will go on as usual. so i will say it then. the roman catholic church takes everything as mystical and not literal until they come to the place that they need to see as figurative and reject it and that is john 6...no need to go over it again but to be clear if it aint faith alone in Christ you have believed another gospel.
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written by Uche, March 05, 2011
Dear Lojhaw,

You are not different from many non-catholics, who hold tenaciously to their personal interpretations of the Bible. Your comments here expose you as having fallen into the same error as those who extend Biblical passages beyond their limits. I will refer you to Jn 6:53-62. Here Jesus was emphatic about eating the body of the Son of man and drinking his blood without which there is no eternal life. Even when Jesus's disciples complained that "this is very hard to understand. Who can tell what he means"(v.60), Jesus rhetorically asked them, "does this offend you?"(v.61). He did not offer any appologies neither did he tell them he was speaking in parables. Rather he went on to reinforce his acertion. Of course the meaning of what he meant here became obvious during the last super, when he said(Mtt 26:26-27) "take it and eat it for this is my body, ... each one drink from it, for this is my blood". The real presence is a reality. Believe it and have eternal life.
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written by Christian, April 05, 2012
The ongoing argument from a Protestant perspective that I am seeing is that of symbolism. To say that the concept of Transubstantiation is nothing more than a regression to a symbolic nature is, contrary to Lohjaw's belief, contradictory to scripture.

A fundamental flaw in this reasoning is that the word "spirit" is never used in the Bible to mean symbolic. John 4:24 says "God is spirit …". Using this definition for the word "spirit" would force that same Protestant to conclude that God does not really exist, but rather is only symbolic of something else. In other words, a person’s criteria for determining what Sacred Scripture means is: "The Bible can only mean that which is valid according to my own understanding", that person is very easy prey for Satan. Consider 1 Peter 5:8, 2 Peter 1:20, and 2 Peter 3:16.

According to the above Protestant argument, Jesus' words "the flesh is of no avail" means that we do not have to eat His Flesh, and again the meaning is of symbolic nature. This argument however would make nonsense out of Jesus’ words. 'You must eat my flesh to have eternal life, but it is just a waste of time ???'. He just said that we had to eat His Flesh in John 6:50-51. When the Jews ask how this can be, Jesus repeats his command to eat His Flesh not once or twice but three more times in verses 53, 54, and 56. And to further emphasize His point, He says in
John 6:55 "For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." This is where Jesus wants his words to be taken directly as truth, and NOT to interpret it in order to validate the limites of one's own understanding; i.e. stating that the 'bread' is food indeed and that it is only symbolic of His flesh.

In verse 60, the Jews say that it is hard to accept. (The Greek word used here is "skleros" which means "hard to accept" not "hard to understand".) After this, Jesus says in John 6:63-64 "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe".

Note that Jesus is referring to "the flesh" as opposed to "my flesh" that He had spoken of earlier. The words "the flesh" in this context means that which is of purely human origin without the aid of God’s grace. See Galatians 5: 16-22, Romans 8:9, and 1 Corinthians 2:9 - 3:3. The Pharisees were trying to evaluate Jesus' words by their own fleshly and natural judgment. They were thinking without faith and by their own fallen human nature with all of its pride, selfish desires and tendencies toward sin. That is why Jesus says that we can only come to have faith in Him and accept His words by God’s grace, John 6:65.

Further, the contention offered by some Protestants that Jesus was refuting the literal meaning of His words runs into serious theological contradictions. Jesus said:

John 6:63-64
"It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe".

If Jesus had been intending that we understand Him to be referring to His own flesh in the phrase, "the flesh is of no avail" this would contradict several other Scriptural passages.

John 1:14
"And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth."

Ephesians 2:13-16
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
15 abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace,
16 and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it."

Colossians 1:21-22
"And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him ..."

Therefore, Jesus was not referring to His own flesh in John 6:63, but rather He was explaining why the worldly thinking of the Pharisee’s prevented them from believing in the truth that He had just said.

John 6:60-65
"Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’
61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you?
62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’"

Only by God’s grace can we believe in what Jesus said because it goes beyond our common human understanding of things (which we now refer to as transubstantiation). Jesus’s words have spirit and life (John 6:63). What did He tell us to do? To eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. We thereby receive the Holy Spirit who has transformed the bread and wine into the Body, and Blood, the Soul and the Divinity of Jesus Christ and who gives us everlasting life.

May the glory of God's grace, love and mystery find you all. Through thoughtful reflection and prayer, I hope you find the answers you are looking for and that you will find the Truth that is Jesus Christ our Lord in all His entirety.

God Bless,
Christian
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written by Shaun, October 31, 2012
Hi Dr. Beckwith and other Catholic friends. Granting the truth of the Catholic interpretation of the Presence, what benefit does this presence give? That's always been my biggest question. I've often wondered if the constituent ontology vs. relational ontology style distinction discussed by Wolterstorff might do any work in helping me get clearer on what Thomas might mean. But at the end of the day I think that even if I resolve the "possibility" of transubstantiation, or even the likelihood of it, I'm still unclear about its transformative or spiritual impact.
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written by Steve, October 29, 2013
So sad that people believe this nonsense. Jesus referred to himself as the vine. Was he a woody plant with leaves? No. He called himself the door. Was he a real piece of wood? No. Transubstantiation wasn't even part of the Catholic church for the first 1000 years. Why did the infallible popes not understand what Catholics now erroneously believe? And finally, if you were to take the bread and wine across the street to a laboratory after the priest blessed it, and had it analyzed, they would identify it as bread and wine. There would be no blood cells, no flesh cells, no DNA. If this truly were the flesh and blood of Christ, it would be obvious to the trained scientist. Please stop perpetuating this fallacy. It is a ridiculous teaching and has no merit.

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