Fr. Al Kimel recently wrote a post that got me thinking about transubstantiation again. Its title is a question: Is Transubstantiation Bodily Enough? The long discussion sparked by that post over at De Cure Animarum stimulated anew my thinking about this topic. As with such questions as “Were you a zygote?“, which Scott addressed in the previous post here, much hinges on how we understand the hoary metaphysical concept of “substance.” As a simple matter of fact, there is no one metaphysical concept of substance that all philosophers, even all Catholic philosophers, agree on; so, the question arises which concept of substance, if any, is best. In order to understand Catholic dogma to the extent it can be understood, some account of substance can and ought to be given; for a certain understanding of substance, however hard to pin down, underlies said dogma. That’s what I want to bring out here.
Rather than bore everybody by doing what college courses are for, such as surveying the history of Aristotelian philosophy on the subject or offering a CliffsNotes version of Aquinas’ account of substance, I want to propose an argument, or rather a draft of an argument, that illustrates how the necessary concept of substance is and can be deployed. And I want to do that by offering my argument-draft as an answer to Fr. Kimel’s question. If I am fortunate enough to receive useful criticisms, I will clean up the argument and make it the basis of a publishable paper.
The argument runs roughly as follows. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest expositor of “transubstantiation,” actually denies that Christ’s risen body is locally present in the consecrated elements. Instead he says: “Christ’s body is in this sacrament not after the proper manner of dimensive quantity, but rather after the manner of substance.” What does “after the manner of substance” mean? Well, I propose that the consecrated elements are “one substance,” namely the Incarnate Word himself, in a way analogous to how the divine and human natures of the Incarnate Word, interrelated as Chalcedon taught, form that one substance or hypostasis which is God the Son himself. This sort of argument is from the analogia fidei, and is thus of the sort that both Vatican councils encouraged.
Chalcedonian Christology has it that Jesus Christ is “one substance” in “two natures,” the natures being closely united without intermingling with or annihilating each other. That one substance or hypostasis is of course a divine person, God the Son, who has existed from all eternity. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus Christ isn’t a man. All it means is that his being a man does not make the hypostasis or substance with which he is self-identical into a human hypostasis or substance. In that respect, he is unlike other men. Christ was and remains human, but his humanity is not “after the manner of substance.” I suggest that the case is similar with the bread and wine which, according to the Catholic tradition, become at the Eucharist “the body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Jesus Christ.
All the physical properties of bread and wine remain in the consecrated elements, but they are no longer the physical substances or hypostases of bread and wine. Those are now identical with the substance of Jesus Christ himself, the divine person who was and remains incarnate as a man, albeit with a body whose properties transcend our own in many ways. But their “transubstantiation” into that substance no more annihilates their physical properties than Christ’s being a divine substance or hypostasis annihilates his humanity. All it means is that he incorporates those physical elements into his risen body, thus making them identical with himself qua substance. Thus, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, he does something to which the ordinary process of “eating” is a faint analogue. And then we literally eat the elements in our turn, taking his substance into our own without in any way damaging or dispersing his. We consume him, but he is not consumed.
Of course this process is mysterious. The dogma of “transubstantiation” does not explain the mystery so much as state it. But it’s no more mysterious than Chalcedonian Christology. In fact, what’s involved is quite similar to what Chalcedon taught is involved with the Incarnation itself. It’s mysterious not only to the same degree, but in the same way, as that in which Chalcedonian Christology is mysterious. And that, I believe, explains why Fr. Kimel’s question should be answered in the affirmative.