Just what is transubstantiation, anyway?

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.

54 Responses

  1. 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

    This is hard to follow. What do you mean in the first sentence that ‘the physical properties are no longer the physical substances of…’? Those properties were never the substance, right? They are properties of that substance, but distinct from it. But you add that the phsycal properties are now identical to the substance of Jesus Christ. I’m probably misreading you, but this again seems to identify properties with substances. Shouldn’t we say that it is the substance of the bread and wine that becomes the substance of Christ? The properties of the wine (at least the accidential properties) are all there. And since the substance is different, we can say that the bread and wine are essentially Christ (i.e., with all of his essential properties), but accidentally bread and wine. I’m not sure what I said was coherent, but that’s the rough picture, isn’t it, of transubstantiation? What worries me about the substance-talk is making sense of how the substance of the wine and bread might be non-extended. Maybe someone could say something that might clarify that.

  2. Mike:

    What I’m trying to do is answer Fr. Kimel’s question affirmatively. Transubstantiation is “bodily enough” because it is the bread and wine themselves which become Christ—not merely an invisible, non-extended substratum of the physical realities we ordinarily, and rightly, think of as bread and wine. Unconsecrated, the physical bread and wine are the ordinary substances we think of as bread and wine; once consecrated, the very same stuff, which is physical, is a different substance: the risen Christ himself.

    I’ve always had trouble with the idea that the physical properties of bread and wine are only “accidents” of something invisible and non-extended that is really the bread and wine. If we’re going to speak of ‘accidents’ here, as Aquinas does, what we must say is that, for any physical body S, the physical properties of S are necessary but not sufficient to determine what sort of substance S is or belongs to. That holds as much for the human body as for bread and wine.


  3. I’m having trouble cutting and pasting, for some reason. I guess I’m not sure what you mean ,”if we are going to speak of accidents here . . . for any physical body S, the physical properties of S are necessary but not sufficient to determine what sort of substance S belongs to”. I’m not sure what you mean by that and I’m less sure why we must say it. Is that proposed as an epistemological principle or a metaphysical one? Here, my cup has the property of being translucent. Why would I believe that the translucency of the cup is in any way necessary to determining its substance? It sure doesn’t seem necessary.

    On a different worry, I’ve no trouble with accidental properties, assuming we have in mind contingent intrinsic or relational properties. Could Christ be identical to the contingent (presumably intrinsic) properties of the wine and bread? I guess. But to the extent that those intrinsic properties of the bread and wine change over time (say, from one Mass to the next) Christ is absent from those items. That is, to the extent to which the color, shape, flavor, etc. change–and they certainly do over short periods of time–Christ is no longer present.

  4. John:

    The post of Fr. Kimel’s that started me thinking again about all this was written largely as a critique of and response to the McCabe article to which you’ve linked.


  5. Mike Almeida:

    I think the way to gain some clarity here is to leave aside talk of “accidental” properties for the moment and focus on the concept of substantial change. When we talk about accidents, we are bound to get into talk of primary and secondary qualities, how to distinguish them, and what the nature of the distinction itself is. In this context, that only serves to confuse.

    Everybody admits that none of the physical properties of bread and wine change when they are changed into Christ himself. But ordinarily, certain physical properties of bread and wine, such as their extension and molecular composition, are just what we say makes them the sorts of things they are, and thus the sort of substances they are. What the doctrine of transubstantiation tells us, at least as I’ve explicated it, is that the concept of substance implicit in such ordinary usage is insufficient. It is possible for physical “stuff” of a certain sort, which thus counts as a substance of that sort, to become a different sort of substance without undergoing any physical change whatsoever. Therefore, what sort of substance something is can, at least in certain cases, depend not on its ordinary composition but on how it is related to something else, to which the original substance cannot relate itself just by being the sort of substance it ordinarily is.

    The Chalcedonian dogma of the Hypostatic Union tells us that we must admit as much. Christ is a man, but he is a divine person, not a human person. Therefore, being a man does not logically entail being a human person. The “substance” or hypostasis that is Jesus Christ is that of the Second Person of the Trinity not that of a human person. So, it is possible to be a man like us, at least in “all things but sin,” without thereby being a human substance. What makes the difference here is not that Jesus’ human body and human soul are “body” and “soul” in some Pickwickian sense that doesn’t apply to us. Rather, it’s possible to have a body and a soul of just the sort we do, and thus to be a man, without being a human substance or hypostasis. By the same token, it’s possible to be a piece of bread and a quantity of wine in quite the ordinary sense, without it’s thereby following that the bread and wine are the substances they ordinarily are just in virtue of their physical composition.


  6. Mike,
    First off, I suspect that you are using “substance” to refer to one of Aristotle’s use of substance (universal, form, matter, subject). This is not how Chalcedon is using the term, which it means Person. Bread and Wine on the other hand, do not have an “hypostasis” from a Chalcedonian perspective. This use of terminology is highly problematic, whereas the Chalcedonian definition description of the hypostatic union and what it means ‘to be’ a Person is apophatic, it makes no positive philosophical content for hypostasis. I suspect you are using hypostasis in its more classical philosophical context, something that Chalcedonian Fathers did not do.

    The real gist:

    According to the Chalcedonian Fathers, we conclude that Christ has two natures based upon the observation that he exhibits different kinds of operations. That is, The One Word in doing operations that are of man and doing operations that are divine, must have on that basis two different natures. Consider St. Leo,

    “…the actions were of one Person all the time…but we perceive from the character of the acts what belongs to either form.” – Leo, On the Clarification of the Tome (after Chalcedon)

    So, how can the bread and wine exhibit the properties, virtues, or operations of bread and win and not also have the underlying nature of bread and wine?

    Pope Gelasius makes this same argument against Eutychian position in a Christological context in his work De Duabus Naturis and then it turns to a Sacramental context later in the work:

    “The sacraments of the body and blood of Christ which we take are a divine thing, inasmuch as through them we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine ceases not to be.”

    On that point, the Chalcedonian ordo theologiae poses a serious problem for transubstantiation.


  7. The post of Fr. Kimel’s that started me thinking again about all this was written largely as a critique of and response to the McCabe article to which you’ve linked.

    Figures. I’m always three steps behind the conversation.

  8. Photios:

    I thought that the Chalcedonian take on Christology revolved more around the Boethius take on the term “Person” wherein the human nature of Christ is accidental to his person although Christ Himself in his person is actually divine. Being thus, the human nature of Christ, while hypostatically joined in His divine person, nevertheless is accidental to it where it cannot be said that he has human person. Instead, Christ has therefore two natures in his person, consisting of two intellects and two wills; that is, one respective to his divine and human nature.

  9. Mike:

    First, I have to say I agree with Photios, and that from a non-chalcedonian, Cyrillian viewpoint. “Transubstantiation” has always struck me as a bit Eutychean.

    Second, in this case, “hypostasis” = “person”, not “substance,” and according to the irenic Oriental Orthodox understanding of Chalcedon, which sees it a defective statement of a common Christology, “substance” is synonymous with “nature” (or “physis”).

  10. Hit “submit” too soon —

    At any rate, wouldn’t this be consistent with how Transubstantiation has been traditionally understood as well with respect to the accidents of the Bread and Wine?

  11. Photios:

    There are indeed a couple of problems here, but I don’t think you’ve quite described them accurately. And I think they are both soluble in ways that are compatible with the doctrine of transubstantiation.

    First, given an Aristotelian account of ‘substance’, we can and ought to infer that all persons are substances, even though not all substances are persons.That’s why Boethius could define ‘person’ as ‘individual substance of a rational nature’. Of course that definition holds of the divine persons only by analogy; but that is not a fact peculiar to the definition; it holds of all language about God. So if there’s a problem for the doctrine of transubstantiation lurking here, the problem is raised by this question: Is the way in which ordinary bread and wine are substances so different from the way in which Jesus Christ is a substance that one cannot say how it can be that the former, precisely as substances, become the latter precisely as substance?

    Your answer is evidently yes, but your reasoning leaves me baffled. You say that “the Chalcedonian description of the hypostatic union, and thus of what it means ‘to be’ a Person, is apophatic; it makes no positive philosophical content for hypostasis.” Well, it is reasonable to assume, or at least stipulate, that all hypostases are substances in some-or-other intelligible sense of ‘substance’. One can then say that the divine hypostasis which is Jesus Christ is a unitary substance. But if Chalcedon’s use of ‘hypostasis’ as a synonym for ‘Person’, in the context of stating the Hypostatic Union, is altogether “apophatic,” then we simply don’t know what is being asserted when, e.g., it is asserted that Jesus Christ is a divine “person” or “hypostasis” and thus a unitary substance. For that matter, we don’t even know what’s being asserted when it is said that the Father and the Son are “of the same substance.” On the other hand, if we do know what is being asserted by means of such forms of words, then some analogy can be drawn between an Aristotelian/Boethian use of ‘person’ to designate a kind of substance and the Chalcedonian use of ‘person’ or ‘hypostasis’ to denote that unitary substance which is Jesus Christ. The two usages will not of course be precisely the same; but nobody says they would, could, or should be. They are, rather, interrelated in an intelligible way.

    Given as much, I don’t see the problem for the advocate of transubstantiation. The problem was supposed to be that there isn’t enough of a relation between the use of ‘substance’ to denote bread and wine and the use of ‘substance’ to denote the Person of Christ to enable us to say, intelligibly, that the former substance is changed into the latter substance at the Eucharistic celebration. But if one can speak of the former and the latter respectively as ‘substances’ by analogy, then the analogy governs talk of the change of the former into the latter. And that’s just what I did in my argument.

    Second, there is indeed a problem raised by the following statement from Pope Gelasius: The sacraments of the body and blood of Christ which we take are a divine thing, inasmuch as through them we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine ceases not to be. The problem is that he’s using both ‘substance’ and ‘nature’ as synonyms for ‘stuff of a certain kind’. Given such usage, his statement is not false; I myself, after all, insisted that bread and wine remain the same sort of physical stuff after their consecration that they were before. And yet, for the sake of gaining clarity, one can and ought to use the term ‘substance’ in the narrower senses evident in both Chalcedonian Christology and the doctrine of transubstantiation. And that’s what I did in my post. So I’d say that the problem here is a purely verbal one.


  12. Simply Philo,

    The Chalcedonian take on what is the Person in Christ revolves around the appropriation of St. Cyril, and the pursuit to find a consistent set of terminology that works from Christology to Triadology and back the other way. Your right that inasmuch that Christ’s human nature has a beginning, the Incarnation so willed is not necessary for God to be God, otherwise we’re back to Origen that the Father can’t be almighty without the existence of the world, etc. But I really don’t see how Boethius is really relevant to the question as it is posed. On your gloss of accident, seems to be synonymous with that which is “contingent.” I don’t find that very helpful sense everything in the created realm could be reduced to an “accidental” on this kind of gloss. I don’t think that helps contextualize what it means for something to be an operation, accident, quality, virtue, etc. in virute OF its nature or with the order knowing as thought by the men above.


  13. Photios,

    I was thinking of it in these terms:

    If the human nature of Christ is accidental to His divine nature; could it be the very same way in which the bread and wine are accidental to the divine nature of the ‘Body’ and ‘Blood’ of Christ present at the Altar in the Eucharistic Sacrifice at Mass?

  14. Mike,

    Your bringing in a foreign definition from Boetheius when he’s not a Father of Chalcedon nor is he a Father that the Council followed. I find this at least anachronistic. Then, there is a terminological problem when you say that Person is a substance and then you assert that the Father and Son share the same substance. That is highly problematic.

    The Chalcedonian definition describes the union in only apophatic terms: unconfused, undivided, without separation, etc. This is what the Fathers mean by homoousion of Father and Son. The apophatic approach is to safegaurd our mind from wandering off into error from positing something in a positive sense that the human mind is incapable of grasping or asserting. All we can do is participate in the personal energies of that Person that give us access to something about them. Just like when I speak, you can participate in the personal energy of my voice (the tropos) that is differentiated in an irrepeatable irreducible manner without reducing the energy or activity of the Person with the Person. All positive notions of personhood of “consciousness,” “functionality of will,” etc. all fail, because they are easily deduced to two persons in a Christological context. If Christ be one substance, I do not see how you have nought in him but unity. I do not see how defining Person as an invidual substance of a rational nature reduces to Christ either being absolute unity or duality, but certainly not both.

    Gelasius is not just talking about the physical properties of Bread and Wine only. He dedudces from the PRECENSE of the physical properties of Bread and Wine that the metaphysical nature of Bread and Wine must also be present on the very basis of the former. He follows the same method and the same exact thinking as he does in describing the operations and natures of Christ against Eutyches. Per his thinking, again, if the properties of bread and wine are present, then the basis of their presence is the underlying substance of bread and wine.


  15. Photios:

    I just don’t find your general approach to the question of God-talk credible. If we cannot, for purposes of theological discussion, say anything informative about what ‘person’ means, but only what it does not mean, then we don’t know what we’re asserting when we assert that Jesus Christ is “one person” with “two natures”. All we can do, as you put it, is “participate in the energies of the Person.” I suppose we could then talk about who is actually doing that and how well. Such a discussion might even come down to who glows the most in the dark. But we still would not have come one step closer to being able to give a verbal account of what all these terms, so carefully worked out in council, actually mean. So why even have a discussion? The same goes for the various theological uses of ‘substance’, ‘hypostasis’, ‘nature’, etc. As a former atheist said about Lourdes: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t, none is possible.” There would be no reason to do just what we’re doing. If you’re content with that, fine; but that’s not my vision of the vocation of the theologian, and it makes nonsense out of a lot of what even you do.

    As for Gelasius, you’re making him out to be holding consubstantiation rather than transubstantiation. The former was condemned, and the latter endorsed, by Trent. But I think that interpretation is a bit of eisegesis. You’re reading more into it than is there. if you read it in historical context, you’ll see he was quite concerned to defend the Real Presence. He was just using the term ‘substance’ in a less technical way than the scholastics later came to use it in this context. For that reason, I’ve never head of any Catholic theologian losing sleep about Gelasius’ formulation. I sure don’t.


  16. Mike,

    I think you are giving a straw man of our view.

    On Gelasius, I would refer you to this article:

    Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J., “The Eucharistic Theology of Pope Gelasius I: A Nontridentine View” in Studia Patristica, Vol. XXIX (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), p. 288.

    I’m not reading more into it than is there or what I have learned. I have a framework to understand what Gelasius says because I understand and have studied the way the Chalcedonians were doing theology, i.e. their ordo theologiae, I think philosophers more or less on that basis do not have that dogmatic sense, so it is rather opaque to them. In other words, I have contextualized Gelasius’ statement, specifically its anti-Eutychian response.

    No doubt I do believe Luther and Chemnitz consubstantiation closer to the authentic doctrine though with some tweaking.

    If you don’t find my way credible, than ask yourself if you are in conformity with the faith of the Christological Fathers. I am attempting to conform myself to their thinking, ask yourself if you are doing the same. You talk alot about what you think Chalcedon teaches and then you make the leap to Boethius without showing any sort of connection. I don’t see Boethius as taking his view of person from Christology but rather from pagan philosophers (who confuse person and nature). There is a reason that many of the Greek Fathers became aware of the peculiar insights of Scholasticism and their reaction was that it was only useful in evaluation of ‘sensible things,’ i.e. the sciences. Theologia is not something that falls under a broader heading of “science,” and both are considered, after the Triumph of Orthodoxy, competent in their respective spheres.


  17. Photios:

    At the moment I do not have access to a library that carries Studia Patristica. But suppose arguendo that Kilmartin makes Gelasius out to be a consubstantialist in just the sense condemned by Trent. No doubt there are contrary views; it’s a matter of scholarly opinion. For two reasons, though, I don’t find Kilmartin’s supposed thesis plausible. In general I do not trust Kilmartin, especially in sacramental theology; his treatment of the women’s-ordination issue, with which I am familiar firsthand, is pure Protestantism. And in any case his supposed thesis about Gelasius would be anachronistic, for just the reason I gave in my previous comment.

    What I find valuable about Boethius, who wrote much of his theology a few decades after Gelasius while imprisoned by an Arian emperor, is that his account of various concepts employed in orthodox Christology and Triadology actually enables one to make some positive sense, albeit by analogy, out of the assertions made thereby. I do not find anything remotely as informative in your account. All I see is the implication that I don’t know what you’re talking about because I make no effort to conform myself “with the faith of the Christological Fathers.” That’s about as pure a begging of the question as can be fashioned. It doesn’t even attempt to analyze the main body of my argument or understand what, exactly, is being asserted; it simply rejects the terms in which I frame the argument.

    That’s not conducive to dialogue. In our discussion of the filioque, I’ve gone to great lengths to accommodate your concerns and language; why can’t you extend me the same courtesy in this context? But then given your meta-theology, there’s no reason for you to do so. All I need to do is understand the Fathers as you do.



  18. Doesn’t Aquinas’s attempt to express the mystery in Aristotelian terms create more problems than its solves? And who was need or was clamoring for an explanation in Aristotelian terms any way?

  19. Second, Can’t we just say say the the change really occurs in the spiritual plain of existence, not the carnal plain (i.e., the mystery or sacrament involves no gross cannibalism) and leave it at that? Or is that incorrect, patient of error, or too simplistic?

  20. MDN:

    I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. Well before I had ever heard of transubstantiation or Aquinas, I asked any adult who would listen what it meant to say that this stuff which seemed to be bread and wine was actually the Body and Blood of Christ. The claim seemed ridiculous to me; but at the same time, a number of smart people I knew clearly believed it. So I felt I had to be misunderstanding it. (Many years later, when I read John 6: 54ff for myself, I realized I had a lot of company among those who had heard Jesus himself.) But trust me: the explanations I got, even from the representatives of the Church, seemed even more ridiculous to me than the claim itself. The only thing I heard that made any sense to me was that the whole thing was a mystery. But of course I knew that already. That’s why I was asking the question, and the only answer I got that made any sense was just a polite way of refusing the question.

    I learned about “transubstantiation” in the eighth grade, and began reading Aquinas in high school. But I didn’t really understand his Eucharistic theology until college, when I began to grasp something of his philosophical background and terminology. That’s when transubstantiation began to make some sort of sense to me as a doctrine. It didn’t dispel the mystery of the Real Presence, because it didn’t and couldn’t explain just how the substantial change took place. But at least it stated the mystery in a way that began to make some sort of sense to me. In that way, I began to grasp the meaning of the assertion that I had inquired about as a child. I realized that, although nobody managed to explain how this thing was so, and couldn’t be expected to, at least somebody could tell me in just what sense it was so.

    But as I progressed through graduate school, I began to see some difficulties with Aquinas’ account. I discovered that some theologians and philosphers had raised essentially the same difficulties. As a committed Catholic, of course, I accepted the Tridentine dogma on authority; so I shelved the matter for a long time, figuring I’d get back to it when I could. Over the past year, I’ve read what Fr. McCabe, Fr. Kimel, and other scholars have had to say. I agree with Fr. Kimel that neither Aquinas’ nor McCabe’s account of transubstantiation has the Eucharist being quite “bodily” enough to do justice to the sense of the early and patristic Church about the Eucharist. The mystery is not just “on the spiritual plain [sic] of existence.”. We’re dealing here with a sacrament: a visible sign that helps to bring about what it signifies. That’s what prompted me to come up with the argument I’ve sketched and offered in this post. For me, it resolves a nagging difficulty.

    The journey I’ve briefly recounted for you is simply that of somebody doing theology: first as a child, then as an adolescent, then as an adult, and finally as a scholar. Were I to take the approach you suggest, I would be giving up theology in favor of passively accepting ill-defined ideas which, though taken on authority to be somehow valid, would provide no insight for me. And I think the same could be said of all the central mysteries of the faith. But I don’t think I should give up theology, or even do theology in a way that is bound to run into the sand. Do you?


  21. […] and Pen, however, with the discussion going on right now in the combox to Mike’s recent post on Transubstantiation in this venue. In that discussion you will find a number of writers who disagree strongly with […]

  22. Photius,

    You say that the word ‘homoousion’ is purely negative, expressing (I assume) the same thing as ‘undivided,’ etc. But prima facie ‘homoousion’ does seem like it has some positive content; at least that’s how Aristotle would have viewed it if he were a casual bystander at Chalcedon. Do you consider the term to be used in a purely equivocal manner?

  23. Mike,

    A question: given transubstantiation, what is the relation between the accidents of the bread and the new substance of Christ? It seems you want to say that the accidents are to the substance of Christ as Christ’s human nature is to his divine person. Is this right?

    You clearly seem to be setting up a proportion between the Eucharistic union and the hypostatic union, but I’m not sure I see it clearly.

  24. Oops, eucharistic change, not eucharistic union.

  25. a thomist:

    I think you’re right, on both counts (both change and union). In this, he is following a train of thought that goes back to Justin Martyr. That is all to the good. However, I do not think that “transubstantiation” is necessarily the best way to pursue this analogy, opening the door to, among other things, the possibility of suggesting that Christ’s humanity is “accidental”. Again, this sounds like Eutycheanism in Aristotlean terms.

  26. ML,

    Thanks for the very thoughtful and patient answer.

    Originally, from a Catholic Anglican view point, I actually agree with Thomas himself (I have in mind his denial of a “local” presence), but would prefer not to use transubstantiation and the popular views thereof because it sounds too bodily and carnal sense to English ears. How ironic is out difference.

    But you got me thinking. [Curse you. ;-)] And upon rereading quotes from the fathers in JND Kelly’s little work, I think I would now say the mystery is that of “REAL BODY AND BLOOD in a SUPERNATURAL manner,” which still avoids gross cannibalism without the (over)simplification or rationalization of the Anglican Catechism, which indicates “real body and blood but only in the spiritual plane, not the material.”

    Now, I think I would say that the sacrament is both spiritual AND material, BUT in a SUPERNATURAL manner — which challenges us with the hard saying that caused many to depart, as the NT saith. It is ultimately and incomprehensible mystery: how can I consume Christ’s flesh and blood without being a cannibal and without exhausting his corpus? IMHO, this seem to be in modern English what the ancient fathers were trying to say. Thoughts?

    Of course, we should not attempt to “solve” the mystery but merely present it — as did Queen Elizabeth I.

  27. thomist:

    …given transubstantiation, what is the relation between the accidents of the bread and the new substance of Christ?

    A fair question, given how Aquinas expounded the concept of transubstantiation. But I think that if we focus first on the nature of the substantial change, as I suggested above in my reply to Mike Almeida, the question of accidents is resolved without great difficulty. In fact, it will turn out that, for the sake of the account I wish to give, it doesn’t matter which properties of the bread and wine we count as accidents of bread and wine. This is why I tend to consider the whole question of accidents a distraction from what I’m trying to do.

    By definition, transubstantiation entails that the whole substance of bread and wine is changed into that of the risen Christ. There is no longer any substance of bread and wine for their accidents to be accidents of. But that doesn’t leave us with such metaphysical monstrosities as floating accidents, like the smile of a Cheshire cat without the cat, which Alice saw in Wonderland. So, those properties of this piece of bread and that quantity of wine which were accidents thereof, and which persist, become accidents of the risen Christ, precisely as accidents of his risen body. They remain until the sacred elements are broken down and digested in the body

    Of course, given my overall project, a number of questions arise here, including your next question: It seems you want to say that the accidents are to the substance of Christ as Christ’s human nature is to his divine person. Is this right?

    .The answer depends on how and to what extent one identifies features of the bread and wine as “accidents” thereof. And this, I suspect, is where the problem with my account arises for some people.

    If one’s general account of the substance-accident distinction is such that any empirically detectable feature of a substance S counts as an accident of S, then the substance that is S must be regarded as an undetectable, non-physical substratum of S’s accidents. In that case the detectable, physical entities that remain after transubstantiation were all accidents of the bread and wine that was changed into the risen Christ and, given my account, are now accidents of the risen Christ. But for several independent reasons, I do not consider the underlying account of the substance-accident distinction adequate for any purpose. The notion that a physical substance is just an empirically undetectable substratum of a bunch of physical properties is untenable. So I do not want to say that all the physical features of consecrated bread and wine are merely accidents of the risen Christ.

    But as I’ve suggested, giving my preferred, general account of the substance-accident distinction would be a distraction here. What I’d say about the “transubstantiated” bread and wine, in respect of accidents, is this: whatever had counted as an accident of this blessed piece of bread and that blessed quantity of wine at the Mass before transubstantiation, counts as an accident of the risen Christ after transubstantiation, save for those physical changes brought about by the physical acts that are merely instrumental causes of the substantial change; those particular physical changes remain for a time, along with all the prior accidents, as accidents of the risen Christ. I don’t believe much hinges on exactly which features of the bread and wine we had counted as accidents thereof to begin with; all that matters is that there are such accidents, and that they do not exhaust the physical features of the bread and wine any more than they exhaust those of the risen Christ. Rather, the big question for me is the exact nature of the termini of the “proportion” I’m trying to draw.

    I am NOT suggesting that, to quote from your question, “the accidents are to the substance of Christ as Christ’s human nature is to his divine person.” I would be suggesting that only if I claimed that “the accidents” are precisely identical with the empirically detectable stuff that remains after the consecration, which I do not. I would insist that the consecrated elements as physical entities are just what they were before the consecration, with only this difference: they are now identical with the substance of the risen Christ, and therefore no longer exist as the substances they had been. That is one term of the proportion I wish to draw. The other term is this: the man Jesus Christ is a man in every respect we are, and thus has a human nature, with only this difference: he is not a human substance, inasmuch as he is not a human hypostasis and thus not a human person. He is rather, a divine hypostasis and thus a divine person. But that does not annihilate his human nature, which remains unmixed with his divine nature even as the two are intimately united in one divine hypostasis. Similarly, the nature of bread and wine remain after the consecration, intimately united with the risen Christ but unmixed with it; the union consists in their now being identical with that substance which is the divine hypostasis or person of the risen Christ.

    I hope I’ve clarified something for you.


  28. MND:

    I don’t think we really disagree about the importance or nature of the Real Presence. Our differences, to the extent we have them, boil down to differences over authority. But I suppose you knew that already.😉


  29. Fr. Greg:

    You’re the third person to suggest that my account of the Real Presence makes me into some sort of Monophysite. The other two were, respectively, Eastern Orthodox and Calvinist. Since you’re Oriental Orthodox, it looks like I’ve covered all the ecclesial bases. The Copts would be proud.😉

    More seriously, I think you’re just misunderstanding me here. I believe, but not did specify in my post, that the following relation holds: All persons are hypostases and all hypostases are substances; but not all substances are hypostases; therefore, not all substances are persons. In the case of transubstantiation, here’s how I apply that relation. Jesus Christ is a divine person and thus a divine hypostasis; therefore, he is a substance. It is that substance with which bread and wine become identical once consecrated. But of course bread and wine, though substances indeed, are not substances in he same sense of ‘substance’ in which a person is a substance. Rather, in whatever sense they are substances, it is their being substances in just that sense which ceases to be the case once they are consecrated.

    However, the nature of bread and wine remains after the consecration, unmixed with Christ’s divine nature, even as Christ’s human nature remains in the Hypostatic Union unmixed with his divine nature.

    I hope that clarifies something for you. I realize you’re a non-Chalcedonian, so you don’t accept at least one term of the proportion I’m trying to establish. But I believe I’ve shown I’m not being Monophysite about the Incarnation.


  30. Dr. Mike:

    Thanks for the clarification. I think there are two issues. The first is that, IMHO, transubstantiation, however, explained, at least tends in a eutychean direction.

    The second issue, which applies more directly to what you are saying here, is a matter of terminology. Specifically, in the Christological/Trinitarian debates (at least after Athanasios), “substance” is always distinguished from “hypostasis”, the former being a synonym for “ousia” and, in the chalcedonian definition (at least as read through a neo-chalcedonian lens), “physis” or “nature”. Thus, “substance” is the general term, while “hypostasis” refers to a specific manifestation of a given substance.

    However, in the above, following Aquinas and, presumably, Aristotle, you are using “substance” in a way that makes it synonymous with “hypostasis” and, as far as I know, utilizing “nature” in a completely new way, making it synonymous with “accidents”. This is somewhat confusing, and the difference between Athanasios and Aquinas needs to be stressed and explained, since the whole Nicean definition depends upon the distinction between the one Divine “substance” and the three Divine “hypostases”, and these distinctions are also important in the christological area. Given that, I have to say that I can accept your account of transubstantiation more than some others I’ve seen, but I’m not sure that it does, in fact, accurately reflect what Aquinas was saying.

  31. Mike,
    I’m having a hard time separating your view from that of Aquinas, on the issue of the inherence of the accidents after transubstantiation in the body of the resurrected Christ. Aquinas himself prettly explicitly rejects this, because he thinks that human bodies, or substances, cannot support the accidents of bread and wine; possibly because that would mean that since the body (which is present according to the mode of presence and not locally) is in heaven, any accidents inhering in it would also be then in heaven. Note I’m using accidents in Aquinas’ sense, not yours.

    Your wrote, “but that doesn’t leave us with such metaphysical monstrosities as floating accidents”, but that’s exactly what Aquinas thinks, and indeed so do all the other scholastics that i’ve ever read, though they disagree with aquinas on nearly every other point of his account. This is why Aquinas is forced to change the definition of accident to something that “is suited to inhere” instead of something that inheres. In the end, the Thomistic picture is such that all the accidents of the bread and wine inhere in the dimensive quantity of the bread and wine, which itself inheres in nothing and is similar to substance in that respect. In any case, we’re talking about all the accidents; even one so intimately conntected to substance as its quantity.

    This view of substance and accident does not necessarily entail that substance is an empirically unknowable substratum, as Aquinas also thinks that substance, or material quiddity, is the object of the intellect, and the intellect is reliant on the information that is supplied by the senses.

    Of course, if substance really is the object of the intellect, why can’t we just perform an act of abstraction at the elevation and thereby know the substance of Christ qua substance…the truth of transubstationtiation on this account would be known by all, Christian or no.

  32. Fr. Greg:

    The key to all this is to recognize that ‘substance’ is not a univocal term, and to recognize the different but analogous ways it is rightfully employed.

    I am keenly aware that, in the context of the Christological controversies that occasioned the ecumenical councils of the first millennium, the term ‘substance’ (ousia) came to be distinguished from ‘hypostasis’. For purposes of indicating, however inadequately, how the divine persons are related to each other, that distinction was absolutely essential. That’s because it must be affirmed that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each the same God as the other—otherwise we get tritheism—but not the same person or hypostasis as the other—otherwise we get modalism. In order to sustain that claim, one must distinguish between what is proper to each divine person and what is common to the persons. And what is common to the person is the divine “substance” or ousia. I do not deny any of that.

    Nevertheless, there are several senses of the term ‘substance’ that apply to created entities and are also different from the term’s usage in the above context of “theology” as distinct from “economy.” Those senses bear what Wittgenstein would have called a “family resemblance” to each other (as, e.g., all games do precisely as such), and each of those senses in turn are only limited analogues of the sense in which the tri-personal God is of a single substance. With human persons, we can also distinguish what we have in common, i.e. human nature, from what distinguishes us from each other, our being individual hypostases or persons. Each human person/hypostasis is thus an “individual substance of a rational nature,” as are each of the angels—though how the angels are distinct from each another is different from we are distinct from one another. To be a substance in the present sense is to a member of a kind that persists as a hypostasis of a rational nature through various “accidental” changes, as the subject of those changes.

    Now Jesus Christ is also a (hypostatic) person, the Second Person of the Trinity. As such he fully assumed human nature; which remains distinct and undiluted in him; but he is not, thereby, a human person. He is, necessarily, a divine person (hypostasis) and only a divine person. Accordingly, the sense in which Jesus Christ is a person is both similar and dissimilar to the sense in which you and I are persons. It is similar in that his human nature is essential to him: by divine decree, it is unalterably the case that he is a man who, as a man, began in his mother’s womb. But his human nature is not essential to his being a person, for he is a divine person who has existed from all eternity. In that respect his being human is unlike our being human: we are only persons inasmuch as we are human persons. So there’s both an analogy and a disanalogy between Jesus Christ’s being a unitary substance and ours. Both he and us count as “individual substances of a rational nature,” and thus as unitary hypostases, but we don’t count as such in quite the same way he does.

    For want of time, I shall skip over the senses in which merely natural objects, such as atoms, molecules, plants, and animals, are substances. In the case of things like bread and wine, the sense of ‘substance’ gets weaker still. Bread and wine are artifacts: natural objects, such as wheat and grapes, that have had things done to them by us in order to yield something specific for our consumption. So, a piece of bread or quantity of wine are ‘substances’ only in the sense that they are specific kinds of artifacts that persist for a time through various changes they undergo. But such things are not “individuals” strictly speaking, for their matter can be divided at will without their ceasing to be, and without their ceasing to be the kinds of things they are.

    The doctrine of transubstantiation entails that the “substance”, as distinct from the accidents, of bread and wine ceases to be when the sacred elements are consecrated, and instead become identical with that unitary substance who is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. I suggest that the sense of the term ‘substance’ which applies to things like bread and wine is weak enough that one can readily see how their substance can be completely changed while their nature remains exactly the same.

    Ordinary bread and wine are “substances” in that specific pieces of bread and quantities of wine persist as such through certain changes while remaining the kinds of things they are. My point about them has been that they can continue to do so, and thus to persist as things of their own “nature,” without for all that remaining substances in their own right. That’s because what makes them substances is not so much being the kinds of things they are, but their being configured by and related to other things in specific ways. There are no distinct hypostases that bread and wine must divisible into in order for bread and wine to be the kinds of things they are. There must be some-or-other discrete, if temporary, units of bread and wine in order for there to be bread and wine at all; but bread is still bread no matter how small the particles of bread you break them into; and the same goes, mutatis mutandis, for wine. So it is logically possible for bread and wine be incorporated into some other substance without ceasing to be discrete, temporary units of matter which are of the same nature as ordinary bread and wine.

    Something analogous goes for human nature, but only in a much more restricted sense. The Incarnation shows that it is logically possible to be a man, and thus an individual with a human nature, without being a human person/hypostasis, and thus without being a substance in just the way human persons are ordinarily substances. Analogously, it is possible to be bread and wine, discrete units with bread-nature and wine-nature, without being substances in the way in which bread and wine are ordinarily substances. Just as the Jesus Christ is a unitary substance in virtue of being a unitary divine hypostasis, but without destroying his human nature, so consecrated bread and wine are “of the same substance” as Jesus Christ without destroying their nature as bread and wine.

    You have reiterated that all this goes in a “eutychean” direction, but I don’t see how and you haven’t explained it.


  33. Lee:

    To me, one of the biggest weaknesses of the scholastic account is precisely that ‘accident’ has to be redefined, for the sake of explicating the Real Presence, to mean ‘that which can inhere’ in a substance but doesn’t need to. On my picture, there are no “floating accidents.” Whatever is accidental to the bread and wine is accidental to the risen body of Christ after the consecration. I am not persuaded by the old arguments that the cosmic Christ cannot be the subjectum of such accidents; the notion that accidents can inhere in a “dimensive quantity” that itself inheres in nothing at all seems far less plausible to me. That’s why my account rejects such a notion.

    Moreover, in my view, a “material quiddity” that is the object of the intellect, but which is nonetheless distinct from all the empirically detectable features of bread-and-wine taken either severally or collectively, is not a substance but the idea of a substance. For that reason, the intellectual feat you recommend for the consecration would be of no use.😉


  34. Dr. Mike:

    Thanks for the clarification. In general, I see transubstantiation as eutychean in that it seems to deny ontological reality to the “accidents” after the consecration in the same way that Eutychus denied the ontological reality of Christ’s humanity.

    From what you’ve said, I think you are trying to move away from that, but I’m still not convinced that one can, in the context of Aquinas or scholastic theology in general, equate “nature” with “accidents”. Is there any precedence for this? If not, are we simply redefining terms? Prima facie, “nature” would seem to imply ontological reality. “Accidents”, again, seem to do otherwise. I am open to correction on this, of course. However, the phrase often repeated in neo-scholastic circles, “accidents without a substance” would seem to reinforce my perception here. (I think you have begun to address this in your last comment to Lee, but this, to me, remains the critical question. If you can given an account of “accidents” that grant them an ontological reality, whether in terms of “nature” or not, then, I think, that would be a great step foward.)

    Beyond that, however, I am still concerned that the multivocal use of “substance” and “hypostasis” is confusing, given the overwhelming importance of these terms being used in certain ways in the christological and trinitarian context, as you in fact use them. My concern here is also heightened by the fact that there is an integral connection between the presence of the Divine Word in the Incarnation and in eucharistic species, a’la Justin Martyr.

  35. A thought.

    One of the things that the scholastic views were trying to avoid was turning transubstantiation into an impanation of the divine Word. But I’m having difficulty seeing how your account avoids impanation: the bread and wine are “incorporated” into the body of Christ; the accidents of the bread and wine become the accidents of the risen Christ; these are bread and wine in the ‘ordinary sense’. Thus, it would seem, Christ now has the properties of bread and wine, and we are committed to saying he tastes like flour and alcohol. That would certainly be impanation. Do you have anything that prevents this move?


  36. Fr. Greg:

    I understand your concerns a bit better now. At least I understand why you find that the Thomistic account of transubstantiation tends toward “eutychianism” or what I prefer to call, more generally, Monophysitism.

    Strictly speaking, of course, said account is only Monophysite by analogy: it denies a certain degree of “ontological reality” (to use your term) to the empirically detectable features of the consecrated species in a way analogous to how Monophysitism denies a certain degree of ontological reality to the human nature of Christ. Both are errors of “overspiritualization.” I actually tend to agree with you about that, which is why I agree with Fr. Kimel that the Thomistic account of transubstantiation isn’t “bodily” enough. That’s why I’m trying to maintain that the “natures” of bread and wine persist in the consecrated species, and the accompanying “accidents” of those species are accordingly accidents of the risen Christ.

    I also understand why you’re somewhat bothered about the multivocal use of ‘substance’. But the multivocality in question just is a reality of language, including philosophical and theological language. So long as one can give some reasonably clear and sensible account of how the various uses are interrelated, I think heresy can be avoided. That is certainly my intention.

    My hunch is that your concern about the similarity of my proposal to Justin Martyr’s view is roughly the same concern that Brandon has expressed about “impanation,” a theory which was developed in the early Middle Ages and rejected as a heresy by the Catholic Church in relatively short order. And so I shall address the impanation issue in my reply to Brandon.

    Thanks. The responses from you, Lee, and Brandon are helping me refine my ideas.


  37. Dr. Mike:

    Please do address the impanation issue because from what I’ve been reading, it sounds like you are pretty close to that (which is not necessarily a problem from my POV, although I know it is from yours, since Rome rejects it).

    Also, and relatedly, it seems the RC Church has specifically rejected the notion that the accidents become the accidents of the Risen Christ. The tridentine Roman Catechism teaches that after the consecration, the accidents remain, but without a subject.

  38. Brandon:

    I must admit that I have never read those medieval authors to whom the theory of impanation has been attributed. The only secondary source I’ve read about impanationism is Pelikan, and his brief exposition did not clarify for me what the actual problem was. It only indicated what opponents of the theory said the problem was, which was mildly interesting to me, but only as polemics. I’ve come up with my ideas independently. Now that I’ve at least read the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on impanation, I have a few things to say in my own defense.

    As I understand the matter, the theory of impanation was considered heretical for two reasons. On some versions, it claimed that the “substance” of bread and wine perdures in the consecrated species along with that of the risen Christ. That of course would be “consubstantiation.” And on all versions, it claimed that Christ becomes “bread” (panis; hence, ‘impanation’,) in the Eucharist in just the way in which the Word became flesh, so that we must posit a communicatio idiomata between bread and the risen Christ in just the way we do in the case of Christ’s human and divine natures.

    As to the first, it is plain that I must reject consubstantiation along with Trent, and I do. So my task now is to refine my use of ‘substance’ so that I can clarify how the nature of bread and wine remains in the consecrated species, which I affirm, without its following that their substance does so, which I deny.

    As to the second, I do not claim that, in the Eucharist, Christ becomes bread in just the same way he became a man in the Incarnation. If Christ can be said to become bread in any sense at all, that is only because bread becomes him without ceasing to have the nature of bread. But this is not quite the same as the assumption of human nature in the Incarnation.

    When the eternal Word assumed human nature, he united himself to something of such a kind as to be individualized as “persons,” i.e. as individual substances of a rational nature. Of course the man Jesus Christ is not a human person but a divine person; but as such, he is still an individual substance of a rational nature; it’s just that his being that is through his being the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, not his being a man. That’s why he is not a “human person” and hence not a human hypostasis or substance, as we are. But he is still a man and can still act as men do: indeed, he is the perfect pattern of all humanity. All this is possible and fitting because what is being “assumed” by the Son here is already personal by nature. And that’s why it makes sense to posit the communicatio idiomata in the Hypostatic Union even leaving aside the argument from authority, namely that Chalcedonian orthodoxy obliges us to do so. But in the case of bread and wine, there is no created personal nature to be be assumed; there are only non-personal artifacts, which indeed have their own “nature” as such, but as such are substances only in a manner loosely analogous to how we are and, of course, how the risen Christ is. That’s why, in my post, I said only that the consecrated species are the substance of the risen Christ in a sense “similar to” how his human nature belongs to his substance as a divine person. Hence we should not posit a communicatio idiomata here in just the same way, and to just the same extent, that we do in the Hypostatic Union itself. Of course the consecrated species can and ought to be worshipped. They are the risen Christ, who is divine. Whatever their being “substances” consisted in before consecration, they are now in some obscure fashion identical with that unitary substance which is the risen Christ, and therefore are not the substances they were. But that doesn’t mean that they can do or undergo everything he does and undergoes. They are identical with his substance “sacramentally,” not after the normal “manner” of substance on the purely natural plane.

    Hence, from the proposition that the accidents of the consecrated species are the accidents of the risen Christ, we cannot infer that the risen Christ himself tastes like bread and wine. The way in which physical accidents inhere in the risen Christ is, again in a manner we don’t really understand, different from how they did when Christ was a man on earth.


  39. Fr. Greg:

    Having established that I’m neither a Monophysite nor an impanationist—or at least not the latter in any objectionable sense—I need to address the next issue you raise.

    …it seems the RC Church has specifically rejected the notion that the accidents become the accidents of the Risen Christ. The tridentine Roman Catechism teaches that after the consecration, the accidents remain, but without a subject.

    Well, here’s the relevant passage from that catechism:

    The Catholic Church firmly believes and professes that in this Sacrament the words of consecration accomplish three wondrous and admirable effects.

    The first is that the true body of Christ the Lord, the same that was born of the Virgin, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is contained in this Sacrament.

    The second, however repugnant it may appear to the senses, is that none of the substance of the elements remains in the Sacrament.

    The third, which may be deduced from the two preceding. although the words of consecration themselves clearly express it, is that the accidents which present themselves to the eyes or other senses exist in a wonderful and ineffable manner without a subject. All the accidents of bread and wine we can see, but they inhere in no substance, and exist independently of any; for the substance of the bread and wine is so changed into the body and blood of our Lord that they altogether cease to be the substance of bread and wine.

    As is clear from the canons of Trent itself, the first two propositions above are certainly de fide. But I do not believe the third enjoys the same status. The deduction that the text says may be made to establish that proposition follows neither from the “words of consecration” at the Mass nor from the first two propositions just by themselves. It follows only on an additional premise which is not made explicit in the text, namely that there is no sense in which the accidents of bread and wine inhere in the substance of the risen Christ. That was certainly the view of Aquinas and most of the scholastics. They seemed to take for granted that affirming that premise was the only way to avoid impanation in an objectionable sense. But I think my reply to Brandon shows otherwise, or at least points the way to showing otherwise.

    At any rate, the notion that there can be “floating accidents” doesn’t strike me as the sort of notion that is fit to dogmatize or even to be logically necessitated by dogma. It is only a rather implausible way to explain a fact that everybody knows: the persistence of the “accidents” of bread and wine in the consecrated species. The form that the explanation took in Aquinas strikes me as less plausible than my own position.

  40. To be honest, I’ve never read the impanationists themselves, either (with the exception of a few short passages from John of Paris, I think), and so my understanding of it is, like yours, in terms of what people seem to have been trying to avoid in trying to avoid it. I think consubstantiation is related to it, but I think it’s actually a different issue — it came up in Lutheran-Catholic polemics because Lutheran views of consubstantiation to the Catholic ear will sound a lot like impanation. But the Lutherans were trying to avoid it, too, in part because impanation is a much stronger doctrine than transubstantiation, whereas they were trying to find a weaker doctrine than transubstantiation to preserve Real Presence.

    I can see how the view would have to be that transubstantiation is only similar to the Incarnation, not exactly like it. As you say, the fairly hefty difference between a human being and an artifact like bread requires it. But it still seems like you’re saying that the view is impanation, i.e., that Christ does assume the nature of bread and wine, and there is a communicatio idiomata, it’s just not as straightforward as with the Incarnation, and we don’t know all the complications. Thus in your answer to the taste objection, you seem to retreat to mystery: the taste of bread now inheres in Christ as an accident, but we can’t say that Christ tastes like bread simply because we don’t have any acquaintance with how the accidents inhere in Him. I have difficulty seeing how this is not either a contradiction or very, very similar to the scholastic view that the accidents manifest (so to speak) the presence of Christ without actually inhering in Him, because I’m not sure what stronger notion of ‘inherence’ could be used beyond ‘somehow representing as present given the context’. ‘Accident inhering in a completely different sense than that in which accidents naturally inhere’ and ‘floating accident’ aren’t so obviously different.

    It occurs to me that possibly one difference between your view and the scholastic views is that the scholastic views had two terms and yours has three. That is, scholastic views understand transubstantiation in terms of the risen body of Christ and the Body of Christ that is the Church; Christ incorporates the faithful (second term) by the sacramental presence of His risen body (first term) under the appearances of bread and wine. But you seem to want to make room for an intermediate term here: Christ incorporates the faithful (third term) by incorporating the bread and wine (second term) into His risen body (first term). And if this is true, I think a lot of the difficulty people might have with it has to do with the question of whether there really is room for an intermediate term, a kind of body of Christ intermediate, so to speak, between His risen natural body and His mystical body. If it’s not true, I think one difficulty others would face is that it looks like you’re trying to do something like that.

  41. Dr. Mike, according to Ott, the proposition that, after the consecration, the accidents inhere in no subject is in fact not de fidei, but is “theologically certain” because its “truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation.”

    Perhaps you can show otherwise.

  42. Fr Greg:

    Ott is assuming the truth of the third proposition I’ve quoted above from the Tridentine Catechism and rejected. As for showing why I’ve rejected it, I have indicated which additional premise is needed to establish the “intrinsic connection” being posited. Since I don’t believe that said premise is itself so connected to the deposit of faith, I don’t believe that the conclusion of the argument requiring that premise is so connected either.


  43. Brandon:

    I need to think carefully about the last paragraph of your latest reply to me. I feel sure that the objection it adumbrates is not fatal to my view, but I’m yet sure how to explain why.

    As for how accidents inhere or do not inhere, I don’t think that’s at all a problem for my position. In general, accidents do not all inhere in their subjecta in the same way even on the purely natural plane. The ways in which they inhere bear only a family resemblance to each other. So there is no a priori or conceptual reason to hold that there could be no way the accidents of bread and wine inhere in the risen body of Christ, especially given the unusual properties of that body recorded by the New Testament.


  44. Mike, I have read and re-read your article and read through all the comments. My head hurts! 🙂

    Part of the problem for me, of course, is that I lack the necessary philosophical training to keep up on all the different uses of the word “substance.” It is jarring, for example, to see you using substance as a synonym for hypostasis (person). I realize that this usage has a long history within Western christological reflection, thanks to Boethius; but it remains jarring to me nonetheless. Hence I share to some extent Daniel Jones’s reservations about your invocation of Chalcedon.

    But that being said, you have every right to seek to articulate your views within the framework of the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and I applaud your bold assertion that by the eucharistic conversion the accidents of the bread and wine become the accidents of Christ. As noted by others, this raises the spectre of impanation. He will need to address this in greater depth than you have done so far. It is not clear to me, given the logic of your argument, why we should or may not say that Christ takes like bread and wine.

    Your articles reminds me of a Terence Nichols’s piece on transubtantiation published in Pro Ecclesia a few years ago. A short version of it was published in Commonweal. Please take a look at it and tell me what you think.

    A parenthetical comment about Gelasius: From the little I have read on the matter, Gelasius does indeed to have taught something akin to consubstantiation in that he interpreted the real presence along the lines of the hypostatic union. And is that not what you, in fact, are also attempting to do, though with greater precision, qualification, and nuance?

  45. I have for a long time thought that impanationists were mythical beasts.

  46. It occurs to me that possibly one difference between your view and the scholastic views is that the scholastic views had two terms and yours has three. That is, scholastic views understand transubstantiation in terms of the risen body of Christ and the Body of Christ that is the Church; Christ incorporates the faithful (second term) by the sacramental presence of His risen body (first term) under the appearances of bread and wine. But you seem to want to make room for an intermediate term here: Christ incorporates the faithful (third term) by incorporating the bread and wine (second term) into His risen body (first term).

    I wonder if this is accurate. In his book A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist (chap. 18), Vonier asserts that St Thomas gives to Christ’s Eucharistic body one esse and to his natural body another esse. He cites ST III.lxxvi.vi in support and then quotes a passage from the theologians of Salamanca, in which they assert that Christ’s substantial mode of being in the Eucharist is “a mode of being different from the one Christ has in heaven, a mode of being acquired (in the sacrament) through the change and in virtue of the change. … It is clear, then, that Christ, as he is in himself and as he is in heaven in his natural mode of being, is really distinct from himself in as far as he claims for himself and owns that substantial mode of being which he has in the sacrament.”

    Heck if I know what this all means, but I thought I’d throw it into the hopper.🙂

  47. Dr. Liccione, I think you’re misreading the quote from the Tridentine catechism; the catechism states that the third proposition is included in the words of consecration whether or not the inference follows ( “although the words of consecration themselves clearly express it”). The catechism seems to view the inference as unnecessary.

    It seems to me, and I mean no disrespect, that you are rejecting the common opinion of the scholastics (and of course qua scholastic they do not constitute divine revelation, not even divi Thomae), positing you’re own theory, and instead of coming up with a philosophical explanation, are simply crying “mystery”.

    Also, Aquinas considers the artifact objection and rejects it, as the substance of wheat has not changed by being baked into bread; it has only been subjected to an accidental change. It is still a substance, just with an accidental form imposed on it.

    But I only brought up Aquinas to make to clarify whether you were expositing his position or delineating your own; I think his account to be vitiated by his error of the unicity of the substantial form.

    Aquinas is the only “scholastic” i’ve seen to redefine the nature of accident like this (and it’s not only in this special case…he also does it in de potentia dei). Other scholastics (Scotus, Giles of Rome), exploit an element from the commentaries on Aristotle’s categories, and posit substance, quantity and quality as being “absolute accidents” while the remaining seven are “relative” accidents, which Scotus goes on to say only inhere in absolute accidents by a further relation (though he has problems avoiding an infinite regress); on this account, what has to be explained is the normal inherence of any accident in a substance, not a special case that has to be explained away.

    The point about the object of the intellect was actually a (perhaps too subtle) jab at aquinas; the object of the intellect is something, some intelligible object or feature, that moves the intellect to act. It the object is substance, then any substance should do this, even Christ’s body in the elements (an argument of Richard of Middleton and probably others that Aquinas himself I suspect would have made short work of).

    Brandon: While I think you’re over-all point regarding the three ‘terms’ is correct, in the actual scholastic discussions on the change of transubstantiation and the remaining accidents, there are only two ‘terms’, the terminus a quo (substance of bread and wine) and the terminus ad quem (Christ’s body); basically, they wouldn’t refer to the mystical body of Christ as a term in the change.


  48. Lee,

    You’re right, of course; I was using the terms very loosely. I’m actually not sure how to make the point more precisely.

  49. ML,

    Yes, of course, we disagree on authority. But, its still comforting to know that we can agree on or understanding of the importance and nature of the Eucharist, even if our terminology might differ a bit. Its a step towards unity and towards clarification of the real divisive issues, not the illusory ones.


  50. My sentence “He will need to address this in greater depth than you have done so far. It is not clear to me, given the logic of your argument, why we should or may not say that Christ takes like bread and wine” should read “He will need to address this in greater depth than you have done so far. It is not clear to me, given the logic of your argument, why we should or may not say that Christ tastes like bread and wine.”

  51. Pontificator,

    The Summa reference is interesting; I read St. Thomas as saying almost the opposite of what Vonier says he says, at least in your summary (I haven’t read Vonier). Rather, he distinguishes between Christ’s being, simply speaking, and His being under the species. That former is immutable, because it is the esse of the Divine Word. But the latter, of course, is not, since the species can cease to exist. The analogy Thomas uses is of God as Lord of a creature: God does not cease to be when the creature ceases to be, but in a fairly straightforward sense He ceases to be Lord of that creature, because it no longer exists. So here: Christ’s existing in the sacrament is not Christ’s being itself — it is being related in a certain way to the species, and this may come to an end.

  52. Lee:

    Dr. Liccione, I think you’re misreading the quote from the Tridentine catechism; the catechism states that the third proposition is included in the words of consecration whether or not the inference follows ( “although the words of consecration themselves clearly express it”). The catechism seems to view the inference as unnecessary.

    I am aware the TC views the inference as unnecessary. My point was that the TC is thereby mistaken, and that the necessary inference cannot be made.

    It seems to me, and I mean no disrespect, that you are rejecting the common opinion of the scholastics (and of course qua scholastic they do not constitute divine revelation, not even divi Thomae), positing you’re own theory, and instead of coming up with a philosophical explanation, are simply crying “mystery”.

    There are three questions to consider here.

    The first is what “common opinion” of the scholastics I’m supposedly rejecting. As far as I can tell, the common opinion I’m rejecting is that the accidents of bread and wine do not inhere in the risen Christ.

    The second is why that should be considered a problem. I affirm transubstantiation, which is the pertinent doctrine to be upheld. I just think my theory is a better way to explicate, technically, what is involved in transubstantiation than any scholastic theory. So there is no reason in principle to suppose that my rejecting one point that is common to scholastic theories is a problem, unless my explication presents more of a problem than that which is, or was, common opinion.

    The third question, accordingly, is whether my explication does in fact present more of a problem. Your answer appears to be that my explication is inadequate because it “cries ‘mystery’.” That radically misconceives what’s required here. It is granted all around that the Real Presence is a mystery that the doctrine of transubstantiation presents rather than resolves. The only question is how residually mysterious the presentation itself can legitimately be. That mine leaves something mysterious is not, therefore, itself a problem. It’s only a problem if the residuum of mystery my explication leaves is notably more mysterious than those of the alternative explications.

    I don’t believe that you or anybody else has shown that it is. For instance, Aquinas’ notion that the accidents of consecrated bread and wine inhere in a dimensive quantity that, itself inhering in nothing, isn’t a quantify of anything, is mysterious. Is that less objectionably mysterious than my alternative, which is to say that the accidents in question inhere in the risen Christ? That would be so only if I had no way of explaining how said accidents can do so. I think I do, but I haven’t got there yet. So your judgment is premature.

    In fact, much of what you say about accidents in the rest of your comment is a help to me. I think it must be said that those “accidents” of bread and wine which consist primarily in how our senses experience the bread and wine—such as taste, visual appearance, smell, etc.—do not inhere in the risen Christ. They inhere primarily in us, and can be attributed to the consecrated species only as their effects on us. Given that my theory affirms that the nature, as distinct from the substance, of bread and wine persist after their transubstantiation, the distinction I’m drawing between types of accident should not surprise. What inheres in the risen Christ, with which those species are identical, are those accidents of bread and wine which, together with our sensory capacities, cause us to have the sensory experiences of bread and wine that we do. In other words, giving an account of how the accidents inhere in the risen Christ must involve some way of distinguishing between primary and secondary qualities.

    Of course there is much more than can and ought to be said. I just haven’t got round to saying it.


  53. Everybody:

    Thank you. This thread has been a considerable help to me. I shall use your ample feedback to reformulate my argument for another go-round as a post. Stay tuned.

    Best to all,

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