Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Antiquity of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation

by W. R. Carson


W.R. Carson examines the doctrine of Transubstantiation in the light of history, in order to demonstrate that it was held by the early Church.

Larger Work

American Ecclesiastical Review



Publisher & Date

American Ecclesiastical Review, December 1903

It is a common complaint against the dogmatic definitions of the Catholic Church that they are additions to the original simplicity of the Faith. Arius rejected the Homoousion because he maintained it was absent from the writings of the primitive fathers; Protestants on similar grounds reject Transubstantiation as defined at Trent. They confuse a new term with a new doctrine, forgetting that, while the expression of a truth may sound unfamiliar, the truth itself may have been held from the beginning. Each age has its own language, its own religious difficulties and misconceptions; and the Church of Christ, if she would fulfil adequately her office of Divine Teacher of men, must adopt the message so as to make it intelligible to her hearers. She makes use of human terminology to bring home to the mind the true meaning of the particular supernatural truth which was in danger of being lost in a sea of wordy sophistries, without impairing by an iota the integrity of the Sacred Deposit committed to her care.

It is because they have never grasped this elementary principle, that so many outside the Church have misunderstood the precise force of her definitions. It has seemed to them that the sum of Revealed Truth was being unwarrantably increased, or particular doctrines arbitrarily circumscribed within the "narrow limits of a lifeless formula" (as they say, forgetting that every doctrine, however transcendental and spiritual, must be expressed in language if it is to convey any meaning to the mind), when all the time the true object of Creeds, Canons, and Conciliar Decrees, was to preserve the Faith in its simplicity, and to meet the attacks of heresy by barriers erected round the citadel. The Church has fought her enemies with their own weapons, using the language of each age to illustrate the true, as opposed to the false, interpretation of her message, taking up one terminology after another (as occasion might require), confronting heretical expressions of belief by orthodox, inaccurate formulae by precise statements of the various points of Revelation that were assailed. "Speculative activity [Mr. W. Ward well says] led to new deviations from the orthodox tradition. As these took form and became precise, the Church's own language, in order to exclude them, had perforce to become more precise."1

We have a striking illustration, in recent times, of such misunderstanding on the part of two non-Catholics occupying a high official position when we find the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, in their reply to the Vindication of the Bull Apostolicae Curae by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and his Suffragans, triumphantly stigmatizing the Tridentine decree on Transubstantiation as "a metaphysical definition, expressed in terms of mediaeval philosophy ., . unknown to the Church in the earliest ages of its history."

It is the purpose of the present paper to examine this statement in the light of history, and see how far the accusation of novelty can fairly be made against the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation,

What, then, is this "metaphysical definition . . . unknown to the Church in the earliest ages of its history "?

All that the Council of Trent laid down on the subject is contained in Session XIII, cap. 4 (de Transubst) and can. 2.

In the first reference, the words run:—" Quoniam . . . Christus . . . corpus suum id quod sub specie panis offerebat, vere esse dixit, id persuasum semper in ecclesia Dei fuit, idque nunc denuo sancta haec Synodus declarat, per consecrationem panis et vini conversionem fieri totius substantiae panis in substantiam corporis Christi . . . et totius substantiae vini in substantiam sanguinis eius. Quae conversio convenienter et proprie a sancta catholica ecclesia transubstantiatio est appellata."

In the Canon the same words are repeated under anathema, with the addition of the important clause "manentibus duntaxat speciebus panis et vini"—" only the species (or natural phenomena) of bread and wine remaining."

It will be perceived that the framers of the definition expressly disclaim any novelty of doctrine: the Sacred Synod does no more than affirm afresh (denuo) what has "ever been the persuasion of the Church of God." We proceed to see if their contention is verified in fact.

In one sense it can hardly be denied that Transubstantiation was no new thing. There is a direct continuity between the definition of the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 and that of the Council of Trent in 1551. It will suffice to place the two in parallel columns, for us to see this :—

Lateran Decree
Tridentine Decree
"In qua (Ecclesia) idem ipse sacerdos et sacrificium J. C., cuius corpus et sanguis in Sacramento altaris sub speciebus panis et vini veraciter continentur, transubstantiatis pane in corpus et vino in sanguinem, potestate divina." "Persuasum semper in ecclesia. Dei fuit . . . per consecrationem panis et vini conversionem fieri totius substantiae panis in substantiam corporis Xti Dni nostri, et totius substantiae vini in substantiam sanguinis eius Quae conversio convenienter et proprie . . . transubstantiatio est appellata."

The crucial words in the one definition are "cuius corpus et sanguis . . . sub speciebus panis et vini veraciter continentur, transubstantiatis pane in corpus et vino in sanguinem," and in the other "conversionem fieri totius substantiae panis in substantiam corporis Christi . . . et totius substantiae vini in substantiam sanguinis eius," and they mutually correspond, and are essentially the same. It is idle to draw deductions—as the Rev. W. K. Firminger, an able and learned Anglican theologian, has done2—from the fact that Innocent III, who presided over the Lateran Council, wrote, as a private individual, in his work on the Eucharist: "Verum an partes in partes, an totum in totum, an totale in totale, novit Ille qui facit. Ego quod residuum comburo "— and to conclude that loose views as to the substantial conversion may be allowably read into the Lateran definition. To argue thus is surely to forget that the words of the decree bear a meaning accepted by all at the time, and must be taken in their objective sense. The Pope as a private theologian is one thing; the Pope as Vicar of Christ, the organic Head of the whole Christian Body, promulgating in conjunction with it a statement of the Faith, is quite another. There is a direct connection between the phraseology of the Lateran Council and that of the Tridentine. The latter definition is included implicitly in the former, and is in effect equivalent to it. The fuller "conversio totius substantiae, etc.," is in truth no more that a preciser rendering of the simple "transubstantiatis pane, etc."

So too with the decree of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century :—" Substantia panis in corpus, substantia vini in sanguinem (Christi) convertitur." What is the definition at Trent but an echo of the confession of unity at Florence, where we find the Greeks in perfect agreement with the Latins on the doctrine of the sacramental presence,—Archbishop Bessarion, of Nicaea, solemnly professing in the name of the rest, that "since we hear from all the most holy doctors of the Church, especially from St. John Chrysostom, that the Lord's words are those which change and transmute the bread into the true Body of Christ, . . . we follow the opinion of St. John Chrysostom as to the necessity" (scil. of the words of Institution).3 In another sense, moreover, there was no novelty in the Tridentine dogma. If we take England as a typical Catholic country—and in some respects its evidence is more valuable than that of a Southern and naturally believing land—we find the words of the Fathers of Trent reproduced again and again in pre-Reformation times. As early as the beginning of the eighth century we find the Venerable Bede teaching as a matter of course that the bread and wine are "transferred" into the Body and Blood of Christ. Lanfranc, later on, teaches plainly Transubstantiation in his treatise De Eucharistiae Sacramento4 and St. Anselm uses the phrase "panem migrare in Corpus Lti."5 An even more significant witness appears in the person of Archbishop Arundel, who formulated, as the mouthpiece of Convocation in A.D. 1413, the following test declaration of the belief of the Ecclesia Anglicana: "The sayth and determination of Holy Church touching the blissfull Sacrament of the Auter is this: That after the Sacramentall wordes be sayde by a prest in hys masse, the material bred, that was bifore, is turned into Christ's verray body, and the material wyn that was bifore, is turned into Christ's verray blode, and so there leveth [remaineth] on the auter, no more material brede, ne material wyne, the wych were there bifore the saying of the wordes."6 This is only a repetition of a similar formula put forth authoritatively in A.D. 1382, by Convocation under Archbishop Courtenay. It is thus summarized in an instructive leading article which appeared recently in the Tablet newspaper:7 "At the largest and most authoritative Doctrinal Commission assembled in the English Church before the Reformation the doctrine of Transubstantiation was reaffirmed by the Primate and six bishops, fourteen doctors of Civil and Canon Law, and twenty-three of the most eminent theologians of England, with the full approval of the whole English Church, in these words: The statement that the 'substance of material bread and wine remain in the Sacrament of the Altar after consecration' was condemned as 'heresy.'8 And Lord Cobham was subsequently sent to the stake for affirming it." That this doctrine was unquestionably the generally accepted orthodox teaching, is plain from the fact that the University of Oxford, which occupied much the same official position as the Sorbonne in later times, being the formally accredited theological magisterium of the English Church, in a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Suffragans of his Province, at a somewhat later period, condemned as "heretical" the doctrine that "the substance of bread remains on the altar after consecration, and ceases not to be bread."9 The actual Lateran definition of A.D. 1215 was reproduced by the national council of Exeter—representing the entire Ecclesia Anglicana in A.D 1287, which bade the faithful adore the Sacrament of the Altar, because "by the words 'Hoc est, etc.,' and by no other, the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ." And the Northern provincial Council assembled at Durham in the early part of the same century, even anticipated the actual words of the Tridentine definition, when it declared that in the Sacrament "under the species of bread and wine, the bread is by the Divine power transubstantiated into His Body and the wine into His Blood."

It is, therefore, abundantly proved that the decree of Trent is in a relative sense the promulgation of no new-fangled theory, but the assertion of a truth current for many centuries previously. Can this be said also absolutely and without any qualification? Were the Fathers of Trent true to history and fact in their assumption that they are only stating, in clearer language it may be, but none the less, "quod semper in Ecclesia. Dei persuasum fuit?" In other words, is Transubstantiation—the conversion of the constituent element of bread into the formal principle of the Body of Christ—clearly seen to be a primitive Christian truth taught throughout the ages?

We may dismiss the consideration of the second half of the definition—that relating to the continuous reality of the accidents —as comparatively unimportant since our opponents do not question its truth. If, then, it can be shown that the remaining and principal part of the decree—the substantial change at consecration—was taught invariably and formally, without hesitation or ambiguity, from the earliest times, as much by schismatics from St. Peter's See as by those united to it, in liturgies and in the tomes of the Fathers, as well as in catechisms and in formal treatises, we think that the contention of the two Archbishops will fall completely to the ground.

We begin our demonstration with a testimony whose authority Anglicans will be the last to discount. The Eastern Churches, so conservative in their discipline and ritual, so grandly tenacious in their grasp of dogmatic truth, though separated for 1000 years from the Apostolic Chair—the God-given centre of unity—bear witness to the true doctrine of that Holy See "to which," as St. Cyprian says, "faithlessness can have no access."10 In the "Orthodox Confession of Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Churches of the East," drawn up in A.D., 1643, question LXVI runs thus: "Our Lord is also present upon earth in a sacramental manner by Transubstantiation (kata metousiosin), since the substance (ousia) of the bread is changed into the substance of His Holy Body, and the substance of the wine into the substance of the Precious Blood."11 Our second testimony to the same effect is the Council of Bethlehem held in A.D. 1672, which stated (a) that "after consecration the bread and wine are transmuted, transubstantiated, converted, transformed (metaballesthai, metousiousthai, metapoieisthai, metarruthmizesthai), the bread into the Lord's Body which was born at Bethlehem . . . and the wine into the Blood which flowed from His side upon the Cross."12 (b) That "after the consecration . . . the very true bread and wine no longer remain [in Greek original of 167213 the words run "the substance of bread and wine no longer remains"], but the very Body and Blood of our Lord under the appearance of bread and wine [the Greek original adds: 'that is to say, under the accidents (ta bebekota) of the bread."]14 (c) That "when we use the word Transubstantiation (metousiosis) we by no means think it explains the mode by which the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, for this is altogether incomprehensible . . . but we mean that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord, not figuratively or symbolically, nor by any extraordinary grace attached to them . . . but . . . the bread becomes (ginetai) verily and indeed and substantially the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord."15

The binding authority of this Synod of Bethlehem over the Russian Church having of late been called in question,16 the testimony of Provost Maltzen (the learned translator into German of the Acta of the Council) is important. "It is not permissible [he writes] for a particular Church, such as the Russian, to depart in any point whatsoever . . . from the doctrine which is contained in the official Confessions of the whole Orthodox Eastern Church, the original Greek text of which [confessions] is sanctioned by the authority of the most holy Patriarchs. The doctrines therein contained are, without exception, unchangeable dogmas of the infallible magisterium of the Holy Church—of that magisterium which is inspired by the Holy Ghost and exercised by the divinely instituted hierarchy, and of that Church which can neither deceive nor be deceived. In regard to all these dogmas there prevails among all the particular Orthodox Churches an absolute agreement, and any departure, however slight, from these Confessions—the Confessio Orthodoxa [of 1643]; the Decrees of the Orthodox Patriarch [of Bethlehem in 1672], and the Larger Christian Catechism of the Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church [of 1868] must be regarded as nothing less than heresy."17

No one can have the hardihood to say that this is a new and strange doctrine on the part of the Churches of Constantinople and Moscow. The unchanging East is free at all events from all suspicion of novelty; it changes not with the changeful years. What she teaches today she claims to have ever taught; her definitions in the seventeenth century contain nothing different from the standard of Faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, to whose authority she appeals as final. And this doctrine is seen to be identical with that defined at Trent.

We turn next to the Liturgies of primitive Christendom. Here, if anywhere, we will find the true doctrine unmixed with any alloy of human invention. Lex credendi: lex orandi—the law of Faith must ever be the law of prayer, but especially in that form of prayer which is the highest and divinest of all, concerned, as it is, with the Representation on earth of the Sacrifice of our Ransom, mirroring below the perfect intercession in the Courts of Heaven, of the Lamb slain in mystery from the foundation of the world.

Now, in the most ancient Liturgies, according to Perrone,18 there is this common feature—they contain an Invocation of the Holy Ghost, whereby He is implored to "change and transmute by His Almighty power these proffered gifts, and to make them the Body and Blood of Christ," In proof of this statement we will cite the Gothic, Ethiopian, and Alexandrian, and those of SS. Chrysostom and Basil, italicizing the crucial words in each :—

1. Gothic: "May the Paraclete descend that we may receive the bread changed by Thy operative power, and in the chalice partake of the cup turned into the Blood which flowed from Thy side on the cross."

2. Ethiopian: "Show Thy Face upon this, Thy spiritual altar; bless, sanctify, and purify [these oblations]; and transmute this bread that it may become Thy stainless Body, . . ."19

3. Alexandrian: "Send down upon us and upon these breads and upon these chalices, Thy Holy Spirit, that He may consecrate and consummate them as the Omnipotent God, and that He may make [poiese] the bread the Body and the chalice the Blood of the New Testament, of Him our Lord and God and Saviour and Universal King, Jesus Christ."20

4. St. Chrysostom:Eulogeson despota ton agion arton "Bless, O Lord, the holy bread, saith the Deacon; hereupon the priest saith 'Make (poieson) this bread the venerable Body of Thy Christ.' The priest, after being called by the deacon to bless the wine, saith, 'Make what is contained in this chalice the venerable Blood of Christ.' Then over both the priest saith: 'Converting (metaballon) them through Thy Holy Spirit.'"21

5. St. Basil has the same form, with even a verbal coincidence.22

Apart from this "illapsu" of the Holy Spirit, we find mention of Transubstantiation in the Gelasian Sacramentary and in the Ambrosian Missal. The former contains a prayer said by the Bishop during the Ordination of Priests—"that Thou mayest change these gifts by (their) blessing into the Body and Blood of Thine Immaculate Son; "the latter has the petition" that (this service) may be to us a rightful Eucharist for the transformation of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Our third and last witness to the antiquity of the doctrine defined at Trent is that of the Fathers of the Church. Two remarks are necessary before we proceed to the examination of Patristic evidence. The first is, that we must not look for concise and accurate theological expression, proper to a later age, from those who lived in the happy days before heresy had made limitation of language a necessity. Controversialists would seem, in many instances, to expect us to find, if we are to make good our argument, the same terminology in the writings of SS. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine, as that contained in the Tridentine decree, canon and catechism. They might as reasonably search for the omoousion in the pages of Jus-tin Martyr or of Tertullian. The dogmas of the community of an individual nature between Father and Son, and of the conversion of substance in the Eucharist were equally contained in the original deposit of Revelation; but it needed Arius in the fourth century and the continental Reformers in the sixteenth to bring about the Creed of Nicaea and the definition of Trent with their clear and stereotyped formulae. All that is necessary for the proof of our thesis is to show that the primitive Fathers agreed essentially and practically with the Tridentine doctrine, in maintaining again and again as an article of Faith that could not be denied, a substantial conversion at consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Our second remark is like unto the first,—it is that we must not be surprised if we come across words and phrases which would seem at first sight to contradict, not merely the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but even of any Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. It should be a recognized principle in explaining such passages, that they must be interpreted in the light of their full context, and in harmony with the doctrine clearly taught at other times, either by the particular Father in question, or by others with whom he lived and died in communion. If we refuse to reconcile apparent discrepancies on the doctrine of the Eucharist in this way, we are arbitrarily taking a different course from that adopted in dealing with difficulties in Patristic writings to other doctrines of Revelation. No careful student of the Fathers would be so bold as to deny that there are passages which, if taken separately, and divorced from the orthodox teaching in other parts of the works of the same Father, would seem to cut the ground from under many cardinal doctrines of the Faith.23 To give one or two instances. Calvin professed to go no further in his horrible teaching on Predestination than St. Augustine; and Jansenius, with certainly some show of reason, justified his doctrine on grace from the works of the same great doctor of the Universal Church.24 We have no more right logically to expect to find less difficulties or apparent discrepancies in the teaching of the Fathers on the Eucharistic Presence, than when the Trinity, or the Atonement, or Grace, are in question. And we must adopt the same principle of interpretation in every case impartially.

Having laid down these introductory caveats, we proceed to show in detail that alike in East and West, belief in a substantial conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ was stated by the Fathers in language that leaves no loophole for a disputed meaning. We have, first, such general formulae, repeated many times, as "bread and wine 'become,' 'are changed,' 'made,' 'transmuted,' 'pass,' into the Body of Christ," e.g., St. Cyril of Alexandria—" Changing these oblations into the truth of His own Flesh."25 Eusebius emiss: "The priest changes (convertere) by secret power visible creatures into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ."26 St. John Damascene: "The bread itself and wine are transmuted into the Body and Blood of Christ."27 St. Ambrose: " You say 'mine is common bread;' before the words of consecration that bread is indeed bread; but after consecration from bread it becomes the flesh of Christ."28 The last-named Saint,29 in common with SS. Chrysostom30 and Gregory of Nyssa,31 uses the "conversion" to denote the effect of the words of consecration on the elements. Tertullian,32 with Origen,33 says that the bread becomes (fieri) the Holy Body by prayer. St. Augustine says the same more at length: " The Body and Blood are made (effici) by the power of the Holy Ghost from the substance of bread and wine."34 "The bread passes (transire) into the nature of the Lord's body."35 And St. Cyprian and Gaudentius brixianus state respectively that "the bread [is] changed (mutatus) not in figure (effigie) but in nature,"36 and that "from bread is made (effici) the Body, and from wine the Blood."37

2. Apart from these general expressions implying a substantial change, we find the teaching that the Eucharistic words are operative and powerful. "If," says St. Ambrose, "so great is the efficacy of the words of the Lord Jesus that things should begin to exist that had no existence, how much more operative are they to continue in being things that had existence, and change them into another.38 "Before consecration," writes St. Augustine, "it [the element] is bread and wine, the produce of nature; but after consecration the Body and Blood of Christ, which the blessing consecrated."39

3. The Fathers adduce various analogies in nature to explain, however inadequately, the miraculous change. Thus Gaudentius brix. mentions by way of illustration the change of seeds into wheat, of moisture into wine;40 and John Damascene, the physical change by whose power food is converted into human flesh and blood.41

4. They appeal to miracles to strengthen belief in the supernatural change that takes place in the Eucharist—e.g. St. John Damascene to the creation:—" If" [he writes] "the word of the Lord is living and powerful (Hebr. 4:12); if heaven and earth, water, fire, and air, and all their ornament—not to speak of the noblest of animals called man—are perfected by the word of the Lord . . . why should He not be powerful enough to make finally also bread His Body and wine His Blood. "42 The same Saint, with St. Justin, to the Incarnation :—" If God the Word Himself [says the former] by His own will has made man, and compacted Flesh without any seed from the most pure . . . blood of the Virgin . . . why do you now ask how bread becomes (fiat) the Body of Christ? I reply that the Spirit overshadows and accomplishes that which surpasses speech and thought."43 St. Justin:—"We do not receive these elements either as common bread or common drink, but as through the word of God Christ Jesus our Saviour was made Flesh, and so also we are taught that that food from which our flesh and blood are nourished by its conversion (into them), is both the Flesh and Blood of that Incarnate Jesus, after that nourishment is made the Eucharist by the prayer containing His Words."44 St. Cyril of Jerusalem to the miracle at Cana, in the following earnest and striking words:—" When, therefore, he pronounced and said of bread: This is My Body, who shall dare afterwards to deny it? And when He Himself asserted and said: This is My Blood, who ever doubted, saying it was not His Blood? He changed (transmutavit) of old water into wine (which is like unto blood), at Cana of Galilee, and shall we deem Him less worthy of our belief, when He changed (transmutavit) wine into His own Blood?"45

5. In addition to these classified quotations, we append a few others which bear witness not less clearly to the same doctrine:— Tertullian:—" Taking bread He made it into His Body."46 St. Ambrose—" Before consecration, it is called something else; after consecration it is named Blood, and thou sayst 'Amen,' i. e. 'It is true.'"47 St. Cyril of Jerusalem:—" We are fully persuaded that what seems bread, though bread by taste, but the Body of Christ; and that what seems wine, is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ."48 Theodoret:— "It [the bread] is changed by a wonderful operation, though to us it appears bread . . . Bread indeed it appears to us, but Flesh in fact (to onti) it is."49 The Syrian, Si. James of Sarug :—" From the point of time when He took bread and called it His Body it was not bread but His Body."50

Against these testimonies, so clear, unambiguous, unanimous, to the antiquity of the Tridentine decree as to a conversion after consecration of that which makes bread to be bread, into the heavenly reality which is the Body of the Redeemer, it is useless to urge in contradiction passages in which it is stated that the "nature" or "substance" of bread remains after the advent of the Presence—e.g. St. Chrysostom :—" As before the bread is consecrated we call it bread; but when the Divine Grace has . . . consecrated it, it is no longer called bread, but is considered worthy of the name of the Lord's Body, although the nature of bread remains in it"51or a comparison is made between the change in the Eucharist and the change in the other Sacraments, as though they were on the same plane—e.g. St. Cyril Hier. :— "For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the Invocation of the Holy Spirit is no more common bread, but the Body of Christ, so this ointment is no more bare ointment, nor to be called common after the Invocation, but is the grace of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, endowed with special energy by the Presence of His Godhead."52

In the first case, it is assumed wrongly that by the words "nature" and "substance" the Fathers cited, writing centuries before heresies had made accurate definition and precise terminology necessary, intended to mean what the Tridentine Fathers meant by them. This is demonstrably untrue. The words 'substance' and 'nature' are synonymous with what at Trent were called the 'species' or 'accidents.' This is surely evident (a) from the context of the various passages, where a conversion (metabolen), to use Theodoret's word, of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, is mentioned; (b) from the fact that they constantly and uniformly speak of such 'nature' and 'substance' as symbols; (c) from Leibnitz' (a Protestant authority) well-known observation that the Fathers do not use these terms to express metaphysical notions.53 (d) As regards Theodoret, from the confession of the Lutherans of Madgeburg that he is opposed to their doctrine and cannot be read with safety.54 It should be added that the passages attributed to Theodoret and St. Gelasius occur in works that are considered spurious by many competent critics.

As to the second difficulty—that drawn from the supposed parallel in patristic writings, between the change in the Eucharist and the change in the other Sacraments—the simple distinction between a substantial and an accidental change will be found to be clearly made by the Fathers in question, and to separate as by an impassable gulf the change of Transubstantiation from that which occurs in Baptism and the rest of the Sacraments. By a substantial change we mean one by which the ultimate and basal reality in a thing which makes it that thing and nothing else—e.g., bread, and not a plant,—is changed into another ultimate reality, —so that what a moment previously was bread becomes the Body of Christ; by an accidental change, we mean any change that does not touch that ultimate constituent reality but only adds to it some perfection. Thus, when the Fathers say (passim) that man by grace becomes an angel, they do not mean to imply a substantial change, by virtue of which man ceases to be man, but only an accidental change, by which he obtains certain angelic qualities, such as purity, spirituality, and the like. Now St. Cyril, in the passage quoted, and other Fathers clearly show that they have this very important distinction in mind. They are always careful to state that the term or object of the change, when the Eucharist is in question, is something substantial—a totally fresh reality—nothing less than the Body of Christ;—while the term or object of the change in the other Sacraments is something accidental—a property whereby they cease to be common and earthly elements, and become holy and consecrated vehicles of grace. So when St. Cyril says in the first part of the sentence: "The Eucharistic bread after the Invocation . . . is no more common bread but the Body of Christ',' he conveys the idea, as clearly as language will allow, of such a change as has for its end an ultimate reality, distinct from, and succeeding, a former ultimate reality,—a change, in other words, that is substantial; and when later on he says "this holy (ointment) is no more bare ointment, but is the grace of Christ and of the Spirit, made powerful by the presence of His Godhead," he does not mean to imply that the ointment changes its nature so that it becomes, e.g., the Holy Ghost, but only that it receives an added perfection—from being common, bare ointment, it becomes the channel of a supernatural gift; or, in other words, that an accidental and not a substantial change takes place.55

A third point freely urged against the Patristic argument for Transubstantiation is that there are several passages in which the sacred mysteries are called after consecration "bread" and "wine." This objection is based upon a misunderstanding. It would be perfectly legitimate to use such language at the present day—as is indeed not infrequently the case—and it could be argued with an equal show of reason that modern Catholic theologians do not believe in Transubstantiation because they so speak of the Blessed Sacrament. The explanation is very simple. It must be remembered that the Eucharist is composed of two parts —a visible, which is contained in sensible phenomena, forces, and effects—such as size, color, sapidity, mass, force of resistance, power of nutrition, and the like,—and an invisible, wholly beyond the sphere of nature and the confines of sense—to wit, the Body and Blood of Christ; and since a composite object can rightly be called now by the one component element, now by the other, and again by both, so we find in the writings of the Fathers, just as in the popular manuals of devotion and in the pages of theologians of to-day, the Sacrament of the Altar designated at one time "bread," at another "the Body of Christ," and at a third "the Bread of Heaven, "the Sacrament of the Body of Christ." It is, therefore, obviously quite unreasonable to argue that because there are passages in which the Fathers speak of the Holy Eucharist as "bread," or even as "a type or symbol of the Body of Christ," it must be concluded that they deny the res substantialiter contenta under the objective forms of bread and wine.56

We may conclude our long survey of liturgies and patristic tomes, with the significant admission of the Protestant writer Leibnitz: "Antiquity [he says] has openly enough declared that bread is changed into the Body of Christ and wine into His Blood; and here and there, ancient Fathers acknowledged a metastoicheiosis which Latins have rightly rendered 'Transubstantiation.'"57

The Tridentine statement of Eucharistic doctrine, denounced at Lambeth as "a metaphysical definition, unknown to the Church in the earliest stages of her history," is shown to have been the teaching current from the most primitive times. We find an unbroken catena of witnesses testifying to the truth of a substantial conversion of the bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Christ, and their testimony is linked to that of the Liturgies and Sacramentaries which enshrined the law of Faith in the utterance of Prayer.

Because the expression of the doctrine is formulated with more accuracy and precision in the face of the many wild statements and hazardous speculations of heresy, it does not follow that the doctrine itself is altered, but rather safeguarded from attack, and its foundations made doubly sure. The Fathers of Trent were no creators of novelty; they merely crystallized in set form the un-systematized but universally accepted doctrine of all the Christian ages. It need not distress us if Bishop Gore's statement58 be true that "the word 'transubstantiare' is first . . . found in Stephen of Autun (circa A. D. 1112-1139), Tract, de Sacr. Altaris, cap. 14 (P. L. CLXXII., p. 1293), any more than Mr. Wilfrid Ward's admission that "the semi-Arians could unanswerably claim the language of early Fathers as in harmony with their own expressions "59 should make us suspect novelty in the Nicene definition of the Consubstantiality of the Eternal Son.

The Tridentine decree no more bears the mark of unprimitiveness because it speaks in the language of the schoolmen, than the Homoousion of Nicaea, although the latter pronounced the shibboleth of a section of Greek philosophers. "If," aptly remarks an Anglican writer,60 "we condemn the Tridentine definition . . . we must on the same ground condemn the Nicene definition, which was expressed in the novel terms of contemporary philosophy, and the greater part of the Quicunque vult, which is expressed in terms of the Boethian metaphysics." The Catholic Church did not at Nicaea cut herself adrift from traditions of the past—from St. Clement of Alexandria, SS. Justin, Lactantius, and Tertullian—because she adopted the omoousion, a word of which many saints and some local councils61 had fought shy; she did not at Trent belie her connection and continuity with the Church of Pentecost because she adopted the 'barbarous term' Transubstantiation, of which SS. Peter and Paul were ignorant. She merely enshrined her doctrine in a new casket, or, in plain language, gave a new name to a very old truth, held and taught from the beginning. She explains more fully, as misunderstanding arises, her already existing belief—whether in the perfect equality of nature between Father and Son, or in the substantial Presence of Christ's Body in the Eucharist—giving greater exactness and precision to the original idea which was liable to be lost or denied in speculative explanation. "The formulae were new, but the seeds of the doctrines had been there from the first."62


1 Life of Wiseman, ii, p. 536 (ed. 3).

2 Guardian, April 6, 1898, p. 533.

 3 Mansi, Conc. 31, 1045, seq.

4 Cf. Lanfranc, de Corp. et Sang. Dni:—"Credimus terrenas Substantias . ., ineffabiliter . . . converti in essentiam dominici corporis, reservatis ipsorum rerum speciebus," (c. 18.)

5 St. Anselm, in ep. de Corp. et Sang. Dni.

6 Wilkins, Concilia, iii, 355.

7 Tablet, April 23, 1898.

8 Wilkins, Concilia, iii, 157.

9 Wilkins, Concilia, iii, 344.

10 In ep. IIa ad Cornel, xiv.

11 Rev. J. H. Blunt's Dict. of Doctr. and Hist. Theol., 1871, p. 760.

12 Canon xvii.

13 V. Kimmel's Mon. Fid. Eccl. Orient., i, p. 458.

14 Dr. J. M. Neale, Hist. of Eastern Church, General Introd., ii, p. 1173.

15 Ibid.

16 V. Cardinal Vaughan and the Russian Church, by Prof. Collins and W. J. Birkbeck (London, 1897), in which it is argued that the Russian Church does not accept the doctrine expressed in the original Greek text already referred to, of the decrees of the Synod of Bethlehem.

17 "Bitt-, Dank-, und Weihe-Gottesdienste der Orthodox-Kathol. Kirche des Morgenlandes," p. ci. Dedicated to M. Probedonoszen, Procurator of the Holy Synod.

18 Op. cit., p. 301.

19 In so-called "Universal Canon." The Ethiopian word rendered "transmute" bears the meaning, according to Ludolph's lexicon, of a true change of one thing into another. Renaudot is emphatic on this point, adding "si vel levissima de eius significatione esset dubitatis, vox Coptica, cui respondit, et versiones Arabicae illam plane discuterent," (Collectio Liturgiar. Orient., p. 527.)

20 Renaudot, op. cit., p. 157.

21 Goar, Eucholog., p. 77.

22 Ibid., p. 166.

23 V. Facundus hermian. (pro defens. trium., cap. I, 6, c. 5.

24 We have already alluded to the difficulties to the Homoousion drawn from the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. (V. especially Petavius de Trin., i, 5, 2. Baur, Dogmengeschichte, i, 444. and Liddon, Bampt. L., pp. 425-428, ed. 15.)

25 In ep. ad Colosyrium.

26 Hom. 5 de Pasch.

27 De orth. fid., 1. 4, c. 4.

28 De Sacr., iv. 4..

29 Id., iv, 5 and vi, I.

30 Hom. de Prod. Jud. and Hom. 82, 83 in Matth.

31 Orat. Catech., c. 37, Cf. St. Chrysost. de prod Jud., p. 63.

32 C. Marc iv, 40.

33 C. Cels. 8.

34 De Conscr., cap. Utrum sub figuri, etc., dist. 2.

35 Id.

36 Serm. de Coena Dni.

37 Tr. 3 in Exodo.

38 De Sacr., iv, 4.

39 De Consecr., c. 41, dist. 2.

40 De Ex., 3, 2.

41 Op. cit., iv, 13, cf. St. Greg. Nyss., Orat. cat., c. 37.

42 De. fid. orth., I, iv, c. 13.

43 Ibid.

44 Apol. i, 65.

45 Catech. myst., iv, I, 2. The whole of this section of St. Cyril's Catechism of Instruction is well worthy of attention. The Bishop of Clifton has referred to it at length in his Advent Pastoral of 1808.

46 Adv. Marc., iv, 40.

47 De Sacr., iv, 4, cf. De consec., dist. 2.

48 Op. cit., xxii, 9, cf. id., iv, 6.

49 Hom. in Matth., xxvi, 26.

50 Serm. 66, de Pass. Dni.

51 In ep. ad Caesar: Cf. Gelasius Max. Bibl. Vet. Patr., vol. viii, Lugd. 1677; S. Ephrem. Antioch. apud Photii Bibl. Cod. 229. Theodoret, Dial., vol. iv, Hal. 1772; Facundus herm., L. ix, defens. 3, c, 5.

52 Op. cit., 3, n. 3.

53 In system. Theol., ed. 2, Raess et Weiss, Moguntiae, 1825, p. 220.

54 Centuria, vi, c. 10.

55 Cf. Hurter, Medul. Theol. Dogm., n. 1056, note I (d).

56 These three objections were raised in the Guardian of April 6 and April 20, 1898, and answered by the present writer on the same lines as he has adopted now in the numbers for April 13 and May 4, 1898.

57 Op. et loc. antea cit. Cf. Id., p. 224.

58 Dissertations' Transubst. and Nihilianism, p. 268, note 2.

59 Op. antea cit., p. 535. He adds: "This point, a favorite one with Newman, has, more recently, been urged by the Abbe Duchesne." Cf. Petavius, de Trin., i, 5, 2. Liddon, Bampton Lectures (ed. 15), p, 528, Vide especially St. Clem. Alex., Strom., 1, 7, nn. 2, 3; St. Justin M., Dial. c. Tryph., caps 56, 126.

60 The Rev. T. A. Lacey in Guardian, March 30, 1898.

61 The classical instance is the Catholic Council held at Antioch sixty years before the Council of Nice. "Even the Fathers of Antioch had rejected the phrase homoousios, which the Council of Nicaea now ruled as obligatory." (Wilfrid Ward, op. cit., p. 535. Cf. Dr. Liddon, Bampton Lectures, ed. 15, p. 435.)

© American Ecclesiastical Review

This item 1192 digitally provided courtesy of