One of the things that convinced me of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is that it matched up with everything else. in fact, there was a kind of Trinitarian unity: Three aspects of the Body of Christ which co-inhered, were intertwined and interdependent.
The three aspects of the Body of Christ are first, his physical, historical body. The God-Man Jesus Christ. God from God. Light from Light. True God of True God. Consubstantial with the Father. This is the orthodox Christology and it illuminates what we should therefore also believe about the other two aspects of the Body of Christ: the Eucharist and the Church.
Let me explain what I mean. When we speak of the Eucharist we use the definition of transubstantiation. We do not believe in consubstantiation like the Lutherans. This is the idea that the presence of Christ is with, next to or alongside the bread and wine. Nor do we believe in the Protestant suggestion that the bread and wine are mere symbols. Neither do we hold to the Anglican idea of receptionism–that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during the whole celebration of the Eucharist and as individuals receive the elements with faith.
No. We believe in transubstantiation–that the substance–the real, eternal, invisible quality of the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a real, substantial change of the elements at the incorruptible level of their existence.
This understanding, therefore connects, confirms and consolidates an orthodox Christology and vice versa. Just as Jesus Christ was true God and true man, so the bread and wine are truly Jesus Christ’s body, blood soul and divinity. Just as Jesus (according to human perception) was an ordinary man, so according to our senses the bread and wine are still bread and wine.
If you apply the Protestant heresies about the Eucharist to Christ you will see they would represent a Christological heresy. Jesus does not simply symbolize God. Neither is the Divine next to, with, in or around Jesus. That would be a Christological heresy the name of which escapes me. Neither is Jesus Christ truly divine simply to those who worship and receive this truth in faith. That sort of subjective experience which is dependent on a person’s personal faith is insufficient and bogus.
This same substantial reality in the Body of Christ is also manifested in the church. The Catholic Church may look like a human institution founded in a particular time period by men conditioned by their circumstances, culture and biases, but in fact it is the Body of Christ. It is a supernatural creation and a miraculous creature of the Holy Spirit. To extend the analogy, the substance of the mystical body of Christ, the church, is the real, eternal presence of the crucified, risen, ascended and glorified Christ.
Transubstantiation, therefore is not only the full and complete understanding of the words in Scripture–Jesus saying “This bread is my flesh for the life of the world” and “this food is real food-the bread from heaven” it also fulfills the teachings of St Paul that the church is the Body of Christ.
The Protestant error therefore is not limited to the Eucharist. It makes perfect sense that those who believe the bread and wine or no more than a symbol, also believe the church is no more than a man made institution. If these things be true one wonders if and how much they understand and adhere to the orthodox understanding of Christ’s incarnation.
Can they truly hold to the historic Nicene faith if they deny the real presence of Christ’s true body and blood in the Eucharist? Can they truly hold to the historic Nicene faith if they deny the supernatural presence of Christ in and through and consubstantial with his body the Church.
I think not, and this is why, when you press. them you will find a whole range of erroneous opinions about the nature and person of Our Lord Jesus Christ himself. To be sure some non-Catholics of the Reformed traditions will believe the full Nicene understanding of the Incarnation.
Many will have not the foggiest clue what you’re talking about.
Does that matter? Is doctrine about the Eucharist or the church really that important? What does it matter to me? one might ask.
Here’s why it matters: It matters because all these things are revealed not just out of curiosity or because theologians like to make things match. These things are revealed for our soul’s salvation and sanctification.
Transubstantiation matters to use because, at the end of the day, we are supposed to be transubstantiated. The invisible, eternal part of me is also supposed to be changed into the Body of Christ. The Eastern Orthodox call this process theosis or divinization. We recognize the reality in the lives of the saints. Jesus is not simply beside us, with us and around us. That would be the consubstantiation view our our relationship with the Lord. Neither does Jesus become real to us simply because we believe it and want it to be so. That would be receptionism. Nor is Christ’s presence to us merely symbolic.
Our Lord’s words in this matter are also clear. He is in us and we are in him as the vine and the branches. We are to abide in him and he in us. The New Testament echoes with this promise expressed in different ways. Those who live in love live in him and he lives in them. We are God’s adopted sons and daughters. This is a reality. It is not a symbol. It is not a nice belief that is next to us. It is not something we try very hard to believe to make it true–rather like “If you believe in fairies clap your hands and Tinkerbell will come alive again…”
No. It is a reality. The process of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous, sacramental life within us is working like yeast in the dough to transform us utterly into his likeness–to become Christians–“Little Christs.”
This is the radical message of the Christian gospel, and because everything is connected in Catholicism, this belief has been watered down and ignored and forgotten as belief in transubstantiation and an orthodox Christology have also been watered down and neutralized across the Christian church (Catholic and Protestant alike)
That is why the Christian religion has disintegrated into Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.
If that is all it is…to hell with it.