Steve,

I wanted to ask you a question. I read that transubstantiation was not adopted formally by the church until medieval times. I read the attached that St. Ignatius and others believe in the true presence in the second century.  Did they consecrate the bread and wine as we do today? Did they practice transubstantiation as early as St. Peter and St. Ireneaus? Was it consubstantiation or some other form?

Thank you! I am so happy that you and Janet can resume traveling again! You teach so many what we need in this crazy world today.

Kevin

My response:

Kevin:

Thanks, yes Lourdes and Fatima in September, followed by Israel, then our St. Paul Mediterranean Cruise. Excited!

Within the Church, as within Judaism before it, there is something called the development of doctrine. God did not reveal everything to us in its fullness all at once but in bits and pieces, over time. In Christ, the whole Truth of the Faith was fully provided, but it was not all easy to understand and it took time for us to unpack it. We call it the deposit of faith — it is like a rich man putting his money in the bank. Jesus and the Apostles deposited the fullness of the faith in the bank, which is the Church. 

Even Protestants have to deal with this issue since they believe that the 27 books of the New Testament are inspired and authoritative writings given to us by God. However, that conclusion and collection of books were not made until the end of the 4th century.

It was a development and it took time. It was determined by the councils of the Catholic Church. It is the same with the Trinity. The early Christians believed in one God in three persons and three persons in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, only through the development of doctrine was it given the name – Trinity. The first time the word trias was used was in 180 AD and it wasn’t until much later that Christianity began to use the word Trinity as a clear definition of the one God in three persons.

It is the same with the Eucharist. Very simply stated, like Irenaeus and Ignatius before him and all the early Christians, they ALL believed that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that the substance changed. There was no Christian that doubted that until after the protestant deformation.

St. Irenaeus (120-200 AD) said,

“[The bread and wine] having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God.”

Likewise, St. Ignatius (35-107 AD),

They even abstain from the Eucharist and from the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up again.”

However, because it was so well accepted, and no one challenged it, it wasn’t until the 1200s that it was given the official name of transubstantiation. Some protestants like to say that transubstantiation was “invented“ in the 1200s, implying that the idea of the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ or something newly invented by a pagan church.

However, that is total rubbish. Just like doctrines already believed received official “names” later in time, and understandings of those doctrines was developed, so the Eucharist was always the Eucharist. But as the Church pondered these things in her heart they better understand and could more clearly define and describe it, such as with transubstantiation. This big word simply means that the substance changes though the outer appearance remains the same. It is the same thing taught but the Fathers of the Church, just not with the fancy definition. 

Just remember the development of doctrine and it’ll help you understand many of the teachings and doctrines of the Church. And again, the Protestants who accuse us of “making up doctrines” have to deal with it too even though they won’t admit it. They have a doctrine they call the “Rapture” — and yet that false doctrine was not ever mentioned before the 1850s. 

For a marvelous understanding and explanation of the Development of Doctrine, read Cardinal John Newman’s Essay of the Development of Christian Doctrine.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Fr Khouri

    The Orthodox (and Eastern Catholics) believe in the real presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. They have valid Sacraments. But they do not use the term “transubstantiation”. This is a philosophical (human) construct to explain the inexplicable. One can hold that the Lord is truly present in this great mystery without subscribing to the philosophical construct. “Take, eat this is my body…” “Take, drink of this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant…” This with the epiclesis makes the change in the bread and wine. No other explanation is possible.

    STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks for your comment Fr. Khouri. I agree with you that Orthodox and Eastern Catholics have the Real Presence of Christ, which is obvious. I also agree they do not use the word “transubstantiation” though they practice it. Whether it is a human and philosophical construct can be debated. Everything we define, practice and teach is “human” in the sense that God does it through us.

    Even the term “Trinity” is a human philosophical construct since these words and even the theology behind it are not in the Bible, but the reality definitely is. I doubt you would say that we should jettison the term Trinity even though it was a philosophical, “secular” word utilized to explain an unexplainable reality.

    I would have agreed with most of what you said, but have to disagree with the last sentence — “No other explanation is possible.” I agree that divine and supernatural mysteries are difficult to explain, but we can know truly, even though not exhaustively. That should not stop us from trying to understand the mysteries of God. We can explain them to a degree, as we do the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Some may argue about what words to use, but to say no explanation is possible is just incorrect.

  2. The problem with Transubstantiation is that someone gave it a name. The fact that Jesus is present in that which appears to be bread and wine is straight from the Curch Fathers.

    STEVE RAY HERE: Absolutely!

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