views updated May 21 2018


Transubstantiation is the change or conversion of one substance into another. Its usage is confined to the Eucharistic rite, where it signifies the change of the entire substance or basic reality of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, while the outward appearances (species, accidents) of the bread and wine are unaffected. The neologism was employed by Roland Bandinelli (the future Alexander III) before 1153; it rapidly gained currency and soon appeared in official documents of the Church. This article treats the history of the doctrine and theological analysis.

History of Doctrine

Although the term is neither Biblical nor patristic, the idea it expresses is as old as Christian revelation. The scriptural evidence (Mt 26.2628; Mk 14.2224; Lk 22.1920; Jn 6.5067; 1 Cor 11.2325) requires that the bread cease to exist and that Christ's body be made present. The cessation of the bread is connected with the presence of Christ's body; that is, by divine omnipotence, the bread has been changed into Christ's body. On the other hand, no modification of the visible phenomena of the bread and wine took place before the eyes of the Apostles. Hence Christ's words express the conversion of the substances of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, although in outward appearance no alteration whatever occurs.

Patristic Period. Much theological reflection was needed before the doctrine became explicit. In the 2nd century, Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 117) simply points out that the Eucharist is the Savior's flesh [Epist. ad Smyrnaeos 7.1; J. Quasten, ed. Monumenta eucharista et liturgica vetustissima (Bonn 193537) 336]. Justin (d. c. 165) remarks that Christians regard the Eucharist not as ordinary food but as Christ's flesh and blood (Apologia 1.66; ibid., 18). According to Irenaeus (d. c. 202), the wine in the chalice and the bread that has been baked become the Eucharist of the Lord's blood and body (Adversus haereses 5.2.3; ibid., 347).

By the 4th century, attention begins to focus more distinctly on the change itself. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394) asserts that the bread, consecrated by God's word, is transmuted into the body of God the Word [Oratio catech. magna 37; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161v. (Paris 185766) 45:95]. After testifying that Christ Himself through His priest causes the bread and wine to be made His body and blood, John Chrysostom (d. 407) adds that the formula, "This is my body," transforms the Eucharistic elements (De proditione Iudae hom. 1.6; ibid., 49:380). A similar account is found in Ambrose (d.397), who employs the term "transfigure" [De fide ad Gratianum 4.10.124; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 16:641], and in Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), who uses the word "transform" [In Matt. com. 26.27; Patrologia Graeca 72:431]. By the end of the 7th century, the doctrine was understood throughout Christendom. John Damascene (d. c. 750) sums up the teaching of his predecessors. He explains that the bread and wine are transmuted or converted into the Lord's body and blood; the bread and wine are by no means mere figures but have been really "changed" into the body and blood (De fide orthodoxa 4.13; ibid., 94:1146).

Medieval Period. A new epoch of reflection on the Eucharist opened up in the 9th century. The outstanding figure in this period was paschasius radbertus (d. c. 859), who clearly set forth the Catholic teaching on transubstantiation. A further impetus to the clarification of the doctrine was provided by berengarius of tours (d.1086), who denied the Eucharistic conversion and advocated a purely spiritual and symbolic presence of Christ. Theologians of the time refuted his views by appealing to the ancient and universal faith, and the teaching authority of the Church condemned his errors in a number of regional synods. The most important of these was the Roman Council of 1079, which for the first time in an official document declared that the bread and wine were "substantially changed" into the body and blood of Jesus (Enchiridion symbolorum, 700). By the 13th century the doctrine had achieved an adequate formulation, well exemplified in the incisive summary of Thomas Aquinas: "The whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ's body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ's blood. Hence this conversion may be designated by a name of its own, transubstantiation" (Summa theologiae, 3a, 75.4).

From the 12th century on, "transubstantiation" and "transubstantiate" appear frequently in ecclesiastical documents. The Fourth lateran council in 1215 (Enchiridion symbolorum, 802) and the Second Council of lyons in 1274 (ibid., 860) use the term in brief expositions of the doctrine. A more ample explanation is given by the Council of florence in 1439 (ibid., 1321). But in spite of gains in precision, a new opposition set in with Luther's Eucharistic proposals.

Reformation Period. Martin Luther (d. 1546) admitted the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. However, he repudiated transubstantiation and taught that the glorified body and blood of Christ are present "in, with, and under" the bread and wine (consubstantiation). By way of explanation, Luther himself and many of his followers appealed to the idea of "ubiquity": because of its union with the divine nature, Christ's human nature acquires the property of coexisting with other created objects. At the celebration of the Lord's Supper, He wills it to be present at the moment the participants receive the consecrated bread and wine. Other reformers, such as Andreas osiander (d. 1552), preferred "impanation" (coined on the analogy of "incarnation"). This theory affirms the presence of the substance of Christ's body and blood along with the bread and wine in a kind of hypostatic union. These ideas were opposed by the sacramentarians, particularly H. Zwingli (d. 1531), who regarded the Sacraments as no more than visible symbols. In this view the Eucharist is only a figure or sign of Christ's presence; he who believes that the Lord's body and blood were given for us, may be said to eat His flesh and drink His blood spiritually. John Calvin (d. 1564), who attacked both transubstantiation and consubstantiation, contended that Christ's body and blood are present in the Eucharist virtually, that is, by a power emanating from them.

Teaching of the Magisterium. Confronted with such challenges, the Council of Trent issued an authoritative teaching on transubstantiation (Oct. 11, 1551). Chapter 4 of session 13 defines: "It has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now again declares, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change takes place in which the entire substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and the entire substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls transubstantiation" (Enchiridion symbolorum, 1642). Canon 2 asserts that the substance of bread and wine do not remain together with the Lord's body and blood, and insists again on the "marvelous and extraordinary change of the whole substance of the bread into Christ's body and the whole substance of the wine into his blood, so that only the species of bread and wine remain" (ibid., 1652).

Among the errors fostered by the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia (1786), Pius VI condemned proposition 29 for omitting mention of "transubstantiation or the change of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of wine into the blood" of Christ, on the ground that such omission tends to suppress both an article of faith and a highly useful term consecrated by the Church (bull Auctorem fidei of 1794; ibid., 2629). In the encyclical Humani generis (1950) Pius XII states that the doctrine of transubstantiation may not be distorted to mean that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is reduced to a symbolism whereby the consecrated species would be merely signs of Christ's spiritual presence (ibid., 3891). Thus he rejects the suggestion that nothing changes except the religious entity of the bread and wine.

Theological Analysis

According to Trent, the substance of the bread and wine does not remain but is changed into Christ's body and blood; nothing persists of the bread and wine but their appearances or species. The term "substance" in conciliar decrees does not sanction any philosophical system, but indicates the basic reality by which bread and wine are what they are and not something else. In modern parlance we may say that substance is the existent that is grasped by the intellect, whereas species are the properties that manifest this existent on the level of sensorial and scientific experience. In the 13th century, theologians endeavored to clarify transubstantiation by exploiting the Aristotelian categories of substance and accident. But the dogma itself does not imply that the substance that is changed into Christ's body is the prime matter and substantial form of a piece of bread, or that the species are accidents in the strict scholastic sense.

Nature of Transubstantiation. Although the Church has defined the doctrine of transubstantiation, theologians disagree about its precise nature. Two general tendencies have emerged. According to the first, the substance of the bread and wine is destroyed, and the body and blood of Christ are either reproduced or adduced. According to the second tendency, the substance of the bread and wine does indeed cease, but is not simply annihilated, for it passes into the preexistent body and blood of the Savior.

Annihilation. In the period following the Council of Trent, some theologians thought that the substance of the bread, as an obstacle to the presence of Christ's body, must be removed by a sort of annihilation. This annihilation is required to make room for Christ's body, or else results from the fact that Christ's body expels the substance of the bread, which thereupon lapses into nothingness.

Reproduction. Theologians who favor some form of annihilation are divided when they come to explain positively how Christ's body becomes present. According to Francisco suÁrez (d. 1617), Leonard lessius (d. 1623), and others down to modern times, the body of Christ is made present by a productive action, which is equivalent to creation, because it is powerful enough to create the body if it did not already exist. Since, however, Christ does exist before the consecration, the action is better called reproduction or replication, for it reproduces His body without compromising its numerical identity with the same body in heaven.

Adduction. Other theologians of the 17th century, with many followers in later ages, dismiss the idea of reproduction. Under the leadership of Robert bellarmine (d. 1621), they contend that Christ's preexisting body is made present by adduction, which brings the body under the species of bread in such a way that it does not leave heaven or undergo any local motion. John de Lugo (d.1660) adds that the body of Christ succeeds the substance of bread in the function of sustaining the accidents of bread.

Conversion. Even if the theories of reproduction and adduction were metaphysically sound, which in the judgment of many critics is questionable, they advocate an exchange of substances rather than a true change of one substance into another. A growing number of theologians agree with L. Billot (d. 1931) that we must return to an explanation that they insist is common to Thomas Aquinas (Summa theologiae, 3a, 75.4) and the great medieval scholastics. Transubstantiation is not the destruction of one substance and the substitution of another in its place, but a single action by which God, who has power over all being, changes the entire substance of bread into the entire substance of Christ's body. The substance of bread ceases, not by way of annihilation, but by way of conversion into the body of Christ; and the species of bread that remain acquire a relationship to Christ's body that is like the relationship between a container and its contents.

See Also: eucharist in contemporary catholic thought; sacramental theology

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190340; Tables générales 1951) 15.1:13961406. j. filograssi, De Sanctissima Eucharistia (Rome 1962) 156235. a. piolanti, The Holy Eucharist, tr. l. penzo (New York 1961) 6877, bibliography. f. j. leenhardt, "This is My Body," Essays on the Lord's Supper, tr. j. g. davies (London 1958). f. selvaggi, "Realtà fisica e sostanza sensibile nella dottrina eucaristica," Gregorianum 37 (1956) 1633. c. vollert, "The Eucharist: Controversy on Transubstantiation," Theological Studies 22 (1961) 391425.

[c. vollert]


views updated May 29 2018

transubstantiation Belief accepted by the Roman Catholic Church that, during the prayer of consecration at the Mass (the Eucharist), the ‘substance’ of the bread and wine is changed into the ‘substance’ of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, while the ‘accidents’ (the outward forms of bread and wine) remain unchanged. The doctrine was defined at the Lateran Council of 1215. The definition involving ‘substance’ and ‘accidents’ was rejected by the architects of the Reformation.


views updated Jun 11 2018

tran·sub·stan·ti·a·tion / ˌtransəbˌstanchēˈāshən/ • n. Christian Theol. (esp. in the Roman Catholic Church) the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining. ∎ formal a change in the form or substance of something.


views updated May 09 2018

Transubstantiation. In Catholic theology of the eucharist, the change of the substance (underlying reality) of the bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, leaving the ‘accidents’ (i.e. the appearances of the bread and wine) intact, so that the faithful do not literally touch Christ's body. The term was recognized at the Lateran Council of 1215, and was formally defined at Trent in 1551. The E. Church entertains an essentially identical doctrine to transubstantiation, but many modern Orthodox theologians avoid the term because of its associations with Latin scholasticism.


views updated May 21 2018

transubstantiation change of substance XIV; spec. of the Eucharistic bread and wine XVI. — medL. tran(s)substantiātiō, -ōn-, f. tran(s)substantiāre, whence transubstantiate XVI (as pp. XV); see -ATE2, -ATE3, -ATION.
Hence consubstantiation controversialist's term to designate the Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharistic presence in, with, and under the substantially unaltered bread and wine. XVI. See CON-.


views updated Jun 27 2018

transubstantiation the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining. The belief was defined at the Lateran Council of 1215, based on Aristotelian theories on the nature of ‘substance’, and is the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church; the word itself has been used from the mid 16th century. It was rejected by Luther, Zwingli, and other Protestant reformers.

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