Eating Together: Part 3 – Transubstantiation and Other Theories of Eucharist

Part 1

Part 2

Transubstantiation confuses the heck out of people. As a Methodist, I shouldn’t be as sentimental or defensive about Transubstantiation, but I find myself drawn to the sense of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist that seems most fully expressed in Transubstantiation.

Because if Christ is really present and Christ says this “is” my body/blood what else could he mean?

But before we go to far. We should look at Transubstantiation as an attempt to move away from the mumbo jumbo circulating at the time. People were using the hosts and the wine as talismans. Some folks in the 1100-1400s would steal them and sprinkle pieces over fields and in wells or for some other form of blessing. All the while, these talisman hungry people would whisper the words they heard butchered by priests who were attempting to speak latin: Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus…

Educating the priests and the people may have been a herculean task… No probably just right out impossible.

But Aquinas gave it a go. He explained what happens in Eucharist using Aristotle’s theory of existence found in his Metaphysics combined with some of his own work. The result is a number of questions in the Summa, for which any summary will do no justice.

So, here’s a summary: “Things” have causes, for Eucharist the two important causes of the four are the accidental causes and the substantive causes. While it’s crude to describe the later as the identity of the “thing” in question, it will suffice. The accidental cause is the measurable attributes of the “thing” in question.

Now, we all know that when we sip the wine and eat the wafer they don’t just poof and taste like man flesh and blood. So, then what does it mean to say that this is Christ’s body and blood?

Aquinas declares that it is in the substantive cause changed by the Holy Spirit. It is no longer bread and juice, but it is body and blood. The accidents remain but the substance has changed. Tastes like bread but in reality it is the body and blood of Christ.

Now, Calvin will describe this same process by saying that the bread and juice are a sign and a seal of the promises we have and that Christ is genuinely present but not in a physical way. This is sort of the thought that Baptists generally take and borrows heavily from Augustinian ideas of sacrament where the signs (bread and wine) point back to the greater spiritual reality of Christ.

Luther… well I can’t seem to see Luther as consistent, but If I was to hazard a guess, I’d say he’d want to affirm something where Christ is genuinely present in the elements without a change in the elements themselves. But I could be wrong about that.

Wesley seems to juggle with the later two in such a way that I think makes room for Transubstantiation. There is something going on in the Eucharist, but Wesley offers more about the practice and what it means for the believer. It’s not that the others don’t do this, but Wesley’s focus is in the practice and the grace received more than the theory.

While these thoughts all get jumbled around, the Eucharist offers a practice that truly invites us into mysterious union with Christ in his offering for us, and a peculiar union with our brothers and sisters in Christ as part of his body being offered up for the world.



About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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