Thursday, January 28, 2021

Transubstantiation... impana... consul... metousiosis... oh my!

Names like Scott Hahn and Robert Fastiggi are going to mean nothing to Orthodox readers, but they will send Steubenville hearts aflutter for those in the know. Still, I think this topic deserves an approachable English-language title for those interested. We tend to know what "we" believe about something, but how many of us know about what the Lutherans or Anglicans formulated? One can easily say "Heretics will be heretics so why should I care," (I write this to forestall such a comment) but it is important to not only know what we believe and why but where others went and how they got there. That's a good way to furrow a path back to orthodoxy. It is certainly superior to a condescending chuckle and a "Tell me how that works out for you."

(NLM) - We have just received word about a new book which looks very interesting on the history of Transubstantiation as a theological concept, The Secret History of Transubstantiation: Pulling Back The Veil On The Eucharist, by Fr Christiaan Kappes, the academic dean at Ss Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Mr William Albrecht, author of the apologetics website Patristic Pillars. The book has been endorsed by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Zen, Dr Scott Hahn and Dr Robert Fastiggi.

The major chapters are divided as follows:

– Forerunners of Transubstantiation (From Genesis to Revelation in the Jewish and Early Christian Sources)

– Greek Patristic Tradition of Transubstantiation: From its Beginnings to Culmination (From the 3rd to 5th centuries)

– Adoption of Transubstantiation (metousiĆ“sis): A Tradition of Three Churches (From the 5th to 11th centuries)

– The Latin Reception of Transubstantiation (From the 4th to 11th centuries)

– From the Beginnings of Scholasticism to Aquinas and the Definition Of Trent

And here is the authors’ own description of their work: “Jerusalem was the center of the world for early Christians. Anyone who wants to understand the Bible needs to know the mysterious role of Jerusalem and the many symbols and prophecies surrounding her in the Scriptures. The present work’s readability has everyman in mind and thus avoids technicalities and dizzying vocabulary and concepts that cause boredom or confusion. The code or insider vocabulary of the Bible presupposes Christian knowledge of anything from local plants to animals and the Temple on Zion. The reader’s mind will be initiated into every mystery surrounding the Jerusalemite technical term: “transubstantiation,” as witnessed among Christians of the Holy City. The reader will marvel how the Bible constantly refers to it from Genesis through to Revelation. The Bible’s underlying message will never be the same again. Anything from the fiery coals of manna falling from heaven to the fiery Seraph on the manna or frankincense tree all have a role in this intense drama. The authors meticulously trace Biblical and Jerusalemite use of transubstantiation from Antiquity by all the major Churches of ancient Christendom whose witnesses culminate in defining the mystery officially in the 1500s. No significant philosopher or theologian is neglected with new names and sources (never before explored on the topic) now made available in plain English and presented in a readable narrative. This is the final word on the history, origins, and meaning of transubstantiation in the Bible and Church history.”


  1. Recent controversy around celiac and then virus & spoons & Holy Architecture reveals that "we" who cling to ortho-doxia don't seem to know what we believe.

    "...This is the final word on the history, origins, and meaning of transubstantiation in the Bible and Church history."

    brings to my mind what Sara says:

    Yeah, you're working
    Building a mystery
    Holding on and holding it in
    Oh, yeah, you're working
    Building a mystery

  2. In academia, "the final word" often spawns many modifiers of that word. Kinda like film sequels.

    1. But does Orthodoxy, which teaches there is a “change” accept the metaphysical construct of “transubstantiation”?

    2. Historically, it very frequently has, as in the Confession of Dositheus. The metaphysical construct itself isn't really that strange to Orthodox metaphysics. That is, if you take "substance" and "accident" to mean what they mean to John of Damascus (which isn't any different from what they mean to Catholics when talking about transubstantiation), saying that the substances changes while the accidents remain is simply a description of what we believe: The elements really become Christ's body and blood. They are no longer bread and wine. They continue to have the accidental properties of bread and wine. I've never understood why there's hesitancy about this among some Orthodox.

    3. We do not need the metaphysical brain-draining Thomistic dissertation explaining such a thing. We say that we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist...and we leave it at that. We don't need to attempt to prove a great Mystery.

    4. Why? We're happy to go into quite extreme metaphysical detail in our Christology. The Eucharist is an extension of that.

    5. “It is truly that Body, united with Godhead, which had its origin from the Holy Virgin; not as though that Body which ascended came down from heaven, but because the bread and wine themselves are changed into the Body and Blood of God. But if thou seekest after the manner how this is, let it suffice thee to be told that it is by the Holy Ghost; in like manner as, by the same Holy Ghost, the Lord formed flesh to himself, and in himself, from the Mother of God; nor know I aught more than this, that the Word of God is true, powerful, and almighty, but its manner of operation unsearchable.” St. John Damascene (J. Damasc. Theol. lib. iv. cap. 13, § 7.)

    6. "In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord."
      St Philaret of Moscow

    7. St Filaret's definition especially is precisely a definition of transubstantiation- "substantially becomes". It's not an expalanation of how any more than our Christology is an explanation of how God became human. Both are descriptions of what we know to happen.

    8. We do not subscribe to the Aristotlean metaphysical mind games. Are you Roman Catholic?

  3. "...That is, if you take "substance" and "accident" to mean what they mean to John of Damascus (which isn't any different from what they mean to Catholics when talking about transubstantiation), saying that the substances changes while the accidents remain is simply a description of what we believe: The elements really become Christ's body and blood..."

    Would be interested if you have a citation of St. John of Damascus on this. Your right substance, change, essence, accidents, nature, hypostasis, consubstantiality - all this and more are terms and conceptualizations of the early Church and are all part of the Greek-Christian "synthesis" that is a fundamental aspect of the mind of the Fathers.

    Fr. Alexander Schmemann asserted that the vast majority of Orthodox believers (hierarchy, ordained, lay) had accepted the specific metaphysical categories that came out of the high middle ages, the metaphysical (Manichean) split/conflict between "spirit" and "matter (creation)" that is behind the specific Thomistic Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. As you point out we have these "blips" of explicit acceptance, an example being the "Confession of Dositheus", but if you spend a little time with such thins you see that such assertions are not rigorous or systematically explained. Why did Dositheus so passionately reject consubstantiality and accept a de facto Roman theology (of transubstantiation)? He does not really say.

    Fr. Kouri asks why we need to accept the metaphysics of Roman transubstantiation, but like you I would ask him why we need to reject it. In other words, what is behind Fr. Khouri's and other Orthodox commentators rejection, and what metaphysics are they proposing in its place. Orthodox often *irrationally* claim they are not doing metaphysics when they are. Here is an example of an Orthodox bishop doing metaphysics of the Eucharist:

    In the end I stand with Fr. Schmemann in that we need to reject the specific RC doctrine of transubstantiation because we need to reject the presuppositions that make it necessary, and accept the Greek-Christian synthesis of the 1st millennium. However celiac disease, viral vectors, spoons and assertions of Holy Architecture and of course bishops like Met. Isaiah of Denver sort of force our allegedly apophatic hand. We can't have our cake and eat it too metaphysically. If Met. Isaiah is going to make such strong *physical* assertions about disease, medicine, and the metaphysics of the Holy Eucharist then we have to be honest and admit what he/we are doing - leaving the apophatic and entering the cataphatic...

  4. I have an idea. Why don't we wait to comment on this till someone has read it then they can give us a review?


    I am an intelligent man but for the life of me I will never understand the drive to over-explain the Mystery of God's Incarnation. St. Athanasius did a wonderful job.

    The real problem comes in the fact that the more specific we try to be with language, the more we miss of the reality.

    I know the Jesus Christ is a real person. I know His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection are real. I know that He is fully present in all of the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church imparting His substantial mercy. I do not require the quantum mechanics of the reality.

    How do I know? He has shown me. If He shows these things to me, a sinning troglodyte, it simply cannot be that obscure and require endless fruitless arguments that seem to me (forgive the phrase) intellectual masturbation.

    Taste and see the Lord is Good.

    Oh, and nothing, except my own sin, can keep Him from me. Romans 8:37-39

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner and on us all.