Transubstantiation, Fact or Fiction?
THERE was a time when it was not safe to ask whether transubstantiation is fact or fiction. As at such time as back in 1410. In that year John Badby, an English tailor, was burned at the stake in London’s Smithfield Square because he could not understand how Christ sitting at supper could offer his apostles his own body to eat!
And not only laymen, but also Catholic priests are spoken of as being burned alive for doubting transubstantiation. In fact, we are told that denial of this teaching has caused rivers of blood to flow and that likely more were put to death for doubting it than for doubting all other Roman Catholic teachings.
Regarding transubstantiation, The Encyclopædia Britannica (9th Ed.) states: “The Church of Rome teaches that the whole substance of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is converted by consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ, in such a manner that Christ in His entirety, including his human soul and His divine nature, is contained in the elements; and that with such a thorough transmutation that not only is the whole Christ contained in the wine as well as the bread, but with the same completeness in each particle of the bread, and in each drop of the wine.” The Council of Lateran of 1215 pronounced accursed any who would in any way doubt transubstantiation.
The claim is made that the miracle of transubstantiation is every bit as great and as incomprehensible a mystery as that of the trinity, which, together with the teaching of incarnation—that of Jesus Christ while on earth being both human and divine—are the three great “mysteries far transcending the capabilities of reason.” Regarding this aspect of transubstantiation, Hildebert of the thirteenth century states: “The force of human reason seems to fail more in the Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood than in any other work of divine power.” He further asks: “What understanding can grasp in what way the flesh of Christ comes to us daily from heaven to the altar, and from the altar to us, and yet leaves not the heaven from which it comes?”
No wonder that this teaching caused so much discussion during the Middle Ages and that such Catholic theologians or schoolmen as Duns Scotus observed that “the words of the Scriptures might be expounded more freely and easily without Transubstantiation.” But evidently to avoid trouble he held that “the chief thing is to hold about the Sacrament what the Holy Roman Church holds.”
NO SCRIPTURE SUPPORT
Whether transubstantiation is fact or fiction depends upon the meaning of Jesus’ words at Matthew 26:26, 28 (Cath. Confrat.), where he is quoted as saying, among other things, “This is my body,” “this is my blood of the new covenant.” Is it reasonable and consistent with the rest of the Bible to hold that these words indicate that an incomprehensible mysterious miracle of the greatest magnitude had taken place? No, it is not.
First of all let us note that nowhere in the Scriptures are incomprehensible mysteries that fly in the face of reason advanced as divine truths. On the contrary, the evidence of the senses and reason are continually appealed to. Thus obvious miracles were used to establish the divine commission of both Moses and Jesus Christ. From beginning to end God’s servants appealed to reason: Elihu reasoned with Job and his false friends. Malachi reasoned with an unfaithful priesthood. Paul reasoned with the Jews in the market places and in their synagogues and with the Greek philosophers on Mars’ Hill. He also effectively reasoned from effect to cause for faith in the existence of God. And above all others, Jesus appealed to reason.
To hold that when Jesus said “this is my body” the bread actually became his body, contrary to the evidence of the senses of the apostles, outrages reason. Was not Moses’ miracle of changing a staff into a serpent apparent to all? It was. Nor was there any question about a miracle when Jesus changed the water into wine. And when he fed the five thousand and the four thousand, it did not require faith to believe that he did, for there were all those fragments, many baskets full, in addition to the satiated multitude. Those miracles all served a practical purpose and instead of requiring faith to accept them they served to establish faith.
As for what Jesus had in mind, do we not time and again read that a certain thing is this or that, meaning that it stands for or means this or that? Certainly. Catholic versions themselves bear this out. Thus the Douay Version renders Genesis 41:26, “The seven beautiful kine, and the seven full ears, are seven years of plenty”; whereas Monsignor Knox renders it: “The seven sleek cattle, the seven plump ears, have the same sense in the two dreams; they stand for seven years of plenty.” Again, Daniel 7:17, Douay, reads: “These four great beasts are four kingdoms which shall arise out of the earth,” whereas Knox reads: “It is but earthly kingdoms these betoken, these four beasts thou hast seen.”
Further, note that according to Douay Galatians 4:24 reads: “For these are the two testaments,” while Knox translates the verse to read: “The two women stand for the two dispensations.” Especially do we find that Jesus used figurative language; in fact, we are told that without illustrations he did not speak and teach. He continually used metaphors and similes in preaching the good news of his Father’s kingdom. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I am the door of the sheep.” “I am the right shepherd, and I know my sheep.” (John 15:5; 10:7, 14, NW) Clearly, then, such versions as Moffatt and the New World Translation are fully justified in rendering the words in question at Matthew 26:26, 28, “This means my body” and “this means my ‘blood’.”
Had the wine actually become Jesus’ blood Jesus would not have spoken of its shedding as still in the future: “which is to be shed for many.” Nor would he have referred to the contents of the cup as still being the fruit of the vine: “I tell you this, I shall not drink of this fruit of the vine again, until I drink it with you, new wine, in the kingdom of my Father.”—Matt. 26:28, 29, Knox.
OPPOSED TO THE RANSOM
The fiction of transubstantiation is opposed to one of the most basic teachings of the Bible, the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as noted at Matthew 20:28 and; 1 Timothy 2:5, 6. As the apostle Paul shows at Hebrews 9:22, “Unless blood is shed, there can be no remission of sins.” (Knox) Transubstantiation involves an admittedly “bloodless sacrifice” and therefore cannot wipe out sins as claimed.
Then too, Paul, at Hebrews chapters 9 and 10, repeatedly insists that Jesus Christ died only once, that only one sacrifice is needed. It is therefore a denying of Paul’s words to hold that other sacrifices are needed, and it is blasphemy to hold that imperfect men can create the divine Christ afresh daily and sacrifice him.
Nor is that all. Paul distinctly shows that just as the high priest in Israel entered into the holy of holies with the blood of sacrificed animals to make atonement, so Jesus Christ entered heaven itself with the value or merit of his sacrifice to make atonement for his followers. No human priest could enter heaven to appear on behalf of others to obtain forgiveness for them, since “flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God.”—1 Cor. 15:50, Dy.
And if Jesus, by saying, ‘this is my body, my blood,’ miraculously changed the bread and wine into his very flesh and blood, performing the most noteworthy miracle of his ministry, surely this would not only have been explicitly stated but made paramount throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures. But transubstantiation is not even mentioned, let alone discussed, because it is not a fact but only fiction. It is not taught in the Bible.
ORIGIN OF TEACHING
Then how can we account for this teaching’s being the very crux of Christendom’s largest religion? Because of an apostasy, even as Jesus and his apostles warned. It is admitted that many pagan teachings and practices were brought into the church. The Greeks had a divine bread and also a divine nectar or ambrosia, which their mythological gods sipped and which was supposed to impart immortality. The Hindus had a similar belief.
That something could be transubstantiated, changed from one substance to another without changing its appearance, is based on the Aristotelian error that all matter has a basic and invisible substance of which it really consists as well as its outward, visible characteristics, such as color, form, texture, odor, taste, etc., known as “accidents.” In philosophizing on the Lord’s supper the early Alexandrian theologians “obviously borrowed from the terminology of the Greek mysteries,” we are told.
As with the trinity, there was a gradual growth of this teaching, as so clearly shown in The Encyclopædia Britannica (1942), Vol. 8, pp. 795-797. The term “transubstantiation” did not appear until the eleventh century. Its being made an official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1215 started the scourge of torturing and murdering thousands upon thousands of Jews on the rumor that they had “desecrated the host” by piercing it with needles or crushing it under foot, as though the Jews believed the fiction of transubstantiation! Wycliffe came out unequivocally against this teaching, as did also Zwingli. Luther, however, seemed reluctant to let it drop.
The fiction of transubstantiation has done much harm. It fosters idolatry in that both priests and people adore the “host” as the body of Christ upon the priests’ saying, “Hoc est autem corpus meum,” and then ringing a bell. In holding that only an ordained priest can perform the sacrifice of the mass and pronounce the words of consecration the people are made wholly dependent upon their priests for forgiveness of sins.
Truly reason, the facts and the Scriptures unite to prove that the Bible does not teach transubstantiation and that it is a fiction and not a fact.
REFERENCES: England in the Age of Wycliffe, Trevelyan, pp, 173, 174, 334, 335; History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, Stone, Vol. 1, pp. 30, 276, 374, 376; Clarke’s Commentary, Matthew 26:26; The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 573; Transubstantiation, F R. Montgomery Hitchcock, D.D., pp. 81, 89; The Encyclopedia Americana (1956), Vol. 27, p. 13; Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 2, pp. 99-101; The Two Babylons, Hislop, p. 161.
[Picture on page 169]