Transubstantiation or not?

Okay, now that I have a new computer and therefore more time to articulate my thoughts, I want to put together a more solidified response to Mommy’s article posted today challenging the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Well, she starts with the issue of traditionalists on the Trinity. Actually, it really isn’t so much the terms “Trinity” and “Consubstantiality” and “hyposteses” that the traditionalists at the Council of Nicaea objected to. Rather, on the contrary, the issue with these terms is that they had all been previously used by heretics before they were used within the context of refuting this “new” Arian heresy that had emerged. There is nothing new under the sun though (Eccl. 1:9).

Joseph Ratzinger, who most certainly has more experience in patristic theology than Mommy does, compares the Trinity to that “graveyard of heresies” (Introduction to Christianity, 172). He compares the Trinity to that of a negative theology. It is only through seeing that nothing can ultimately express the inexpressible that the Trinity can come to be known as the only expression of who God is and can be (171-172). Or as St Augustine notes about the terms “persons” when used to describe the Trinity, “not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken” (On the Trinity, Bk 5, Ch 9).

So then we come to something surprising–Mommy states that the veneration of icons/statues, transubstantiation, and the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice were reasons why the Reformers broke. In context, she condemns things that she, as my spiritual guide, taught me to believe!

“Neither had the early Church held to the doctrine of transubstantiation, nor had it seen the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice. There were other things, such as the veneration of statues and the practice of paying money to get out of Purgatory, which also suggested that serious reform was needed.”

I need therefore Mommy especially to clarify here–you are not saying that the veneration of icons that has been celebrated by the Triumph of Orthodoxy in the East is heretical right? I feel I have misunderstood your comment here as you told me privately that you find yourself appealed to Eastern Orthodoxy as do many in my own parish as well as a couple who have attended an Antiochian Orthodox liturgy and even our Vicar General affirms and has Eastern Orthodox friends (his only objection being they sing funny). So I think what you are trying to be here is more descriptive of what was going in the Reformers’ minds than anything else and this whole snafu over transubstantiation that occurred this morning seems to be a major misunderstanding of what Mommy was saying rather than an accurate statement of what you were saying.

Going back briefly–it was stated that the Orthodox do not hold to transubstantiation and she frequently cites St John of Damascus’s statements on how the eucharist cannot be defined properly. However, this is not a rejection of what our Catholic friends teach in regard to transubstantiation. The quote is as follows:

But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holyMother of God through the Spirit. (Book IV, Ch 13)

There is one major and significant error in using this quote to state Rome was in error in dogmatizing Transubstantiation though. Primarily in the fact that St John of Damascus clearly teaches transubstantiation. It is important to understand that the root word “trans” is referring to change and hence “transubstantiation” indicates change of substance. Note what St John of Damascus says earlier–

And now you ask, how the bread became Christ’s body and the wine and water Christ’s blood. And I say unto you, The Holy Spirit is present and does those things which surpass reason and thought. (ibid)

That is a statement which expresses thoroughly the concept of transubstantiation and also is simply what the Orthodox state in their liturgy consistently. Namely that the bread and wine, Jesus is “changing them by [his] Holy Spirit”. The Orthodox affirm strongly lex credenda lex orandi–the law of worship is the law of belief. There was no better way for me to silence a heretic denying Our Lady was the Mother of God lately than by referencing how Greek icons throughout late antiquity consistently state Mary is meter theou (Mother of God). Incidentally, only in the iconography and in the liturgy is Mary dogmatically affirmed the Mother of God by the Byzantines. The law of worship is the law of belief. Such that Jesus changing the bread and wine by his Holy Spirit is unquestionably the same as transubstantiation such that if I find Orthodox and Catholics bickering about transubstantiation, I’d just reference this and tell them how the bridegroom will harshly reprimand them over their semantics.

Back to the overall ensuing discussion flowing from the issue of transubstantiation on Mommy’s blog–her main argument seems to be that since it is a mystery, we cannot declare transubstantiation a dogma. I’m fine stating the term is inadequate as well as affirming with Joseph Ratzinger and St Augustine of Hippo that the terms of the Council of Nicaea are insufficient to describe God but no one dare state that the Trinity these terms attempt to describe is heretical to believe. Therefore, there seems to be no issue that Rome has decided to go ahead and declare transubstantiation a necessary belief if it is described in terms of negative theology not to show that this is in any way an accurate definition of a mystery but rather to refute and to demonstrate that the other Eucharistic theologies simply fall short.

Going back to Article XXVIII, I cite John Henry Newman–

What is here opposed as “Transubstantiation,” is the shocking doctrine that “the body of CHRIST,” as the article goes on to express it, is not “given, taken, and eaten, after an heavenly and spiritual manner, but is carnally pressed with the teeth;” that It is a body or substance of a certain extension and bulk in space, and a certain figure and due disposition of parts, whereas we hold that the only substance such, is the bread we see. (Tract 90, Section 8)

As we can see, Tract 90 shows that Article XXVIII need not be read by Anglicans to refute the doctrine of Transubstantiation. As the 39 Articles are held as dogmatic by all Anglicans, I therefore stand affirmed that the Anglican Church has never declared the doctrine of transubstantiation heretical. Fr Kimel has shared in his experience as a High Anglican priest how he also interpreted Article XXVIII as not being in rejection of transubstantiation either

Now, that leaves Mommy objecting that the bishops rejected Tract 90. When does laity think it can go against their bishops? Well did all the bishops reject Tract 90? Certainly none of the bishops in my own Continuing Anglican Church have rejected Tract 90. But nevertheless, this does not mean that if the religious leaders in one’s day have fallen into obvious heresy that God cannot raise up a prophet to amend their teachings. It is interesting further to point out that Jesus’s teachings were also quite challenged by the Pharisees. Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees was similar to that of John Henry Newman’s with the bishops. So why embrace Jesus as issuing the corrected doctrine and not John Henry Newman? The Oxford Movement is comparable to Jesus’s ministry in his life. Jesus’s ministry was that of a reformer in his day–a call back to the original pureness of the faith. This was also what the Oxford Movement did for Anglicanism. Anglicanism was undoubtedly corrupt and many Anglicans were becoming attached to the state or neglecting the sacraments all together. The Oxford Movement ushered in the Catholic Revival in the constant search for Catholic authenticity.*

Of course, some Anglicans believe the true revival for the English Church was with the Protestant Reformation. I completely and totally disagree. Rather, I think it is necessary to affirm the Protestant Reformation as a tragedy and a travesty to Christian union overall. I can see why Mommy wants to express the Reformers’ objections to the Catholic faith but this does not negate that the Protestant Reformation was a tragedy. Had the Protestant Reformation never happened, I wouldn’t be wanting to harm myself every single time I see QVO and Mommy arguing like little kids with each other. Perhaps the Protestant Reformation did correct doctrine that the Catholic Church was in error on. Perhaps it did not. Perhaps it actually was guilty of corrupting Church teaching. For some, they feel it is important to argue and argue all day long until the cows come home on these issues. I feel no real reason to argue about theology or to get worked up on something unless the historic Christian Church has consistently condemned such teaching as heretical. It is unwise to become so worked up on these issues as well. More than not, we lose sight of who we ought to strive to be in the image of and seem rather to conform ourselves to an image of our denomination.

I find Christian apologetics of all sorts entirely divisive and entirely pseudo-religious. These are not expressing genuine piety. Rather, they tend to just simply throw stones at the “attackers of the faith”. It does not matter if the attackers are Protestants, divisive Catholics, Catholics, atheists, or heretics. A genuine condemnation of any heresy can only exist in affirming the Gospel. This is why so many love Pope Francis. He is entirely Catholic but he prefers instead of just simply going into rhetoric to instead emphasize the Gospel belief that the Church stands and falls on. We become much more like a Bosco when we attempt to define ourselves based on what we are not. We should define ourselves based on what we are. If we are truly Christian and not absorbed in our given denomination, we will define ourselves with the model of Christ in mind. Jesus was not an Anglican or a Catholic or Orthodox. He was an heretical Jew executed for alleged blasphemy, resurrected on the third day and now stands as the judge of the entire world including the Apostolic Church he founded. Those who follow him have consistently been formed by love and continue to grow in love from their conversion until their death. It is much more important to live the Christian call–the baptismal identity is one of the new birth. It is one of growing in Christ in his love and in his ministry. A participation in his death and sufferings. If we do this, we do not seek approval from others but from him alone. We are to judge not lest we be judged. If we judge, we do not get judged by other humans but by Christ himself and we must not expect him to show us mercy for he may even tell us he never knew us in the first place. In fact, those who claim to know Christ will be judged with much greater harshness than those who did not know Christ.

Christian divisions are nothing new. St Paul writes about them. And he states quite clearly,

10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13)

I consider Fr Kimel a close friend of mine–he frequently notes that he typically avoids the subject of ecclesiology on his blog entirely due to the fact that all it ever does is build up pride. Jesus tells us quite well that a house divided against itself cannot stand. It is simple as that. Often times, with large churches, you will find constantly and consistently people thinking they have the right doctrine and trying to claim doctrinal superiority. Small churches are much better in this regard and one can see much greater a community of love built around them. I see Mommy and QVO and NEO and Dave Smith and all the rest debating and I do not witness the commandment she recites on her blog being exercised as it ought. I see pridefulness more often than not. She should probably be more honest with her blog and edit its heading to say something more like, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you are to argue and bicker with each other until I return.” They certainly would have no trouble maintaining this commandment. Rose has even told me personally that the type of ecumenism that Mommy endorses is destructive and it can be clearly witnessed by the arguments in the comment section taking place. I am always quite disturbed to see Mommy actively participating in these arguments–both for her health and because she has always been an inspiration for me and I hate to see her fall into these sins.

*This paragraph is entirely dependent on an Anglican Catholic ecclesiology that the Catholic views of the Church prior to the schism when it was founded by St Augustine of Canterbury were the ideal form of Anglicanism. Although I, along with many Anglican Catholics, hold this view, most Anglicans believe the ideal was in the Protestant Reformation.


About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
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