Transubstantiation (change of substance), a word applied to the alleged conversion or change of the substance of the bread and wine in the eucharist into the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the time the officiating priest utters the words of consecration.
I. The Terms. — Probably the first to make use of the word transubstantiatio was Peter Damili (Epositio Can. Miss. cap. 7; Mai, Script. Vet. t. Nov. Col. I, 2, 215), A.D. 988-1072; though similar expressions, such as transitio, had previously been employed. Its use was, however, limited, and in the 12th century was becoming very rare. Its first appearance as a term accepted and recognized by the Church is in the first of the Seventy Constitutions presented to the fourth Council of Lateran (1215) by Innocent II, and tacitly adopted by that council. The term thus adopted by the Western Church has its counterpart in the Eastern Church in the term Metousiosis (Μετουσίωσις), which was formally adopted, in the "Orthodox Confession of Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East," in 1643; and in Art. 17 of the Council of Bethlehem, or of Jerusalem, in 1672.
The Church of England never adopted the word. "transubstantiation" in any formal document; and at the same time that the Council of Trent was fixing it upon the Latin Church, the sacred synod of the English Church was declaring, in the 28th art. of Religion "Panis et vini Transubstantitatio in Eucharistia ex sacris literis probari non potest, sed apertis Scripture verbis adversatur et multarumr superstitionum dedit occasioneum" (A.D.1552). This part of Art. 28 now stands in English in the following form: "Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the supper of the Lord cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions" (A.D. 1571).
II. The Doctrine. — In the Confession of the Synod of the fourth Lateran Council, transubstantiation is thus defined: "There is only one universal Church, beyond which no man can in any way be saved. In' which Jesus Christ is himself the priest and sacrifice, whose body and blood are really contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the form of bread and wine, being transubstantiated, the bread into the body and the wine into the blood, by divine power." By the institution of Corpus Christi Day by pope Urban IV in 1264 and pope Clement V in 1311 at the Synodo of Vienne, the doctrine in question was expressed in a liturgical form and its popularity secured. Henceforth the sacrifice of the mass formed more than ever the center of the Catholic ritual, and reflected new glory upon the priesthood.
The change effected by transubstantiation is declared to be so perfect and complete that, by connection and concomitance, the soul and divinity of Christ coexist with his flesh and blood under the species of bread and wine; and thus the elements, arid every particle thereof, contain Christ whole and entire divinity, humanity, soul, body, and blood, with all their component parts. Nothing remains of the bread and wine except the accidents. The whole God and man Christ Jesus is contained in the bread and wine, and in every particle of the bread, and every drop of the wine. The natural result of such a doctrine is the elevation of the Host for adoration, a practice unknown till the rise of transubstantiation.
It is claimed by the advocates of transubstantiation that it had the belief and approval of the early fathers of the Church. Bingham (Christ. Antiq. bk. 15 ch. 5, § 4) asserts that "the ancient fathers have declared as plainly as words can make it that the change made in the elements of bread and wine by consecration is not such a change as destroys their nature and substance, but only alters their qualities, and elevates them to a spiritual use, as is done in many other consecrations, where the qualities of things are much altered without any real change of substance." We give some extracts from the authorities quoted by Bingham. Thus Gregory of Nyssa (De Bapt. Christi, 3, 369); This altar before which we stand is but common stone in its nature, but after it is consecrated to the service of God, and has received a benediction, it is a holy table, an immaculate altar, not to be touched by any but the priests, and that with the greatest reverence. The bread also at first is but common bread, but when once it is sanctified by the holy mystery, it is made and called the body of Christ." Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. Myst. 2, note 3), "Beware that you take not this ointment to be bare ointment; for as the bread in the eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is not mere bread, but the body of Christ, so this holy ointment, after invocation, is not bare or common ointment, but it is the gift or grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit, who by his presence and divine nature makes it efficacious." Chrysostom, in his famous Epistle to Caesarius, explaining the two natures of Christ that he had both a human and a divine substance in reality says, "As the bread, before it is sanctified, is called bread, but after the divine grace has sanctified it by the mediation of the priest it is no longer called bread, but dignified with the name of the body of the Lord, though the nature of bread remain in it, and they are not said to be two, but one body of the Son; so here, the divine nature residing or dwelling in the human body, they both together make one Son and one Person." When this passage was first produced by Peter Martyr, it was looked upon as so unanswerable that the Romish Church declared it to be a forgery, and it was stolen from the Lambeth Library during the reign of queen Mary. Theodoret plainly says that the bread and wine remain still in their own nature after consecration. Augustine, instructing the newly baptized respecting the sacrament, tells them that what they saw upon the altar was bread and the cup, as their own eyes could testify to them; but what their faith required to be instructed about was that the bread is the body of Christ, etc. Answering an objection, supposed to be urged, that Christ had taken his body to heaven, Augustine replies, "These things, my brethren, are therefore called sacraments, because in them one thing is seen and another is understood. That which is seen has a bodily appearance; that which is understood has a spiritual fruit." He also says that "this very bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ; consequently. it could not be his natural body in the substance, but only sacramentally. The natural body of Christ is only in heaven, but the sacrament has the name of his body, because, though in outward, visible, and corporeal appearance it is only bread, yet it is attended with a spiritual fruit." Isidore, bishop of Seville (A.D. 630), speaking of the rites of the Church, says, "The bread, because it nourishes and strengthens our bodies, is therefore called the body of Christ; and the wine, because it creates blood in our flesh, is called the blood of Christ. Now, these two things are visible, but, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, they become the sacrament of the Lord's body" (De Eccles. Ofic. 1, 18). From the time of Paschasius this doctrine had been the subject of angry contention, and one of its bitterest opponents was the able scholastic writer Duns Scotus, whose opinions were maintained in the 11th century by Berengarius and his numerous followers.
III. Arguments. — The doctrine of transubstantiation is defended by a literal interpretation of the words spoken by our Lord at the last supper, "This is my body," "This is my blood." From these words it is argued that there is the real bodily presence of Christ's body, which is accounted for by the miracle of a change of substance of the bread and wile. In answer it is urged,
1. The accounts which the Romanists give of this supposed miracle are at variance with their own statement of it. In such a case, for instance, as that of the miracle of Moses rod, every one would say, "the rod was changed into a serpent" (all the attributes of this last being present), not vice versa; so that by Romanists' own account it is Christ's body and blood that are changed into bread and wine.
Wherever a miracle was wrought in the Old or New Test., as in the instance above alluded to, or in the turning of the water into wine at Cana, such change was obvious to the senses; the appeal, in fact, for the reality of the miracle is to the senses; while, therefore, we might admit that if a Romish priest were to assert that he had converted our Savior's body into bread and wine, he was safe as far as the senses go, we should hold, per contra, that if he professed to have turned bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, that body and blood ought to be clear to the senses.. We had bread and wine before the consecration; we have, as to sense, bread and wine after. In the whole history of miracles, nothing of this sort has ever been known; nor can we, under such circumstances, admit that the alleged change has taken place. Suppose Aaron's rod to have remained still with all the attributes of a rod, could Pharaoh and his court believe it to be now a serpent?
2. The late origin of the doctrine of transubstantiation has been alleged as one reason for its rejection, and it is certainly a point worthy of considerable notice. If, however, it had been as early as the superstitious veneration for relics and images, it would have been but an ancient error.
3. It must be evident to everyone who is not blinded by ignorance and prejudice that our Lord's words, This is my body," are mere figurative expressions; and that they were no more likely to be designed to be received literally than the declarations; made by our Lord that he was a "vine," a "lamb," a "door," a "way," a "light…"
4. Besides, such a transubstantiation is so opposite to the testimony of our senses as completely to undermine the whole proof of all the miracles by which God has confirmed revelation. According to such a transubstantiation, the same body is alive and dead at once, and may be in a million of different places whole and entire at the same instant of time; accidents remain without a substance, and substance without accidents; and a part of Christ's body is equal to the whole. It is also contrary to the end of the sacrament, which is to represent and commemorate Christ, not to believe that he is corporeally present (1Co 9:24-25).
5. The practical evil of this and of consubstantiation (q.v.) is that it leads to the paying divine adoration to a bit of bread, and the still more noxious superstition of thinking that Christ's body can be received and act like a medicine on one who is "not considering the Lord's body," as, e.g., an infant, or a man in a state of insensibility.
See Blunt, Dict. of Hist. Theol. s.v.; Gardner, Faiths of the World, s.v.; Bingham, Christ. Antiq. (see Index); Brown, Compendium, p. 613; Cosen, On Transubstantiation (1858); Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines (see Index); Hill, English Monasticism (Lond. 1867); Kidder, Messiah, 3, 80; Knott, On the Supper of our. Lord (1858); Smith, Errors of the Church of Rome, dial. 6; Thirlwall, Transubstantiation: What Is It? (1869); Van Oosterzee, Christ. Dogmat. (see Index); Watson, Biblical Dict. s.v.