Wednesday, August 21, 2013
A Matter of Substance
I had a conversation with a fundamentalist the other day and he was asking how it was at all possible that Jesus could "be something so mundane as bread and wine... how can you believe that bread and wine becomes the flesh and blood of Christ?". As I pondered the question I was reminded of something Steve Ray (a Catholic apologist I have great admiration for) said in response to a similar question that was posed to him. When Steve Ray visited Australia in 2009, he shared with us his response to that question (I'm paraphrasing here, so Steve, if you read this, I apologise for any inaccuracy):
Steve Ray was approach by a man that wagered, "I'll bet you a thousand dollars that if I took that bit of bread after the consecration and put it under a microscope, I wouldn't be able to see flesh and blood". Steve responded, "My friend, I'd be willing to wager that if I travelled back in time to the time of Christ and with my pocket knife cut off a bit of Jesus' skin and put that under a microscope, I wouldn't be able to see Christ's divinity".
Steve Ray's wagerer was for the most part satisfied with the response, but the question raises more queries about the Catholic definition of "substance".
The way I define "substance" to my students is this way: I am a Catholic, I am a father, I am a husband, etc. but these things are not perceptible; they typically cannot be detected by the human senses. These things are my substance; they define who and what I am and what I may become.
There are then "accidents", and these are things that are perceptible; detected by the human senses. I would ask my students to look at me and describe my appearance. They would then say "adult, dark hair, goatee/beard, tall, strong looking..." etc.
When we speak of "accidents" and "substance" in relation to the Eucharist, the "accidents" and "substance" are as follows:
Accidents: bread, wine
Substance (after consecration): body, blood, soul, divinity of Christ
The accidents of bread and wine remain after consecration but it is the substance that changes, i.e. transubstantiation, meaning "change of substance". Prior to consecration, the bread and wine's substance is the substance of bread and wine.
Substance, in this context, can be defined as the "essential nature" or "essence" of something. Christ's "essential nature" is divine; He is fully human and fully divine; He is God incarnate (God "in the flesh"). As far as the Eucharist is concerned, we believe that the bread and wine, while under the appearance of bread and wine, is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ and scripture reveals this truth:
John 6:35-57 -- the Eucharist is promised
Matthew 26:26 (Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) -- the sacrament of the Eucharist is instituted
1 Corinthians 10:16 -- the Eucharist is participation in Christ's body and blood
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 -- Receiving the bread and the wine in an unworthy manner is to profane against the body and blood of Christ
The Early Church Fathers professed this faith too:
“Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ..." - St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:8 (350AD)
"[heretics] abstain from Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ..." - St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Smyrnaeans 6, 2, 2 (110AD)
"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (155AD)
"... live by faith, and not by sight" - 2 Corinthians 5:7