According to Roman Catholic dogma, transubstantiation is the change of the substance of the Eucharistic elements — bread and wine — into the body and blood of Jesus, although they retain the physical accidents — i.e. appearance, taste, texture, etc.— of bread and wine. The term is sometimes used informally to refer to any belief that the elements of the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ, with or without reference to "accidents" or other technical details specific to transubstantiation.

The Roman Catholic Church holds that Christ directly instructed the Apostles in belief in the real presence, that the elements of the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ. The Synoptic Gospels present the words of Christ concerning the bread and wine at the Last Supper: "This is my body... This is my blood." (see Matthew 26:26-28 ( The Gospel of John records that Jesus said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you." (John 6:53 ( Those who heard Jesus's words appear to have taken them literally, as the majority were shocked and left him. Adherents to Jewish Law consider eating blood one of the worst transgressions of kashruth, the law of eating and drinking, and a violation of the noachide laws which apply to all people and not just Jews. St. Paul implies an identity between the apparent bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ when he writes: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:27 (

This understanding of the Eucharist was already well established in the Early Church. Ignatius of Antioch would appear to have accepted the concept when, in AD 106, he criticized those who "abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7). Similarly, Ambrose of Milan countered objections to the doctrine, writing "You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the flesh of Christ." (The Sacraments, 333/339-397 A.D. v.2,1339,1340)

Scholastic theologians in the early Middle Ages, influenced by Aristotelianism inquired philosophically into how and in what way the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. It was during this period that 'transubstantiation' was used to explain the belief. Eventually, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and again the Council of Trent (1545-1563) officially defined transubstantiation as the dogmatic belief of the Church.

In the twentieth-century, some modernist Roman Catholic theologians sought to interpret transubstantiation as only a change of meaning and not a change of substance. This was again rejected by Pope Paul VI in 1965. His 1968 "Credo of the People of God", reiterated that any theological explanation of the doctrine must hold to the two-fold claim that after consecration (1) Christ's body and blood are really present and (2) bread and wine are really absent, and this presence and absence is real and not merely something in the mind of the believer, a reiteration of conciliar dogma of the 12th Century.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic view, many Protestant churches hold that Holy Communion merely symbolically commemorates or memorializes Jesus' Last Supper with the disciples; this belief is known as "symbolism", "commemoration", or "transignification". Some fundamentalist Protestants see any doctrine of the real presence as idolatry, worshipping mere bread and wine as if it were God.

Other Protestant sects profess belief in the real presence, but offer other explanations than transubstantiation.

Some churches (notably some Lutheran communions) profess the doctrine of Consubstantiation, which holds that both the body and blood of Christ and the bread and wine are present in substance in the consecrated Eucharist. This presence is sometimes described as being "in and under the bread and wine", opposed to the "under the accidents of bread and wine" of transubstantiation. In the claim that there is a physical real presence of Christ in the Eucharist this doctrine agrees with Transubstantiation and disagrees with Commemoration.

Anglican Churches generally use the term "real presence" without necessarily being more precise. Some Anglicans hold views nearly indistinguishable from transubstantiation, while others hold views closer to consubstantiation or other Protestant views.

The Anglican wideness of view has its roots in the sometimes violent controversies on religion during and after the reign of Henry VIII. During the reign of Elizabeth I, a more inclusive (some would say fuzzy) approach was adopted. Elizabeth's own response when questioned on this during the reign of Mary I is often quoted:

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and brake it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

Some Anglicans disavow the idea that the real presence is bodily. In 1684, Archbishop John Tillotson went as far as to speak of the "real barbarousness of this Sacrament and Rite of our Religion." For him, it was a great impiety to believe that people who attend Holy Communion "verily eat and drink the natural flesh and blood of Christ. And what can any man do more unworthily towards a Friend? How can he possibly use him more barbarously, than to feast upon his living flesh and blood?" (Discourse against Transubstantiation, London 1684, 35.)

Similarly, Andrew Lortie (Andre Lortie), a leading Huguenot theologian and author, wrote a great deal against transubstantiation.

The Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, teach that the bread and wine truly become the physical body and blood of Christ. Orthodox theologians, however, have tended to refrain from philosophical speculations such as those of the scholastic theologians. Rather, they generally prefer to simply rely on the status of the doctrine as a "mystery", a doctrine known by divine revelation that could not have been arrived at by reason without revelation. They would prefer to say too little about the details and remain firmly within Holy Tradition, than say too much and possibly deviate from the truth. (Although the four-syllable word "metabole"/"metavole" may be loosely said to be "Greek Orthodox for 'transubstantiation'", it actually means "change" or "alteration". Greek for "transubstantiation" — as in "an alteration specifically of the fundamental substance or essence" in the Roman Catholic sense — would be "metousiosis".)

In literature, the controversy between Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation was satirically described in Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" as war between Lilliput and Blefuscu.

See also

External links

  • Mysterium Fidei (, Pope Paul VI

[1] ( eo:Transsubstancigo fr:Transsubstantiation nl:Transsubstantiatie pl:Przeistoczenie (katolicyzm)


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