One of my good friends from Harding, Jake Owens, has written my post for this week. He puts out quality stuff on his own blog, The Badlands, and his guest post here is no exception.

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Bad news, folks. I’m here to talk about the doctrine of Transubstantiation. 

*a chorus of protestants boo me mercilessly* 

I think most objections to the teaching stem from a misunderstanding of it, and if we’re going to dismiss it (though I don’t think we should), we ought to at least understand what we’re dismissing. However, I will be the first to admit that it sounds a bit out-there to claim that the bread and the wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Even for people whose faith centers on a man raising from the dead, it sounds far-fetched.

Here is where the real issue lies. Many get hung up on the idea of the bread and wine transforming into actual human flesh and blood because it doesn’t appear or taste like flesh and blood. As far as we can observe, the bread and the wine stay exactly as they are—aside from being chomped up and gulped down. 

That objection, however, would not be to transubstantiation, but to transformation, which, to my knowledge, nobody actually teaches.

In philosophical terms, a given subject has substance and accidents. “Accidents” are qualities that don’t affect something’s essence. “Substance,” on the other hand, is the essence that lies beneath something’s attributes. My humanity isn’t contingent upon my pale skin, blue eyes, and love of boiled peanuts—plenty of humans exist who don’t share those qualities (accidents) but still have the same human substance. 

Transubstantiation is when, at the moment of consecration, the substance of Jesus Christ becomes wholly and physically present within the accidents of the bread and wine. The accidents, that which is perceived by the senses, remain the same, but the physical presence of Christ is nevertheless there within them.

Not symbolically. Not as a memorial. Not as “emblems.” The bread and the wine are the body and blood of Jesus. 

After all, that’s exactly what Jesus said.

“Take, eat. This is my body.” 

If he was speaking figuratively, it’s a shame the early church didn’t pick up on that, because they caught a lot of flack (read: martyrdom) for their beliefs surrounding the Eucharist. Maybe they wouldn’t have faced charges of cannibalism if they had been looser with their interpretation. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) and Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD) both explicitly acknowledged the physical presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Ignatius, a disciple of John who was personally appointed by Peter to lead the church in Antioch, even went so far as to say that those who do not believe Christ is physically present in the bread and wine are heretics— separate from the true Church. 

Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) wrote, “Jesus Christ once changed water into wine, so why should we not believe that he can change wine into blood?… So do not think of them as just bread and wine. And if your senses suggest otherwise, then let faith assure you beyond doubt that you have received the body and blood of Christ.”

If Jesus was speaking metaphorically, it’s odd that 1) He would give so much time to the specifics of the metaphor and 2) that He would be willing to lose followers over it rather than say, “Relax, it’s just a metaphor. Geez.”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”… Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”… As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. (John 6: 53-58, 60, 66)

From the early church onward, a literal interpretation of Jesus’s words on the Eucharist was the only accepted understanding of it. That is, until Martin Luther contested it. For all the justified critiques Luther gave of the Catholic Church, he really whiffed on this one. 

In the very same sentence that he calls transubstantiation “a monstrous idea,” he also calls Aristotle “pseudo-philosophy.” 

There can be all kinds of debate concerning what exactly happens to the bread and wine. The word “transubstantiation” might have too Catholic a ring to it for protestants to feel comfortable with adopting it. But ultimately, the crux of the issue is the physical presence of Christ. Regardless of how one believes the bread and wine physically become Christ, the point is that Jesus is tangibly and physically with us and in us. 

If communion does not include the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, it is something foreign to what the church practiced for the first millennia and a half.

When it’s not taken as a symbol or a memorial, but rather as the real presence of Christ, it’s a drastically different experience. It’s no longer a tray to be passed or a ritual that fits between songs. It dominates the room and demands our adoration. Peter Kreeft says that communion without the physical presence is like describing a marriage as a friendship. 

If transubstantiation sounds like it’s too weird to believe, then you’re in good company because that’s what Jesus’ disciples thought at first too. Nevertheless, it became a touchstone for the faith and remained that way all the way up until protestants got trigger happy during the reformation and threw baby Jesus out with the bathwater. 

During the Mass, right before the Eucharist is received, Catholics say a beautiful appropriation of Matthew 8. Before taking and eating the body that was broken for us, they say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Ultimately, it comes down to the point of the gathering. Maybe the church is stuck in a cycle of repeating different versions of the same eulogy right before the main event (the sermon, of course), or perhaps the purpose of meeting is more than that. In Christ’s body being broken and blood being spilt, he sustains us through his physical presence, and the church, in turn, bears him out to the world. 


Add yours →

  1. I’m so glad you posted this. It’s something I’ve been studying and meditating on for over 10 years. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, I wrote a “table talk” about this very thing! I will include it below this comment.

    I no longer believe that when Jesus said, “This is My body,” He was talking figuratively. Now, unlike transubstantiation, I do not believe Jesus was talking physically but spiritually. That is, I’m talking about consubstantiation. Jesus’ words were literal, but I don’t believe they were physically literal but spiritually literal. As Irenaeus said, the actual bread and the fruit of the vine consists of two natures: one earthly and one heavenly. Today, I certainly reject the belief in Memorialism (symbolism / emblems) which is still a stable in the Churches of Christ. I love Peter Kreeft’s statement.

    -Andrew Swango


    • This IS My body; This IS My blood

      There are Christians who believe that once the bread and the fruit of the vine enter your mouth, it literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus. …that we physically digest Jesus’ actual body and blood. This is called transubstantiation.

      There are Christians who believe that eating the Lord’s Supper is a memorial and simply represents Jesus’ body and blood. …that this bread and fruit of the vine are merely symbols or emblems of Jesus’ body and blood. This is called memorialism.

      As I read Jesus’ words when He established this Communion, neither of those beliefs seems right to me. When I eat this bread and fruit of the vine, I don’t taste human flesh and blood. It tastes like crackers and grape juice. On the other hand, symbols are made to represent things that are usually invisible or intangible. Yet when Jesus rose from the dead and is even now sitting at the right hand of His Father, He never gave up His humanity–a humanity that I will one day be able to touch and to hug.

      What does Jesus have to say about His Communion with us? “Take and eat it; this IS My body. Drink from it; this IS My blood” (Matt 26:26-28).

      If transubstantiation was true, I would expect Jesus to say something different like, “This WILL BECOME My body and My blood.” If memorialism was true, I would expect Jesus to say something different like, “This REPRESENTS My body and My blood.”

      Could there be another belief between transubstantiation and memorialism that better fits with Jesus’ words? Could this food remain physical bread and fruit of the vine while also the divine body and blood of Jesus? Could what we eat today be both physical food and spiritual food?

      The apostle John had a student named Polycarp and he had a student named Irenaeus. When talking about the Lord’s Supper which he called the Thanksgiving, Irenaeus put it very well: “For the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the blessing of God, is no longer common bread, but the Thanksgiving–consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 1, page 486).

      This morning, partake of Christ both physically and spiritually. Remember His words: “This IS My body; this IS My blood.”

      So when you eat here (point to mouth), it is bread. But here (point to head) it is His body.
      So when you digest here (point to stomach), it is bread. But here (point to heart), it is His body.

      FRUIT of the VINE
      This bread, which is Christ’s body, is the closest thing we have in being able to see Jesus’ body on the cross and to touch Him. And this fruit of the vine is the closest thing we have to see Jesus’ blood on the cross and its power to cleanse us.

      But let’s bring this up another notch. What we are doing right now is so much more than eating food and thinking about Jesus. Jesus said to His disciples who ate this Lord’s Supper with Him, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom WITH YOU” (Matt 26:29).

      Just as Christ ate the Supper with his disciples, He partakes with us now. He has not left His church high and dry in this world. He is very close to us today… especially at this event. He made promise to us. I believe this is why we also call this Communion. Communion is not the meal itself. But it is through the meal that Christ Himself has communion with us. Communion is not merely found in something you eat. Instead, we are IN communion with Christ and He with us!

      When you drink here (point to mouth), it is fruit of the vine. But here (point to head) it is His blood.
      When you digest here (point to stomach), it is fruit of the vine. But here (point to heart), it is His blood.

      Andrew Swango –


  2. The thing which convinced me about Jesus truly being present in the Eucharist is when “He let the scoffers go.” He let them leave in their disbelief. Now if Jesus meant that the Eucharist was purely symbolic, He would not have let them go, He would of called them back and explained this to them. To do otherwise would have been false teaching on His part. We know Jesus would not have done that. He also asked Peter, if he was going to leave Him too. There is too much evidence in these Scriptures to believe anything else other than, “Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is in the Consecrated Host. God Bless, SR


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