Monday, May 30, 2016

Discussing the Differences Between Transubstantiation and the Sacramental Union

There aren't too many Lutherans that I know in my life, and those that I do are either former Lutherans or the practice of their faith isn't one that has many outward signs. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to have a great conversation with a Lutheran who belongs to the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church. In response to a meme on the different ways that various religions describe the Real Presence in the Eucharist, this person took the time to explain what Lutherans (at least those who claim to be LCMS) actually believe. While we know as Catholics that Lutherans don't possess valid sacraments, we are both close in our theology regarding the Eucharist. This was a very productive and informative discussion we had, and a very civil one as well. Below is the following conversation, with some closing thoughts by me after. My words will be in blue, and my Lutheran friends's (we'll call him John) in red. There were many people taking part in this conversation, but I'll just focus on the relevant parts of John's points and our the conversation between the two of us:
The Victory of Eucharistic Truth over Heresy- Peter Paul Rubens
Lutherans definitely profess the Real Presence, and should be grouped with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Their opposition to Transubstantiation is not because it potentially correctly explains the Sacrament, but because it explains the Sacrament at all; Lutherans refuse to subscribe to any Aristotelian view of the Eucharist, whether it's Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation or what have you. Catholics hear "In, with and under," and mistakenly think that Lutherans mean a local presence or co-mingling. That's downright blasphemes to Lutherans, who use "in, with and under" simply to explain that the Bread and Wine are, in every possible way, the Body and Blood of Christ -- in an incomprehensible and unexplainable, mystical Sacramental Union. /rant

"Their opposition to Transubstantiation is not because it potentially correctly explains the Sacrament, but because it explains the Sacrament at all; Lutherans refuse to subscribe to any Aristotelian view of the Eucharist..."

I think it's kind of unfair to oppose transubstantiation because it "explains" the sacrament, and then turn around and say the Sacramental Union doesn't try to do the same thing. We have to define terms here. Transubstantiation is not an attempt to define how the change of bread to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ occurs. The term simply gives a name to the change that occurs, how one substance (bread) becomes another (the body and Blood of Christ).

I understand, John, that you reject an Aristotelian or Thomistic approach to the Eucharist, but this is why St. Thomas Aquinas follows Aristotle's lead. The philosopher wrote in his Metaphysics:

"[T]hat which 'is' primarily is the 'what', which indicates the substance of the thing." (7.1a); and "that which underlies a thing primarily is thought to be in the truest sense its substance."

Christ says "This is My Body." Therefore, what looks like bread in Christ's hands is no longer bread, but substantially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The term transubstantiation doesn't claim to say how that change took place, it's just a term that lets the reader or listener know that a substance has changed into another, even though the accidents of bread and wine remain.

The Orthodox Church agrees with this definition as well, as we see from the writings of the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672. Like you John, we Catholics (and Orthodox) do not believe that the mystery of the Eucharist is taken away in trying to understand the Sacrament more deeply:

"Further, we believe that by the word “transubstantiation” the manner is not explained, by which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord, — for that is altogether incomprehensible and impossible, except by God Himself, and those who imagine to do so are involved in ignorance and impiety..."

You said John: "We simply acknowledge that the Sacrament is beyond our understanding, and accept this fact."

We agree, as shown above, but keep in mind you have a very specific definition for what the Sacramental Union is in regards to differentiating it from consubstantiation. Does that take away from the mystery of the Sacrament? Surely it doesn't, just as the term transubstantiation does not take away from the mystery of the Sacrament, as shown above.

Furthermore, it's unfair for Paul's use of the word "bread" in 1 Cor. 10:16 or 1 Cor. 11:28 to be used by Lutherans against Catholics (and Orthodox), in that Catholics are not understanding the "simple" Scripture passage. In the next verse of Chapter 11, St. Paul says, "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."

Right there, Paul has clearly referred to the consecrated bread, something distinct from mere common bread that was present before the consecration. What he calls bread is to be "discerned" as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord. St. Paul is telling us to call that which is labeled bread as "the Body" and only "the Body" instead of "the Body in, with, and under the bread." Remember, Christ refers to Himself as "living bread" in John 6:51, and no one would say that because Christ said one had to eat "this bread" which He "shall give" that is "His flesh" that there must have been mere common bread crucified with Christ.
St. Thomas Aquinas- Adam Elsheimer
The Catholic Church has long called the Eucharist "the bread of angels", most notably in St. Thomas Aquinas' Lauda Sion Salvatorem written for tomorrow's feast of Corpus Christi. Like St. Paul, is St. Thomas refering to bread, or is he referring to the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ with this title "bread of angels"? The answer is the same in both instances; these two great saints are both referring to Christ and Christ only, as the bread has transformed (transubstantiated/changed substance) into Christ's Body, therefore keeping totally in line with the Scriptures when Christ says, and says only, "This is My Body"!

I acknowledge that Lutherans and Catholics both believe in the Real Presence, and that Lutheran theology on the Eucharist cannot be compared to other Protestant understandings of the Eucharist. You are, as mentioned above, "our closest cousins" in Christ. However, I thought it important to clarify what was being said about transubstantiation as I did above. We should certainly pray for the full reunion of Christ's Mystical Body with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming up, and as Evan said, cease talking past each other when we do have a good amount of common ground.

Lutherans have always understood the Real Presence as just that. Simply the Real Presence. The only reason the word consubstantiation is even mentioned in relation to Lutheranism is because of the work that crypto Calvinists did with in the early Lutheran Church. They attempted to hijack Lutheranism to a more Calvinistic and Zwinglian view of the Sacrament. But if we look at history, the Gnesio Lutherans have always remained steadfast that the bread and wine truly are Christ's body and blood in every way in, with, under, over, inside, outside, above, and in every other possible way. "This IS my Body," were the words that Luther literally carved into a table when disagreeing with Zwingli.

If you took a Lutheran worth his salt who actually understood the Lutheran Confessions, tied him in a chair with a gun to his head and made him choose between consubstantiation and transubstantiation, they would almost always choose transubstantiation. But Lutheranism refuses to try to speak where Holy Scripture and the early fathers remain silent.

John, I think this has been a great discussion between you and the various people on this page. It's good to note that many Lutherans do not proclaim a belief in consubstantiation, and in all my debates and discussions regarding Eucharistic theology, I never accuse Lutherans as ascribing to such, but to the Sacramental Union as you've put it forth. I think it's good that we've differentiated between the ELCA which may have conceded some of its beliefs and the LCMS which you belong to. I've always had a degree of respect for the LCMS, and its steadfastness to the Confessions as you've noted.

Now, I took one exception to what you've posted in the last hour or so:

"If you took a Lutheran worth his salt who actually understood the Lutheran Confessions, tied him in a chair with a gun to his head and made him choose between consubstantiation and transubstantiation, they would almost always choose transubstantiation. But Lutheranism refuses to try to speak where Holy Scripture and the early fathers remain silent."

Good to know about our fictitous Lutheran friend! However, in regards to the last sentence, I submit that your assertion on Scriptures and the Early Church Fathers is false, and would like to provide the following sources for you to look over and ponder. This is from an earlier paper I wrote in reply to a Calvinist who rejected the Real Presence outright. Before I quote from that paper, I'd just like to know what you consider the "early Fathers" to be? I ask, since I will be quoting Church Fathers from the 4th century. I submit that the Early Church Fathers were NOT silent on the issue of transubstantiation [this comes from my earlier essay stemming from a discussion with a Calvinist, which you can find at]:

"Already [in the early Church] the foundation has been laid for a formulation of the term "transubstantiation", just as the foundation was laid for the formulation of the term "Holy Trinity" in other early Christian writings... We can also look at what St. Cyril of Jerusalem says in the year 350 regarding the substance of what was once bread completely changing during the Sacrifice of the Mass:

"Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith".
Cyril, in his Mystagogic Catechesis later uses the word metaballo, which is Greek for "change" or "transform" when speaking of the "substantial change" in the elements of bread and wine during the Mass. When explaining the epiclesis, he writes
"When we have sanctified ourselves through these spiritual hymns, we beg God, the Lover of mankind, to send the Holy Spirit upon what has been sent forth, so that he may make the bread the Body of Chris and the wine the Blood of Christ; for whatever the Holy Spirit touches is sanctified and changed [Greek: metabebletai]".
And let's look at St. Ambrose of Milan in 397, who also gets technical with his terminology, well before the 11th century when the term "transubstantiation" was first used, with bolding for emphasis:
"Perhaps you will say, "I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?" ... Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed. ... For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? ... Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which was crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: "This Is My Body." before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood."
Then we have St. Gregory of Nyssa who wrote this very technical formulation around the year 381 in his work The Great Catechism:
" the Word Himself said, 'This is my Body'...He shares himself with every believer through that Flesh whose material being comes from bread and wine... in order to bring it about that, by communion with the Immortal, man may share in incorruption. He gives these things through the power of the blessing by which he transelements[Greek- metastoikeiosas] the nature of the visible things."
"Transelements", he says. Does this ring a bell? Does one really think that such a thought process came out of a vacuum and not from the traditions of the Apostles and the clear teaching of Christ? Let's see just what this Greek word really means, as we find in James T. O'Connor's book on the Eucharist "The Hidden Manna":
"The Word's assimilation of the Eucharistic elements to himself- an assimilation by which his Body and Blood- is described by the forceful Greek word 'metastoikeiosas', transelementation. It actually means a restructuring of the elements, since the Greek 'stoikeia' means 'fundamental elements or principles'."
And then we see words like "transforming" used by St. John Chrysostym and "transposing" by St. Cyril of Alexandria to describe the change happening in the Eucharist. 
Luther offering the Mass
Nick, thank you. It's been a pleasure to converse with some who actually listen.
I am familiar with most of the works you've cited. And not a single one contradicts what I as a Lutheran understand about the Supper. Of course a change or transformation occurs - when the Verba are spoken over the elements. God Himself makes this change happen through the pastor/priest acting in persona Christi. Lutherans have acknowledged this since the beginning and continue to do so today - just see the Lutheran-Catholic dialogues on the Eucharist (one of the few ecumenical documents that has more use than composting). And I fall back to St. John Chrysostom; "It is enough to know that it is the work of the Holy Spirit."

That's good John, I certainly would hope the sources I cited do not contradict your theology. Keep in mind, though, I was just replying to your statement that said, on the matter of transubstantiation "the early fathers remain silent." I wanted to demonstrate that the Church Fathers were vocal on the issue.

I just want to make sure that you do understand Catholic theology on the matter. The term "transubstantiation" does not define how the elements (or substances) change (or transform) when the words of institution (or the verba) is spoken over the elements. It simply describes the change that occurs in the substance of the bread into the substance of Christ's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. As Jared Clark said earlier in this thread, "Transubstantiation is just a big word for 'change the substance'... It is not an explanation on 'how' it happens.

It seems like your view on the change that happens is more in line with Eastern Catholic/Orthodox theology, hence your quote by St. John Chrysostom, which is a totally valid quote. Keep in mind he also said on his homily on the betrayl of Judas, "This is My Body, the priest says. These words transform the elements set forth."

So while I agree with the quote that you posted by St. John, it's also worth mentioning this thought. If it were true that Catholics threatened the mysterious nature of the Eucharist, that is, if it is described as changing into the body of Christ, then why wouldn't the definition of the sacramental union not do the same? I think that the description put forth of the sacramental union is no more or less a threat to the mystery of the Eucharist than transubstantiation is. In short, I think we're dealing with mostly semantics here. Neither of us are trying to describe how the change of elements happens; that truly is something only the Holy Spirit would know. I just want to make clear that Catholic and Orthodox Christians aren't trying to take away the mystery of the Sacrament by saying that the substance of the bread has transubstantiated (changed/transformed/transelemented, etc.) into Christ's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Now, that's not to say there isn't an important difference between our two theologies on the Eucharist. I (and the Catholic and Orthodox Churches) reject Martin Luther's notion that "out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a 'sacramental union,' because Christ’s body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament." I also reject his "red-hot iron" analogy. But, I was surprised to read this by Luther, which I'm sure you're familiar with:

"I therefore permit every man to hold either of these views [transubstantiation or the sacramental union], as he chooses. My one concern at present is to remove all scruples of conscience, so that no one may fear to become guilty of heresy if he should believe in the presence of real bread and real wine on the altar, and that every one may feel at liberty to ponder, hold and believe either one view or the other, without endangering his salvation."

I'm glad to know that we (Catholics/Orthodox and the LCMS) hold much in common; I definitely learned that much today. While we're not totally on the same page, we're much closer than all our other separated brethren on the subject.
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek- Peter Paul Rubens
Sorry for not being more clear; you are correct that the issue is largely one of semantics. When I said the fathers were silent, I meant silent regarding the common polemical version of Transubstantiation, which often is explained even by well-meaning Catholics as "how." I've been blessed to learn from kind Catholics like yourself who've addressed my misunderstandings of Transubstantiation. I'm sort of duty-bound to repay the favor, since so many Catholics misunderstand Lutheran theology on the Supper. Had heads been cooler in the 1500's, I'm convinced this part at least wouldn't be an issue today.

You're probably fair to categorize the Old Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament as similar to the Orthodox, in that it is grounded in mystery. But we are Western Christians, and I'd posit that we're more akin to Pre-Tridentine Catholicism. The obvious difference being the role and nature of the ordained ministry in relation to the "validity" of the Sacraments... But who are we kidding? The Orthodox wouldn't acknowledge your orders to be much more "valid" then our own! smile emoticon

As for the Luther quotes regarding the iron, etc. it's important to keep in mind that he had a habit of speaking extemporaneously and unfiltered (sound familiar?). No analogy is perfect. Especially when used to describe an admittedly incomprehensible thing.

This blog post was helpful in my understanding of John's position on the Eucharist, and would be a good resource for anyone looking to learn more on the comparison and contrast of transubstantiation and the sacramental union. It's nice to know that Lutherans like John exist. We both were able to take away something from this conversation, and hopefully others will as well. While I agree with him that no analogy is perfect, it is apparent that Luther had a different view on what was present in the Eucharist, that is bread with Christ, than the Catholic Church did and still does, and he showed that throughout his writings and not just in his hot iron analogy. However, Luther did certainly have devotion to the Eucharist, as it's reported that he lapped up the Precious Blood from the ground when he had spilt it, and as his orders were valid, the Eucharist he confected was valid as well. His love for our Lord in the Eucharist cannot be denied. But it's good when we define terms. We may be close in our theology, but not totally there yet. Hopefully, one day we will be, and from conversations like this, it makes things look much more promising.

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