Transubstantiation: Unbiblical, Ahistorical, and Unreasonable


Controversy Between the Rev. John Hughes, of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Rev. John Breckinridge, of the Presbyterian Church, Relative to the Existing Differences in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Religions

Correspondence #30, by John Breckinridge (1797-1841),
pp. 242-248; Philadelphia, August 22nd, 1833.

To the Rev. John Hughes,

I would now resume the discussion on Transubstantiation. This, with its adjuncts is undoubtedly one of the distinguishing, and radical doctrines of the church of Rome. You have presented it at large, in Letter No. 27. Before proceeding to examine your arguments I will refresh the memory of the reader by giving the doctrine in the words of your church.

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

The Council of Trent at its 13th Session thus decreed touching the doctrine of Transubstantiation. “In the first place the holy Council teacheth, and openly and plainly professeth, that our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained in the pure sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, and under the species of those sensible objects.” “By the consecration of the bread and wine there is effected a conversion of the whole substance, the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood, which conversion is fitly and properly termed by the Holy Catholic church, Transubstantiation.” “If any one shall deny that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, there are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; or say that he is in it only as a sign or figure or by his power, let him be accursed.

The following extracts from the Catechism of the Council of Trent (part 2, ch. 4), define the method of consecration, &c. &c. “Here the pastor will also explain to the faithful that in this sacrament not only the true body of Christ, and all the constituents of a true body, as bones and sinews (velut ossa et nervos) but also Christ, whole and entire are contained.“—“The Catholic Church, then, firmly believes, and openly professes, that in this sacrament the words of consecration accomplish three things; first, that the true and real body of Christ, the same that was born of the Virgin, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is rendered present in the holy eucharist; secondly, that however repugnant it may appear to the dictate of the senses, no substance of the elements remains in the sacraments; and thirdly, a natural consequence of the two preceding, and one which the words of consecration also express, that the accidents which present themselves to the eyes, or other senses, exist in a wonderful and ineffable manner, without a subject. All the accidents of bread and wine we see; but they inhere in no substance, and exist independently of any. The substance of the bread and wine is so changed into the body and blood of our Lord, that they altogether cease to be the substance of bread and wine.” “The accidents cannot inhere in the body and blood of Christ; they must therefore, above the whole order of nature, subsist of themselves, inhering in no subject.

Finally, the efficacy of the consecrating act, depends upon the intention of the officiating priest, so that if he lacks the intention, to transubstantiate, no change takes place, and the bread and wine remain the same, (see 6th chap. Coun. Tr. Can. 11) “Whoever shall affirm that when ministers perform and confer a sacrament, it is not necessary that they should at least have the intention to do what the church does, let him be accursed.” In defense of this doctrine, you adduced in letter No. 27, the 6th chap. of John. In letter 28, I exposed so fully your improper use of that passage, that you seem to have abandoned its further aid in defense of transubstantiation. Your application of it to the defense of the real presence, is refuted by two popes, four cardinals, two arch bishops, five bishops, and doctors, and professors of divinity to such a number as to make in all no less than thirty Papal writers, who deny that the 6th chapter of John gives any support to transubstantiation. The only other portions of Scripture which you adduce in support of this doctrine, are found in the account of the institution of the eucharist given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul. The Douay and English translations used in this country, differ so little from each other in these passages, that either will suffice to exhibit the language of institution. We give them in our translation.

Matthew 26:26–29. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, take, eat; this is my body. And took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many, for the re mission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the wine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.

Mark 14:22–25, differs from Matthew only by adding, “and they all drank of it.” Luke 22:19–20, adds: “This do in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:23–27. “The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me,” etc. “Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

I. The Question is Not Whether Christ is Present, but How.

I. The question between us is not, whether Christ be present in this sacrament; but how he is present. Evangelical Protestants all allow, as their standards clearly evince, that Christ is spiritually present; and the truth of Christ’s words recorded above, they undoubtedly believe. But they utterly deny that the bread and wine are by the consecration of a priest changed into the very, the real body and blood “bones and sinews” of Christ, so that the bread and wine no longer remain; but under their appearance is contained that same Christ who was born of the Virgin, together, with his soul and divinity. This we deny to be meant in the words of the institution. In fact it is upon the wrong interpretation of these passages that the proof of transubstantiation rests.

This is my body“—Literal or Figurative?

Here observe, there is no necessity of taking the words literally. You admit that there are figures used in the Bible. Why then take these literally? When the Apostle tells us (Ephesians 5:30) “We are members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” and calls it “a great mystery”—is it literal or figurative? Surely he does not mean to say the bones and flesh of Christ are substantially in every believer! When Christians are said, (Heb. 6:4) “To be made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” are we to understand that they are really deified? Or (1 Cor. 10:17) “We being many, are one bread and one body.” Does it mean that all Christians are first compounded into one body, and then that body is transmuted into one great loaf? Yet literally taken it must be so.

You will not deny that figures may be used in a sacrament. For this is the very nature of a sacrament, to be an outward sign and figure of some invisible grace and benefit. Besides, the words of this sacrament are replete with figure. When it is said, “this cup is the New Testament in my blood,” there is a figure; viz. the cup is put for the wine; for if it be literal, then the cup is changed (and not the wine); and the cup is changed into the New Testament, and not into Christ’s blood. Or if you say that it is the wine which is changed into a Testament, then we have this absurdity, viz. that the testator, is also the testament. But you will not deny that it is by a figure that the cup is called, “the New Testament.” I ask, then, why it may not be by a figure, that the wine is called the blood of Christ, and the bread his body? Again, these words “this cup is the New Testament in my blood,” plainly show that what is in the cup is not really the blood of Christ. For suppose “this cup” to mean “this blood,” then we make Christ say “this blood is the New Testament in my blood;” that is, the blood of Jesus Christ is in the blood of Jesus Christ. In order to avoid this absurdity, Bellarmine actually makes two sorts of blood of Jesus Christ (Book 1, chap. 11, of the Eucharist). The conclusion, then, is irresistible, that since literally taken, it makes nonsense, it is spoken in a figure. Besides, if the words “this is my body,” are to be taken literally, then the bread is changed into the body of the Priest and not the body of Christ, as it is the Priest who speaks. For your church holds, that the Priest (tanquam gerens personam Christi) personates Christ, when he repeats the words of consecration; and that they operate what they signify. Hence it is the priest’s body and not Christ’s, which is wrought into the sacrament; and the priest’s body which the people worship. If not, then the words of consecration, were only historical, and used in a figure.

Observe still further that the words are not, “this shall be my body,” nor “this is made, or shall be changed into my body,” but “this is my body.” Now the word “this” can refer to no other substance, than that which was present when our Lord spoke that word. But the only substance which was then present was bread. This is acknowledged by your own authorities. In the gloss upon Gratian (De Consecrat. Dist. Cap. 55), it is said, “it is impossible that bread should be the body of Christ.” Bellarmine also owns (Book 1. chap. 1. on the Eucharist), “that these words viz. “this is my body,” must be taken as a figure, bread being the body of Christ in signification (significative) or else it is plainly absurd and impossible; for it can not be that bread should be the body of Christ.” It clearly appears then, that when Christ said “this is my body,” he meant it in a figure.

Hence, in Luke 22:19, it is written: “He took bread and gave thanks and gave it unto them saying, this is my body, which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me.” Now what did he call his body, but that which he gave to his disciples? What did he give to them, but that which he broke? And what was it he broke, but what he took? And does not Luke tell us, in so many words that he took bread? Then was it not of the bread he spoke when he said “this is my body?” But could bread be his body in any other way than as a sacrament, in a figure, or as he expressly tells us, a memorial of his body? The Apostle Paul puts this subject beyond doubt, (in 1st Cor. 10:16) “the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ.” Is not this a distinct declaration, that the bread is the body of Christ? And if so, did not Bellarmine rightly say that we must understand it figuratively, since it is impossible that bread should be literally the body of Christ? Let it not be said that Paul meant that which once was bread, but now is the real body of Christ; for he says “the bread which we break;” and you own that the real body of Christ cannot be broken. So that it is bread and only bread which is meant in the words of institution; and therefore, when Christ said “this is my body,” he spoke of it sacramentally and in a figure; and not of his real body.

This is, if possible, still more plain in the other part of the Sacrament. Mat. 26:27-28. “He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the New Testament:” or as Luke and Paul recite it, “this cup is the New Testament in my blood.” Now your Church acknowledges, that Christ delivered these words before the act of consecration, and therefore, before the change took place. Hence it was wine, which he called his blood; it was wine of which he said, “drink ye all of it;” or as he also called it the “fruit of the vine.” Now since you must confess that it is impossible for wine, or the fruit of the vine to be really the blood of Christ, and since not withstanding, Christ called it his blood before consecration, he could have meant nothing else than his blood in a figure, or sacramentally.

Similar Figurative Expressions in Scripture.

It appears then, incontestably from an examination of the words of the institution, that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is not taught in them; that so far from this, it reduces the language of Christ to inextricable difficulties and absurdities to put such a meaning on his words; and that the only consistent and intelligible sense of which they are capable it that which evangelical Protestants give them. It is remarkable also, how strictly our interpretation accords with the usage of the sacred writers. Thus, Genesis 41:26. “The seven good kine are (i.e. represent) seven years; and the seven good ears are, seven years.” Daniel 7:24. “The ten horns out of this kingdom are (i.e. signify) ten kings that shall arise.” 1 Cor. 10:4. “They drank of that spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was (represented) Christ.” Rev. 1:20. “The seven stars are (represent) the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks are (represent) the seven churches.” Matth. 13:38-9. “The good seed are (represent or signify) the children of the kingdom; the tares are (signify) the children of the wicked one: the enemy is (signifies) the devil; the harvest is (signifies) the end of the world; and the reapers are (signify) the angels.” With such undoubted testimony from the word of God, who can question it, that when Christ say “this is my body,” he means this represents my body. We here subjoin a very striking example from Augustine which speaks volumes as to your false doctrine of Transubstantiation, whether you found it on the 6th chapter of John, or on the words of institution.

“If, says he, the saying be perceptive, either forbidding a wicked action, or commanding to do that which is good, it is no figurative saying; but if it seems to command any villainy or wickedness, or forbid what is profitable and good, it is figurative. This saying “except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood ye have no life in you,” (John 6:53) seems to command a villainous, or wicked thing; it is therefore a figure, enjoining us to communicate in the passion of our Lord, and to lay it up in dear and profitable remembrance, that his flesh was crucified and wounded for our sakes.” (De Doctrina Christi, lib. 3. cap. 46).

Roman Catholic Authorities Who Admit Transubstantiation is not Biblical.

From the above examination, how clear is the proof, that the word of God entirely fails you in sustaining the doctrine of Transubstantiation. But to show you that this is not merely a Protestant statement, let me point you again to Roman Catholic authorities. Bellarmine admits, (Book III. Chap. 23. on Euch.) “though the Scripture quoted by us above seems clear to us, and ought to convince any man who is not froward, yet it may justly be doubted whether it be so, (that is, whether Transubstantiation can be proved from Scripture) when the most learned and acute men, such as Scotus in particular, hold a contrary opinion.” Cardinal Cajetan, a famous Roman Catholic writer, says, (Notes on Aquinas, p. 3. d. 75. Art. I. &c.) “The other point which the Gospel has not expounded expressly, that is the change of the bread into the body of Christ; we have received from the Church.” And again. “There appears nothing in the Gospel to compel any man to understand these words, “this is my body,” in a proper sense. Nay, the presence (of Christ) which the Church holdeth, cannot be proved, unless the declaration of the Church be added.” These words are expunged from the Roman edition of Cajetan, by order of Pope Pius V!!! It is also undeniable, that Durand, Ocham and the Cardinal of Cambray, Gabriel Biel, Cardinal Contarinus, Melchoir Cane, and Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, a martyr of your Church, unite with Scotus, in granting that the doctrine of Transubstantiation cannot be proved from Scripture.

And now, here we might rest our cause. For if the Word of God will not sustain Transubstantiation, in vain do you go to the authority of the Church, or the testimony of the Fathers. But we will meet you at all points.

II. The Testimony of the Fathers.

II. We come then next to the testimony of the Fathers. On this subject we remark:

1. That their unanimous consent is necessary to prove an article of faith in your Church. It is a part of your rule of faith, (See Creed of Pius IV) “never to take, or interpret the sacred Scriptures otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” Of course, if the Fathers are divided on this subject, they avail you nothing.

2. It will abundantly appear in what follows, to say the least, that the body of their testimony is entirely against Transubstantiation.

3. If this be true, then it cannot, on your own principles, be an article of faith in the Church of Christ.

4. If you deny this, then all the Fathers who agree with Protestants were Heretics. But of the many cited below, who denied the real presence, none was on that account excommunicated as a Heretic. Then it follows that all such were Protestants in their principles, and that our doctrine was not only tolerated, but professed and held at large by the Fathers of the Church.

5. Such liberties have been taken by your Church with the writings of the Fathers, and the pruning knife and various forgeries have been so frequently resorted to, that every testimony in our favour is to be esteemed incontrovertible indeed.

6. The Fathers often used strongly figurative language, in speaking of the Eucharist; and the writings of some late in the history of the Church, savour of the real presence; but mingled with much contradiction and absurdity.

With these remarks we proceed to examine their authority on this subject, by way of contrast with the doctrine of the Church of Rome.

1. The Fathers differ from the Church of Rome in determining what that thing is which Christ calls “my body.” We have seen above, that the gloss on Gratian and Bellarmine, (and we might add Salmeron, Kellison, and Vasquez,) explicitly state that the word “this” cannot refer to the substance of the bread, for they say, bread cannot be the body of Christ. Now the Fathers expressly tell us that bread is Christ’s body. Hence it must be in a figure as Protestants believe.

Iraeneus in the second century (Adv. Haeres. L. 5. c. 2) says, “Our Lord confessed the cup which is of the creature to be his blood, and the bread which is of the creature he con firmed it to be his body.” Clement of Alexandria, second century, writes, (Paedag. Lib. 2. c. 2) “Our Lord blessed the wine saying, take drink, this is my blood, the blood of the grape; for the holy river of gladness (that is, the wine) does allegorically signify the word (i.e. the blood of the word) shed for many for the remission of sins.” Tertullian, (Lib. 4. Advers. Marcion, c. 40) thus writes, “the bread that he took and distributed to his disciples, he made it his body, saying, ‘this is my body,’ that is, ‘the figure of my body.’” So likewise Cyprian, Eusebius, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, etc. and the seventh General Council at Constantinople, confirm the above testimonies. Here then we have a decisive proof that the ancient Fathers considered Christ as speaking in a figure, when he said “this is my body,” and of course they rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

2. The Fathers, contrary to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, make the bread and wine to be the Sacrament, sign, type, and image of Christ’s blood and body. Origin, (Com. in Math. 15) speaking of the Eucharist, says, “thus much may suffice concerning the typical and symbolical body.” Isodore, speaking of the bread and wine, (De. Off. Ecc. l. 1 C. 18) says “these two are visible, but being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they pass into a sacrament of his divine body.” Augustine calls the Eucharist (In Psal. 3) “a banquet in which he commended and delivered to his disciples the figure of his body and blood.” The words of the office of Ambrose (Lib. 4. de Sac. c. 5) are very striking. “Wouldst thou know that the Eucharist is consecrated by heavenly words! Hear then what the words are. The priest says, make this oblation to us allowable, rational, acceptible, which is the figure of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the present canon of the Mass (a confession that Transubstantiation is new) the words, figure of the body, are altered to read, may it be made to us the body, fiat nobis corpus. Eusebius (Lib. 8 Demon. Evang.) thus writes, “Christ delivered to his disciples the symbols of his divine economy, requiring them to make an image of his body.” Ambrose says, “none can ever have been an image of himself,” and Cyril of Alexandria says, “a type is not the truth, but rather imports the similitude of the truth;” and Gregory Nyssen, “an image would be no longer such, if it were altogether the same with that of which it is an image.” And yet the Church of Rome ventures the following anathema, “whosoever shall deny that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there are truly, really, and substantially contained the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with his soul and divinity, and consequently, Christ entire; but shall affirm that he is present therein only in a sign or figure, or by his power: let him be accursed.

3. The Fathers directly contradict the church of Rome in this, that they say Christ’s body is eaten spiritually, whereas the church of Rome says that Christ’s body is eaten literally and carnally. Berringer, A.D. 1059, recanted the Protestant doctrine before the General Council of Lateran, under this prescribed form, “that the true body of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only in the sign and sacrament, but in truth, is handled and broken by the Priest’s hands, and ground by the teeth of the faithful.” We have seen above how St. Augustine declares that it is a “crime,” and “horrid thing” to speak of “eating Christ’s real flesh;” and therefore he explains it spiritually. Origin says (Hom. 7. in Levit.), “not only in the Old Testament is found the killing letter; there is also in the New Testament a letter that kills him who does not spiritually consider what is said. For if thou follow this according to the letter which was said, ‘unless ye eat my flesh and drink my blood,’ this letter kills.” Macarius (Homil. 27) “They which are partakers of the visible bread do spiritually eat the flesh of the Lord.” Augustine (in Ps. 98) represents our Lord as “saying understand spiritually what I have spoken. Ye are not to eat this body which ye see, nor to drink that blood which they shall shed, who will crucify me. I have commended a certain sacrament to you which, if spiritually understood, will give life to you; and since it is necessary this sacrament should be visibly celebrated, yet it must be invisibly understood by you.” This is the very language of evangelical Protestants. What makes this position still more clear, is that the Fathers make Christ as really present in baptism, as in the eucharist. Thus Chrysostom, (Cat… ad. Illum.) speaking to those who were to receive baptism says, “you shall be clothed with the purple garment dyed in the Lord’s blood.” Fulgentius (De. Bapt. Aethiop. Cap. Ult.) writes, “neither need any one at all doubt that then, every believer is made partaker of our Lord’s body and blood, when he is made a member of Christ in baptism.

4. The Fathers deny the substantial presence of Christ’s natural body in the eucharist, and thus differ wholly from the Church of Rome. This may be proved from the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril, Chrysostom, Gregory, Nazianzen, etc.

5. The Fathers positively assert that the substance of the bread and wine remains after consecration, which is directly the reverse of Transubstantiation. In Theodoret’s Dialogues 2, it is written, “after sanctification the mystical symbols do not depart from their own nature, for they remain still in their former substance and figure and form, and may be seen and touched just as before. But they are understood to be that which they are made. and are believed and venerated as being what they are believed to be.” (Dial. 1) “He (Christ) honoured the visible symbols with the appellation of his body and blood, not altering nature, but to nature adding grace.” The same may be proved from Peter Martyr, Chrysostom, Pope Gelasius, Facundus, Origin, Cyprian, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, etc.

The multiplication of particulars and of proofs would be endless. But from the Fathers it may abundantly be gathered that Transubstantiation was not the doctrine of the early church. They contradict the church of Rome about the nature and properties of bodies. They deny that “accidents” or properties can exist without a subject, that is, the appearance of bread, without its substance. [1] They deny that our senses can deceive us in the Eucharist. They deny that any but the faithful can eat “Christ’s body.” The absurd use of the word species in your church was unknown to them. They professed no miracle in the Eucharist such as you do, but make it a spiritual mystery. They gave the cup to the people, as well as the bread. They never elevated the Eucharist that it might be adored. They took no care to reserve what remained of the consecrated elements after administration, and they allowed the people to make what use they pleased of them. And they even used to send the elements from one Bishop to another as a token of peace—strange use, impious custom if indeed it was the real body of Christ! In all these things they differed wholly from the church of Rome; and by these differences showed that they believed not the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

I hope hereafter, to have the opportunity of presenting the argument from the fathers to the community at full length, either in a public discussion with you, or if you decline this, in a form which will give room for ample citation of authorities. In the mean time let me say, in reference to the work of Thomas Moore (from which you seem chiefly to draw your testimonies) that there is not a more garbled, dishonest and superficial view of the writings of the Fathers, in any language.

III. Transubstantiation is also Contrary to Reason.

III. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is not only against the Scripture and the Fathers, but it is contrary to reason, and contradicts all our senses. Bellarmine himself acknowledges, (Book 2. chap. 12. De Eucharist) “we might be accounted fools truly, if without the word of God, we believed the true flesh of Christ to be eaten with the mouths of our bodies.” But we have shown conclusively that it is believed without the authority of God’s Word. Hence on his principles it is an absurdity.

When you attempt to put this doctrine by the side of the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, etc. you compare the most opposite and dissimilar things. There is not a mystery, or a doctrine of Christianity that is contrary to reason. In saying therefore, “when you study mathematics you reason, but in revelation you believe,” you can mean I suppose nothing more than Bellarmine does (Lib. 1. cap. 7. De Just.) “that faith is better defined by ignorance than knowledge.” In revelation, as in Mathematics, we reason upon facts communicated, in the one case, through God’s Word, in the other, through his works. When his Word reveals facts which connect themselves with his works, they do not contradict each other. It is not a contradiction to say that Jesus Christ was a perfect man and yet God, though the revelation is above our reason. But it is a contradiction to say that a piece of bread can become a perfect man, “bones, sinews, body and soul.” That the man Christ Jesus, who is in Heaven, should at the same time be bodily in the bread, nay, in ten thousand pieces of bread, in ten thousand places at the same time. That the bread should be turned into the substance of Christ, and yet nothing of the bread become any of Christ, either as to matter, form or properties. That the bread should yet be so changed into Christ’s substance as to cease to be bread, and still retain the appearances of bread, so that there should be a long, broad, thick, white, heavy, moist, active, passive nothing. That there should be length and nothing long, breadth and nothing broad, thickness and nothing thick, whiteness and nothing white, weight and nothing heavy, etc. That this strange something nothing, seeming bread and not bread, the body of Christ yet seeming bread, should be eaten and pass into our blood, and should be a body, and yet not diminished, and be living in heaven entire and unbroken, while all this is going on upon earth, is I say an infinite absurdity. Yet this is a part of the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Again, the proof of miracles rests on the testimony of the senses. Hence when Christ rose from the dead, he said to unbelieving Thomas “handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). All the miracles of the Bible appeal to the senses of men. That is not a miracle which the senses cannot discern, and that is not a true miracle which contradicts the senses. Hume’s argument in favour of infidelity proceeds upon the denial of the testimony of the senses, and if Transubstantiation be true he cannot be confuted. Now the senses say that the bread is still bread, and the wine, still wine, after all your consecration; therefore, there is no miracle, or the senses would discern it. It is not the flesh of Christ for the senses all say it is bread. When there fore you say I have “forgotten my philosophy,” you discover that the philosophy of the Bible, and of Newton and of Bacon, and of common sense, all are with me. Your church seemed to feel this difficulty in its canons and its catechism. Thus the Catechism says, “however repugnant it may appear to the dictate of the senses no substance of the elements remains in the sacraments.” In fact, in the whole account of the Eucharist, there are almost as many absurdities as words.

When you refer to the Holy Ghost appearing at the baptism of Christ in the form of a dove, you not only forget your philosophy but pervert your Bible. The Holy Ghost never had a human body: He appeared in the form of a dove, and we do not deny that God may manifest himself in a visible form. But the cases are not parallel. If it had been said, that what appeared to be a dove, was a man, and yet had all the external appearances of a dove, and that this same man, which appeared a dove to John at Jordan, was at the same time in Heaven on the throne a real man, then you might have claimed it for an illustration.

It is a remarkable fact that the ancient heathen, Jews, and infidels, such as Celsus, Porphyry, Lucian, Julian, and Trypho, who used all their wit and cunning to oppose the doctrine and worship of Christians, and who attacked by name the doctrines of the Trinity, the Sonship of Christ, his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and our Resurrection, as absurdities, never once noticed the doctrine of the real presence, which surely is the mystery of mysteries. From this it is evident that the doctrine was not then known. This is the more clear from the fact that Julian was once initiated into the Christian Church, and therefore, knew all their doctrines and mysteries; yet he attacked all the rest and never named this. But on the other hand, just about the time at which Transubstantiation was adopted, A.D. 1215, Jews and Mahommedans, and others, with great fullness and frequency, attacked this doctrine. Averroes, a Mahommedan, whom we quoted in a former letter, saying, “that Christians first made their God, then ate him,” lived in the same age with Innocent III and the Lateran Council, which introduced this doctrine, sat under Innocent. Now we object not to the doctrine because Mahommedans, Jews, etc. opposed it, but because they never opposed it before, though they opposed whatever they thought absurd be fore that age; and have opposed this doctrine ever since that age. Therefore, we infer that in that age it was adopted.

There is also this singular fact, that the taking away of the cup from the people immediately followed the adoption of Transubstantiation. As the wine (by this doctrine) is Christ’s real blood, so the use of the cup exposed it to be spilt; and besides as the blood is said to be in the body, so the cup became useless. He that runs may read and understand this.

IV. The origin of the doctrine.

IV. We notice briefly the origin of this doctrine. The last remark goes far to prove its recent date. Scotus, a Roman Catholic writer, (as Bellarmine owns) states “that it was not an article of faith before the Lateran Council, A.D. 1215.” It is false when you charge me with saying that this doctrine was not held before 1215; but I still assert that it was never an article of faith before. Scotus, but to Tonstal, to Durand, Erasmus, and Alfonsus a Castro. Erasmus says, (De Haeres, B. 8) “that it was late before the church defined Transubstantiation, which was unknown to the ancients, both name and thing.” And now I challenge you to produce any proof that it was enacted an article of faith before 1215. It was agitated for some time before; it was matter of discussion in the church till the year 1059, when Berringer recanted the truth on this subject; in 1079 his recantation was amended; and finally, after a world of strife, through several ages, the doctrine was promoted into an article of faith in 1215.

V. Objections Answered.

V. Your objections are so trivial and puerile, that they scarcely deserve notice. You say, “if the body of Christ was not in the Sacrament how could men discern it there?” I answer, can you discern the body after Transubstantiation? Is not the very word “species” used in your Church to cover the absurdity of saying Christ’s flesh is there, though we discern only bread? Truly, if the evidence of Christianity had rested on such miracles as no man can see, we should all have been without a religion. We discern Christ spiritually; you worship the bread and superinduce idolatry upon the Eucharist.

You say: “to creatures deputed by God some power was given, but to Christ all power, both in heaven and in earth, and it was in the Eucharist alone that this all power was exercised.” Strange indeed! Christ “exercised this all power” in the only way in which, from the nature of the case, nobody could see, feel, or know that it was exercised! Other miracles, you say, creatures could work by delegation. Other miracles, as raising the dead, passing the Red Sea, etc., spoke for themselves, and were seen as soon as done. But this miracle, which “all” Christ’s power and his “alone” could operate, is dumb and invisible. None ever discerned it, or ever can. And in order to know it, you must tell us it has been done, and we must disbelieve our senses in order to believe you. Besides, are not all miracles, by the power, and to the glory of Christ? And does not this pretended miracle degrade his humanity, and Deify the operating Priest? And does it not destroy all miracles to believe this miracle? If this be true all others may be false, for this falsifies all those senses on which the truth of other miracles rests. You say Christ and his Apostles did not warn Christians of the error of Transubstantiation, though they spoke of other errors that were to arise; and you more than intimate that Christ was “guilty of duplicity,” if Transubstantiation be false. Such profanity needs no comment. But I ask, did Christ and his Apostles warn Christians of the Protestant error of denying the real presence? Did he not warn them of “seducing spirits;” of “their lying wonders;” of their “changing the truth of God into a lie;” “exalting themselves above God;” “forbidding to marry,” etc.? These prophetic warnings are so direct and clear, that they are written in as sun-beams on the Vatican at Rome.

VI. Uncertain validity.

VI. As the real presence of Christ depends upon the intention of the Priest who consecrates; (See the Canon already quoted) and as Bellarmine owns, (Book 3. Chap. 8 Justin.) “no man can be certain, with the certainty of faith that he receives a true Sacrament; because it depends on the minister’s intention to consecrate it; and none can see another’s intention;” it follows irresistibly that to worship the consecrated wafer exposes every member of your church to continual and gross idolatry. For how can you be certain? And if you are not certain, how dare you worship it? For if it be not truly consecrated, you encourage, and you practice gross idolatry.

VII. Ancient Liturgies do not assume Transubstantiation.

VII. It would be quite amusing, if it did not call up, along with that feeling, others more serious, to find you claiming the ancient Liturgies, as teaching Transubstantiation. I here venture to assert that there is not one word of truth in all you have said on that subject, and I am prepared to prove what I say whenever you please. So far is what you say from being true, that the Mass, decretals, and glosses of the Church of Rome do much to overthrow Transubstantiation, as I will show in my next letter, if you deny it. And so confessed is this, that the Mass has been altered so as to change the ancient liturgy (which was against Transubstantiation) to make it speak for it. There is another fact on this subject, which speaks volumes in behalf of the Protestant doctrine. It is that the ancient Syrian Christians, called St. Thomas’s Christians, because evangelized by the Apostle Thomas, and who have come down with the Bible in their hands from the days of the Apostles, reject Transubstantiation, as well as “the Apochryphal books” which your church has foisted into the canon. For these, and other Protestant doctrines, their Breviary, Book of Homilies, etc. were condemned by a Roman Catholic Synod held in Goa, India, A.D. 1599. But more of this hereafter. May I not then retort the question, “what have you now to say for yourself?

Transubstantiation is a false & novel doctrine.

Thus we see that on every point Transubstantiation is a false, shocking, novel doctrine. With Transubstantiation falls the sacrifice of the Mass. Upon Transubstantiation, everything important and decisive in the church of Rome may be said in a degree to hang. It is on account of its importance, and dreadful evils that I have entered so largely into the discussion of it. Having not room to take up your remarks in the last letter on the sacrifice of the mass and communion in one kind, I for the present refer our readers to my exposure of them in letters No. 22 and 24.

And now the doctrine of truth which remains on the subject of the Eucharist, is the simple and sublime institution founded by Jesus Christ, practiced by the earliest Christians, taught by the fathers for the first six hundred years, and now held and practiced by the great body of Protestants in Europe and America, which makes the elements of bread and wine to be symbols and figures of the body and blood of Christ; which gives the bread and the wine to all who commune; which makes saving faith the qualification to partake profitably, and to discern the spiritual presence of Christ in his sacrament; and which is the only rational and consistent construction that can be put upon the words of institution. Luther’s doctrine called “consubstantiation,” retains a remnant of his Papal errors, as his great mind was in transition from the absurdities of the real presence towards the simple and beautiful institution of Jesus Christ. But whatever his doctrine was, it is radically different from yours, whose enormous evils his eyes were opened to behold.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith 29:6 states that Transubstantiation “is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason” Francis Turretin explains:

“Reason must be heard here, with which transubstantiation conflicts in many ways…It teaches that accidents cannot exist without a subject because as it is the property of substance to subsist by itself, so the formal reason of an accident is to be in another thing or to inhere in it. And so great is their communion with and dependency upon substance that they cannot exist even for a moment without substance, nor can bodies be without their own accidents and essential properties.” (IET XIX.xxvii.7).

Bartholomäus Keckermann (1572-1609) similarly wrote,

“The dogma of transubstantiation conflicts with principles that are supreme and true forever: that accidents are not without the subjects to which they are determined. Therefore, since the color, odor, and taste of the bread and wine are accidents determined to bread and wine, they surely could not be without the substance of bread and wine. It conflicts with the testimony of the four senses—vision, touch, smell, and taste—which most evidently testify that substantial bread and wine exist and remain there. But how much the testimony of the senses has force, even in theology, is clear from the fact that Christ and the angels appeal to this sort of testimony, as we have copiously proved in our teaching on logic.” (Systema S.S. Theologiae, pp. 458-9, trans. Matthew Gaetano).


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