Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the Eucharist is not merely bread or wine, but after being consecrated changes into the flesh and blood of Christ Himself. There are fine details to this doctrine, pertaining the substance/essence being what changes from food to God Himself, but not the accidents; but being that I am not debating a Lutheran, I do not plan on getting into these fine details.
Rather, I am debating Turretinfan, who affirms the Westminster Confession of Faith. And so the contrast between the Orthodox and the Reformed position is for our purposes easier to draw.
This is what the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap 29:5-7 states about the Eucharist—
The outward elements in this sacrament…in substance and nature, they still remain truly, and only, bread and wine, as they were before…Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ…, the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine…but spiritually, present to the faith of believers.
In short, the bread and wine is just bread and wine. The only fashion in which Christ is present is “spiritually,” but not in the actual bread and wine, but in their recipient. This is why the presence itself is contingent upon the recipient’s personal faith.
Contrary to what we just heard, the traditional doctrine of every church in existence until after Luther was that the bread and wine themselves are transformed into God’s actual flesh and blood. Many Greek and Latin words have been used to describe this over the centuries, but the terms canonized by the Orthodox Church are “transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed.” (Council of Jerusalem 1672, Decree 17)
So, this debate is very simple: Does the bread and wine change into Christ’s flesh and blood or doesn’t it? Which assertion is more plainly stated by the Scriptures and early church? The evidence suggests that the bread and wine changes, not that they stay the same and we alone change.
The Scriptural case is straight forward. The sacrament is literal flesh and blood.
For example: “This is My body.” (Matt 26:26, Mar 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24)
Also: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16)
If we are not to take the preceding literally, consider the following:
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him….Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a [m]hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that
His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? (John 6:52-56, 60-62)
Why didn’t He make apologies to those scandalized by invoking Westminster’s criteria?
The Earliest Fathers
Saint Ignatius was a disciple of Saint John and he retains a witness mere decades after the Scriptures were written iterating the plain Biblical teaching that the Eucharist is Christ’s flesh and blood:
In Smyraeans, Chap 7: They [proto-gnostic heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.
Ignatius specifies the Eucharist is both “the flesh that suffered and rose again”—i.e. the glorified body of Christ at the right hand of God. This attention to detail is incomprehensible if the Eucharist is merely spiritual.
Saint Irenaeus had significant interactions with Saint Polycarp of Smyrna who himself knew Saint John. He wrote in the late second century. In response to Gnostics who claimed 1. God did not create the Earth and therefore 2. Christ is entirely spiritual, not earthly, Irenaeus appeals to the Gnostics to reevaluate their belief in light of their shared opinion that the Eucharist when consecrated becomes Christ.
Against Heresies (Book 4, Chap 18, Par 4-5) how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord, and the cup His blood?… the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. [i.e. Christ is not just spiritual/divine nature, but also a earthly/human nature.] For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation [lit. “summons,” the paraklesis] of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.
Unlike the Westminster Confession, Irenaeus explicitly states an actual change occurs to the once “common bread.” The Eucharist now consists “of two realities, earthly and heavenly” just like Christ has.
Let’s also consider Fragment 37, where Irenaeus says:
For we make an oblation to God of the bread and the cup…when we have perfected the oblation, we invoke the Holy Spirit [i.e. paraklesis], that He may exhibit this sacrifice, both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ, in order that the receivers of the antitype, may obtain remission of sins and life eternal.
Irenaeus says that those who receive bread and wine receive the literal antitypes, the body and blood of Christ. Antitypes are always the literal fulfillment of a type. So, if Adam is a type of Christ, Christ is the antitype. Quoting Irenaeus, “both the bread [is a type for] the body of Christ, [the antitype] and the cup [is a type for] the blood of Christ, [the antitype] in order that the receivers of the antitype [exact counterpart ἀντιτύπων, “antitypos”] may obtain remission of sins and life eternal.” Similar to his earlier claim that partakers in the Eucharist are “no longer corruptible,” here Irenaeus claims that recipients “obtain remission of sins and life eternal.”
Saint Justin Martyr, a saint who predates Irenaeus, concurs in his First Apology:
And this food is called among us the Eucharist…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 by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word [i.e. the paraklesis], and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (Chap 66)
Just as flesh from the Virgin was made the incarnate God, “common bread and…drink” is made “the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” Take note of the specificity. If the bread and wine are unchanged, why use the word “flesh” twice in the same phrase? The flesh is that of a specific individual’s flesh. Concerning the Eucharist’s recipients’ “transmutation,” this is similar to Irenaeus’ claim that recipients of the Eucharist are no longer corruptible. The idea is that those who partake in literal incorruptibility, that is Christ’s incorruptible body, become literally incorruptible.
Lastly, Saint Hippolytus, who was taught by Irenaeus in his Apostolic Tradition, preserves a credible collation of oral traditions from the first century. Therein he warns:
All shall be careful so that no unbeliever tastes of the eucharist, nor a mouse or other animal, nor that any of it falls and is lost. For it is the Body of Christ. (37:1)
The Eucharist is to be treated with care, not having its leftovers thrown in a Protestant church’s garbage. Why? “For it is the Body of Christ.” The sacrament must be physically treated with respect because physically it is God. Elsewhere, Hippolytus reiterates Irenaeus’ terminology of the “antitype:”
Having blessed the cup [i.e. the type] in the Name of God, you received it as antitype of the Blood of Christ. Therefore do not spill from it, for some foreign spirit to lick it up because you despised it. You will become as one who scorns the Blood. (38:1-2)
What did you just hear from the first two centuries of Christianity? The main things are the plain things. As any unbiased observer can see, it is the Orthodox view, not the Westminster one.
Consensus by 4th century on Eucharistic sacrifice:
As one can see, the Orthodox doctrine is firmly established in the first two centuries of the Church, with credible Apostolic origins which correspond with the plainest interpretations of the Scriptures. Unlike the Westminster confession, which denies the bread and wine change at all, the fathers by as early as the fourth century used several specific words to convey that the bread and wine become flesh as blood such as “change”,[Cyril of Jerusalem] “transelementate”,[Ambrose] and “transform.” [Chrysostom]
Being that this debate is not on the Eucharistic sacrifice specifically, I did not detail the Didache’s, Justin Martyr’s, Irenaeus’, and Hippolytus’ discussion of the same topic. However, it is worth knowing this: the 18
th canon of the council of Nicea makes specific that the Eucharist is a “prospherein,” or a sacrificial offering. This was of international importance. The eucharistic sacrifice according to sources as early as Tertullian at the turn of the third century and Saint Cyprian 50 years later speak of Eucharistic sacrifices on behalf of the dead (De Corona, Chapter 3; On Monagamy, Chapter 10; Letter 65, Paragraph 2). How could such practices be mainstream with the understanding of the sacrament being a literal sacrifice that conveys immortality even to the dead, if it was mere bread and wine whose leftovers you can thrown in the trash?
John Calvin tried explaining this away Book IV, Chapter 18 of the Institutes alleging that Satan “blinded almost the whole world into the belief that the Mass was a sacrifice and oblation for obtaining the remission of sins…I see that those ancient writers have wrested this commemoration to a different purpose than was accordant to the divine institution, (the Supper somehow seemed to them to present the appearance of a repeated or at least renewed, immolation.)”
“Do this in memory of me”
“Memory eternal” is prayed so that God will grant “memory,” literal eternal life, to someone (different Greek word)
Memory in Greek can pertain to a tangible reality
“Remembrance” in Greek is a homonym for both a “memorial” and a “memorial sacrifice,” see Thayer’s, and Liddel and Scott’s “A Greek-English Lexicon.”
The preceding is true in both pagan works Lysias’ Funeral Oration (2:39) and throughout the Old and New Testaments in Greek.
Ex: You shall put pure frankincense with salt on each row, that it may be to the bread for a memorial [ἀνάμνησιν, i.e. memorial sacrifice], even an offering made by fire to the Lord (Lev 24:7).
[J. N. D. Kelly:]It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 196–7).
[Chrysostom:]He is our High Priest, who offered the sacrifice [on Calvary] that cleanses us. That [sacrifice on Calvary] we offer now also, which was then offered, which cannot be exhausted. This is done in remembrance of what was then done. For (says He) do this in remembrance of Me. It is not another sacrifice, as the High Priest, but we offer always the same, or rather we perform a remembrance [lit. ἀνάμνησιν, i.e. “memorial sacrifice”] of a Sacrifice. But since I have mentioned this [memorial] sacrifice, I wish to say a little in reference to you who have been initiated; little in quantity, but possessing great force and profit, for it is not our own, but the words of Divine Spirit . What then is it? Many partake of this [memorial] sacrifice once in the
whole year, others twice; others many times (Homily 17 on Hebrews, Paragraphs 6 and 7).
Chrysostom obviously parses the Greek in that “remembrance” should be in fact rendered “memorial sacrifice.” We know this because we literally see him call the “remembrance” a “sacrifice” in the very next sentence.
The “memorial sacrifice” of the Eucharist is not “another sacrifice.” Christ is sacrificed once and for all. Rather, “we offer always the same” sacrifice that was on Calvary. The mystery is that the Eucharist exists outside of time.
A symbol is not merely representative of a reality, it can contain that actual reality:
Saint Chrysostom wrote: He has bound up the memorial of the benefit with the mystery [of the Eucharist], by this again stopping the mouths of heretics…For if Jesus did not die, of what are the rites the symbols [of]? (Homily 82 on Matthew)
But it is time then to approach that fearful table…let no one be Judas any longer let no one be wicked…For Christ is present and He Who set in order that meal of old also sets this one in order now. For it is not a man who causes the elements that are set forth to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but Christ Himself…Fulfilling the figure [i.e. the Last Supper(!) as the type], the priest stands and utters the words. But the power and the grace belong to God. This is My Body, the priest says. These words transform the elements set forth…these words that were said once accomplish the perfect Sacrifice on each altar table in the churches. (Homily 1 on the Treachery of Judas)
[Clement of Alexandria:]…[S]ince He said, ‘And the bread which I will give is My flesh,’ and since flesh is moistened with blood, and blood is figuratively termed wine, we are bidden to know that, as bread, crumbled into a mixture of wine and water, seizes on the wine and leaves the watery portion, so also the flesh of Christ, the bread of heaven absorbs the blood. (The Pedagogue, Book 1)
Rufinus in explaining the Apostle’s Creed speaks of the utility of symbols as something that’s secretive and retained closely in one’s heart (like a memorized creed).
[Chrysostom:]The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the Blood of Christ? Very persuasively spoke he, and awfully. For what he says is this: This which is in the cup is that which flowed from His side, and of that do we partake…astonished at His unspeakable gift, blessing Him, among other things, for the pouring out of this self-same draught that we might not abide in error: and not only for the pouring it out, but also for the imparting thereof to us all. Wherefore if you desire blood, says He, redden not the altar of idols with the slaughter of brute beasts, but My altar with My blood. (Homily 24, Chap 3 on 1 Corinthians)
For he gave not simply even His own body; but because the former nature of the flesh which was framed out of earth, had first become deadened by sin and destitute of life; He brought in,
as one may say, another sort of dough and leaven, His own flesh, by nature indeed the same, but free from sin and full of life; and gave to all to partake thereof, that being nourished by this and laying aside the old dead material, we might be blended together unto that which is living and eternal, by means of this table. (Homily 24 on First Corinthians)
[Cyril of Alexandria:] the Word Which came from God the Father, and the temple from the Virgin, are not indeed the same in nature (for the Body is not consubstantial with the Word from God), yet are they One by that coming-together and ineffable concurrence. And since the Flesh of the Saviour hath become life-giving (as being united to That which is by Nature Life, the Word from God), when we taste It, then have we life in ourselves, we too united to It [His human body], as It [the human body] to the indwelling Word. (Commentary on John Bk. 4 Chap. II)
For the Son dwells in us in a corporeal sense as Man, commingled and united with us by the mystery of the Eucharist; and also in a spiritual sense as God, by the effectual working and grace of His own Spirit, building up our spirit into newness of life, and making us partakers of His Divine Nature. (Commentary on John Bk. 10 Chap. XII)
We have human natures. Christ’s humanity indwells in us and becomes part of our humanity. Christ’s working/energies likewise becomes part of us, but never His essence.
If the Eucharist contains just His divine nature but not His human nature, then this undoes the hypostatic union and de-incarnates the incarnate God. This is Nestorian.
If the Eucharist is not Christ’s flesh and blood, we are not “sit[ting] together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6) Likewise, neither “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor 3:18)