Today (the Sunday after Trinity celebration) we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi 1. The cynosure of the feast is the miracle that occurs in the Eucharist, when the elements of the Bread and Wine are transubstantiated (changed) to the Body and Blood of our only Savior and Redeemer, He who incarnated Himself as man to die and make salvation possible for Jew and Gentile alike, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Much Ink has been spilled over the meaning and intent of the word transubstantiated and the philosophical underpinnings of Aristotle to explain the nuance between what is actually changed and what remains in the miracle 2. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, St. Aquinas did not use Aristotelian philosophy to prove that the Eucharist could be true, but rather, used Aristotelian terminology to help explain concepts that were already well established in the living tradition of the church, namely the regula fidei. Let me give a few examples of the teachings of the earliest of the Catholic fathers. St. Justin the blessed Martyr who was beheaded for these Christian doctrines records concerning the Eucharist,
"We do not recieve these as common bread or common drink. But just as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been eucharistized by the Eucaharistic prayer from Him (that food which by change nourishes our flesh and blood) is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus" 3.
Thus in St. Justin we see that the early Christians were handed down from the apostles themselves "...we have been taught" that the Eucharistic Bread and Blood were not to be considered "common bread or common drink"4 but corollary to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, so also the elements go through a form of incarnation themselves - through the prayer of consecration.
This view of the Eucharist is continued in early attestation, St. Ignatius on his way to be martyred by the teeth of wild animals has no time to equivocate,
"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible" 5.
Not everyday bread and wine is what the bishop in chains longed for, but the very Bread of God, the very Flesh of Jesus Christ. Understanding this Catholic interpretation is paramount for St. Ignatius, dissenting views should be shunned at all costs,
"Do not err, my brthren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist...for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons" 6.
The patristic tradition can be traced down the centuries and every orthodox father is in accord with this understanding of the Eucharist. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that the regula fidei concerning this sacrament was rejected. But what was placed then as the "ancient correct view"? A unified, concrete theory of the Eucharist that no doubt the "Romanists" have bumbled as well?7 No, as any Protestant history will note, the debate among the reformers themselves, centering around the Eucharist proved to be the straw that broke the unifying camels back 8.
Luther especially felt the weight of the tradition behind the Catholic Eucharist and could not understand why the other reformers could not just submit on this point. It was as if, to everyman present at the Colloquy there was a different view on the Eucharist, fighting, bickering, arms flapping they could not agree among themselves on principle 9. Thus Luther cried out,
"Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.
Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.” 10
Of course, Anglicans, Methodists, Calvinists, Baptists, Non-Denominationalists, would disagree with the Luther...
1. The feast was officially established in 1215 A.D.
2. It was the great St. Thomas Aquinas who set down the change in the elements in the Eucharist as a change in the substance of the elements while the outward appearance (accidents) remain the same.
3. (Apologia prima pro Christianis. 66, 2).
4. So much for all the views that hold the elements of the Eucharist to be nothing more than bread and wine and treat the whole event as a memorial (Zwingli and company). This view of the holy Eucharist has caused a practical degradation of the sacrament,. Grape juice and crackers are now ok to use (since the so-called Lord's Supper signifies nothing more than a memorial service). Instead of every Sunday (the practice of the early Church) the Lords Supper is now practiced once a month, and in some churches a few times a year. The logical conclusion of this type of thinking is to question why bother performing this event at all? Hence, those as the Quakers and the Jehovah's Witnesses which do away with the blessed sacrament altogather. St. Ignatius warns us in regards to this, "They (the schismatics) abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes...It is right to shun such men, and not even to speak about them, neither in public nor in private" (Epistula ad Smyrnaeos. 7, 1-2).
5. (Epistula ad Romanos. 7, 3).
6. (Epistula ad Philadelphenes. 3, 3; 4, 1).
7. In the scientific field, whenever an established position is challenged - a working hypothesis is put in it's place, and after meticulous peer review (and only the large majority of the specialists are convinced) can the new theory be universally accepted. Is this what happened with the Protestant challenge to the Catholic Eucharist? Far from it.
8. As seen especially at the Colloquy of Marburg.
9. This is what we call the practical effects of the autonomous hermeneutic. No longer anchored in tradition, men fall into the trap of hermeneutic anarchy.
10. (Luther’s Collected Works. V7, 391).
R.E. Aguirre, Anno Domini MMVIII