Real Presence: Some Progressive Reflections

Friday, May 23, 2003



I recently had a huge debate with a group of conservative Catholics online because I stated that when we receive the Eucharist, we ourselves are transubstantiated. I base this partly on Paul's explanation of the Eucharist in 1 Cor 11 and John 6 in the context of John's whole gospel. When we receive the Eucharist, we become the Body of Christ that we receive. Some of the context of the debate is lost by posting it here, but I was kicked out of the forum by a lay moderator who thinks I am a heretic.

I was trying to convince the conservatives that the very meaning of Eucharist implies we need to be nice to homosexual Catholics and women seeking ordination. Instead, we wound up exploring the depths of Eucharistic theology, philosophical wrangling over the meaning of the word substance and the use of transignification by Edward Schillibeeckx.

Schillibeeckx wrote The Eucharist (Sheed and Ward: New York 1968). On page 145 he says that he was not denying transubstantiation. Rather, he states that the concept of transignification that he was trying to describe as presupposing transubstantiation and being intimately connected with it.

There were five basic reasons Schillibeeckx wanted to explore the mystery of the Eucharist in new terminology:

1) There is a basic incommensurability between Aristolelian categories of "substance" and "accidents" and the view of contemporary physics, which sees reality in terms of interactions between matter and energy at an unobservable level. Is a molecule of bread the "substance" bread? Do "accidental" properties have any meaning at this level?

2) Schillibeeckx sought to retrieve the medieval notion of "sacramentum est in generi signi" taught by Aquinas: A sacrament is in the category of sign. Sacraments cause grace by signifying grace! In philosophical lingo, the reason to retrieve this notion lies in contemporary philosophy's movement from viewing signs as cognitive medium to an anthropology of sign. All reality is symbol, and symbol is reality. My body is a symbol of my entire personhood. The reality of a thing (its "substance") is what it means! Paying attention to the sign value of Eucharist leads us to focus on making the Eucharistic celebration a meaningful point of encounter with the risen Lord by emphasizing the inherent meaning of broken bread and poured wine in communion with others. Rather than denying real presence, Scillibeeckx is trying to ensure that the sacrament is understood in such a way as to be more meaningful, and more real to the subject.

3) Despite the attempt at clarity that the Council of Trent attempted, there exists confusion over the intended meaning of the very word, "substance". Did the bishops at Trent intend to dogmatize Aristotle over revelation? If so, why did they use the non-Aristotelian notion of "species" rather than Aquinas' more popular "accidents" in describing the elements of bread and wine?

4) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council acknowledges a manifold real presence of Christ in the Church. This development of doctrine alone should call theologians to an appraisal of how the manifold presences are distinguished from one another.

5) Ecumenical dialogue has contributed to the desire by theologians to find language which may be more acceptable to all Christians that describes real presence accurately while avoiding the polemics surrounding transubstantiation.

Schillibeeckx believed that in order to answer the question, "What is then the Eucharistic bread and wine in the last resort?", one needs to ask deeper questions. (The Eucharist p. 144). One needs to ask, "What is reality?"

Schillibeeckx suggests that in affirming the term transubstantiation, the bishops at Trent did not intend to dogmatize Aristotle, but they did intend to dogmatize the belief of real presence. Affirming transubstantiation was simply the only way to say this in the period of time of the Council, but language and philosophy and theology have all developed since Trent. We use words differently than Aquinas and the fathers at Trent intended, often without realizing it.

We recognize the confusion when people speak of the substance OF bread changing. Substance is not invisible stuff that exist apart from the reality of bread. It is the reality of bread! It would be better to say "the substance, bread" than to say "the substance of bread."

For Schillibeeckx, reality is the world of God, which we are permitted to enter!

Persons entering into this reality are confronted with phenomenon in reality. We sense what appears to us. Then we interpret the phenomenon that we sense. For humanity, all reality is interpreted reality.

We act on the phenomenon that appear to our senses in the very act of perception. Human perception within God's reality is a spiritual act! We humanize the world in the act of interpreting all reality. Yet, in faith, we believe that we are guided in our interpretation by the very source of all phenomenal existence!

What is perceived is sensed. Therefore all reality is mediated through the senses as signs. All reality is significant!

Signs do not point to something absent. Rather, signs make meaning and significance present! Personal presence involves mutuality - a giving and receiving, mediated through personal signs. In the Eucharist, God offers himself to those who receive and the receiver is offered back to God. (The Eucharist p. 145)

Since God is the ultimate reality of the world, and therefore its ultimate meaning, reality is meaning. We assign meaning on many different levels to God's world. For example, on the physical level of biology or chemistry, we can perceive bread as molecules and atoms. On a more "human" level of shared meaning in the everyday world, we perceive bread as nourishment. At a cultural level, bread can seal a friendship. At a sacramental and cultic level of discovering God's meaning in the world, we can perceive God's self offering to us in union!

These levels are incommensurable to some extent and simultaneously co-exist. We cannot ask for a sacramental answer to a question asked at the level of chemistry. Thus, consecrated bread looks like molecules of bread under a microscope. Yet, since the sacramental level deals with the ultimate meaning of a thing - its ultimate reality - we can say that it is really and substantially changed! What has changed is the significance of the bread - it's sign value to human persons. Thus, transignification affirms that the ultimate reality of bread is now Christ giving himself to us as food!

The condition for the possibility of this change in reality - a change in significance - is that the world is truly God's world...that God exists...and that God really does offer himself to us as food!

What enables those with faith to perceive this change in significance is the Spirit of God within guiding our interpretation of the signs by the very grace signified in the signs. Thus, in a cyclic pattern of mutual giving and recieving, God's presence within allows us to perceive God's personal self offering in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist feeds the presence of God within that permits us to percieve his presence in the sign of bread!

And this is why I say to the conservatives that in receiving the transubstantiated bread and wine, we ourselves are transubstantiated. The Eucharist is known as Christ's presence because the Spirit of Christ within enables us to see that we receive Christ, himself. In receiving Christ, we are feeding his presence within. Thus, Saint John of Cross spoke of contemplative union with God as a growing awareness of the substantial presence of God in the soul. Furthermore, the CCC speaks of Eucharist as transforming us into the Body of Christ!

If we ourselves are transubstantiated, we must treat one another with reverence, just as we treat the Eucharist with reverence!

Below is a post from this discussion as it was unfolding with some very stubborn conservatives quoting all sorts of papal texts at me to try to prove me wrong.


The following quotations are taken from the Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Mysterium Fidei, promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on September 3, 1965.
To confirm what we have said by examples, it is not allowable to emphasize what is called the "communal" Mass to the disparagement of Masses celebrated in private, or to exaggerate the element of sacramental sign as if the symbolism, which all certainly admit in the Eucharist, expresses fully and exhausts completely the mode of Christ's presence in this sacrament. Nor is it allowable to discuss the mystery of transubstantiation without mentioning what the Council of Trent stated about the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ, speaking rather only of what is called "transignification" and transfiguration," or finally to propose and act upon the opinion according to which, in the Consecrated Hosts which remain after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ Our Lord is no longer present.
I quote the above selection precisely because it contains a warning that appears to run contrary to my own views, and I want to address up front how I reconcile what I have said with this particular portion of the letter.

First, Paul VI warns us not to emphasize the "communal" aspect of the Mass to the disparagement of Masses celebrated in private. I really have not addressed this issue, but just to clarify what is being said, Paul VI is stating that it is acceptable for a priest to say Mass without the presence of a congregation. However, he also clarifies in this letter that when a priest does this, there should be an altar server present as representaive of the communal aspect of Eucharist, and the priest offers the Mass with the communion of saints for the salvation of the whole world.

Second, Paul VI says that we should not speak of transignification or transfinalization to the exclusion of transubstantiation. This is the part I think some would read as contrary to my own position, and this is the section I want to clarify before going further.

I have not done this, as I have said repeatedly that I believe in transubstantion, and only accept Scillibeeckx' definition as he intended it to affirm the said doctrine of transubstantiation.

Paul VI does later in this same letter state that the meaning (ie - significance) and finality of the Eucharistic elements are changed, demonstrating that we can use these terms if, and only if, they are not used as a denial of transubstantiation. Schillibeeckx also wrote several journal articles and a book before and after promulgation of this letter also trying to clarify that he never intended his theory to deny transubstantiation, and that he was being misquoted in the press and by his detractors. I feel like Schillibeeckx describes much of the time as I try to explain this to those who stubbornly hunt for heresy in my every word.

Just to show that Paul VI did in fact affirm that the significance and finality of the Eucharistic elements are changed, here are his own words from the letter:
To avoid misunderstanding this sacramental presence which surpasses the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind,50> we must listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. This voice, which constantly echoes the voice of Christ, assures us that the way Christ is made present in this Sacrament is none other than by the change of the whole substance of the bread into His Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood, and that this unique and truly wonderful change the Catholic Church rightly calls transubstantiation.<51> As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason they take on this new significance and this new finality is simply because they contain a new "reality" which we may justly term ontological. Not that there lies under those species what was already there before, but something quite different; and that not only because of the faith of the Church, but in objective reality, since after the change of the substance or nature of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine but the appearances under which Christ, whole and entire, in His physical "reality" is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.
The bolded section with underlines demonstrate that a person can use terms like transignification or transfinalization so long as the terms are not used to deny transubstantiation.

Another interesting point is that Paul VI inserts the word "whole" in front of "substance" when describing transubstantiation. I believe Paul VI is clarifying something I have been arguing about the limits of Aristotelianism - something that Schilibeeckx also recognized.

This "something" is that a thing can be simultaneously more than one substance at the same time. For example, bread is wheat and water simultaneously with being food for human beings. Pope Paul wants to clarify that the entire reality of all that the bread and wine are have been changed.

As a side note, please notice that Paul VI uses the word "ontological" in this paragraph as well - and he uses it in a manner that can imply nothing less than total reality of a being!

To speak of ontological changes cannot be simply a transformed dimension describing change in accidents or a "transformed dimension" - it is a change in the reality of a substance! Thus, we need to think hard about what we are saying when we say ordination effects an ontological change in the recipient - or that a woman is ontologically unsuited for ministerial priesthood (meaning her entire reality is unsuited to act in the person of Christ).

Returning to the notion that "whole substance" - the entire reality of the bread and wine - are changed, I explicitly said that I agree with this to one detractor, and suggested that part of our philosophical disagreement may be that I am applying transubstantiation to people in a lesser manner than we apply it to the bread and wine. The bread and wine are changed whole and entire, while the human person is changed in a real (substantial) way, but with no change to human nature.

I would like to make note at this point of something my Eucharist teacher said about the symbols, themselves, that are used in the sacraments. She (yes - a nun taught the class) pointed out that Christ chose "simple substances" for the sacraments. Perhaps in order to avoid some of the need for complex philosophizing about what is occurring, Christ chose water, oil, bread, wine and the laying on of hands for sacramental gestures because these things are very simple and almost elemental. It is easier to speak to the whole substance of bread changing than the whole substance of a lamb (since a lamb would raise issues of male or female, live or dead, roasted or boiled, white or black, etc...etc....)

My teacher went on to explain that in human symbolic discourse, as a general rule, simple is always better.

This is why Vatican II pushed so hard to simplify the art in the church buildings and remove those symbols that distracted from the Eucharistic action.

Again, I believe all of this points to a weakness in clinging too tightly to Aristotelian categories for every conceivable question that faces the Church. Pope Paul VI recognized the need to explore new questions in new language, though he also sort of back-pedals by one readers standards in this letter.

What he is saying is that new language is tested by its consistency with affirming the same truths of past formulations. It is wrong to replace old formulations with new formulations that deny what the old tried to convey. However, it is not wrong, in and of itself, to explore the mysteries of faith in new language. Indeed, such efforts are praiseworthy:
We certainly do not wish to deny in those who are spreading these singular opinions the praiseworthy effort to investigate this lofty mystery and to set forth its inexhaustible riches, revealing its meaning to the men of today; rather we acknowledge and approve their effort. However, we cannot approve the opinions which they express, and we have the duty to warn you about the grave danger which these opinions involve for correct faith.
Pope Paul VI does not specify who he means by "they". Note that Scillibeeckx was never specifically excommunicated, nor even silenced in the same manner of Kung!

In historical context, Schillibeeckx was often misquoted by secular newspapers, and by ultra-conservatives. This actually had the effect that younger progressive theologians who had not studied with Schillibeeckx often took the newspaper reporting as his teaching, and some of them did such whacky things as claim to consecrate potato chips or pizza, claiming that snack foods had the same "significance" as bread. These idiots actually gave Schillibeeckx a bad name.

Also, Schillibeeckx admitted that an analogy he used for transignification did not convey the reality he intended as well as he had hoped. He spoke of our union in Christ as similar to marriage, and by that he was speaking of the real indissoluble bond that the Church teaches. However, what others heard was that he meant metaphoric union - which even the CDF said is false (and so did Paul VI state that the union of the mystical body of Christ is real and not just metaphoric, as we shall see later). Interestingly, Pope Pius XII used the same metaphor for mystical union with God.

But continuing on the thought of using new and speculative language for just a moment:
It must be admitted that these formulas can sometimes be more clearly and accurately explained. In fact, the achievement of this goal is highly beneficial. But it would be wrong to give to these expressions a meaning other than the original. Thus the understanding of the faith should be advanced without threat to its unchangeable truth. It is, in fact, the teaching of the First Vatican Council that "the same signification (of sacred dogmas) is to be forever retained once our Holy Mother the Church has defined it, and under no pretext of deeper penetration may that meaning be weakened."<11>
What I have stated - even in argument against some fellow progressives - is that the new language we use cannot deny, contradict, or lessen the meaning of an infallibly declared doctrine! Yet, Paul VI, in his opening sentence in the above paragraph explicitly states that new formulas can more clearly and accurately explain an old formulation of faith.

I want to clarify this a bit more, because neither the conservatives, nor my fellow progressives, seem to understand this fully.

In an argument with another progressive, I stated that the Church likely read Revelation chapter 12 as referring to the Assumption of Mary. The majority consensus of contemporary Bible scholars hold that this passage of Scripture more likely referred symbolically to the Church.

Where some would tend towards wanting to state that Tradition has developed to a point where we can say the infallible definition was somewhat in error, I say that the infallible definition cannot be denied.

On the other hand, when asked if the definition can develop beyond what Pius XII defined, I said (in effect) "Of course". Then I went on to explain that Pius XII never explicitly stated whether Mary died, nor when the Assumption happened (it isn't even absolutely clear that it is a past event), and so many things were left open to further development.

In another example, I pointed how the Church's statements in the past that implied no salvation outside of the Church, actually used language that can literally translate to no salvation apart from the Church - and this happened more than once in every infallible statement the Church made on the subject. It were as though the Holy Spirit were leaving the door wide open for the developments of Vatican II where we clearly teach that salvation does occur outside of the Church, but never apart from the Church!

By the way, Paul VI says multiple times in Mysterium Fidei that every time we offer Mass, the salvific grace is being poured out on the entire world, and we are praying not only for the visible Church - but the invisible Church that includes those who may not even have heard of Christ!

But let's move now into the crux of our arguments so far - real presence of Christ in the believer....What does this mean and how does it happen?

To shed fuller light on the mystery of the Church, it helps to realize that it is nothing less than the whole Church which, in union with Christ in His role as Priest and Victim, offers the Sacrifice of the Mass and is offered in it. The Fathers of the Church taught this wondrous doctrine.<24> A few years ago our predecessor of happy memory, Pius XII, explained it,<25> and only recently the Second Vatican Council enunciated it in its treatise on the People of God as formulated in its Constitution on the Church.<26>
Note that WE - the mystery of the Church - the whole Church - are offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is why we say "body of Christ" rather than "body of Jesus"!

In the very next paragraph, Paul VI states:
To be sure, the distinction between universal priesthood and hierarchical priesthood is one of essence and not merely one of degree,<27> and this distinction should be faithfully observed. Yet we cannot fail to be filled with the earnest desire that this teaching on the Mass be explained over and over until it takes root deep in the hearts of the faithful. Our desire is founded on our conviction that the correct understanding of the Eucharistic Mystery is the most effective means to foster devotion to this Sacrament, to extol the dignity of all the faithfully, and to spur their spirit toward the attainment of the summit of sanctity, which is nothing less than the total offering of oneself to service of the Divine Majesty.
In the Sacrifice of the Mass, as God offers himself to you, you are offering him your entire being. We join Jesus of Nazareth in his total self offering to the Father by offering ourselves in the Mass. This is what is symbolized in the union achieved by consuming the body of Christ! John Paul II has also affirmed this in his most recent Eucharistic Encyclical, written after this article was initially posted on another site.

In the next paragraph of the letter, Paul VI states:
We should also mention "the public and social nature of every Mass,"<28> a conclusion which clearly follows from the doctrine we have been discussing. For even though a priest should offer Mass in private, that Mass is not something private; it is an act of Christ and of the Church. In offering this Sacrifice, the Church learns to offer herself as a sacrifice for all. Moreover, for the salvation of the entire world she applies the single, boundless, redemptive power of the Sacrifice of the Cross. For every Mass is offered not for the salvation of ourselves alone, but also for that of the whole world.
Here we see what I have already said - we offer our very selves in the Eucharist - not in isolation from Jesus - but with him - and not for ourselves alone - but for the salvation of the whole world!

We also see in the opening line that the Mass is public and social in nature. Though Paul VI does not specifically identify these abuses, this is why Vatican II and the Novus Ordo go to such great lengths to try to break people of the habit of "private devotions" during Mass, such as praying the Rosary, or entering into close-eyed interior meditation after communion.

In the next paragraph, Paul VI says the following:
Hence, although the very nature of the action renders most appropriate the active participation of many of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass, nevertheless, that Mass is to be fully approved which, in conformity with the prescriptions and lawful traditions of the Church, a priest for a sufficient reason offers in private, that is, in the presence of no one except his server. From such a Mass an abundant treasure of special salutary graces enriches the celebrant, the faithful, the whole Church, and the entire world -- graces which are not imparted in the same abundance by the mere reception of Holy Communion.
While Paul VI's main point is to defend the practice of ministerial priests saying private Masses, he explicitly states what Vatican II and Pius XII affirmed about active lay participation in the Mass that erases quietism - the subjective retreat into interiority to the exclusion of the reality of real presence in the community!

Let's skip ahead a just one paragraph in the letter and look at several paragraphs together without commentary to see if Paul VI really said there is a real presence in the community (emphasis in bold are mine) :
All of us realize that there is more than one way in which Christ is present in His Church. We wish to review at greater length the consoling doctrine which was briefly set forth in the constitution "De Sacra Liturgia."<30> Christ is present in His Church when she prays, since it is He who "prays for us and prays in us and to whom we pray as to our God."<31> It is He who has promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."<32>
He is present in the Church as she performs her works of mercy, not only because we do to Christ whatever good we do to one of His least brethren,<33> but also because it is Christ, performing these works through the Church, who continually assists men with His divine love. He is present in the Church on her pilgrimage of struggle to reach the harbor of eternal life, since it is He who through faith dwells in our hearts<34> and, through the Holy Spirit whom He gives us, pours His love into those hearts.<35>
In still another genuine way He is present in the Church as she preaches, since the Gospel which he proclaims is the Word of God, which is not preached except in the name of Christ, by the authority of Christ, and with the assistance of Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. In this way there is formed "one flock which trusts its only shepherd."<36>
He is present in His Church as she governs the People of God, since her sacred power comes from Christ, and since Christ, "The Shepherd of Shepherds,"<37> is present in the pastors who exercise that power, according to His promise to the Apostles: "Behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world."
Moreover, in a manner still more sublime, Christ is present in His Church as she offers in His name the Sacrifice of the Mass; He is present in her as she administers the sacraments. We find deep consolation in recalling the accurate and eloquent words with which St. John Chrysostom overcome with a sense of awe, described the presence of Christ in the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass: "I wish to add something that is plainly awe-inspiring, but do not be astonished or upset. This Sacrifice, no matter who offers it, be it Peter or Paul, is always the same as that which Christ gave His disciples and which priests now offer: The offering of today is in no way inferior to that which Christ offered, because it is not men who sanctify the offering of today; it is the same Christ who sanctified His own. For just as the words which God spoke are the very same as those which the priest now speaks, so too the oblation is the very same."<38>
No one is unaware that the sacraments are the actions of Christ, who administers them through men. Therefore, the sacraments are holy in themselves, and by the power of Christ they pour grace into the soul when they touch the body. The mind boggles at these different ways in which Christ is present; they confront the Church with a mystery ever to be pondered.
But there is yet another manner in which Christ is present in His Church, a manner which surpasses all the others; it is His presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is for this reason "a more consoling source of devotion, a more lovely object of contemplation, a more effective means of sanctification than all the other sacraments."<39> The reason is clear; it contains Christ Himself and it is "a kind of perfection of the spiritual life; in a way, it is the goal of all the sacraments."<40>
Let's break for just a second before moving to the next paragraph. I have said repeatedly that the very condition for the possibility of all that I have said about the Eucharist is the real presence of the resurrected Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. I have said that the entire life of the Church aims toward and flows from the Eucharist - and that it is even the center of my own existential faith, more important than the papacy!

In this sense, I absolutely agree with Paul VI that the Eucharist "surpasses" all other modes of real presence, and I do not think he meant otherwise. However, as we will see in the very next paragraph, once the effects of the Eucharist are realized, we cannot call these other modes of real presence less real!
This presence is called "real" -- by which it is not intended to exclude all other types of presence as if they could not be "real" too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present.<41> It would therefore be wrong to explain this presence by having recourse to the "spiritual" nature, as it is called, of the glorified Body of Christ, which is present everywhere, or by reducing it to a kind of symbolism, as if this most august Sacrament consisted of nothing else than an efficacious sign, "of the spiritual presence of Christ and of His intimate union with the faithful, members of His Mystical Body."<42>
Given some of our prior discussion, I am suggesting that this paragraph should give conservatives some pause if read carefully. I suspect, however, that you are not reading it carefully - so please re-read in light of my following commentary.

You likely are focused on the phrase "but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence", and you likewise focused on the phrase saying it is wrong to speak in a way "reducing it to a kind of symbolism"....

Am I wrong that this is what you keyed in on?

Well, as stated in the commentary to the preceding paragraph, I do not deny that the condition for the possibility of all other real presences is the substantial presence of Christ in the sacrament of the altar! And I have affirmed over and over, this is not merely symbolic, but real.

I also have not denied that the "whole substance" of the bread and wine were changed. I have not denied a real physical presence. I have not denied that this sacrament "surpasses" all others and is the aim towards which our Catholic life of grace is directed, and the summit from which all grace flows.

So - please do not accuse me of denying the importance and meaning of these phrases.

However, this said, what I am emphasizing is the preceding phrase in bold. Paul VI is admitting that the other modes of Christ's presence are "real".

I have suggested that if the (or "a" ) valid definition of "substance" is "underlying reality", we can speak of these other modes of real presence as substantial presence - not to the exclusion of the Eucharist - but because of the Eucharist!

And "substance" can be applied to spiritual realities, or else Nicea could not be translated in Latin as saying Christ is one "substance" with the Father! The point is that whatever we describe with "substance" must be a "reality" or "essence" or "being" or "nature" - but such a reality does not need to be physical.

Paul VI is condemning "spiritual" notions that convey anything less than real, but he is not saying that the Holy Spirit is not real!

Another thing I want you to notice is that Paul VI is quoting Pius XII's Humani Generis when he quotes the phrase, "of the spiritual presence of Christ and of His intimate union with the faithful, members of His Mystical Body." While both Paul VI and Pius XII opposed reducing real presence to a mere symbolism of Christ and his body, the Church, neither of them deny that the Church is in its ultimate reality, the body of Christ.

Here are Pius XII's word from Humani Generis in their full context placed in red font to differentiate from Paul VI's words:
Some even say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation, based on an antiquated philosophic notion of substance, should be so modified that the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist be reduced to a kind of symbolism, whereby the consecrated species would be merely efficacious signs of the spiritual presence of Christ and of His intimate union with the faithful members of His Mystical Body.
Some say they are not bound by the doctrine, explained in Our Encyclical Letter of a few years ago, and based on the Sources of Revelation, which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the True Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of Christian faith.
In other words, what Paul VI and Pius XII are opposed to is saying that the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist is merely symbolic, or merely spiritual.

Both my fellow progressives and I have said that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a physical presence, and rather than reducing to mere symbolism or sign, we are saying that symbol and sign are realities, just as my body is a symbol of all that I am in my totality. This is why I have insisted that the symbolism of the Eucharist points to real presence within the symbol, rather than a real absence!

But can we speak of Eucharist as symbol? And does it symbolize a real presence in the People of God?

Let's return to the next paragraphs of Paul VI's Mysterium Fidei as follows:
It is true that much can be found in the Fathers and in the scholastics with regard to the symbolism of the Eucharist, especially with reference to the unity of the Church. The Council of Trent, restating their doctrine, taught that the Savior bequeathed the blessed Eucharist to His Church "as a symbol . . . of that unity and charity with which He wished all Christians to be most intimately united among themselves," and hence "as a symbol of that One Body of which He is the Head."<43>
We see in this paragraph that it is appropriate to speak of Eucharist as symbol or of symbolizing other realities - the key is that we do not deny real physical presence - the reality that the whole substance of bread and wine was made into the presence of Christ at Mass.

Pope Paul VI goes on for three more paragraphs where he quotes the Didache, Saint Cyprian, and Saint Paul regarding how the Eucharist symbolizes Christian unity, but then he says the following:
While the eucharistic symbolism brings us to an understanding of the effect proper to this Sacrament, which is the unity of the mystical Body, it does not indicate or explain what it is that makes this Sacrament different from all others. The constant teaching which the Catholic Church passes on to her catechumens, the understanding of the Christian people, the doctrine defined by the Council of Trent, the very words used by Christ when He instituted the Most Holy Eucharist, compel us to acknowledge that "the Eucharist is that flesh of Our Savior Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins and whom the Father in His loving-kindness raised again."<47> To these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, we may add those which Theodore of Mopsueta, a faithful witness to the faith of the Church on this point, addressed to the faithful: "The Lord did not say: This is a symbol of My Body, and this is a symbol of My blood but: This is My Body and My Blood." He teaches us not to look to the nature of those things which lie before us and are perceived by the senses, for by the prayer of thanksgiving and the words spoken over them, they have been changed into Flesh and Blood."<48>
Most of this paragraph deals with the real presence of Jesus Christ - the one who died upon the cross and is risen - and I have never once denied Jesus is really, substantially, significantly, and physically present in the Eucharist.

Indeed, for the rest of Paul VI's letter, he mainly deals with this aspect of real presence and exhorts us to such actions as Eucharistic processions, holy hours, and spending time with the Blessed Sacrament. He provides some history of these devotions, and both my fellow progressives and I have affirmed these devotions are just fine apart from Mass - indeed, I do these devotions myself!

I'm not going to quote anymore of this letter, because we all agree on the rest of its content, and I assume you can read it yourself if you suspect I might be hiding something.

But I want to focus on the phrase I placed in bold in the opening sentence of the above paragraph. The proper effect of this sacrament is the unity of the mystical Body!

This is what I have been trying to say when I have said that we are transubstantiated when we receive the Eucharist. The sacrament has a real, not merely symbolic, effect upon us that makes us real members of the mystical body of Christ - making Christ really present in the Church!

Paul VI wrote long before the CCC was published, and I think the CCC further develops notions that are expressed here - and I think further development can be made still - which is accomplished through speculative language that does not deny or reduce past formulas, but more clearly explains them.

I am maintaining the position that speaking of transubstantiation has the denotation of a change in underlying reality - and incorporation into the mystical Body of Christ - the process of divinization or deification - is a change in the reality of being and becoming a human person.

While I admit that our human nature does not change in this process, and I confess that "nature" and "substance" are often used interchangeably in Latin theological discourse, I do not think that speaking of our human nature fully encompasses the full reality of being a human person.

If human nature and human personhood were entirely synonymous, none of you would have been upset that I spoke of Jesus being a human person - for Christ clearly assumed a human nature in the incarnation!

Whether we ever agree that Jesus was a human person or not, the very fact that Jesus is a human nature indicates that "human nature" can and is used in a way that does not convey the full reality of a particular being - namely Jesus Christ, who is both human nature and divine nature simultaneously!

Now - we become "partakers of the divine nature" in the reception of the sacraments. I am arguing that what Christ is by nature from the moment of his conception, we become by adoption. Our own human nature is not destroyed, but it is enabled to become conformed to Christ through a real change effected within us by the infusion of grace, which is God's very life - the Holy Spirit - the same Spirit that made Christ really and substantially present in the Eucharist!

We consume Christ, and even Ludwig Ott is admitting that Chist's Spirit remains after the physical host has been digested. I am arguing that this "spiritual presence" is not merely symbolic, but real, and therefore to call it substantial is appropriate - the underlying reality of what we are has been changed, though the change builds upon our human nature rather than destroying it!


A conservative moderator of the debate forum invited me to re-read the Encyclical letter of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on the Mystical Body of Christ entitled, Mystici Corporis Christi. He was especially bothered that I had said that I came to the conclusion that women should be ordained from reading this letter.

I will point out that this letter was used to shape Lumen Gentium in the Second Vatican Council, and was especially helpful in developing the language of LG 10 - a paragraph that was entirely different in its original draft.

Indeed, thanks to Pius XII's letter, Karl Rahner and Edward Scillibeeckx and Yves Congar managed to pursuade the bishops of an entirely different draft. On the other hand, Karol Wojtyla was also part of writing this draft.

I re-read the letter and am even more convinced of my positions having done so. Another progressive here pointed out that Pius XII has to be understood in his historical context - and this is generally true of all reading. However, I might invite my fellow progressives to take a fresh look at the letter as well, since in many regards, I think Pius XII was decades ahead of the times on this one. Yet, the Council and the CCC do go further than even Pius went in this very progressive letter for its time.

So much of what he said was incorporated in Vatican II and no Pope had said it all so clearly as Pius XII in centuries.

At a high level, a few major points of interest....Pius XII addressed the letter specifically to bishops, patriarchs and ordinands. Yet, at places within the letter, he seems to be addressing those outside of the Church in a positive tone. This was radical in its time, as no Pope had ever publically addressed non-Catholics in a positive way perhaps since apostolic times!

Pius XII also clearly and explicitly indicates that there is salvation among the separated brethren and that the Mystical Body of Christ includes members outside of the visible institution of the Roman Catholic Church, anticipating Vatican II by about three decades.

The last third or so of the letter strongly addresses a number of social justice issues, including care for the poor, crossing national and ethnic boundaries, ending torture and injustice by governments, caring for the mentally ill, the widow, children, and orphans, and so forth.

But let's get into the nitty gritty.....does the letter imply that Christ dwells substantially in members of the Church?

A conservative quoted Paragraphs 86 and 87 of this letter in his thread, probably focusing mostly on paragraph 86, and using paragraph 87 to try to create a label for what he does not like in my theology (what he labels "quietism" ).

Paragraph 86 states the following:
For there are some who neglect the fact that the Apostle Paul has used metaphorical language in speaking of this doctrine, and failing to distinguish as they should the precise and proper meaning of the terms the physical body, the social body, and the Mystical Body, arrive at a distorted idea of unity. They make the Divine Redeemer and the members of the Church coalesce in one physical person, and while they bestow divine attributes on man, they make Christ our Lord subject to error and to human inclination to evil. But Catholic faith and the writings of the holy Fathers reject such false teaching as impious and sacrilegious; and to the mind of the Apostle of the Gentiles it is equally abhorrent, for although he brings Christ and His Mystical Body into a wonderfully intimate union, he nevertheless distinguishes one from the other as Bridegroom from Bride.
In my reponse, I stated that I obviously never said - and in all my wrangling on the term "person" would never dare to say that we are all "one physical person". I also affirmed that I never said Christ our Lord is subject to error or that he was inclined to evil. Nor have I ever said that incommunicable attributes of the divine are bestowed on man.

I went on to point out that this letter makes three distinctions: 1) the physical body, 2) the social body, and 3) the mystical body. I asserted that when Pius XII speaks of Saint Paul as using metaphoric language, Pius XII did not mean to deny the reality of the mystical body - but he did mean to deny that we are all one physical person.

I have repeatedly and consistencty said that when I say we are transubstantiated, I do not mean that we are all one physical person, or that we become wholly and entirely the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, I do mean to say that Christ does come to dwell within us and effect a real change - a substantial change making us like unto himself, by his own personal presence within us.

Does one person dwell within us, even if we can't say we are all one physical person?

Consider this paragraph from the letter:
67. Here, Venerable Brethren, We wish to speak in a very special way of our union with Christ in the Body of the Church, a thing which is, as Augustine justly remarks, sublime, mysterious and divine;<132> for that very reason it often happens that many misunderstand it and explain it incorrectly. It is at once evident that this union is very close. In the Sacred Scriptures it is compared to the chaste union of man and wife, to the vital union of branch and vine, and to the cohesion found in our body.<133> Even more, it is represented as being so close that the Apostle says: "He (Christ) is the Head of the Body of the Church,"<134> and the unbroken tradition of the Fathers from the earliest times teaches that the Divine Redeemer and the Society which is His Body form but one mystical person, that is to say to quote Augustine, the whole Christ.<135> Our Savior Himself in His sacerdotal prayer did not hesitate to liken this union to that wonderful unity by which the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son.<136>
I said that Pius XII was equally adamant in pointing out that while the Church is a sort of social body, we mean more than that when we speak of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. My concern with what conservatives seem to be saying in this forum is that the Mystical Body of Christ is merely a metaphor for a social body.

Does Pius XII clearly say that he means the Mystical Body of Christ is more than just a mere social body - is the Mystical Body of Christ more than a metaphor?

Though the physical and visible structure of the Church, its institutions, and the flesh and blood people that make her up are a social reality, isn't it appropriate to say the Church is mysteriously more than this - even saying she is the very body of Christ?

Consider these paragraphs of the letter:
62. But if we compare a mystical body with a moral body, it is to be noted that the difference between them is not slight; rather it is very considerable and very important. In the moral body the principle of union is nothing else than the common end, and the common cooperation of all under the authority of society for the attainment of that end; whereas in the Mystical Body of which We are speaking, this collaboration is supplemented by another internal principle, which exists effectively in the whole and in each of its parts, and whose excellence is such that of itself it is vastly superior to whatever bonds of union may be found in a physical or moral body. As We said above, this is something not of the natural but of the supernatural order; rather it is something in itself infinite, uncreated: the Spirit of God, who, as the Angelic Doctor says, "numerically one and the same, fills and unifies the whole Church."<116>
It seems obvious from this paragraph that Pius XII intends "the Mystical Body of Christ" to be the entire communion of all the faithful, and not solely the physical body of Jesus. He continues....
63. Hence, this word in its correct signification gives us to understand that the Church, a perfect society of its kind, is not made up of merely moral and juridical elements and principles. It is far superior to all other human societies;<117> it surpasses them as grace surpasses nature, as things immortal are above all those that perish.<118> Such human societies, and in the first place civil Society, are by no means to be despised or belittled; but the Church in its entirety is not found within this natural order, any more than the whole man is encompassed within the organism of our mortal body.<119> Although the juridical principles, on which the Church rests and is established, derive from the divine constitution given to it by Christ and contribute to the attaining of its supernatural end, nevertheless that which lifts the Society of Christians far above the whole natural order is the Spirit of our Redeemer who penetrates and fills every part of the Church's being and is active within it until the end of time as the source of every grace and every gift and every miraculous power. Just as our composite mortal body, although it is a marvelous work of the Creator, falls far short of the eminent dignity of our soul, so the social structure of the Christian community, though it proclaims the wisdom of its divine Architect, still remains something inferior when compared to the spiritual gifts which give it beauty and life, and to the divine source whence they flow.
Regarading speculative language to describe this reality, consider the following:
78. For indeed We are not ignorant of the fact that his profound truth - of our union with the Divine Redeemer and in particular of the indwelling of the Holy spirit in our souls - is shrouded in darkness by many a veil that impedes our power to understand and explain it, both because of the hidden nature of the doctrine itself, and of the limitations of our human intellect. But We know, too, that from well-directed and earnest study of this doctrine, and from the clash of diverse opinions and the discussion thereof, provided that these are regulated by the love of truth and by due submission to the Church, much light will be gained, which, in its turn will help to progress in kindred sacred sciences. Hence, We do not censure those who in various ways, and with diverse reasonings make every effort to understand and to clarify the mystery of this our wonderful union with Christ. But let all agree uncompromisingly on this, if they would not err from truth and from the orthodox teaching of the Church: to reject every kind of mystic union by which the faithful of Christ should in any way pass beyond the sphere of creatures and wrongly enter the divine, were it only to the extent of appropriating to themselves as their own but one single attribute of the eternal Godhead. And, moreover, let all hold this as certain truth, that all these activities are common to the most Blessed Trinity, insofar as they have God as supreme efficient cause.
And in case we are still wondering whether it is appropriate to say that the Eucharist causes and underlies this reality of the one person of Christ really dwelling within us, take a look at these three paragraphs:
81. It seems to Us that something would be lacking to what We have thus far proposed concerning the close union of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ with its Head, were We not to add here a few words on the Holy Eucharist, by which this union during this mortal life reaches, as it were, a culmination.
82. By means of the Eucharistic Sacrifice Christ our Lord willed to give the faithful a striking manifestation of our union among ourselves and with our divine Head, wonderful as it is and beyond all praise. For in this Sacrifice the sacred minister acts as the viceregent not only of our Savior but of the whole Mystical Body and of each one of the faithful. In this act of Sacrifice through the hands of the priest, by whose word alone the Immaculate Lamb is present on the altar, the faithful themselves, united with him in prayer and desire, offer to the Eternal Father a most acceptable victim of praise and propitiation for the needs of the whole Church. And as the Divine Redeemer, when dying on the Cross, offered Himself to the Eternal Father as Head of the whole human race, so "in this clean oblation"<163> He offers to the heavenly Father not only Himself as Head of the Church, but in Himself His mystical members also, since He holds them all, even those who are weak and ailing, in His most loving Heart.
83. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is itself a striking and wonderful figure of the unity of the Church, if we consider how in the bread to be consecrated many grains go to form one whole,<164> and that in it the very Author of supernatural grace is given to us, so that through Him we may receive the spirit of charity in which we are bidden to live now no longer our own life but the life of Christ, and to love the Redeemer Himself in all the members of His social Body.
Note the very last quoted sentence - we are called to love the Redeemer Himself in all the members of His social Body. This is what I have argued that even if you cannot agree with women who want to be ordained, or with homosexual Catholics who are struggling, or with married men who want to be priest - you must realize that Christ, himself, is in all the members of his social Body - the Mystical Body of Christ - the Church. You must love them with the same reverence and respect and compassion you would show the suffering Christ!

While my fellow progressives and I have both agreed that the Pope and the bishops have authority - and even infallible authority - and we have submitted that we need authority in our lives, we think conservatives are sometimes in too much of a hurry to end discussion and drive people out - rather than listening in the love and the reverence you would have for Christ!

Pius XII certainly was not lenient to real heresy when it occurred - Yet Pius XII gave a great example in his behavior of his attitudes towards speculation. He never excommunicated Tielhard De Chardin, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, or Edward Schillibeeckx, though he knew what they were saying. Pius recognized that we are all sinners working out our salvation, and though all the answers the Church holds as part of the deposit of faith are true, there is still need of reform and further exploration - and this does not separate one from the body until formal excommunication occurs.

But what about the fact that we are all sinners - doesn't this deny that Christ really dwells in us in the real manner in which I am speaking?

Pius XII addresses this in many various ways in his letter:
23. Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness. It is owing to the Savior's infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet.<20> For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy. Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.
And the next paragraph is one of the powerful paragraphs that says much of what I have been trying to say about sinners being transformed into saints through the power of God because of the greatness of human dignity in the eyes of God:
66. And if at times there appears in the Church something that indicates the weakness of our human nature, it should not be attributed to her juridical constitution, but rather to that regrettable inclination to evil found in each individual, which its Divine Founder permits even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body, for the purpose of testing the virtue of the Shepherds no less than of the flocks, and that all may increase the merit of their Christian faith. For, as We said above, Christ did not wish to exclude sinners from His Church; hence if some of her members are suffering from spiritual maladies, that is no reason why we should lessen our love for the Church, but rather a reason why we should increase our devotion to her members. Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends; in those heavenly gifts and extraordinary grace through which with inexhaustible fecundity,<130> she generates hosts of martyrs, virgins and confessors. But it cannot be laid to her charge if some members fall, weak or wounded. In their name she prays to God daily: "Forgive us our trespasses;" and with the brave heart of a mother she applies herself at once to the work of nursing them back to spiritual health. When, therefore, we call the Body of Jesus Christ "mystical," the very meaning of the word conveys a solemn warning. It is a warning that echoes in these words of St. Leo: "Recognize, O Christian, your dignity, and being made a sharer of the divine nature go not back to your former worthlessness along the way of unseemly conduct. Keep in mind of what Head and of what Body you are a member."<131>
The letter is very long, and I am not quote any more entire paragraphs - though I invite everyone to accept my opponent's challenge to read this letter carefully - and I invite Thomas to re-read it himself. Let me just quote a few phrases to wet your appetite - I'll provide paragraph numbers so that you can determine for yourselves if I am quoting in context:
Par 1. "The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church...

Par 12. "...through the Word incarnate, made brothers according to the flesh of the only-begotten Son of God, they receive also the power to become sons of God..."

Par 19. "...for in the Holy Eucharist the faithful are nourished and strengthened at the same banquet and by a divine, ineffable bond are united with each other and with the Divine Head of the whole Body..."

Par 44. "...Yet this, also, must be held, marvelous though it may seem: Christ has need of his members....Moreover as our Savior does not rule the Church directly in a visible manner, He wills to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out redemption....Dying on the Cross He left to his Church the immense treasury of Redemption, towards which she contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but wills that in some way it be due to her action..."

Par 46 " was that He might make His brothers according to the flesh partakers of the divine nature through sanctifying grace in this earthly exile...."

Par 48 "...His inexhaustible fullness we have all received.

Par 51 "Holiness begins with Christ; and Christ is its cause....When the sacraments of the Church are administered by external rite, it is He who produces their effect..."

Par 52 "...our Lord wills that His abundant graces should flow from His fullness into the Church, in order that she should resemble Him as closely as possible..."

Par 53 "...He so sustains the it were another Christ...the Church is often called simply "Christ"...Christ preaches Christ."

Par 55. But in virtue of that higher, interior, and wholly sublime communication, with which We dealt when We described the manner in which the Head influences the members, Christ our Lord wills the Church to live His own supernatural life, and by His divine power permeates His whole Body and nourishes and sustains each of the members according to the place which they occupy in the body, in the same way as the vine nourishes and makes fruitful the branches which are joined to it.

Par 56. "...His Spirit is communicated to the Church in an abundant outpouring, so that she, and her individual members, may become daily more and more like to our Savior..."

Par 58 "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me"

Par 61 " the Mystical Body the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality...
By the way - this last quotation affirms what I have said that grace is intrinsic, yet it does not destroy our nature or personality - but elevates it....
Par 71 "...He dwells within our hearts...."

Par 73 "...supernatural love, which God infuses in our hearts...."

Par 75 "...In Christ our own flesh loves us...."

Par 75 "...For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. ...."

WOW - isn't that a cool thought! I'm not sure I accept that Christ's human intellect could comprehend all of this - but if this is what he understood in his divinity, even if "unconscious" to his humanity - it knocks my socks off!
Par 77 "...Christ We mean, the Head and the Body, the whole Christ."

Given all that I have written - I think it should be clear by now why I would go so far as to suggest that in receiving the Eucharist, we ourselves are transubstantiated.

Compare all this to what I have said and the many quotes from Scripture, the CCC, and the saints, as well as philosophical wrangling about the meaning of "substance", in 3 or 4 other threads and it should be abundantly clear that what I said should not be considered quite so offensive as y'all have made it out!

If you want to read the Popes' letters quoted above, the links are here:

Mysterium Fidei

Mystici Corporis Christi

PS - Since the publication of my post above in its original threaded forum discussion, Pope John Paul II has written a Eucharistic meditation that affirms many of the same themes I am raising. I won't comment on this, but simply point to the letter itself:

Ecclesia De Eucharistia

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 2:30 PM

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