The Church and the Sacraments, Views During The Third Period (750-1517 A.D.), The Seven Sacraments, The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation. (continued)

“They ascribe divine perfections and render divine honors to a creature, and therein consists the essence of idolatry. In like manner Romanists teach that latreia, the worship due to God alone, is to be rendered to the host, or consecrated wafer. This worship, of course, is not rendered to the wafer as such, any more than the worship of Christians was rendered to the body and blood of Christ, when He was here on earth. But Romanists worship the host on the assumption that it is the body of Christ, with which his soul and divinity are inseparably connected. If their doctrine of transubstantiation be false; if the host be no more the body of Christ than any other piece of bread; if his soul and divinity be no more present in it than in other bread, then they must admit that the worship of the host is as pure and simply idolatry as the world has ever seen. As all Protestants believe the doctrine of transubstantiation to be utterly unscriptural and false, they are unanimous in pronouncing the worship of the consecrated elements to be idolatry.”—end of quote from Hodge. 

An analysis of Rome’s doctrine of Transubstantiation. 

Rome’s arguments in support of its doctrine of Transubstantiation are derived partly from the Word of God and mainly from Tradition. One of these Scriptural passages to which appeal is made is John 6:48-65. In this familiar passage the Savior declares of Himself that He is the Bread of Life. He continues to set forth that He is the Living Bread that came down from heaven, that if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and that the bread that He will give is His flesh. And in the verses 53-56 we read: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” In connection with this discourse of the Savior a certain Roman Catholic Cardinal, Gousset, lays down two propositions: first, that it is to be understood of the Lord’s Supper; and secondly, that the eating of which it speaks is oral, by the mouth, and not merely spiritual by faith. If this be true, then it follows that our Lord here is speaking of a literal eating of His flesh, and therefore that His flesh must be eaten in the literal sense of the word at the Lord’s Supper. However, it is surely evident that this argument cannot stand. In the first place, it is surely evident from the words of John 6:48-65 that the eating and drinking of Jesus’ flesh and blood whereof the Saviour speaks is essential and vital to our salvation. Except we eat this flesh and drink this blood there is no life in us. And, whoso eateth this flesh and drinketh this blood has eternal life. However, that a participation in this sacrament is absolutely essential unto salvation Rome, we understand, explicitly denies. Romanists teach that spiritual life is as necessary to an experience of the benefits of this sacrament as natural life is to the body’s being nourished by food. Moreover, they further teach that baptism, which precedes the Eucharist, conveys all the saving benefits of Christ’s redemption. Hence, they cannot make the Eucharist essential. In addition to this, does not Jesus speak in John 6 of His “flesh” and “blood”? And do we not read in the Scriptures that flesh and blood cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? In connection with this, if we are to understand the words of the Savior m the literal. sense of the word, do not the words “flesh” and “blood” refer to His body as He stood before the Galilean multitude? And is it not exactly this literal and materialistic conception of Jesus’ flesh and blood that was entertained by His Galilean listeners, as expressed in verse 52: “The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give ushis flesh to eat?” This is exactly the opinion that was entertained by the Jews, and certainly was not meant by the Christ. Finally, do not the Scriptures abundantly testify that “whosoever believeth in the Christ hath eternal life,” and that therefore this believing is the same as the eating and drinking of Christ’s flesh and blood? In other words, this eating and drinking of Jesus’ flesh and blood must be understood in the spiritual dense of the word. 

Another Scriptural argument of Rome is derived from the well-known passage of the Word of God: “This is My body.” When the Savior speaks these words at the time of the last supper in the upper room immediately before His death upon the cross, He not only changed the bread and wine into His body and blood at that time, but He also appointed at that time His disciples to be priests and laid into the words which He spoke a power which could cause the change of the substances of bread and wine. The Eucharist as celebrated by Rome, is not only a sacrament, but it is in the first place a sacrifice to which we will presently call attention. Whereas Christ’s body and blood are not to be separated from His human nature and His human nature cannot be separated from His Godhead, the entire Christ is’ present in each element and also fully present in each particle of the elements. However, it must surely be evident that Rome’s appeal to the words: “This is My body,” is completely in error. It must be evident that when the Savior declares: “This is My body,” He is referring to the bread He has taken into His hand. The words: “My body,” certainly refer to His own body which He has assumed from the virgin, Mary, and which He would presently sacrifice upon the cross. Secondly, let us presuppose that, as according to Rome, the words: “This is My body,” refer to Jesus’ own flesh and blood which, then, are hidden, we understand, in the bread and wine which merely have the form and taste and color, etc. of bread and wine. Then it must also be true that the bread and wine had already been changed into Jesus’ flesh and blood before the Lord spoke the words: This is My body. Jesus does not say: Become My body but: This is My body. Hence, these elements had already been changed into Jesus’ own flesh and body when He spoke the words: This is My body. Hence, the words as spoken by Jesus did not effect the change at all. To this may be added other arguments in refutation bf the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation and Rome’s appeal to the words: “This is My body,” to which we may return when we discuss the period of the Reformation. We may conclude with the remark that if Jesus’ words: “This is My body,” must be understood ill that literal and natural sense of the word, why not also explain expressions such as, “I am the door,” in that same literal and natural sense of the word? 

Rome, however, in attempting to prove its doctrine of Transubstantiation, appeals mainly to Tradition. Rome contends that there are many doctrines which Christ and His Apostles taught, which are either not revealed at all, or but very imperfectly in Scripture, and which are to be received on the authority of Tradition. On that authority they rely for their support of all their peculiar doctrines. This we reject. Whatever doctrine is not taught in the Word of God can never be an object of our faith. And, as far as tradition is concerned, that which has been handed down and taught throughout the ages is valid only when it is in harmony with the will of the Holy Spirit and as taught in the Word of God. The history of the development of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation can be traced. And it can also be shown that Rome, in its celebration of the Lord’s Supper, has departed from the clear injunction of Christ Himself, as in its doctrine of Concomitance, the withholding of the cup from the laity. Rome admits that this is in conflict with the original institution of the Lord’s Supper and the practices in the early New Testament Church. Rome, however, does not hesitate, if need be, to ascribe all authority to tradition and elevate it, if need be, above the Word of the Lord itself. 

This doctrine of Transubstantiation is absurd and impossible. It was invented, as the late Dr. H. Bavinck suggests in his Dogmatics, to maintain Rome’s priestly hierarchy and give undue prominence to that office. We can easily understand that it is pleasing to the flesh to have as much power as must be present in the priestly office when, through his intercession, the bread and wine are actually changed into the body and blood of the Lord. This implies, we understand, that the efficacy of the sacrament, and salvation also, are absolutely dependent upon the priest. And when once this power has been given to this office, to men, it is so extremely difficult to divest them of this power. When officebearers in the Church have been endowed with great power and have become an absolutely necessary hierarchy, we can rest assured that they will do all within their power to maintain themselves in this power. The impossibility of this conception is clearly set forth by Hodge in his Systematic Theology, which we now quote, Vol. III, pages 683-685: “It is a valid objection to this doctrine that it involves an impossibility. The impossible cannot be true, and, therefore, cannot, rationally, be an object of faith. It is impossible that the accidents or sensible properties of the bread and wine should remain if the substance be changed. Such a proposition has not more meaning in it than the assertion that an act can be without an agent. Accidents or properties are the phenomena of substance; and it is self-evident that there can be no manifestations where there is not something to be manifested. In other words nothing, a ‘non-ens’ cannot manifest itself. Romanists cannot turn to the theory that matter is not a substance; for that is not their doctrine. On the contrary, they assert that the substance of the bread is transputed into the substance of Christ’s body. Nor can they help themselves by resorting to the pantheistic doctrine that all accidents are phenomena of God, for that would upset their whole system. 

It is moreover impossible that the well-attested testimony of our senses should be deceptive. If it once be assumed that we cannot trust to the laws of belief impressed on our nature, of which faith in our sense perceptions is one of the most important, then the foundation of all knowledge, faith, and religion is overturned. What has Catholicism to say for itself, if the people cannot trust their ears when they hear the teachings of the Church, or their eyes when they read its decrees? It has nothing to stand upon. It is engulfed with all things else in the abyss of nihilism. To believe in transubstantiation; on we must disbelieve our senses, and this God requires of no man. It involves disbelief in Him who is the author of our nature and of the laws which are impressed upon it. There is no more complete and destructive infidelity than the want of faith in the veracity of consciousness, whether it be consciousness of our sense perceptions, or of the truths involved in our rational, moral, and religious nature.” (And how about the theory of Common Grace which would have us believe contradictions in the Bible because the reason why we do not understand them is because of the defectiveness of our mind? As when we must believe that God loves and hates the same person at the same time.—H.V.) We will continue in our next article.

—H.V.