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also known as
"The Eucharist" or
"The Lord's Supper"


Words of Institution
Real Presence
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Eucharist (Catholic Church)
Anglican Eucharistic theology

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Paul ·Aquinas
Augustine · Calvin
Chrysostom · Cranmer
Luther · Zwingli

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Catholic Historic Roots
Closed and Open Table
Divine Liturgy
Eucharistic adoration
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First Communion
Infant Communion
Mass · Sacrament

Transubstantiation (from Latin transsubstantiatio) is the change of the substance of bread and wine into that of the body and blood of Christ, the change that according to the belief of the Roman Catholic Church occurs in the Eucharist.

Theology of transubstantiation[]

In this context, substance is a philosophical, not a chemical term. It indicates what something is in itself. A hat's shape is not the hat itself, nor is its colour the hat, nor is its size, nor its softness to the touch, nor anything else about it perceptible to the senses. The hat itself (the "substance") has the shape, the colour, the size, the softness and the other appearances, but is distinct from them. Whereas the appearances, which are referred to by the philosophical term accidents are perceptible to the senses, the substance is not.

When at his Last Supper Jesus said: "This is my body", what he held in his hands had all the appearances of bread. However, though the accidents of bread remained as before, the Roman Catholic Church believes that the underlying reality was changed in accordance with what Jesus said, that the substance of the bread was converted to that of his body. And it believes that the same change of the substance of the bread and a similar change of the substance of the wine occurs at every celebration of the Eucharist.

The bread is changed in the Eucharist into Jesus' body, but, because Jesus, risen from the dead, is living, not only his body is present, but Jesus as a whole, body and blood, soul and divinity. The same holds for the wine changed into his blood.

The Roman Catholic Church accordingly believes that through transubstantiation Christ is really, truly and substantially present under the remaining appearances of bread and wine, and that the transformation remains as long as the appearances remain. For this reason the consecrated elements are preserved, generally in a church tabernacle, for giving holy communion to the sick and dying, and also for the secondary, but still highly prized, purpose of adoring Christ present in the Eucharist.

The Roman Catholic Church considers the doctrine of transubstantiation the best defence against what it sees as the mutually opposed errors of, on the one hand, a merely figurative understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the change of the substance is real), and, on the other hand, an interpretation that would amount to cannibalistic eating of the flesh and corporal drinking of the blood of Christ (the accidents that remain are real, not an illusion).


The Right Manner at the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Scriptural foundations[]

As already indicated, the Roman Catholic Church sees as the main basis for this belief the words of Jesus himself at his Last Supper: the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20) and Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 11:23-25 recount that in that context Jesus said of what to all appearances were bread and wine: "This is my body … this is my blood."

The Gospel of John presents Jesus as saying: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you … he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6:53-56), and as then not toning down these sayings, even when many of his disciples thereupon abandoned him (John 6:66), shocked at the idea.

Saint Paul implied an identity between the apparent bread and wine of the Eucharist and the body and blood of Christ, when he wrote: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Historical development[]

In about 106, Saint Ignatius of Antioch criticized those who "abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7). Similarly, St. Ambrose of Milan countered objections to the doctrine, writing "You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the Flesh of Christ" (The Sacraments, 333/339-397 A.D. v.2,1339,1340).

The earliest known use, in about 1079, of the term "transubstantiation" to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Savardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133). This was long before the Latin West, under the influence especially of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1227-1274), accepted Aristotelianism. (The University of Paris was founded only between 1150 and 1170.)

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council used the word transubstantiated in its profession of faith, when speaking of the change that takes place in the Eucharist.

In 1551 the Council of Trent officially defined that "by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation" (Session XIII, chapter IV; cf. canon II).

The attempt by some twentieth-century Roman Catholic theologians to present the Eucharistic change as an alteration of significance (transignification rather than transubstantiation) was rejected by Pope Paul VI in his 1965 encyclical letter Mysterium fidei In his 1968 Credo of the People of God, he reiterated that any theological explanation of the doctrine must hold to the twofold claim that, after the consecration, 1) Christ's body and blood are really present; and 2) bread and wine are really absent; and this presence and absence is real and not merely something in the mind of the believer.

Views of other Churches on transubstantiation[]

Eastern Churches[]

The Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, along with the Assyrian Church of the East, agree that the bread and wine truly do actually become the body and blood of Christ. However, they have in general refrained from philosophical speculation such as that which found expression in the theory of transubstantiation, and instead usually rely on the status of the doctrine as a "mystery," something known by divine revelation that could not have been arrived at by reason without revelation. Accordingly, preferring to say too little about the details and remain firmly within Holy Tradition, than to say too much and possibly deviate from the truth, they speak simply of a "change" (in Greek μεταβολή) of the bread and wine. Orthodox theologians generally speak in terms of what is called metousiosis, which is used to speak of a great mystical change of essence, not only of the bread and wine, but also in those who partake of the Eucharist.


During the reign of Henry VIII, the official teaching of the Anglican Church was identical with the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine, in defence of which the king wrote a book for which the Pope rewarded him with the title of Defender of the Faith. Under his son, Edward VI, the Anglican Church accepted more Protestant theology, and directly opposed transubstantiation. Elizabeth I, as part of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, gave royal assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which sought to distinguish Anglican from Roman Church doctrine. The Articles, declared: "Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."

Anglicans generally consider no teaching binding that, according to the Articles, "cannot be found in Holy Scripture or proved thereby." Consequently, some Anglicans (especially Anglo-Catholics and High Church Anglicans) accept Transubstantiation, while others do not. In any case, the Articles are not considered binding on any but Church of England clergy, especially for Anglican Churches other than the Church of England. While Archbishop John Tillotson decried the "real barbarousness of this Sacrament and Rite of our Religion", considering it a great impiety to believe that people who attend Holy Communion "verily eat and drink the natural flesh and blood of Christ. And what can any man do more unworthily towards a Friend? How can he possibly use him more barbarously, than to feast upon his living flesh and blood?" (Discourse against Transubstantiation, London 1684, 35). Official writings of the Churches of the Anglican Communion have consistently upheld belief in the Real Presence, some recent Anglican writers explicitly accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, or, while avoiding the term "transubstantiation", speak of an "objective presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. On the other hand, others hold views, such as consubstantiation or "pneumatic presence", close to those of Reformed Protestant Churches.

Theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church has produced common documents that speak of "substantial agreement" about the doctrine of the Eucharist: the ARCIC Windsor Statement of 1971,[1] and its 1979 Elucidation.[2]. Remaining arguments can be found in the Church of England's pastoral letter: The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity.[3]


Lutherans believe that within the Eucharistic celebration the body and blood of Jesus Christ are objectively present "in, with, and under the forms" of bread and wine (cf. Book of Concord). They place great stress on Jesus' instructions to "take and eat", and "take and drink", holding that this is the proper, divinely ordained use of the sacrament, and, while giving it due reverence, scrupulously avoid any actions that might indicate or lead to superstition or unworthy fear of the sacrament. However, Luther explicitly rejected transubstantiation, believing that the bread and wine remained fully bread and fully wine while also being fully the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Luther instead emphasized the Real Presence. This is sometimes mischaracterized as consubstantiation, which Luther also rejected. The proper term is Sacramental Union.

Other Protestants[]

Many Protestant denominations hold that Holy Communion merely symbolically commemorates or memorializes Jesus' Last Supper with the disciples; this belief is known as "symbolism", "commemoration", or "transignification". Some fundamentalist Protestants see any doctrine of the real presence as idolatry, worshipping mere bread and wine as if it were God.

Others, such as some Presbyterian denominations, profess belief in the Real Presence, but offer explanations other than transubstantiation. Classical Presbyterianism held the Calvinist view of "pneumatic" presence or "spiritual feeding." However, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) signed the Formula of Agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, both affirmed belief in the Real Presence.

See also[]

External links[]

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