Transubstantiation, Metaphor, and Common Sense

Over at Beggars All Reformation, one of the commenters had provided a quotation derived from the Westminster Confession of Faith, as follow:

The doctrine which maintains the change…transubstantiation.. is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason…overthroweth..cause manifold superstitions..gross idolatries.

Mr. Bellisario responded (in two separate comments that I have joined:

What is repugnant is that you reject Our Lord’s words which tell us otherwise. Not you or your false confession will ever change His words. Common sense does not give us the Gospel. Our lord did. You and your “confession” reject Our lord and His words. Common sense tells me to listen to his words.

I answered Bellisario:

Our Lord isn’t the one who invented this concept of transubstantiation. He used a metaphor, but that’s too common sense for some folks.

Bellisario responded (again, in two comments that I have joined):

Prove He used a metaphor. That is a lie from the devil. Our Lord never said it was a metaphor. I find it funny that there is only 1 interpretation of this passage of Scripture in the Catholic Church, while the great Saint Robert Bellarmine, writing in the sixteen hundreds, counted over two hundred interpretations of our Lord’s words at the Last Supper, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” This is the result of everyone trying to interpret Our Lord’s words for themselves outside the Church. Who says your interpretation is right?

I now answer, at greater length:

Even leaving aside the bizarre statistical claim, there are numerous problems with this kind of argument from Bellisario.

(1) Jesus never used the word “metaphor” in the pages of Holy Scripture – not just about this metaphor, but about any of them. (2) Normally what distinguishes metaphor from simile is the absence of a signal – if it said “this represents my body” we would have simile, not metaphor. (3) Jesus didn’t say that the cup was a figure of speech for the contents of the cup, but folks use their common sense to recognize this. (4) Finally, some of the early church fathers confirm that Jesus used metaphors, including the metaphor identification of his body with bread and of wine with his blood.

What mean, then, the words, “I am the true vine”? Was it to the literal vine, from which that metaphor was drawn, that He intended to point them by the addition of “true”? For it is by similitude, and not by any personal propriety, that He is thus called a vine; just as He is also termed a sheep, a lamb, a lion, a rock, a corner-stone, and other names of a like kind, which are themselves rather the true ones, from which these are drawn as similitudes, not as realities.

– Augustine, Tractate 80 on John’s Gospel, Section 1

Maybe Bellisario would claim that Augustine was deceived because he made these claims without Jesus ever saying that “I am the true vine” is a metaphor (nor the other examples that Augustine listed).

And when He says, “The Lord looked down from Heaven:” [Psalm 14:2] it describes His perfect knowledge by a metaphor taken from men. So also here He says, “Now I know,” to declare this to be greater than all which had preceded it.

– Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Second Corinthians, Section 6

Again, the text does not explicitly say that this is a metaphor. Did someone trick Chrysostom into thinking it was a metaphor?

But let’s hit a little closer to home. We are frequently told by those who use Rome as the substitute for reason, that John 6 employs the same transubstantial language as in the words of institution. But Augustine says:

Now the rule in regard to this variation has two forms. For things that signify now one thing and now another, signify either things that are contrary, or things that are only different. They signify contraries, for example, when they are used metaphorically at one time in a good sense, at another in a bad, as in the case of the leaven mentioned above. Another example of the same is that a lion stands for Christ in the place where it is said, “The lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed;” (Revelation 5:5) and again, stands for the devil where it is written, “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) In the same way the serpent is used in a good sense, “Be wise as serpents;” (Matthew 10:16) and again, in a bad sense, “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) Bread is used in a good sense, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” (John 6:51) in a bad, “Bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” (Proverbs 9:17) And so in a great many other cases. The examples I have adduced are indeed by no means doubtful in their signification, because only plain instances ought to be used as examples.

– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book III, Chapter 25, Section 36

Augustine didn’t just think that “I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” was a metaphor – he thought it was an obvious metaphor. But our Lord never said it was a metaphor.

And Augustine was not alone:

And entertaining this view, we may regard the proclamation of the Gospel, which is universally diffused, as milk; and as meat, faith, which from instruction is compacted into a foundation, which, being more substantial than hearing, is likened to meat, and assimilates to the soul itself nourishment of this kind. Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat my flesh, and drink my blood;” [John 6:34] describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both—of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood.

– Clement of Alexandria, The Paedogogus, Chapter 6

The Scripture, accordingly, has named wine the symbol of the sacred blood; but reproving the base tippling with the dregs of wine, it says: “Intemperate is wine, and insolent is drunkenness.” [Proverbs 20:1] It is agreeable, therefore, to right reason, to drink on account of the cold of winter, till the numbness is dispelled from those who are subject to feel it; and on other occasions as a medicine for the intestines.

– Clement of Alexandria, The Paedogogus, Chapter 2

And of course, it’s not just those two guys, but Theodoret declares:

Moreover the Lord Himself promised to give on behalf of the life of the world, not His invisible nature, but His body. “For,” He says, “the bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world,” and when He took the symbol of divine mysteries, He said, “This is my body which is given for you.“”

– Theodoret, Letter 130

And again Chrysostom:

And He Himself drank of it. For lest on hearing this, they should say, What then? Do we drink blood, and eat flesh? And then be perplexed (for when He began to discourse concerning these things, even at the very sayings many were offended),therefore lest they should be troubled then likewise, He first did this Himself, leading them to the calm participation of the mysteries. Therefore He Himself drank His own blood. What then must we observe that other ancient rite also? Some one may say. By no means. For on this account He said, “Do this,” that He might withdraw them from the other. For if this works remission of sins, as it surely does work it, the other is now superfluous.

As then in the case of the Jews, so here also He has bound up the memorial of the benefit with the mystery, by this again stopping the mouths of heretics. For when they say, Whence is it manifest that Christ was sacrificed? Together with the other arguments we stop their mouths from the mysteries also. For if Jesus did not die, of what are the rites the symbols?

– Chrysostom, Homily 82 on Matthew, Section 1

Those who have become acquainted with the secondary (i.e., under Christ) constitutions of the apostles, are aware that the Lord instituted a new oblation in the new covenant, according to [the declaration of] Malachi the prophet. For, “from the rising of the sun even to the setting my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice;” [Malachi 1:11] as John also declares in the Apocalypse: “The incense is the prayers of the saints.” Then again, Paul exhorts us “to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [Romans 12:1] And again, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips.” [Hebrews 13:15] Now those oblations are not according to the law, the handwriting of which the Lord took away from the midst by cancelling it; [Colossians 2:14] but they are according to the Spirit, for we must worship God “in spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24] And therefore the oblation of the Eucharist is not a carnal one, but a spiritual; and in this respect it is pure. For we make an oblation to God of the bread and the cup of blessing, giving Him thanks in that He has commanded the earth to bring forth these fruits for our nourishment. And then, when we have perfected theoblation, we invoke the Holy Spirit, that He may exhibit this sacrifice, both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ, in order that the receivers of these antitypes may obtain remission of sins and life eternal. Those persons, then, who perform these oblations in remembrance of the Lord, do not fall in with Jewish views, but, performing the service after a spiritual manner, they shall be called sons of wisdom.

– Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenæus, Section 37 (I should point out that I’m not sure about the legitimacy of the authorship of this quotation.)

So, in conclusion, yes – the Westminster Confession of Faith is right in saying that the error of transubstantiation is repugnant to common sense and reason. The reasons for folks to accept it have to do not with respecting the word of God, but in following the traditions of men – traditions which (in this case) were not followed by the early churches.


6 Responses to “Transubstantiation, Metaphor, and Common Sense”

  1. natamllc Says:

    I say, "didn't" Paul already deal with that?I know God as Spirit, Holy, Righteous and True. I worship Him, Them, in Spirit and Truth!Christ is the Only begotten Son who came and bled and died, suffering a death of anguish and sorrows and grief.The Holy Spirit vindicated His sufferings and death in the power and the Resurrection by being the witness before Himself and Our Heavenly Father so that great grace shall come to us all, those called and elected.None of us would ever believe that on that night in question Jesus took a knife and slit his arm and drained His human blood into a chalice and offered it to drink as New Wine solemnly enacting the New Covenant by His blood then ask us to do the same.No, common sense and Scripture tell us otherwise. The "Life" is in the Blood, His Eternal Spirit!None of us would ever believe that on that night in question Jesus took a knife and cut off a portion of his flesh and offered it as the Bread of His Presence solemnly enacting the breaking of His True Body for distribution in the world today and expect us to do the same to give ourselves for those as yet still lost in this present world and yet very much known by God.Is not that enactment a personification of His Very Spiritual Being being offered for the many, the Elect, the Called and Chosen, to bear up in this world, to die to self as He lived, to live for His Glory now in this world as He died and bring this Good News of His death, burial and Resurrection to every creature for a witness and then the end shall come?Yes, that's what was done already by Jesus that night just before He was betrayed by humanity!Paul said it best when it was recorded this way:Col 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Col 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Col 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Col 3:4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.He enacted that sacrament for the Chosen and Elect Saints whereby we can receive "spiritual" nourishment in this dead and dying world and He enacted it as a temporary way of rememberance for what He would shortly thereafter experience, crucifixion, death, burial and Resurrection to Life forevermore.Now that historical Sacrament gives us temporal reflection on this admonition which leads us to Eternal Life:::>Col 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Col 3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Col 3:7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.

  2. Pax Christus! Says: of Christ.Carmenn Massa

  3. Turretinfan Says:

    Mr. Massa,Just so you know, if you link back to the post your commenting on, the post will generate a link to your post in the "comments elsewhere" section. This happens automatically, so you don't have to submit a link to your post in the comment box here.-TurretinFan

  4. Pax Christus! Says:

    Turretinfan,Ok thanks, I wasn't quite sure about that. As you can see I'm not exactly technologically advanced :-) Peace of Christ to you.

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    In point of fact, your post doesn't seem to be showing up under the "comments elsewhere" section, at least in this case, so perhaps either you haven't linked to this post, or the technology itself has failed. In any event, it's not a problem, I just wanted to let you know of a way to get your link up faster. I haven't carefully reviewed your response yet, though I plan to do so, when I have time.

  6. Pax Christus! Says:

    Your article here is already linked in my post so I'm not quite sure what's going on. Take your time with the response. I'm busy myself so if you do respond I'll try and get my second response up ASAP. Peace of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: