If You Look Only at the Similarities, They’re Exactly the Same!

One area where Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox part ways is over describing what goes on in the consecration of the elements in the Eucharist. For Eastern Orthodox, the transformation that occurs is mysterious and indescribable. For Roman Catholics, the transformation is sacramental and describable – in fact it is described quite specifically by the doctrine of transubstantiation which claims that the whole substance of the bread and wine are miraculously converted in each case (not respectively) to the body, blood, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

This real difference between the two views is something that Roman Catholic Matthew Bellisario would like to pretend doesn’t exist. An example of MB’s wishful analysis of Eastern Orthodoxy is seen in the following excerpt:

The Eastern Churches simply never adopted that type of Latin, scholastic investigation. They simply accept the fact that it is fully Jesus Christ on the altar after the consecration. Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant) of the Russian Orthodox Church OUtside America writes, While in other sacraments objects such as water or oil are only sanctified, in Holy Communion the objects of the Sacrament, bread and wine, are not only sanctified but actually transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, when a Christian receives Holy Communion, he receives Jesus Himself and joins with Him. So great is this mystery that no possible explanation can be found of how this happens, and one can only say with gratitude: “Thank You, my Lord!” There is no real point of disunity on this subject among most Orthodox theologians or churches concerning the Catholic teaching. It is a fact that the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies are largely the same liturgies (St. Chrysostom, St. James, St. Basil, etc) which profess this Eucharistic doctrine. The Greek Orthodox Church of America writes, “The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood.” I personally believe that there is no point of contention on this doctrine, and the Catholic Church itself does not view it be one either.

(source – errors and emphasis in original)

Notice the way that Bellisario hopefully emphasizes what he sees as overlap between the Roman Catholic position and the Eastern Orthodox position. In doing so, however, he misses the point of significant departure, “no possible explanation can be found … .” The Eastern Orthodox didn’t just fail to adopt a scholastic analysis, they apophatically assert that explanation is impossible.

Why is that? One reason is that transubstantiation is not a doctrine that was innovated before the Eastern apostolic sees separated from the Western apostolic see. Thus, transubstantiation is not part of the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, despite Roman Catholic attempts to portray it as such. More significantly, the history of Eastern Orthodoxy helps to demonstrate that transubstantiation is not an Apostolic tradition. It’s not something that the apostles knew or taught, nor something that they handed down either orally or in written form.

Yes, if you only consider the similarities between any two positions, those two positions are exactly the same. But when you look at the differences, you realize that there is fundamental difference between those who teach the explanation of transubstantiation as a dogma and those who teach that any explanation is impossible.


13 Responses to “If You Look Only at the Similarities, They’re Exactly the Same!”

  1. Turretinfan Says:

    A quick caveat. Some have argued that transubstantiation was none in the west as early as the 9th century. Things hadn't completely broken between the East and the West at that time.

  2. natamllc Says:

    For me, first things first, shouldn't "none", TF be "done" in your quick caveat?Second, I see that Paul the Apostle parted ways with both the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox, ah, maybe it's the other way around? :)But having said that, you tell me if they parted ways with Paul or Paul with them by this verse?:::>Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, The RCC wants to describe what is "unsearchable". The Eastern Orthodox want to make something complicated out of these Words of Jesus:::>Mat 26:26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." What is "describable" is "what" Jesus did and said on that night of dark nights for His Soul.What is "indescribable" is what the RCC persists in describing as something we can understand, i.e., transubstantiation.I like what the Holy Spirit likes. He likes it when I live by faith, not by sight!

  3. Andrew Suttles Says:

    Another useful and informative post, TF.

  4. Viisaus Says:

    I understand that transubstantiation in its present dogmatic sense became a "de fide" article of faith (something all RCs were required to believe) only at the 1215 Lateran Council – long after the 1054 Eastern schism.Before that, it was merely a popular opinion, like Mary being a co-redemptrix is today.

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    Whether or not it was popular (as the mediatrix/co-redemptrix doctrine is), the 4th Lateran Council used the term (the term didn't get formally defined until Trent, I think you'll find).-TurretinFan

  6. Turretinfan Says:

    "known" for "none" in the first comment above. Many thanks to someone who thoughtfully pointed this out (as well as another typo in the original post, which has now been corrected).

  7. Acolyte4236 Says:

    You are correct that the Orthodox not only reject Transubstantiation but say that it is not strictly speaking possible to define it using philosophical categories. This reflects another difference that for the Orthodox, philosophy is not a handmaiden to theology.

  8. ChaferDTS Says:

    " A quick caveat. Some have argued that transubstantiation was none in the west as early as the 9th century. Things hadn't completely broken between the East and the West at that time. " Dr. W.H. Griffith Thomas in The Principles Of Theology An Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles on page 397 listed Paschasius Radbertus in 840 as teaching the full doctrine of corporal presense and was oppossed by Ratramnus or Bertram. Roman Catholic apologist are basically dishonest on a claimed unanimous consent of the Church Fathers which does not even exist. And you are right in the disagreements the RCC and Eastern Orthodox have on the issue . The Orthodox Study Bible in it's article discusses their specific disagreement with Roman Catholicism. In discussions with Roman Catholics on it I always bring that up much to their disbelief on that. In the end they end up calling Eastern Orthodox " Protestants " in every discussion I have had . Amazing to say the least.

  9. Andrew Says:
  10. turretinfan Says:
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