The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which teaches that when the priest pronounces the words, 'This is my body', and, 'This is my blood'; the bread and the wine before him on the altar become the actual body and blood of Christ in everything but taste, color and texture, is not an isolated doctrine. It is all of a piece with the tendency in the Church of Rome to put things and persons in the place of God. Thus the Pope becomes God on earth, the priest becomes 'another Christ' and the bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation is a doctrine to which the Church of Rome tenaciously clings. Despite superficial changes of language and the simplification of some of the ritual of the mass, at the heart of the matter is still this concept f the power of the priest to make present in the bread and wine on the altar the true, real and substantial body and blood of Christ. Here Rome proves herself to be 'always the same'.
The teaching of transubstantiation is essential to the idea of the sacrifice of the mass. A priest must have something to offer and if he claims to offer the sacrifice of Christ then he must have the actual body and blood of Christ with which to do it. Thus one error grows out of another until you have a whole system of error.
The notion of transubstantiation rests upon a mistaken interpretation of the words of Christ, 'This is my body', etc. When they are placed in their proper context of the Last Supper, in which they were uttered, it is difficult to imagine that they could have been so misinterpreted. Our Lord's usual method of teaching was by parables and figures of speech. When, in the presence of his disciples, he broke the bread and said, 'This is my body', it could not possibly have occurred to them that he meant that the bread was his actual physical body. All the conventions of Hebrew thought, of the acted parable which we find in the Old Testament, would have prevented such a literal understanding. The words could only have been understood symbolically.
It was very much later when men had grown away from Hebrew language and the Hebrew mind that these words and, indeed, the whole of Scripture was given a flat and literalistic interpretation. But that in turn created another problem. If Christ's body were actually present on the altar how could it also be in heaven where Christ had ascended. A body cannot be in two places at once. So a rather contrived and artificial solution was devised by Thomas Aquinas from the philosophy of Aristotle, to this wholly unnecessary question. A body, it was said, has an inner or essential nature which is the same at all times and in all places. It also has certain properties or 'accidents' such as color, texture and taste which vary in different places. Thomas argued that, when the priest says the words of consecration the whole substance (or essence) of the bread changes into the substance of the body of Christ, while the accidents, (the taste, texture, color) of the bread remain as they were before, and the accidents of Christ's body remain in the only place where his body is, viz, in heaven.
But the problem was not a real one in the first place. When the Reformation brought a return to the study of the original languages it brought with it a clearer understanding of biblical thought, and the recognition of the real significance of our Lord's words. The doctrine was rejected because a proper understanding of Hebrew thought made such a rationalization redundant. It was also argued that transubstantiation 'overthrows the nature of a sacrament', because a sacrament is by definition a sign of something, but this teaching turns the sacrament into the very thing it is supposed to signify or stand for.
At the time of the Reformation the doctrine of transubstantiation became the test imposed by the Roman Catholic judges on those Protestants whom they tried for heresy. Did they, or did they not believe that the body and blood of Christ were really, truly and substantially present under The forms of bread and wine after the words of consecration were pronounced? If they did not believe they were burned as heretics. It might seem strange that the conflict between Roman Catholicism and Reformed religion should focus on This point when there are so many differences between them. But it is not, as we have seen, an isolated feature.
All the practices which have flowed from this doctrine of transubstantiation serve only to reveal its deviant nature, such as, solemn adoration, which is the worship of the bread and wine; benediction which is the waving of the Host in blessing over the congregation; the carrying about of the Host in the processions of Corpus Christi; and the locking up of it in the Tabernacle when it is not in use.
Such things must serve only to diminish the spirit of true 'religion. They are very far removed from meaning of our Lord's words and the purpose for which he instituted the Holy Communion or Lord's Supper. In that Supper he intended that we should thankfully remember his death on the cross for us, and as we receive the bread and the wine we should by faith receive the benefits of his sacrificial death.
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