If they retain their appearance

And another thing. This transubstantiation nonsense – another thing about it is that it’s a teaching.

Transubstantiation is the teaching that during the Mass, at the consecration in the Lord’s Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

What I wonder is, how do they know the teaching is right? If the bread and wine retain their appearance then who actually knows that they are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus, and how do those people know it?

I don’t see how there can be any way to know that. Clearly “retain their appearance” means “all the way down,” so that there is no instrument or process by which anyone can demonstrate that aha at this level we can observe that the bread and wine are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus. Is there? (Did I miss something?) So…well, how can anyone have anything but doubts on the subject? What causes Odone to hold the “belief” that transubstantiation gets something right and that her beliefs on this subject are better than those of her husband the Anglican?

Just wondering.


  1. Cuttlefish says

    They retain the appearance only in the most trivial (that is to say, material) sense; in the most important and most real sense, they are truly the blood and body of Christ.

    In other news, black is white, up is down, love is hate, and water is dry.

  2. raymoscow says

    The most batshit aspect is that this certainty of a proposition being true, despite all evidence, is considered a great virtue: faith.

  3. Deepak Shetty says

    If the bread and wine retain their appearance then who actually knows that they are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus, and how do those people know it?

    Oh that’s easy. Because sometimes they literally change in appearance as well – for e.g.
    http://kccfk.catholicweb.com/index.cfm/NewsItem?ID=36370&From=Home or

    Damned if you do and Damned if you don’t and all that.

  4. Ohioobserver says

    While we’re at it…

    War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength.

    In case anybody needed the reminder.

  5. Didaktylos says

    If it quacks like a duck, has webbed feet like a duck, excretes green crap like a duck – it probably is a duck and not an eagle.

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Transubstantiation is a mystery. Ta da! Question answered!

    Actually that’s the Catholic Church’s answer to “how do we know that after the guy in the dress says the right magic words over the cracker that the cracker becomes Jebus?” It retains the appearance of a cracker but it’s really, truly, cross our hearts and hope to die, a genuwhine JEBUS CRACKER with extra added Jebus. God works in mysterious ways, his something or other to perform. And Jebus said the cracker would become his genuwhine self if the magic words are said about the cracker. Would Jebus lie about something like that? Of course not, so the cracker is a Jebus cracker after the guy in the dress does the hocus-pocus.

    This is genuwhine Sophisticated Theology™ in action, folks. You got it for free (and worth every penny of the price).

  7. pittigemaki says

    it’s a test for naivety, if you believe this you believe everything the clercy told you. We can also say that Odone can’t get loose of her child indoctrination. Naive people are obedient people and THAT’s the goal.

  8. says

    It not only retains the appearance, it retains the flavor and texture of bread and wine. Now, that, my friends, is a hell of an illusion.

    You go, Transubstantiating Priests!

  9. loren amacher says

    Why not just test it? Is there any hemoglobin in the sample after the ‘blessing’, any serum proteins, a proper distribution of electrolytes, any white cells? Or does the magic act create all this in spite of lack of evidence? Maybe it’s holy homeopathy! The bread should have its own identifiable protein, a little muscle, some collagen … oh? why not?? I see .. take it on faith. Right!!

  10. says

    And I feel a Python sketch coming on…

    …for this is the true body and blood of Christ, shed for our sins, and now we’re going to eat it and drink it…

    [drops the host in disgust]


  11. Cuttlefish says

    “Well, no, officer, it’s not cannibalism in the strict material sense. It’s only cannibalism in the more important, real sense, which fortunately is not the same sense that the criminal code takes as shall we say illegal…”

  12. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Where is Alferd E. Packer now that we need him?

    Incidentally, that’s not a typo. Packer went by the name Alferd for most of his life. He was originally Alfred. During the American Civil War he served in the Union Army and someone in his regiment was a tattoo artist. Packer had his first name tattooed on his forearm.* The guy may have been a good tattooist but he was a lousy speller. Packer got “Alferd” on his arm. Packer thought the misspelling was hilariously funny and called himself Alferd for the rest of his life.

    *I’ve never understood why someone would have their name tattooed on their body. Are they afraid they’ll forget who they are?

  13. rwahrens says

    If it becomes the really, truly real body and blood of christ, what happens to the leftovers? You know, the leftover crackers (I think the priest drinks the last of the wine…er, blood).

    Do they retain their magic transubstantiated body-of-christ reality, or do they revert to just being normal crackers? If they get reverently stored and reused in the next mass, when the magic words are uttered over them a second time, how are they affected by that new, additional magic? Can normal mass like crackers get worn out from repeated transubstantiations?

    Or if not reused, how does one dispose of some of the unused body-of-christ? I assume one can’t just dump it in the trash or down a disposal, I mean, it’s GOD!

    If they retain their appearance of being normal, how does one tell the difference between the leftovers that are body-of-christ and the un-transubstantiated new stuff?

    Questions, questions…Is there a class in catholic seminary for how to answer these questions?

  14. says

    I don’t see how there can be any way to know that.

    Religion and theology are not about “knowing” as we understand the term, this is a category error.
    As to transsubstantiation, this was decreed in 1215 by the Church to be the case, and hence became truth, a.k.a. catholic doctrine, there is no need for believers to question, or for anyone to provide scientific evidence. Different concepts at work.

  15. John Morales says

    rwahrens @20, all those questions have answers and are searchable on the internet (to which you clearly have access).

    (Short answers (from a Catholic perspective): yes, they remain transubstantiated; yes, they get reverently stored; no, they are not reused; yes, they get carefully (and ritually) disposed of; no, you can’t tell the difference (their ‘substance’ is changed, their ‘accident’ remains the same)).

    Himself, presumably, it meant his body could be identified so long as the arm remained. Probably not a bad idea, back in the day and under those circumstances.

    (Yeah, I know you were being rhetorical)

  16. sailor1031 says

    They know by virtue of a complex, highly nuanced and partial (in the sense of not impartial) exegesis of those scriptures that no catholic takes literally these days.

    It was asserted by the council of Trent and is reinforced by the “magisterium” (a non-existent body comprised of all the bishops holding the exact same teaching all at the same time – never actually been demonstrated) so it is TRUE. Now just don’t worry your pretty little head about it, just accept it.

  17. Moewicus says

    Remember everyone: it’s a transformation of substance, not accidents. Except when it is a transformation of accidents and the priest brings out the human-flesh wafer every year. But every other time is actually the miracle of the substance being transformed which is why it’s not necessary that it be actual flesh.

    It’s a philosophically Idealist position reverse engineered from a doctrine which is read into something Jesus allegedly said, in several different stories that are inconsistent with each other, but in the minds of believers the story of the eucharist filling a whole room with blood is always in the background. What a tangled web we weave.

  18. Iain Walker says

    The following was originally a contribution to one of the interminable Crackergate threads on Pharyngula, but it seems germane here (and apologies for the length):

    The basic idea of transubstantiation is that the host transforms into the flesh of Christ, despite the fact that it retains all the discernible properties of a small round piece of bread. The metaphysical justification for this is that it becomes the substance or essence (i.e., the thing as it really is) of Christ’s flesh, and that this substantial or essential nature is something distinct from the discernible properties, which are mere “accidents”. (Accidental properties being those which something can gain or lose while still remaining the same thing – e.g., being red is an accidental property of a ball, since a ball is still a ball whether it is red or not.)

    This leads to a problem – it entails that there is no necessary logical connection between something being X (where X is a wafer, wine, flesh, blood or whatever) and any particular set of discernible properties (since we have a counter example here – something which has all the discernible properties of a piece of bread, but which is really something else which is not a piece of bread). This initially presents what looks like an epistemological problem – if discernible properties are all we have to go on, then how can we tell if anything is really the kind of thing we think it is? How do I know that my cat, despite its cat-like properties, isn’t really (in essence) a sewing machine, despite its lack of sewing machine-like properties?

    But it gets worse. One can’t even speak of cat-like properties, because there is no basis for associating any set of discernible properties with any essential cat-ness (or wafer-ness, or flesh of Christ-ness). Not only can I not know that my cat is really a cat, I can’t even know what a cat really is. The term “cat” ceases to have any meaningful application.

    Basically, if the term “cat” (or “wafer”, or “flesh”) is supposed to refer to anything, then presumably it must refer to the essential cat, wafer etc, rather than to any congruent bundle of accidental properties (if it did refer to the properties, then transubstantiation must be false, since the accidental properties of the host are still those of a wafer). However, if the term “X” refers to the essential X, then that term is of no use whatsoever in picking out objects of experience. It could refer to anything, and so effectively refers to nothing.

    The upshot is that if transubstantiation is possible, then universal terms like “wafer”, “wine”, “flesh” or “blood” are of no use at all in categorising the world around us. They are empty concepts which we have no idea how to apply. And if that is the case, we cannot meaningfully speak of a wafer actually turning into flesh, or wine actually turning into blood, because we have no conceptual basis for identifying any of those things in the world of experience in the first place.

    The problem with transubstantiation isn’t simply that it’s untestable. The problem is that it is incoherent.

  19. fastlane says

    And this, ladies and gents, is where the gospel of the Flying spaghetti monster is truly superior to all these fake religions!

  20. Neal says

    Hurrah, Iain! You posted a longer version of what I was about to add to the thread.

    My contribution, then, is simply to point out that IIRC distinguishing between substance and accident — the essential “ness” of a thing versus its observed qualities — is a remnant of Aristotelian philosophy. The Church more or less adopted cutting-edge Hellenistic philosophy of late antiquity into its theology; that’s why it has, e.g., a geocentric universe, a first mover, substance vs. accident, etc.

    Of course, for reasons Iain points out, distinguishing between substance and accident is ultimately incoherent, although I’d add one must rule out knowledge gained by revelation (if God says that thing’s substance is divine while its accident is bread, then its substance is probably divine — God should know!). Of course, knowledge gained by revelation is similarly incoherent, so this is really effectively a fork for the believer.

  21. Iain Walker says

    Neal (#28):

    Of course, for reasons Iain points out, distinguishing between substance and accident is ultimately incoherent

    Strictly speaking, the incoherence stems from separating sustance/essense from all discernible properties, not just accidental ones. Just to clarify:

    Firstly, by “discernible properties”, I mean any property that can be discerned by any means, not just properties that are directly observable. Thus having an atomic number of 79 is a discernible property of gold, even though it’s not something you can tell just by picking up an ingot and looking at it.

    Secondly, not all discernible properties are accidental properties. I’m not arguing for any hard form of essentialism here, but being able to distinguish Xs in any meaningful fashion depends on the concept of an X being logically tied to some cluster of discernible properties which are not accidents (i.e., not accidents with respect to the thing being X). Where transubstantiation gets into trouble is by allowing that all discernible properties of a thing might be accidents, or that one can meaningfully speak of essences which are not tied to any discernible property.

    distinguishing between substance and accident — the essential “ness” of a thing versus its observed qualities — is a remnant of Aristotelian philosophy

    Aristotle plus some heavy duty medieval revisionism that sits rather oddly with Aristotle’s original metaphysics. To Aristotle, the substance or essence of a thing was tied up in its form, or the arrangment or pattern of the stuff it was made of. In other words, the essense of a thing is linked to a subset of its discernible properties. Transubstantiation is actually quite bizarre from an Arisotelian point of view.

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