Thursday, December 13, 2007

Was the Doctrine of Transubstantiation Borrowed From Aristotle?

To continue a somewhat ongoing (if sporadic) discussion that Kenny Pearce and I have been having about the supposed difference between Transubstantiation of Trent versus the undeniable Real Presence of the early Church, I found this excerpt from Lutheran Church Historian, Jaroslav Pelikan (at least he was Lutheran at the time he wrote it) in "The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition" (emphasis my own):

The victory of orthodox Christian doctrine over classical thought was to some extent a Pyrrhic victory, for the theology that triumphed over Greek philosophy has continued to be shaped ever since by the language and the thought of classical metaphysics. For example, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that "in the sacrament of the altar... the bread is transubstantiated into the body [of Christ],and the wine into [his] blood," and the Council of Trent declared in 1551 that the use of the term "transubstantiation" was "proper and appropriate." Most of the theological expositions of the term "transubstantiation," beginning already with those of the thirteenth century, have interpreted "substance" on the basis of the meaning given to this term by such classical discussions as that in the fifth book of Aristotle's Metaphysics; transubstantiation, then, would appear to be tied to the acceptance of Aristotelian metaphysics or even of Aristotelian physics.

Yet the application of the term "substance" to the discussion of the Eucharistic presence antedates the rediscovery of Aristotle. In the ninth century, Ratramnus spoke of "substances visible but invisible," and his opponent Radbertus declared that "out of the substance of bread and wine the same body and blood of Christ is mystically consecrated." Even "transubstantiation" was used during the twelfth century in a nontechnical sense. Such evidence lends credence to the argument that the doctrine of transubstantiation, as codified by the decrees of the Fourth Lateran and Tridentine councils, did not canonize Aristotelian philosophy as indispensable to Christian doctrine.
Though as I have stated before, even if it were using language and concepts already proposed by certain pagan philosophers it would not make it untrue. Pelikan does this point more justice than me in this concise quote found two pages after the above (which was on page 44):
In various ways they [the early Christian apologists] joined to assert the thesis that Christ had come as the revealer of true philosophy, ancient and yet new, as the correction and also the fulfillment of what the philosophical mind had already grasped.
Quoting from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The scientific development of the concept of Transubstantiation can hardly be said to be a product of the Greeks, who did not get beyond its more general notes; rather, it is the remarkable contribution of the Latin theologians, who were stimulated to work it out in complete logical form by the three Eucharistic controversies mentioned above, The term transubstantiation seems to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours (about 1079).
Again, this was long before the rediscovery of Aristotle as mentioned above. The article also lists a number of the early fathers whose concept of the Eucharist would seamlessly agree with our modern concept of "transubstantiation" while not employing the exact language - not the least of which is Ambrose of whose opinion on the Eucharist I posted this excerpt some time ago. It also affirms that the ancient liturgies (on which our modern ones are based or in the case of Eastern Churches are still celebrated) bear unequivocal testimony to the doctrine and its ancient roots.

1 comment:

Kenny said...

My response here.