Recently during a lecture referring to the change of the elements of the eucharist, a concern came to mind regarding the doctrine of transubstantiation. The concern is not whether there is a change of the elements into the body and blood of Christ but the implications of the specific teaching regarding the change of substance:
The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
This can be understood to mean that while the appearances of the bread and wine (to be understood as wine mixed with water) remain those of bread and wine the substance of the bread and of the wine is no longer that of bread and wine but that of the body and the blood of Christ respectively. In other words it is as if the substance of bread has been replaced by the body and similarly the wine by blood. The bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and become something else. While this supports that the bread and wine have now become the body and blood of Christ, this doctrine raises a concern.
What is this concern? Considering the symbolism of the offering, the bread and wine are not merely offered as bread and wine in and of themselves but are also offered as Christ and as us. They are an offering that is at least symbolically connected to the offering of the Lord’s body and blood and also our own body and blood. Keeping in mind that transubstantiation requires a change of substance becoming something else from before, although appearing the same, if the bread and wine are the types of the body and blood of the Lord then transubstantiation can lead to the idea that the Lord’s body ceased to be what it was at His sacrifice and was transplanted by a body of another substance at His resurrection, even if keeping its appearance somewhat. In terms of the offering being our body then it would appear that for us to become the body of the Lord, that is the Church, we too must cease to be what we are and have a new substance. However, this contradicts that we know that the Lord’s body now is the same that He had from His mother’s womb; it exists in a different mode of existence but it is still the same body of the same substance. We too will be resurrected in the same body but it will be spiritualised and not existing in the same mode as now. If for the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ requires them to cease being what they are then it would also require us to cease being what we are to become the body of Christ. This does not seem consistent with Orthodox liturgical and eschatological theology.
One may argue that our substance is different from bread but the same as the body of Christ so it doesn’t need to be replaced. Only the substance of bread and wine not being that of a human body and blood needs to be replaced by the substance of a human body. Yet, bread and wine are food that sustain our substance, they are made of the same elements and has those things that our body requires to live. Thus, bread and wine don’t have to become something else to sustain our body and blood other than to be processed by our body.
Rather it would be better to say that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ without ceasing to be bread and wine in substance but as having a new mode of existence. Perhaps, as said above, we should not try to see bread and wine as things completely other than body and blood but that Christ can encompass all matter into His body and that He gives us His body and blood as bread and wine as food, although not ordinary bread and wine but that changed to a new mode of existence by the Holy Spirit. This mode of existence unifies the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ because there is no division of matter in this mode, although distinctions can remain. As such, this new bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, while deifying us also unites us in one body without destroying the uniqueness of our own bodies. That is rather than replacing our flesh with that of Christ or by simply connecting our body to that of Christ. The common food is appropriated by each of us as the one body of the Lord yet uniquely to each hypostasis.
So, while the reality of the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is preserved by the doctrine of transubstantiation and it is useful to this extent the teaching that the substance is changed to another substance can lead to false ideas about the eucharist and our deification. It is thought best to say that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ without defining what happens to the substance; consistency with other theology tends to rather support that the substance does not change rather the mode of existence changes.
Any thoughts and/or opinions from the Fathers?