Monday, November 27, 2017

Change in transubstantiation

The two main parts of the doctrine of transubstantiation that get philosophically discussed are that after consecration we have:

  • Real Presence: Christ's body and blood is really there.
  • Real Absence: bread and wine is no longer there.
But there may be another part: that the bread and wine change into the body and blood rather than simply being replaced by the body and blood. Certainly the Council of Trent uses the language of "conversion" of bread and bread wine, but it is not completely clear to me that they mean to define there to be something more than replacement. Aquinas talks unclearly (to me) of the substantial change as a kind of "order" in the two substances.

Besides the general puzzle of how change differs from replacement, there are at least two philosophical difficulties about the change. The first is that on some versions--not mine--of Aristotelian metaphysics, what makes substantial change be a change is the persistence of matter. But there is no matter persisting here (indeed, Aquinas' remark emphasizes this). The second is that what the bread and wine change into, namely Christ's body, is already there. But it seems that if x changes into y, then y doesn't exist prior to the change.

Leibniz considers a theory on which the bread and wine change into new parts of Christ's body. This solves the second problem, but at the expense of having to say that the bread changes into a mere part of Christ's body, which does not appear to be what the Church means. Trent does say that whole Christ comes to be present. I suppose one could have a hybrid theory on which the bread and wine change into new parts of Christ's body, and the rest of Christ's body then additionally comes to be present, but not by conversion. While I do not have decisive textual evidence, this does not seem to me to be what Trent means. And it is grotesque to think that Christ gets fatter at transubstantiation.

While it could well be that the Council doesn't mean anything beefy about the "conversion", and perhaps all it is an "order" between the two substances (cf. Aquinas), an order constituted by by non-coincidental replacement in the same location. That would simplify things metaphysically. But I want to try for something metaphysically thicker.

Here's the thought. On my Aristotelian metaphysics, nothing persists in substantial change. But when a change of substance x into substance y, a rather special causal power is triggered in x, the causal power of giving rise to y while perishing. The exercise of such a causal power is what makes it be the case that x has changed into y. There isn't any matter persisting in the change, so the first of the two philosophical problems with the Eucharistic change disappears. What about the second? Here's my suggestion. Normally, the existence of Christ's body at later times is caused by its existence at earlier times. But what if we say that the bread miraculously gets a special causal power, the power of causing Christ's body to exist just as the bread perishes? Then the existence of Christ's body after consecration will be causally overdetermined by two things: the bread's exercising that causal power and Christ's body exercising its ordinary causal power to make itself persist.

The bread in perishing is an overdetermining cause of the existence of Christ's body, and that is exactly how substantial change happens on my view. The main metaphysical difference here is that normally substantial change is not overdetermined, while here it is.


Alexander R Pruss said...

While the English translation of the Summa that I was using talks of "substantial change", Aquinas is actually talking of "substantial conversion".

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Gotta use one of my lifelines on this one.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

We need to look at the Eucharist as existing outside of time. This was brought up by a priest in my parish on Maundy Thursday. It is a indeed a point to meditate upon.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Continuing my thoughts. In the Western Church, there is the position that God can be known rationally. This is why this effort is expended on Transubstantiation. The Eastern Churches are not encumbered with this. To Eastern Orthodox, the consecrated bread just is the body of our Lord. This is a mystery as to how and it just is. Here we come to the obvious limits of human logic. This is now where the mystery begins. In pondering the mystery we take steps closer to God.

Another issue is an element we are leaving out - eternity. We are trying to contain an Eternal Being with no beginning and no end with our logic when we are trying to rationally fit Him into a consecrated Host. Again a futile effort for what is eternity - an infinite amount of time. What is a second to eternity? It is nothing. What are a hundred years to eternity? It is nothing. What are a trillion years to eternity? Again they are nothing. It is like any number divided by infinity equals zero. So with the Eucharistic Host - it contains a Being that cannot be contained and to Whom past, present and future are nothing or really in fact all the same. It is as Father Michal said in the Holy Thursday homily an ever present now. He said that the event in the Upper Room when Jesus gave thanks and consecrated the bread is eternally present.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Transubstantiation is no more an attempt to explain the Eucharist than the homoousion is an attempt to explain the Incarnation. Both are careful attempts to state the doctrine in a way that rules out heresies that deny the doctrine. In the case of transubstantiation, we want to rule out:
- views that deny the real presence (mere symbolism)
- views on which bread and wine are present along with Christ (consubstantiation)
- views on which Christ changes into bread and wine (impanation).