Thursday, December 11, 2014


The doctrine of transubstantiation has two primary components:

  • The real presence of Christ's body and blood
  • The real absence of bread and wine.
Some objections center on the Real Absence. After all, it looks like bread and wine are present—why would God make our senses deceitful? And why would God destroy the bread and wine? Doesn't nature build on grace? (Quick answers: Senses give prima facie reasons to believe, but in the context of the liturgy as a whole there is no deceit as it is explicitly stated that this is Christ's body and blood. And we are built out of our food, even though our food is destroyed when we eat it.)

One theory that attempts to avoid the Real Absence is impanation. Analogously to how Christ became a human, he now becomes bread and wine. But here is a curious fact about impanation. While it does hold that bread and wine exist after consecration, it has to say that the bread and wine cease to exist after consecration. In other words, the particular piece of bread and the particular sample of wine that were present before consecration cease to exist given consecration, and what we have after consecration is a new piece of bread and a new sample of wine. But if this is right, then impanation really doesn't help much with the two objections to Real Absence. We still have cessation of the existence of bread and wine. And while our sense that bread and wine are present is not mistaken, our sense that it's the same bread and wine as before consecration is mistaken. So impanation doesn't offer much of an advantage with respect to the objections.

But am I right? Does impanation imply that the old bread and wine are absent after consecration? I think so. First, consider the analogy with the Incarnation. The thought was that just as Christ came to be a human being, so too Christ came to be bread and wine. But the human being that Christ came to be did not preexist the incarnation. By analogy, the bread and wine that Christ came to be should not preexist the impanation.

Second, let's call the post-impanation bread B, and the pre-impanation bread A. Then B is Christ (just as the post-incarnation human, Jesus, is Christ). But identity is transitive. So if B is Christ, and A is identical with B, then A is Christ. Which is absurd. So the impanationist needs to deny that A is B.

But perhaps my arguments are a misunderstanding of impanation. For maybe the impanationist doesn't say that Christ becomes bread in the same way that Christ becomes human, but that Christ becomes bread in the same way that Christ becomes flesh. When Christ becomes flesh, there isn't a piece of flesh that is Christ. Rather, Christ comes to be a composite of flesh and soul. Now the analogy between impanation and incarnation forces the idea that there be a Y such that Christ comes to be a composite of bread and Y, analogously to his coming to be a composite of flesh and soul. But it is far from clear what Y would be.


Heath White said...

What follows is all speculation.

Suppose we explore “adoptionist impanation.” Notice, first, that the second argument, if it works, refutes any kind of adoptionist Christology (that there was a man Jesus whom God “adopted” as his divine Son at some point during his life). For let A be the pre-adoption man Jesus, and B be the post-adopted man Jesus. Now Christ=B, but if B=A, then Christ=A, which is absurd.

But it is not absurd to think that “my adopted son” describes some entity named ‘B’ and ‘A’ names the same entity before he was adopted. The reason this is not absurd, whereas the previous case is absurd, is that “Christ” is supposed to be a rigid designator for the second person of the Trinity, whereas “my adopted son” is a description and therefore whether it is true of some entity can change over time.

Now, as I understand it, the bread is supposed to be not Christ per se but “the body of Christ.” Now, is this a rigid or a flaccid designator? Suppose one took the position that it was a flaccid designator, e.g. that various things could at different times be incorporated—“adopted”— into (or out of) the body of Christ. (When Jesus pared his fingernails, they ceased to be the body of Christ.) In that case, I think the second argument fails.

There is still a real puzzle about the relationship between Christ and the bread. But this will be a special case of the more general puzzle about the relationship between Christ and his body. I don’t know enough about what this is supposed to be to make any informed claims here. (Are we talking about his physical body? If not, isn’t the wafer a physical substance? Is this the same or different from the Church as his body? Is the wafer the whole body or just part of it? Etc.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I'd run the anti-adoptationist argument as follows.

Suppose that Joshua becomes Christ. And suppose that Christ is the second person of the Trinity.

Joshua prior to adoption is human. Every human is a person. So Joshua is a person. Call this person x. Moreover, presumably x isn't the eternal second person of the Trinity, since this is before adoption.

After the Incarnation, x either continues to exist or not.

If he doesn't continue to exist, then God has killed him by the Incarnation, and that's unfitting.

If x continues to exist after the Incarnation, then after the Incarnation, either: (a) there is x AND the second person of the Trinity, or (b) x comes to be the second person of the Trinity.

In case (a), we have Nestorianism: two persons in Christ.

In case (b), the second person of the Trinity has a beginning in time, namely x's beginning. But since the second person of the Trinity is divine, this implies that a divine person is not essentially eternal, which is absurd.


Now back to impanation. I was assuming that when we say that the bread is the body of Christ, we mean that it is the whole of the body of Christ. On the adoptationist impanation, then, it would seem to follow that the body Christ has prior to the impanation--consisting of legs, arms, hands, a head, etc.--ceases to exist or ceases to be Christ's body, and is replaced by the bread. That seems super-weird, though of course our intuitions about what is weird may differ.

Maybe you're thinking of "the body of Christ" as "part of the body of Christ". Then you can have Leibniz's proposed view that bread and wine become a part of Christ's body--that Christ's body acquires new parts on earth, parts looking like bread and wine. This doesn't sound like impanation: it's not Christ's body becoming bread, but Christ coming to have bread as part of him. (Compare: When someone gets an artificial heart, he doesn't become steel.)

This is a serious contender view, though, and how one evaluates it depends on how strongly one takes the real presence portion of the Eucharistic doctrine. I.e., does one have to hold that all of Christ's body is present, or is it enough that a part of it be present. I think one should hold that all of Christ's body is present, but that's a further discussion.

Unknown said...

Suppose you're a perdurantist. According to perdurantism, objects persist through time by having proper temporal parts at every instant at which they exist.

Now consider some bread; according to the perdurantist, the bread will be an object that has different temporal parts at different times, and which exists at those times by having parts at those times. At some time t, suppose the bread is consecrated; at t, a proper temporal part (or slice!) of the bread is impanated and is Christ.

The perdurantist has the resources to avoid your worries in your second argument. While it is true that some temporal part of the bread that exists prior to t is not identical to a temporal part of the bread that exists after t, it does not follow that the bread that exists before t is not identical to the bread that exists after t. The perdurantist will hold that the bread that existed before t is identical to the impanated bread that exist after t, because the bread has parts both before and after t. So the perdurantist can make sense of the bread's surviving consecration.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mr Woods:

Let's assume perdurance.

This very clever theory you suggest isn't exactly impanation, since it doesn't make Christ be bread, but makes a temporal segment of Christ be a temporal segment of bread.

A proper temporal segment of bread is typically not bread. For instance, if at 8 am the loaf comes out of my bread machine, and by 9 pm my family has finished eating it, the temporal segment from noon to 9 pm is not bread. Bread is, after all, the direct result of baking. But that temporal segment of the bread is not the direct result of baking (it is the result of baking and waiting four hours).

Moreover, I think one of the motivations for the impanationist is wanting to be able to say: "This is Christ's body and this is bread", while using "this" univocally. But on this theory, the first "this" refers to a four-dimensional worm that begins in the bakery and ends with eating, and the second "this" refers to a four-dimensional worm that begins with the Incarnation and never ends.

Nonetheless, this is a rather interesting variant on impanation. And an exdurantist version might avoid these two worries.

Of course, both perdurantism and exdurantism are false. :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the response!

I wondered whether exdurantism might be able to do a little better in some respects, but I figured the response would be that bread is constantly popping in and out of existence, so exdurantism wouldn't get the sort of things you want to be able to say about the bread's surviving impanation, except that there is a semantic theory associated with exdurantism (as Sider develops it) on which it is true to say that it does.

I take it that it is open to the perdurantist to say that we typically restrict our attention to the things that are located only right now and right here in spacetime; Lewis makes this move in "Tensing the Copula" and elsewhere, of course. Given a semantic thesis like that, it is appropriate to say, when pointing at the bread at t that this is Christ's body and is bread.

The thought is that the semantic claim allows you to say what you want to say. "This", when pointing at the bread at t picks out as much of the bread and of Christ as exists at t and in that area. So it is appropriate to say "This is bread and Christ".

I think this deals with the second objection. That objection, if I understood it, seemed to be that you wanted to be able to say something that it didn't look like you could say.

I'm unsure about a response to the first objection. Strictly speaking, with quantifiers wide open, Christ is not the bread. The bread and Christ only share some of their proper temporal parts. But, again, the semantic thesis allows us to say, at t, that Christ is the bread, just so long as we're restricting our quantifiers!

So the reason I'm unsure about this response to the first objection is that I suspect that, if you want to be able to say that, strictly speaking with quantifiers wide open, Christ is the bread, you won't find this theory palatable. But I suspect that it is not part of the doctrine that, strictly speaking, with quantifiers wide open, Christ is the bread?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Here we go, making things complicated. In the Orthodox Church the consecrated bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ. This happens through the Holy Spirit.

'The mystery of the Holy Eucharist defies analysis and explanation in purely rational and logical terms. For the Eucharist, as Christ himself, is a mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven which, as Jesus has told us, is "not of this world." The Eucharist, because it belongs to God's Kingdom, is truly free from the earth-born "logic" of fallen humanity.

From John of Damascus: "If you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it is through the Holy Spirit ... we know nothing more than this, that the word of God is true, active, and omnipotent, but in its manner of operation unsearchable".'


'All that being said, I wanted to provide some brief comments on a new blog post by Dr. David J. Dunn titled “Top Ten Things Every Protestant Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy.”

In point no. 4, Dunn writes:

4. The Eucharist? We call that Jesus. We believe it is actually the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, but we do not believe in transubstantiation. That is a Catholic thing. We believe it is a mystery. In other words, “It’s the body of Christ. Now stop asking so many stupid questions, and open your mouth!”'


Alexander R Pruss said...

I suspect it's a mistake to think that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is supposed to provide an explanation of how this happens. The doctrine simply says the bread and wine is changed into Christ's body and blood. I.e., no more bread and wine, and behold Christ bodily present! We talk of substance mainly to rule out various merely symbolic interpretations.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


I'm interested in knowing more about the real absence of bread and wine. The real presence of Christ's body and blood I can grasp. This blog is the first place where I've heard about the real absence of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Do you know where I can get more information.

Mark Rogers said...

It is a good time of year to remember the Holy Spirit.