Doubting Thomas: A Modest Defense of Transubstantiation
AuthorHumphries, Thomas L
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AbstractThe Catholic Church maintains that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are converted into the body and blood of Christ, and, furthermore, that this implies the entire or whole presence of Christ when the Eucharist is properly celebrated. The Thomistic formulation of the replacement of the bread and wine with the substance of Christ remains an important explanation of the Catholic doctrine (explicitly formal teaching). Nevertheless, if the Thomistic position is incoherent or contradictory, it will not serve as a satisfactory explanation of the Eucharistic mystery. The doctrine seems to commit the believer to holding that a particular host is identified with Christ, which is obviously problematic, as Christ has a set of properties that are different from a host. The doctrine also appears to commit one to assert that an accident is both a thing which inheres in a substance and a thing which does not inhere in a substance. In addition, believers also seem committed to asserting the multilocation of a material body, which is restricted to unilocation. In what follows, I shall articulate and defend the (Catholic) Thomistic formulation of transubstantiation. I wish to make it clear from the outset, first, that I do not intend to offer a philosophical proof or argument that the real presence does occur; rather, I intend to defend the doctrine by showing that Thomas's position is not guilty of the contradictions mentioned above; and, secondly, that I will not attempt to resolve the mystery of the Eucharist, but only to defend Thomas's account as a possible explanation of this mystery. In this, I believe I have written in the spirit of Elizabeth Anscombe: When we call something a mystery, we mean that we cannot iron out the difficulties about understanding it and demonstrate once for all that it is perfectly possible. Nevertheless we do not believe that contradictions and absurdities can be true, or that anything logically demonstrable from things known can be false. And so we believe that there are answers to supposed proofs of absurdity, whether or not we are clever enough to find them. This project will require a brief explication of the doctrine in preface to a discussion of seeming contradictions and logical impossibilities. In defining the doctrine, I will not focus on theological arguments against the Catholic understanding of Scripture. I will focus, instead, on defending Thomas's doctrine as logically possible.
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