THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF COMMUNION (THE EUCHARIST)
Earlier in this book, the third chapter demonstrates that the Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) doctrines on transubstantiation are not based on the Bible, the sacred texts of Christianity. This section in the present chapter on sacraments will examine the past and reveal its definition. As we will verify, it was necessary for many centuries after Christ and the apostles lived to pass before the doctrine of transubstantiation evolved to its stature today in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This truth completely refutes the claims of its theologians who try to convince us that the present doctrine of transubstantiation was taught in the first century.
Before we review the historical data on this issue, let us analyze the views of orthodox evangelical Christians who believe in Christ’s words about the bread and wine at the Last Supper to have symbolic, not literal, meaning. Lazar Milin says this about evangelical believers:
“And what about the schismatics? To which group do they belong on this issue? They will not renounce Christ openly, just as their past outcast ancestors did. Such outright denial was not in their plan, because then they would forfeit the opportunity to destroy the Church from within. To recognize the faith of the twelve, that is the proper Body and Blood of Christ, such schismatics are unable to do so because it would contradict their rationalism! Instead, they found a third alternative: tell us, Jesus, as often as you want that you give us your Body and Blood as heavenly nourishment, when in fact we know that you are not really serious in saying that. You certainly want it to say that the bread and the wine are mere symbols of your body and blood, or simply memories of your
last dinner you had with the disciples. So, this is the attitude of many schismatics! Thus it becomes Christianity without Christ!”
Milin accuses evangelical Christians, who accept the entirety of the Holy Scriptures as inspired by God, of selectively dealing only with Biblical texts that support their doctrines. Milin alleges they omit verses that “do not square with their presumptions.” Furthermore, the Orthodox slander evangelical Christians with the label “schismatics” who misunderstand the words of Jesus, and they dub the faith of evangelical Christians as “Christianity without Christ”. On the other hand, evangelical Christians make every effort to understand the Lord’s Word exactly how He wanted to be understood. Contrary to those who, like the ancient pagans, believe that drinking wine and eating bread in the rituals themselves allows the blood and body of the deity to enter them and thus grant immortality (eternal life). Eusebius Popovic gives a detailed explanation of the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches:
“The controversy over the Eucharist arose around 831 A.D. over the teaching of the Frankish monk Paschasius Radbert at the Corbie monastery. His book De corpore et sanguine Domini (The Body and Blood of Christ) taught on the transformation of bread and wine in the Eucharist. He claimed that although the elements remained physically bread and wine, yet simultaneously they also turned into the literal body of Christ to Whom Mary had given birth physically. People only could receive Communion in the flesh and blood of a physical body. From antiquity, people had considered the bread and wine in the Eucharist to be transformed into the physical body and blood of Christ, but no one ever recorded a formal argument explaining how this transformation from the physical bread and wine to the true body and blood of Christ occurred. In 844 Paschasius Radbert gave a speech that he explained in graphic detail [transubstantiation]. His speech aroused the suspicion of other theologians, who believed that the details of transubstantiation should not be revealed in the open. They justified this belief by claiming the Eucharist to be a mystery, and that the Eucharistic body of Christ by nature or by essence could be considered as essentially identical with the body of Christ [that is, symbolic, not literal, as Paschasius taught] .
The views of Paschasius were contradicted as too worldly by various learned men. One man was the abbot of Fulda, Raban Moor (Hrabanus or Rhabanus Maurus). Also called Primus Germaniae praeceptor, the first teacher of Germany, he later became Archbishop of Mainz in 847 and died in 856. Another Frankish monk Ratramno (Ratramnus), also a learned theologian in Corbie, opposed Paschasius and died in 868. Another who opposed this teaching was a famous but eccentric Irishman named John Erigena Scott (Erigena Johannes Scotus). He lived in the Frankish states until 887. He dissented from the then current general church teachings on transubstantiation and taught that the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist had a symbolic presence. He reasoned that the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, ergo His symbols are the spiritual presence in the Eucharist. [Though many still rejected transubstantiation,] But the heterodoxy of Erigena spread throughout the world, and others gradually started to adhere to the view of Paschasius. Thus, the debate simmered from the second half of the 9th Century until around the middle of the 11th Century.
By the end of the 11th Century, the dispute reemerged again. However, the doctrine of Paschasius Radbert became more broadly accepted, and few still held doubts about transubstantiation. Only the canonist (house scholastic) Berengar (Berengar, Berengarius) of Tours, Archdeacon of Angers, rose up against the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1031 and attacked the doctrine of Erigena. He reasserted the principle that the bread and wine of the Eucharist received merely a spiritual presence of the body and blood of Christ, rather than the literal body and blood born of Mary. Berengar’s doctrine aroused great indignation from all sides. Many theologians starting in 1046 wrote letters to condemn his views. In 1050, the prominent abbot and teacher at Bec (Beccum) and Normandy, the Monk of Canterbury, Archbishop Lanfranc (died 1089) denounced Berengar, followed by several synods in France in 1059 and Italy in 1079. Rome finally condemned Berengar and his teachings… So by the condemnation of Berengar’s doctrine, the doctrine of Paschasius is based. Paschasius categorically and explicitly began to teach that the substance of the Eucharist bread and wine transform into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. This process that converts the substances is called “transubstantiation” (from Latin “transsubstantiatio”). This term began to be generally used in the West from the 15th Century and was eventually adopted by the East.”
Summarizing what we just read, let us make the following conclusions:
(1) The Church “from antiquity” has believed in “transubstantiation” even though it has never articulated its nature (although Eusebius cites neither Biblical nor historical evidence that would confirm that Christians of early centuries thought this way)!
(2) No unanimity on “transubstantiation” existed in the Church until Paschasius Radbertus came along in the 9th Century. He was the first to formally defend the idea of the “transubstantiation” of the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, even though the bread and wine still retained their previous form, color, smell, and taste.
(3) The majority of learned theologians at the time opposed the interpretation of Paschasius as “too worldly”, which suggests they held a different belief, meaning that in fact there is no such thing as “transubstantiation” or change in essence. Rather, the Eucharistic body of Christ (bread and wine) should only be considered in “nature or substance as identical with the real body of Christ”. (In other words, not the literal body and blood.)
(4) At this time there lived renowned theologians who believed that Christ’s words should be understood only symbolically and not literally. Thus they suggest the belief that the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood.
(5) The debate over Eucharistic transubstantiation of the bread and wine after the strong rejection of the middle 9th Century continued to the end of the 11th Century.
(6) The reaction against the doctrine of canonist Berengar of Tours that taught Christ’s words of the Last Supper to be symbolic led to the formal establishment of the doctrine of Paschasius regarding transubstantiation. Although this doctrine had been attacked for two centuries, now it had become generally accepted.
(7) The doctrine of transubstantiation in name and substance was adopted officially in the West (Roman Catholicism) in the 11th Century and in the East (Orthodox Church) in the 15th Century.
It would be interesting to briefly observe the events surrounding the conflicting views over transubstantiation that occurred after the teachings of Paschasius were set forth once again 200 years later in the middle of the 11th Century. The Ukrainian author Pavel Rogozin wrote:
“The Council of Rome (1059 A.D.), chaired by Pope Nicholas II, after
many stormy protests and debate, accepted the fantasy of the monk Radbert Paschasius as a new dogma of the Western (Catholic) Church. At the same time, this teaching penetrated the Eastern (Orthodox) Church despite the fact that the decisive schism of the Western from the Eastern Church just happened only five years earlier (in 1054 A.D.). Still, despite all the strictness of church law, the “dogma of transubstantiation” remained one of the most contentious issues of the Western Church for a long time. In order to put an end to the debates, Pope Gregory VIII decreed a unique fast for the cardinals, who were mandated to gain unmediated direction from God to resolve this contentious issue. ‘Directions’ were allegedly received, but even these remained insufficient. In the year 1160, the question of the dogma of transubstantiation was submitted for the Paris Theological Faculty to resolve. To the most severe consternation of the Pope and cardinals, the scholars who gathered rejected the dogma of Paschasius as devoid of any foundation on the teaching of Christ and a contradiction of common sense. Yet, even these conclusions of the learned scholars led nowhere. Anxiety and arguments did not cease. To put an end to the disputes and prevent dangerous rifts in the church, the Lateran Council (which carries the name of “Fourth” in church history) triumphantly announced the dogma of transubstantiation as binding upon all Christians. From that moment onward began a famous repression of dissenters from the Roman dogma. Pope Gregory IX established the Court of Inquisition and placed it under the administration of the Dominican monastic order. Persistent opponents were turned over to the civil powers as dangerous heretics to be burned at the stake. Many volumes of historical research were devoted to this bloody era.”
Thus, when modern theologians of the Eastern Orthodox churches attempt to cite New Testament texts to defend their view that the Eucharistic bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of the Lord, they actually are not upholding apostolic belief and practice (as we learned in the previous chapter). Instead, they are seeking to rationalize the doctrine of Radbert Paschasius from the ninth century after Christ. We could rightly ask whether today’s Orthodox believers believe in the same things that their “Holy Fathers” before Paschasius did. Apart from Paschasius, was it really true that no one else believed in transubstantiation during his days? After all, almost every teacher listed earlier rejected this doctrine that today is promoted as the “traditional” Christianity of the East and West? On the other hand, we have every right to ask whether the Lord truly taught “transubstantiation” as His doctrine, as a true miracle in the Orthodox Liturgy (or Catholic Mass) where the bread and wine transform into flesh and blood, yet remaining with the same appearance and retaining all the characteristics of bread and wine? While Christ walked the earth, it is plainly obvious that He performed miracles that one could call “transubstantiation” (“transformation”). John chapter 2 tells us about the first miracle performed by the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a miracle of true and literal “transformation” of water into very good wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. We also know of the miracles of multiplying bread and fish, not once, but even twice (Matt. 14:13-21, 15:29-39, 16:9-10), when the Lord fed thousands of people with only a few pieces of bread and fish. When the apostles of Christ used miraculous power to heal the lame man in Acts 3, their religious opponents were confused and failed to recognize the following:
“’What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.’”
Apparently, it would seem that the Lord could (and actually had to) perform miracles of the actual transformation of bread and wine during the Divine Liturgy in order to teach the truth of the dogma of transubstantiation – if, in fact, this dogma indeed originated with Jesus and His apostles. Indeed, according to Orthodox teaching, the sacrament of the Eucharist is so important that the eternal salvation of an individual (as Orthodox people call it Communion with Christ ) fully depends on it. Therefore, it seems quite incomprehensible why Christ in this situation “denied” the commission of such miracles of “transubstantiation” attributed to him, thus contributing to the confusion, divisions, and debates within the church.
The true reality, which ultimately must be resolved, is that neither the Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic rituals and invocations of the Holy Spirit have absolutely done any “transubstantiation” whatsoever. Simply put, this dogma has no foundation anywhere in the Lord’s teachings in the Bible. It is obvious, therefore, that this dogma, like many other modern Orthodox doctrines which we have studied, developed over the centuries after the death of the apostles. Only in the 15th Century did this dogma of “transubstantiation” of what is called “turning” the Eucharistic bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ come to its fruition in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
All the absurdity of belief in the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during the Orthodox worship is highlighted by the famous Russian
writer Leo Tolstoy. In his famous work Resurrection, he presents his position on the Orthodox teachings, placing it in the context of the events mentioned in the novel’s progression:
“The service began. It consisted of a priest dressed in special, strange, and very uncomfortable vestments. He who cut up and laid out the pieces of bread on a plate and then dipped them into a chalice of wine as he pronounced upon this various names and prayers… The essence of the service consisted, as it were, of pieces cut up by the priest and put in wine that through set manipulations and prayers turned into the body and blood of God. These manipulations consisted of the priest, in spite of the fact that his adorned baggy vestments hindered him, evenly lifted both his hands up and held them such that later he bent down on his knees and kissed the table and its contents. His most important movement was when he took a napkin in both hands and placed it evenly and flatly upon the plate and the golden chalice. It was assumed that at that very moment the bread and wine would be transformed into the body and blood, and therefore this part of the Liturgy was conducted with special pomp… And it never occurred to any of those in attendance, starting from the priest and the administrator and ending with Maslov, that this very Jesus, Whose name is repeated countless times by the wheezing priest and praised with such strange words, prohibited the very thing they were performing here; He forbid not only such senseless, glib, occult blasphemy of the priestly teachers over the bread and wine, but He also in the clearest manner forbade people to call others “teachers”… None of those in attendance ever considered that everything which was carried out here was the greatest witchcraft and mockery over the very Christ in Whose name all this was done… Those priests who imagine they are partaking of the literal body and blood of Christ by consuming the bread and wine, in fact, are doing so. They indeed eat His body and blood, but not in wafers and in wine. Rather, they not only cause to stumble those ‘little ones’ whom Christ sternly warned not to tempt. They also deprive them of their greatest blessing and condemn them with great suffering, hiding from people the Gospel which he brought to them.”
Ending this section with Tolstoy’s quote, we can conclude that, based on the teachings of the Bible and church history data, Evangelical Protestant Christians are much closer to the truth than the self-proclaimed “Holy and Apostolic Church.”
Studies of other sacraments will bring even greater conviction of this point of view.