Please pray for the Harts

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The Eucharistic Dogma as Sacramental Identification

It is remarkable that for hundreds of years the Church did not find it necessary to formally dogmatize a particular definition of the Holy Eucharist. Despite real differences of expres­sion, significant conflict between theologians and churches did not arise. The one Church was able to comprehend Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nyssen, as well as Ter­tullian, Origen, and Augustine. At the deep level of liturgy and prayer, the Church was united in a common confession and enactment of the sacramental promises of Christ: “This is my body. This is my blood.” That is to say, the Church was united in the real identification of the consecrated bread and wine with the body and blood of the Savior. It is this sacramental identification that serves as the eucharistic dogma of the Church catholic. Through the super­natural power of consecration, the eucharistic bread and wine not only represent and symbolize, convey and communicate the body and blood; they are the body and blood. The mystery of eucharistic identity is, as Francis J. Hall writes, “the ultimate affirmation of catholic doctrine in every age” (Dogmatic Theology, IX:119).

The dogma of real identification must be distinguished from the doctrine of the real pres­ence. The latter is often expounded as if it were the revealed premise of the Holy Eucha­rist; but as Hall explains, “Our Lord did not say, ‘My body is present in, with and under this,’ but ‘This is My body’” (IX:138). The real presence is an inference from the eucharistic dogma. The risen Christ is present in the Eucharist because his body and blood are pre­sent, and his body and blood are present because the consecrated bread and wine are his body and blood. “Christ is in that Sacrament,” affirms St Ambrose, “because it is the Body of Christ” (De mysteriis 9.5).

In the Eastern Church the mystery of real identification came to dogmatic expression at the Second Council of Nicaea (A.D. 787). The council was convened to address the heresy of icono­clasm—the denial that images of Jesus and the saints may be properly venerated and reverenced. The iconoclasts maintained that a true icon is identical (homo­ousios) with its prototype. In Scripture and the theological tradition, Jesus Christ is named the Image of the Father. He serves as this perfect image because he is eternally begotten by and consub­stan­tial with the Father. Only thus does he reveal who God is; only thus may he be given the worship, adoration, and devotion properly offered to the Almighty Creator. A material painting of Jesus, as with all icons, does not enjoy a oneness of being with the object it depicts. The image may point us to its prototype, but it cannot make him truly present; hence the opposition of the iconoclasts to the veneration of icons. They did, however, recognize one divinely-instituted image of the incarnate Son—his eucharistic body and blood. The Eucharist perfectly images Christ because it is identical in essence with Christ, who in turn is identical in essence with his Father and is therefore worthy of divine worship and reverence.1

The iconodules did not take issue with the iconoclastic claim that the Holy Gifts are homo­ousios with the body and blood of the risen Christ. The iconodules and iconoclasts shared a common liturgy and a common understanding of the eucharistic identification and presence. But clearly the iconodules could not allow the iconoclasts to appropriate the Eucharist as an icon of Christ. At Nicaea II the deacon Epiphanius read a document that was gladly received by the orthodox bishops:

Thus, it has been clearly demonstrated that nowhere did either the Lord, or the Apostles, or the Fathers call the bloodless sacrifice, offered through the priest, “an icon,” but rather “this very body” and “this very blood.” … These noble ones, however, in their desire to abolish the sight of the venerable icons, have introduced indirectly another icon—which is not an icon but body and blood…. Afterwards, leaving aside falsehood, they touch for a moment upon the truth, saying that the bread does become the divine body. But, if the bread is an icon of the body, it is impossible for it to be the divine body itself. (Quoted in Daniel J. Sahas, Icons and Logos, pp. 95-96)

To speak of the Eucharist as icon implies a distinction between the sacramental forms and Christ’s glorified body, between image and prototype. But the distinction does not obtain. The Eucharist just is the flesh of Christ. “These we do not understand [as being] two,” St Nicephorus states, “but we believe that they become one and the same [body of Christ]” (quoted in John Travis, In Defense of the Faith, p. 117). With the conciliar assertion that the consecrated elements simply are the body and blood, the use of “symbol,” “figure,” and “image” to characterize the Holy Gifts largely disappears in Byzantine Christianity.

In the Latin West the dogma of real identification was clarified via a more complicated route. Through the writings of St Augustine it had become firmly established to speak of the conse­crated elements as signs through which we are given access to spiritual realities. What is unclear, however, is whether Augustine’s symbolic approach allows for a direct, realistic affirmation of identity between the sanctified bread and wine and the body and blood of the Lord. The Latin formulation of transubstantiation, culminating in the Council of Trent, might well be understood as the Church liberating itself from the inadequacies of Augus­tine’s eucharistic theology.

The Tridentine eucharistic dogma is summarily expressed in the statement that “through the Consecration of the bread and wine a conversion is made 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” (Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eu­cha­­­rist, Chapter III). Precisely what did Trent define? Contemporary interpreters gen­er­ally agree that Trent did not formally impose Aristotelian philosophy. Colman O’Neill, for exam­ple, asserts that the Tridentine understanding of “substance” should be inter­preted pre-phil­o­sophically. At the level of commonsense, substance answers the question “What is that thing?” Thus: What is the wafer before the consecra­tion? Bread. What is it after the conse­cration? The body of Christ. “By her dogmatic statement,” O’Neill writes, “the Church makes clear the sense in which she reads the scriptural report of Christ’s words at the Last Supper: the word ‘is’ indicates, as a result of Christ’s power, real identity between what lay on the table and his body” (Colman O’Neill, New Approaches to the Eucharist, p. 98). When the Council declares that the whole substance of the bread is converted into the whole substance of the body of Christ, it is simply insisting that the bread has become the body of Christ. It is reiterating, in more sophisticated fashion, the eucharistic dogma as held by the Church since the Apostles, the dogma of real identification.

However, we must also note, as we observed earlier, the frequent use of the preposition “under” in the decrees: The body and blood are contained “under the appearances of bread and wine.” In Chapter III alone this phrase is found ten times. The Western explication of the eucharistic dogma is constructed on an opposition between external appearances and invisible reality, precisely at the point where they can presumably be separated. Christo­pher Conn maintains that Trent does not teach sacramental identification. It is metaphysi­cally impossible for a piece of bread, he states, to become “identical with a distinct, pre-existing substance (the body of Christ)” (“Transubstantiation and the Real Presence,” Philosophy and Theology 15 [2003]). The substance of bread must be replaced by the substance of body. A fundamental dualism is therefore integral to the Tridentine defini­tions. Before the conse­cration, we perceive the substances of bread and wine resting on the altar (appearance and substance in indivisible unity); after the consecration, we still sensibly perceive bread and wine but by faith now apprehend the substances of body and blood (appearance and sub­stance having been sundered). Yet must this dualism be given dogmatic status? Michael Dummett has articulated the misgivings of many regarding the scholastic formulation of transubstantiation:

The consecrated elements are, as it were, merely the discarded husk of the bread and wine earlier present, and have no more intimate connection with the Body and Blood of Christ than that. It is as if the bread and wine have stepped aside to make room for Christ’s Body and Blood, which could not otherwise be present, and, in so stepping aside, have, so to speak, left their mortal remains behind. (“The Intelligibility of Eucharistic Doctrine,” in The Rationality of Religious Belief, p. 236)

Sacramental identification solves the problem of “discarded husks” by refusing philosophical explanation. The true mystery lies in dominical determination, not in metaphysical wizardry.

In the early twentieth century a little known debate on this question occurred among Greek Orthodox theologians. Chrestos Androutsos defined the Eucharist as “that divinely insti­tuted sacrament in which Jesus Christ is present actually and really under the forms of bread and wine” (emphasis mine). Constantine Dyobouniotes attacked this formulation:

This expression [“under the forms”] … is based on the Roman doctrine … of transubstantiation, and cannot be accepted in the Eastern Church, whose Fathers teach that the bread and wine are changed (converted), into the Body and Blood of Christ … (Our Lord) said: “Take eat, this is my body,” not “under this is my body.” … If we repudiate in every way the Protestant attempt to interpret these words to mean this “represents, stands for” … how much less may we dare to substitute under this for His word, “this?” … The Eastern Church does not recognize that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ while the accidents remain, under which the Body and Blood of Christ exist, but simply says that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit, through whom these things surpassing reason and under­standing are achieved…. All of the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and not only a part of them. (Quoted in Frank Gavin, Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Orthodox Thought, pp. 330-333)2

It is evident that Dyobouniotes is seeking here to expound a nondualistic understanding of the real identity, an understanding that is not dependent on the separation of accident and substance. The body and blood of Christ do not exist “in” or “under” the consecrated ele­ments: “Each particle of bread and wine is Christ” (341-42, n. 7). This affirmation recalls the Greek fathers who envisioned the eucharistic transmutation as a “cultic and sacramen­tal incarnation of Christ” (Edward Schillebeeckx, The Eucharist, p. 68). Bread and wine are appropriated by the Spirit and changed, in their totality, into the body and blood. Dyobou­niotes’ contemporaries, however, sided with Androutsos and reaffirmed the language of transubstantiation to describe the eucharistic presence. I think it would be accurate to say that Orthodox theologians today would be more sympathetic to the con­cerns of Dyobou­nio­­tes, as they seek to restate the doctrine of the Eucharist apart from traditional Western categories.3 But surely both Catholic and Orthodox theologians would agree on the funda­men­tal dogmatic assertion: the eucharistic gifts are, in truth and reality, the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Pontifications, 15 April 2004; rev.)



[1] See Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, pp. 93-94, 109-110, 113; Jaroslav Pelikan, Imago Dei, pp. 58-59; Darwell Stone, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, I:147-151; Stephen Gero, “The Eucharistic Doctrine of the Byzantine Iconoclasts and its Sources.”

[2] Cf. Christiaan Kappes, “The biblical origin and Late-Antique invention (c. 536) of the Eucharistic term and definition ‘Transubstantiation.'”

[3] See, e.g., “Transmutation or Transubstantiation.”

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The Jesus Prayer for Beginners

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Transubstantiation: Maybe Dositheos Got It Right

by the Very Rev. Christiaan Kappes, S.L.D., Ph.L., Ph.D.

Just out of curiosity, I tried my search engine on googlebooks with the word “transubstan­tiation.” Number two in my search was a howler: The History of Popish Transubstantia­tion (1840). Again, number four of my search looked intriguing: Transubstantiation Unscrip­tural: Proved in Two Letters (1833). Firstly, 4 of 10 books on my first search-page were positive, while 6 of 10 were books by anti-Roman Western Christian authors. The most interesting was Ierugia: On Transubstantiation (1851), which directly cited and correctly referred to the testimony of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. As we will see, despite the state of scholarship until this last century, there was a sense that the fourth century really marked a scientific advance of the discussion of Eucharistic change. Continuing on my googlebooks choose-your-own-adventure, I finally stumbled across the first Eastern Orthodox book to enter into the fray: The Panoplia Dogmatike by Euthymios Zygadenos (2014). Well, the good news is that something Eastern Orthodox on transub­stantiation existed (surprisingly) already on page two of a googlebooks search! The bad news: Would anybody in their right mind want to read something with this painfully esoteric title? 

In this book we learn that Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem (d. 1707) dealt with grumpy Eastern Orthodox confreres who accused him of being an innovator for not only compos­ing his own Creed of belief, but by daring to say that ineffable word: “transub­stan­tiation.” Moreover under his leadership, the 1672 Orthodox Council of Jerusalem (which was recently reaffirmed in its Orthodoxy by the Great and Holy Council in Crete) went further to defend the teaching as meaning that bread becomes body and the wine becomes blood substan­tially (ousiôdos) at the epiclesis or calling down of the Spirit onto the bread and wine in the Eucharistic prayer:

In the celebration whereof we believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present, not typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare presence, as some of the Fathers have said con­cern­ing Baptism, or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose, but truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is trans­muted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin, was baptised in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sitteth at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven ; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.

Further [we believe] that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, there no longer remaineth the substance of the bread and of the wine, but the Body Itself and the Blood of the Lord, under the species and form of bread and wine; that is to say, under the accidents of the bread. (Decree XVII)

A canonical Orthodox council — shouldn’t this be enough to make Eastern Orthodox say: “Good enough for me, I believe it”? Nope: Neither St Gennadius Scholarius’s nor St. Athanasios Parios’s nor St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite’s endorsement of the term and its definition is good enough; “not patristic” the grumps say; “not Orthodox,” they say; “too Latin-minded,” they say; you get the picture. So, I’ve been asked by Fr Aidan to take you on an adventure to know the real historical journey of transubstantiation from its Jewish-Septuagint/Bible roots until the alleged betrayers of Holy Tradition (viz., the three aforementioned saints) – not to mention Dositheus – ruined the Orthodox Church for everybody between c. AD 1437–1809. 


Let’s start with the Bible, which reads thus: “These things saith the Lord: Hereby shalt thou know that I am the Lord: behold I strike with the rod that is my hand on the water which is in the river, and it shall change it into blood” (Ex 7:17). What’s the big deal? Well, God took one natural kind of thing (viz., an individual instance of a nature) and replaced it with another. I mean, God displaced the substance of water and replaced it immediately and miraculously with blood. Maybe you are not very impressed with God’s miracle; well neither were the Egyptian “charmers” who had a potion to do the same a few passages later (Ex 7:21–22). Still, this doesn’t by itself prove much except that Jews themselves understood and received this teaching as a case of transubstantiation by about 40 AD. Let’s take a look at Philo of Alexandria: “For, too, they trans-elementate (μεταστοιχειοῦσι) the frogs into the natures of serpents and turn water into bloody flesh […]” (Philo, De migrationi Abrahami, chapter 15, section 83). Let’s notice some key terms: nature #1 has its basic elements replaced by nature #2. This is, essentially, all that transubstantiation claims. There are a succession or a conversion of unrelated and disparate natures (both descriptions will do in the ancient and in the Medieval theories). Well, what about the appearances, characteristics, or accidents? Well, what about them? They are window dressing, not necessary, not key to one substance being instanta­neously changed into another; viz., they are pure accidentals in our conversation! If you want to talk about the appearances or whiteness, quantity, and other characteristics of substance #1 perduring, well that’s an added consideration but hardly at the root of the Scholastic, let alone the Philonian, theory of substance-to-substance change. I also underline that Philo combined water-to-blood kinds of change to be in the same category as (Mosaic) staffs-into-snakes kind of change. This is important, since the philosophical tradition of the pagan Eastern Roman Empire and even authors like St. John of Damascus (d. c. 753) consider snakes and Boucephalous (Alexander the Great’s horse [!]) to be hypostatic beings, or each to be an hypostasis, which will eventually be made inter­changeable with person (πρόσω­πον) at Christian Ecumenical Councils. I note, however, that Philo’s technical term is not the Exodus 7:17: “transmute (μεταβάλλω),” but the more precise “trans-elementate (μετασ­τοιχειόω) — that means to change the elementary nature of a thing into something else. Well, it’s not the Greek word “transubstantiate (μετουσιόω)” but not to worry, all in good time.


Basically, Philo’s fellow citizen of Alexandria, Origen had passing interest in the Nile-to-blood change and even passed on an obiter dictum here and there that became a tradition received by Eusebius in Palestine and by the aforementioned St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386). Well this tradition of changing one present substance or existent nature into another was fairly easy to absorb by the likes of Cyril. After all, Christ himself had foreshadowed such changes, saying: “And don’t opine to tell yourselves: ‘We have Abraham as our Father.’ Now, I say to you that God is able to raise out of these stones children who belong to Abraham” (Mat 3:9). The objection, here, might be raised (pardon the pun!) that Jesus is foreshad­owing his death and resurrection by typology: “to raise children from stones.” This is actually helpful, nonethe­less, for carcasses-being-raised is also a miraculous change of a dead non-personal, non-living substance into a living person. Here, taken literally, Jesus claims that non-personal, non-living rocks can become persons; so, too, bread becomes a divine person. I underline the fact that Jesus makes a claim that impersonal inanimate creatures can be instanta­ne­ously changed into personal natures by divine power. This is at the core of the notion of transubstantiation; namely, an instantaneous change of one substance into another whereby the former substance was unable to be naturally disposed toward the second by a successive form and as its potential end term (viz., natural stopping point for a new species) in the known physical order of nature. To produce young children from rocks would be a case of Jesus keying into this tradition of Nile-water turning into blood.

At any rate, when Cyril apparently got hold the Nile-to-blood tradition, he too thought Jesus was able to raise up hypostases from inanimate objects like rocks and water. Cyril writes: “The beginning of signs regarding Moses is blood and water, and the ultimate of all signs Jesus is the same. First, he transmuted (μετέβαλεν) the river of Moses into blood and Jesus ultimately brought out water from his side along with blood” (Catecheses illuminandorum XII–XVIII, 13.21). As we saw, the term “transmute” was biblical in Exodus 7:17. Now we are brought to look at Jesus’s water miracles as cases parallel to the Nile-to-blood miracles. Take a look at Cyril’s second application of the same principle: “Since then he himself has declared and said of the bread, ‘This is my body,’ who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since he has affirmed and said, ‘This is my blood,’ who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not his blood? He once turned water into wine, in Cana of Galilee, at his own will, and is it incredible that he should have turned wine into blood?” (Catéchèses mystagogiques, IV.1-2). Basically, Cyril took the production of water from Jesus’s side and the production of wine from water to be cases of substance to substance change and then compared these to the Eucharist, where Jesus took the substance of bread and made it flesh and took an aggregate of wine-natures and transmuted them into blood. 

Cyril’s contemporary, who was an avid reader of his works, St. Ambrose of Milan (d. c. 399) repeated Cyril’s doctrine, but noticed his own catechumens saying: “You assert to me that I am taking the body of Christ, but I see something else!” (On the Mysteries, 9.50). Ambrose solves the objection by claiming that the individual being (hoc esse) that nature has formed can be changed by the power of a benediction during the Eucharistic conse­cration, wherein “nature is transmuted (natura mutatur).” After all, says he: “Moses, when holding a rod, threw it and it was made (facta est) into a serpent; he took it back by the tail and it was reverted back (revertit naturam) into the nature of a staff” (ibid., 9.51). Not only can an inanimate object be instantaneously and miraculously converted into an hypostasis (e.g., Dr. Suesse’s Sis the snake!), but the prototypical Jewish transubstantia­tion example is cited: “The Egyptians were running to the purely flowing waters, then in the next instant (subito) blood began to erupt from the source-waters” (ibid.). Notice that the teaching of Ambrose is a virtual anticipation of the full definition that Scholastics will use: (1.) an individual nature is changed into another, (2.) this happens instantaneously, (3.) the succession of substances cannot be explained except for a divine miracle.

Despite the clarity of these examples and of this teaching, the Antiochene tradition never seemed to warm to a high Christology or Mariology from the fourth through the sixth centuries (for our purposes), let alone a “high” Eucharistic theology. During that time, Nestorius formed a sort of opposition to this realism and its notion of substantial change. His book that survives is the so-called Bazaar of Heracleides (pp. 327–328) (which has of course been dubbed Nestorius’s Bizarre self-defense!). Nestorius attacks not Cyril of Jerusalem, but Cyril of Alexandria. The Alexandrine saint developed his own conviction of substance-to-substance change (which St. Cyril of Alexandria had called: transmutation, trans-elementation, and transformation) of the Nile-waters and taken it a step further, suggesting in his letters attached to the Council of Ephesus, that every Eucharist was a mini-event of the Incarnation. Nestorius impugned this idea of Cyril’s by doubling down on the fact that just as Jesus’s physical human embryo was never divine (at conception, let’s say), neither is the Eucharist really anything else except the nature or substance of bread that has some sort of relation to or presence of the divinity in it. Of course, the oddball anti-Latins of the contemporary blogosphere have essentially resur­rected Nestorius (unknowingly one can hope) in order to pretend that Orthodoxy has some radically different commitment to transubstantiation or the theory thereof than any and all Roman Catholics; a strange point of departure – to say the least – for trying to make a contribution to theology as a positive theory and practice of Christian piety! 


It was likely in reaction to Nestorian Eucharistic theory that the famous miracle of St. Arsenius took place; namely, there was an ostensibly Nestorianizing monk in the desert who denied the physicality (viz., fleshly nature) of the body and blood in the Eucharist. The monk was challenged by fellow monks to a prayer-athon to resolve the issue, after which the Nestorianizing monk became enlightened as to the truth at Orthodox liturgy. The story goes thus:

They [monks] went on Sunday to the church, and the three [monks] set themselves up apart on a cushion […] Their noetic eyes were opened and while the bread was put onto the altar a child appeared (ἐφαίνετο […] παιδίον) only to these three. When the priest extended [his hands] to break the bread for distribution, behold: an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, having a sword, and sacrificed the child and emptied his blood into the chalice. When the priest broke the bread into small portions, the angel also cut small portions from the child. And as he went to receive from the holy mysteries, only bloody raw flesh-meat was given to him. And he saw, he feared, and cried out saying: “Lord, I believe that the bread is your body and the chalice is your blood.” And the raw flesh-meat in his hand immedi­ately became bread in accordance with the mystery, and he communicated while thanking God. And the old man said: “God knows human nature that it is not able to eat crude, raw flesh-meat, and because of this he trans­muted his body into bread and his blood into wine (μετεποίησε τὸ σῶμα εἰς ἄρτον, καὶ τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ εἰς οἶνον) for those who receive with faith.”

So much for Nestorius’s bread remaining after the consecration theory, right? No, it’s back in action as Nestorius redivivus in the blogosphere; apparently important to emphasize that to be Orthodox means to pick the opposite of whatever Roman Catholics either say or do; no matter the cost.


If the question was settled for pro-Cyrillians or the party of St. Cyril, a sort of aberration along different lines popped up in Constantinople around AD 448, wherein the famous Eutyches (excommunicated by the Chalcedonians and, later, even by the Coptic Orthodox) tried to deny the univocal or wholesale interchangeability of Mary’s biological flesh with that of Jesus at the Incarnation. Mary was a true mother and single donor and the connection whereby Jesus is consubstantial or of the same flesh as you and I. Well, to combat the heretical Eutyches both Orthodox and Miaphysites had to hone their Jesus-talk. In the midst of this, there began discussions in Jerusalem in the AD 530s about how to think about the mutually unacceptable theory of the Monophysites or Eutychians. They were condemnable for claiming that the Incarnation was an instant whereby either what was biological flesh was transubstantiated into another nature, viz., the very divine nature. On the opposite end, some of them wrote and argued in such a way that they could be accused of the opposite extreme; namely, that the Monophysite Jesus had one nature whereby divine substance or the divine nature was degraded or transubstantiated into the substance of flesh. In either case there was this process: (1.) A first substance belonging to an identifiable nature exists, (2.) An instant occurs where a divine miracle removes or changes the prior substance, (3.) At that moment a different form or form-matter being replaces the original substance miraculously. Let’s take a look at St. Leontios’s summarization of the Monophysite theory:

Eutyches says the same thing in that he uses the expression without any change, though the meaning doesn’t stay the same, for he uses ‘one incarnate nature of God the Word’ to mean that the nature of the Word was transub­stantiated (μετουσιωθέντος) into flesh, and that the Lord possesses nothing consubstantial with us. (Leontios, Testimonies of the Saints, p. 52)

This might be the same word and the same basic notion of change that Cyril of Jerusalem had, but some literalist and skeptics want to see in plain sight the obvious connection to Eucharist. After all, reasoning, inference, analogy, and implications are often deemed heretical in anti-intellectualist circles; a sort of Neanderthalic literalism and appeals to Mr. Obvious will only satisfy the anti-abstractionists. So, Leontios does not disappoint, for he calls upon the very image that his illustrious fellow Jerusalemite (Hagiopolite) Cyril had made famous in Greek and Latin in the fourth century:

Every union seen to complete some newer nature shows that nature to possess certain things which neither of the natures united possessed on its own. On its own, neither a soul’s nature nor a body’s is ever hungry or thirsty […] or just perceives a sense-object by means of its senses. It’s just as in the case of the flute and the fluteplayer: neither makes music on its own. What then was the Lord – who [by their argument] is neither God nor man – shown to possess on his own? “the reasonable answer,” they say, “is walking on the water in a bodily way, and that sort of thing.” One shouldn’t consider this to be a property of a compound nature, though, for God has often so arranged it that those of the saints who travel by water are carried bodily on it, though it’s agreed there’s no compounding by substance into either a nature or an hypostasis in their case! If, then, there’s no natural property (φυσικὸν ἰδίωμα) belonging to Christ in particular, neither is there any one particular nature that belongs only to him – not by a mixing together, as in the case of fermented liquors, not by transubstantiation (κατὰ μετουσίωσιν), as in the case of the Egyptians’ water that became blood, nor by transformation, as in the case of copper that turns into verdigris, nor yet by the necessity of a natural union, as in the case of a man’s soul that comes into existence in a body. Though a Billy goat has the ability to bleat […] it’s still not the case that, if [a mimicking] man also happens to bleat – being an imitator of things that that possess different natures from his – he’s plainly showing his nature to be compound! On the contrary, he’s revealing operations characteristic of two natures [of rational soul and irrational body] on the basis of that identical one nature of his. Similarly, the capacity to be moved from place to place belonged to human nature, but for the heavier [human] nature of the body not to sink, being carried by the lighter nature of water […] that belongs to a divine nature. It has the ability, and ability supremely characteristic of it, to make (ποιῶσαι) and to transmute (μεταποιῶσαι) all natures, to cause them to exist (οὐσιῶσαι) and to transubstantiate (μετουσιῶσαι) them, and to deprive them of substance (ἀποὐσιῶσαι), even though it springs from the same person. (Leontios, Aporiae, ch. 6)

So, there it is, the primary example of substance-to-substance or succession of two sub­stances change is the Eucharistic example of Nile-water being miraculously transformed into (human[?]) blood. So, should we now admit with the saints and Fathers that “tran­sub­stan­tiation” is not only Eucharistic, not only a properly defined substance-to-substance change, but that it is an invention of Leontios around AD 536? No, for Leontios himself attests that he’s using a term that has apparently been in existence for sometime, for he claims:

Again, was the one nature of the Word of God, now the incarnate nature, ever not incarnate, or was that never the case? If this is unambiguous issue for them, one needs to hear from them: if it belonged to God the Word, and was a nature, and was one even before the [accidental] taking on (ἐπεκτή­σατο) of flesh, what did it take on when it became flesh, or what did it lose? If it didn’t take anything on – for the term “incarnate” isn’t used in the sense of change and transubstantiation (μετουσίωσιν), as when we say of ice that water’s one nature “turned to stone” — it’s clear that it took on flesh, that is, humanity. But what is this humanity, a quality (ποιότης), or some nature? If this nature that’s taken on is unquestionably a nature in addition to the one nature of the Word of God that took it on, they’re going to have to tell us candidly just how many natures there are! (Leontios, Aporiae, ch. 59)

These two mega-quotes from Leontios require a lot of unwrapping. First, Leontios reveals that his term: “transubstantiation” is standard fare for talking about substance-to-sub­stance change in Late-Antique, Greek circles. We can’t know how old this word even is. A conservative guess would suggest, since Leontios attests that the word is common and known, that it should have been around during his educational years. This might move it back to the late-fifth century. Next, both of Leontios’s discussion are worried about acci­dents or qualities. Just as with Cyril of Jerusalem and Ambrose of Milan, a substantial change that is instantaneous can be one where the appearances (e.g., staffs-to-serpents) change or can be one where the original qualities remain the same. Leontios – for us twenty-first-century types – uses the unimpressive example of the single existent nature of a man bleating or producing the quality of a Billy goat. If our senses have access only to hearing, then we mistake a real substance (man) for being a different kind of nature. Even Leontios’s idea of the Word “taking on flesh” uses the verbal notion of taking on something as an accident in the Aristotelian categories. Basically, Leontios’s discussion of transub­stantiation includes the following: (1.) substance-to-substance instantaneous changes, (2.) the potential of such a change to look the same or to be accidentally different, (3.) the possibility of natural substances to be changed to supernatural ones, (4.) the natural possibility of natural substances to instantaneously change (water) into new substances (stone-like ice) (5.) The best example of transubstantiation is the biblical change of Nile-water into blood.


Yet, was Leontios forgotten during the course of the ages [as if Orthodoxy should be based upon how many times and by whom you are quoted]? After all, the Greek East doesn’t have a robust history of the use of the term transubstantiation. Well, despite the fact that we’ve already proven that the term might date to the AD 400s (certainly to c. 530), despite the fact that an Catholic/Orthodox Father and Saint used it by taking it from a Eucharistic context and applying it to Christ’s flesh in another context, and despite the fact that Leon­tios discusses accidents of such substances and their activities, it is true that Leontios’s works did not inspire the multiplication of the term transubstantiation among other Catholic/Orthodox authors.

Still, St Gregory Palamas (d. 1357) was not adverse to using the term in order to describe the very same kind of Eutychian change that had been a problem about seven hundred years prior. He is extremely important because he shows us again that the term is a more specific and detailed concision of the wider terms for Eucharistic change like trans-elementation and transmutation. Against the anti-Palamite Gregoras, Palamas wrote:

For who among us says [viz., like Eutyches] that Transfiguration is divinity? For we not only ask about the Transfiguration absolutely, but regarding what was transfigured. Rather we do not believe this, hearing from the Gos­pel and our God-bearing Fathers. Who among us says that this metamor­phosis of Christ on the mountain is alteration and transub­stan­tiation (μετουσίωσιν) of the divine nature? For Christ was transfigured on the mountain not according to the divine nature belonging to him, but according to the dignity of his human nature which he took to himself for us, just as all of us faithful commonly sing harmoniously at church: “He trans-elementated (μεταστοιχειώσας) nature into the glory and brightness of his divinity (2nd apostichos Vespers of Transfiguration).” Who among us thought it fit that transmutation (μεταβολὴν) is of the human nature of Christ in relation to the divine nature, i.e., the Transfiguration of Christ on Tabor? (Palamas, Third Oration against Gregoras, sec. 4).

By now, it should be unsurprising that the more generic Eucharist-change-words of “trans­mute” and “trans-elementate” are given even better precision by Palamas, whereby the miraculous change of a natural substance into the divinity and the purported changed of the divinity (by Eutyches) into real flesh are meant by transubstantiation. Obviously, the first theory is exactly that of the Eucharist, while the second is that of the Eutychian theologians alone. However, for Palamas, Jesus did not change the nature of the flesh and blood of his mother by taking it up, but rather trans-elementated it (in accord with the feast of the Transfiguration) whereby the basic elements or substances that existence in their own right, or with their own proper subsistence, now exist in a new dependent non-substantial way. Basically, the Incarnation changed a human ovum so that in the next moment of its existence as incorporated into an embryo it was at that exact moment also made entirely dependent and utterly united to the person of the Word. Hence, the under­lying flesh and its activities remain (unlike bread and wine transubstantiating), but its outward appearance stays the same. Conversely, the bread and wine maintain (as with Ambrose) apparently the same qualities and quantity but their underlying natures are transformed.


It was in this context of transubstantiation that Scholarios (d. 1472) had grown up. The Byzantine state had been officially Palamite since 1368 and the Patriach Philotheos Kokkinos had quoted and spread the aforementioned citation of Palamas more than once. The language of transubstantiation was simply part of Palamite-speak. Scholarios had been trained in his youth by the Palamites: St. Mark Eugenicus, Macarius Makres, and Joseph Bryennius, not to mention his participation in the scholarly circle of Emperor Manuel II. Scholarios should have been exposed to the language of Palamas and Kokkinos, heroes of Orthodoxy that they were. It is also in this context that his fellow Palamite (for the time), Bessarion of Nicaea acquired a manuscript between the 1420s–1440s that contained the only extant works of Leontios of Jerusalem that we have cited thrice above. Bessarion made his personal notes in the manuscript (Marc. gr. 69) but has so far not been provent to have read Leontios’s works where transubstantiation would have been found about a half-dozen times.

Given the fact that in the 1420s Bessarion and Gennadius Scholarios were BFFs and studied together logic and rhetoric, it should come as no surprise that sometime after 1437 Scholarios was permitted to read his best friend’s manuscript containing Leontios’s works. Parsimony suggests strongly that it was here that Scholarios first saw the term “transub­stan­tiation.” Oppositely, he had read the Greek translations of Thomas Aquinas and others; the brothers Kydones provided Aquinas’s (and others’) accounts of transubstan­tiation from their 1354–1398 translations and writings. However, Demetrios and Prochoros Kydones, as translators, only employed the terms: “transmutation (μεταβολή)” and “transformation (μεταποίησις),” respectively, to signify conversio and transubstan­tiatio. If Scholarios were a Latin-thinker, he should have followed Demetrius’s and Prochoros’s celebrated translations that Scholarios himself possessed. Instead, Scholarios, when composing his in his own words and in his own phraseology, departed from Latin vocabulary in known-Greek for the last one hundred years (as used by his teachers Mark Eugenicus, Joseph Bryennius, and Macarius Makres) in their own writings. Instead, he picked up the term: “transubstantiation (μετουσίσωσις).” Interestingly, as an aside, the term had been translated into Greek in the third person singular (μετουσιοῦται) either around AD 1170 or perhaps, again, around the Council of Lyon (1274). Still, none of the authors mentioned in the Greek East ever showed any awareness of this little read reference to Lyon (1274). All the circumstantial evidence and parsimonious reasoning lead only to the conclusion that Scholarios had simply taken the patristic and Palamistic term, which he correctly defined as “changing from one substance into another substance in one instance by a miracle” as the proper meaning of the term. Thus spake Scholarios.


Dositheos of Jerusalem at the Pan-Orthdoox Council of Jerusalem (c. 1672) made a claim that not only was “transubstantiation” (which he defined as bread and wine being “sub­stan­tially (οὐσιῶδως)” converted into the body and blood of Christ) the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church but that it was patristic and had been used in Christology. Well, Dositheos was right and blogospheric Orthodox of the consubstantiationalist and anti-transubstantia­tiona­list sorts are wrong. The nature, substance, i.e., breadness and wineness, are no more and only the substance of Jesus’s glorified body underlies the species (per Ambrose) or phenomena of the bread and wine. Anything less is simply not Catholic, not Orthodox, not patristic, and not Palamistic, in short it goes against Pan-Orthodox councils and is the victory of Nestorian wish over Orthdoox reality.

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Fr Christiaan Kappes is the Academic Dean of Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Many of his scholarsly works are available at See especially his essay “The Biblical Origen and Late-Antique Invention of the Eucharistic Term and Definition of ‘Transubstantiation.'” 

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Daily Praying During the Coronavirus Crisis

It occurred to me this morning that some might benefit from hearing how my wife and I chant morning prayers (at least when our rule hasn’t fallen to the wayside). This video was taken some four years ago. It is not offered as a model for anyone. (Just listen to my chanting–no one should be imitating that!) This is just a way we have found that works for us. Individ­uals, husbands and wives, families will want to structure their prayers in a way that works for them in their particular circumstances. For morning prayer Christine and I prefer the form provided in the Holy Transfiguration Prayer Book.

Why not exploit this crisis to establish a rule of daily prayer in your life?

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Theological Poetry in Prose: Metaphysics of the Cross

by Alexander Earl

When Christ’s side was pierced with the spear, water and blood flowed from his side. In that moment the Church was born; no, that moment was the perfect image of eternity, when the One, pure overflow, generated Intellect: the fullness of meaning. For the Church, the body of Christ, receives all that is God’s through an outpouring of grace. She is perfect intelligibility, contemplating that which transcends all thought. It is no wonder that the Pure Virgin is at the Lord’s side when this mystery occurs. For she is, in her person, His Body. She alone says, “let it be unto me according to thy word.” By “according to thy word,” she doubtless means the Father’s Word, which when spoken entered into the inexpressible economy of salvation. She is His Body as His Temple, for from her He adopts the Flesh he deifies on the cross, and so raises the cosmos to intelligibility. She is present at the cross because her flesh, as with us all, finds deification there. At the cross she becomes Queen of Heaven, in noetic contempla­tion of the dark cloud upon the mountain she is created wisdom beholding Wisdom.

Is it surprising that the whole cosmos trembles at this mystery? Golgotha is the sound of creation: of non-existence coming into Being. For the Lord proclaims “it is finished” and gives up the Spirit to his beloved disciple. The Theotokos is the Body, taken from Adam’s side, and so it is the Theologian that must be grafted onto it, that is, born from it, thereby following the Master; as the Master says to him, “this is your mother,” and he says to her, “this is your son.” And so God rested on the seventh day, beholding his works. If we want to rest on the Lord’s Breast, we must find comfort in the same breast as he. What a reve­lation! Our first birth was stillborn. We must be immersed in a new liquor amnii to find birth. We must drink from the milk of the Word before we are ready for solidity. We must be nour­ished on His Flesh if we hope to become flesh. What does it mean to enter the wedding banquet disrobed and so cast out? It is to be found naked and ashamed. God calls out to us, “where are you”? He is embodied, we are not yet embodied; let us become embodied, so that we may dwell with the Embodied.

Some find this teaching hard and turn away. Some try to enter it in their own way, not understanding the Way. All of the saints and sages of old sought the Logos. They, being rational (logikoi), out of necessity desired the Principle of their being. They mistakenly sought for it elsewhere, in the beginning, looking behind instead of ahead, or above, we should say. Many seek the Logos there, but he is nowhere, for he has ascended. But ascended to where? Listen closely, nowhere! The cross is not confined to a place, but is the place of the skull. Only the numskull fails to enter it. Turn within, to your kranion, and behold the crucified One. Here is your Genesis. It is not that we must dispense with the mind. God forbid! We must become intelligible, and to do so requires an emptying down to the skull, to become skulls and bones. Don’t you understand that we must die? Yet what is death that we should enter it? It is not a thing, or a place, or a state. It is emptiness. This is the great paradox of the faith: the Full became Empty, or rather was always the Fullness as Emptying. Our God is Love.

See now how the Greeks do not understand, and how the Jews stumble around it (I speak spiritually). For the Greeks love the immaterial and the Jews think they know flesh, and so both fail to see this immaterial flesh. The darkness of the world does not comprehend it. Between them there is no distinction. The Jew separates and the Greek separates. All is put at a distance and measured as other. Really now, shall you call your Lord “Other”? Behold his broken body and his spilt blood! See how the ground itself calls out for it; it received Abel, but was not satiated. Creation from the beginning desired that God-man. It opens its mouth to drink his blood and groans in travail for its redemption. Do not think it is there, away from you, that you are safe from it. No, the Lord drags all things to himself. His shattered arms stretch East to West, his limp body North to South. He is an all-consuming fire, and all shall be cast into it and yet not consumed. Every knee shall bend, either above the cross, by the cross, or under the cross. This is the mystery of faith.

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Alexander Earl currently teaches Theology and Philosophy at a college-preparatory school in Santa Monica, California. He holds a Masters of Arts in Religion and Philosophical Theology from Yale Divinity School.

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“When nature is defective, the Creator, who is the author of nature, has the power to restore it”

You have heard that story in the gospel where we are told that the Lord Jesus, as he was passing by, caught sight of a man who had been blind from birth. Since the Lord did not overlook him, neither ought we to overlook this story of a man whom the Lord considered worthy of his attention. In particular we should notice the fact that he had been blind from birth. This is an important point.

There is, indeed, a kind of blindness, usually brought on by serious illness, which obscures one’s vision, but which can be cured, given time; and there is another sort of blindness, caused by cataract, that can be remedied by a surgeon: he can remove the cause and so the blindness is dispelled. Draw your own conclusion: this man, who was actually born blind, was not cured by surgical skill, but by the power of God. When nature is defective, the Creator, who is the author of nature, has the power to restore it. This is why Jesus also said “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” meaning: all who are blind are able to see, so long as I am the light they are looking for. Come, then, and receive the light, so that you may be able to see.

What is he trying to tell us, he who brought human beings back to life, who restored them to health by a word of command, who said to a corpse. “Come out!” and Lazarus came out from the tomb; who said to a paralytic. “Arise and pick up your stretcher,” and the sick man rose and picked up the very bed on which he used to be carried as a helpless cripple?

Again, I ask you, what is he trying to convey to us by spitting on the ground, mixing his spittle with clay and putting it on the eyes of a blind man, saying: “Go and wash yourself in the pool of Siloam (a name that means ‘sent’)”? What is the meaning of the Lord’s action in this? Surely one of great significance, since the person whom Jesus touches receives more than just his sight.

In one instant we see both the power of his divinity and the strength of his holiness. As the divine light, he touched this man and enlightened him; as priest, by an action symbolizing baptism he wrought in him his work of redemption. The only reason for his mixing clay with the spittle and smearing it on the eyes of the blind man was to remind you that he who restored the man to health by anointing his eyes with clay is the very one who fash­ioned the first man out of clay, and that this clay that is our flesh can receive the light of eternal life through the sacrament of baptism.

You, too, should come to Siloam, that is, to him who was sent by the Father (as he says in the gospel. “My teaching is not my own, it comes from him who sent me).” Let Christ wash you and you will then see. Come and be baptized, it is time; come quickly, and you too will be able to say, “I went and washed;” you will be able to say, “I was blind, and now I can see,” and as the blind man said when his eyes began to receive the light. “The night is almost over and the day is at hand.”

St Ambrose of Milan

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