Stanford Report, December 6, 2000
|Catholics believe in transubstantiation
EDITOR, STANFORD REPORT:
writing to respond to a report of comments by Professor Hans
Gumbrecht regarding the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation,
quoted in the article, "Colloquium assembles
scholars on 'The Medieval Senses'" (Stanford Report, Nov.
29). Professor Gumbrecht is quoted as saying, "After the
transubstantiation, what is present and looks like bread is really
Christ's body; and what looks like wine is really God's [sic]
blood. For us, that's kind of weird. Now, for European medieval
culture, this is as real as anything else." Aside from the fact
that transubstantiation was also counterintuitive and extraordinary
for medieval Christians, the problem here is the unspecified use of
the first-person plural: To whom does "us" refer? To Protestants
and to non-Christian religious believers, certainly, as well as to
secular unbelievers. But not to Catholics, whether medieval or
modern. In 1215, following New Testament foundations, patristic
elaborations and earlier medieval developments, the Fourth Lateran
I quote from the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1376, which in turn quotes from the 16th-century Council of Trent: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change 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. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation." This catechism was published in 1992, not in the Middle Ages.
Historically, heightened pluralism and increasing numbers of competing truth claims have indisputably characterized Western modernity, and a fortiori global postmodernity. The fact that millions of orthodox Catholics exist today, however, makes it equally indisputable that the cultural diversity of our society includes those who believe and affirm that they receive realiter the body of their Lord in the consecrated host. We shouldn't overlook this fact in thinking about the transition from "medieval" to "modern."
BRAD S. GREGORY