How can science help us to understand transubstantiation?
I’m clear about what St. John writes, reporting what Jesus said about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. I am also clear that with the exception of a few heresies that the Real Presense has been taught from the early church fathers to the Counsel of Trent and on until today. This information was provided to me by the two priests at St. Francis and through the RCIA classes.
However none of this changes the fact that when properly consecrated bread and wine is examined in a modern laboratory at a chemical and or a subatomic level, precisely nothing has changed … it is just bread and wine.
Thus my question. How can this be reconciled? How does an intelligent person approach this? Obviously St. Thomas Aquinas and others did not have modern scientific equipment or methods to discover what we know today. How might their opinions differ, if at all, in the light of today’s scientific evidence against the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Your assistance with this would be most appreciated. This is the single block that I have remaining on my path to conversion. I simply must find a way through it. Any recommendations for recent (specifically not historical) apologetics that take into account modern science would be a God-send.
Thank you so very much for your time and attention,
May God richly bless you
Last edited by Fr. Vincent Serpa; Yesterday at 2:24 pm.
Hi,Saint Thomas would not have been helped by modern science if it had been present in his time. The question is a theological one and science doesn’t have the tools to determine theological matters. He used Aristotelian philosophy as a tool which works quite well. The substance or essence (that which makes a thing what it is) of the bread and wine changes, while the accidents or non-essentials (the appearance and all that is physically measurable) remain the same. There is no physical way of determining the change. There never was. It remains a matter of faith for us—no less than it was for the apostles.
When so many of His disciples left because they couldn’t accept the idea of consuming His flesh and blood (Jews were not allowed to consume ANY kind of blood), Jesus turned to the twelve and said: “Will you also go away? Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” Jn 6: 68. The apostles didn’t understand any more than those who left understood. But they trusted Him because they loved Him. They couldn’t prove that a change would take place that couldn’t be verified by physical examination. Nor can we. The question remains, do we love Him enough to trust Him in this. For over two thousand years millions of Catholics have.
I do pray that, after considering the fact that God would allow Himself to be tortured and put to death by people He created from nothing-because of a love so beyond our minds to fathom, you will be one of them.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.
Last edited by Fr. Vincent Serpa; Today at 12:03 am.
As usual, a very good question is answer in a very excellent way by Fr. Vincent Serpa.
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a doctrine that existed from the moment of the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20, Mark 14:22-24, Matthew 26:26-28) and is the fulfillment of what Christ promised in the Bread of Life Discourse found in John 6:22-59. To go one step further, Saint Paul affirms that Jesus is indeed substantially present under that accidents of bread and wine in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
Abuses at the Lord’s Supper
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he b
roke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Partaking of the Supper Unworthily
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if any one is hungry, let him eat at home — lest you come together to be condemned. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
Saint Paul’s words are extremely powerful and instruct the faithful concerning the Sacramental Presence of Our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. This letter supports the Catholic doctrine to a tee and even sheds light on the required fast (1 hour) prior to receiving Holy Communion.
In reiteration of Fr. Serpa’s response above, science does not have the capability to prove or disprove the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. This is due in part, to the fact that all Truth is a revelation from God. So much of what science teaches remains in the realm of practical theory and not absolute truth. What is certainly a proved truth, such as the fact that life begins at conception, is affirmed and accepted by the Church.
However, the truth of the Eucharist is a reality of faith and theological and not physically tangible in the same manner as the reality of the accidents themselves. Thus the reason why this is a mystery, which is, “any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation” and “anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown” (Dictionary.com: Mystery). The Real Presence is of course a truth that is not kept secret but rather the full understanding about how God performs this miracle every day, all over the world remains unknown and elicits the same questions from non-believers and those Christians who lack the faith as were asked by many of the Jews who heard Jesus refer to Himself as the “Bread of Life.” Marinate on the following passages and the responses by both the unfaithful and the faithful:
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…”
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:52-53, 61-69)
Do you desire to be like Judas and the others who abandoned Our Blessed Lord because they desired to NOT BELIEVE in the very words of Jesus? Or do you desire to emulate faithful Peter, the rock and foundation of Jesus’ visible Church, and ACCEPT, BELIEVE and OBEY the words of Our Lord even while being unable to understand or comprehend? The choice is always your but consider the following words of the LORD on the issue of understanding Him and His mystery:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Lastly, I wanted to add this somewhat related audio segment from NPR’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday titled Can Science Shape Human Values? And Should It?
The audio, for me, is related because there is voiced contempt for the Church by one of the guests in addition to there being a presupposition that science can fully measure the validity of morals and determine whether some issues are good or bad. The physical sciences can in no way make any determination of good or evil because the truths uncovered by these sciences are not influenced by good or evil. Get what I am saying?