Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Credulity 1, Credentials 0

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, has been plunged into controversy after one of its most prolific contributors and editors, a professor of religion with advanced degrees in theology and canon law, was exposed as a 24-year-old community college drop-out. In fact Essjay was actually Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old from Kentucky with no advanced degrees who used texts such as Catholicism for Dummies to help him correct articles on the penitential rite or transubstantiation. Telegraph UK

Let's use transubstantiation to put the unemployed Essjay's expertise to the test.


Transubstantiation is the change of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ occurring in the Eucharist according to the teaching of some Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church.

"Substance" here means what something is in itself. A hat's shape is not the hat itself, nor is its colour the hat, nor is its size, nor its softness to the touch, nor anything else about it perceptible to the senses. The hat itself (the "substance") has the shape, the colour, the size, the softness and the other appearances, but is distinct from them. While the appearances, which are referred to by the philosophical term accidents, are perceptible to the senses, the substance is not.

When at his Last Supper Jesus said: "This is my body", what he held in his hands had all the appearances of bread: these "accidents" remained unchanged. However, the Roman Catholic Church believes that, in accordance with what Jesus said, the underlying reality was changed: the "substance" of the bread was converted to that of his body. In other words, it actually was his body, while all the appearances open to the senses or to scientific investigation were still those of bread, exactly as before. The Church holds that the same change of the substance of the bread and of the wine occurs at the consecration of the Eucharist.

The bread is changed into Jesus' body, but, because Jesus, risen from the dead, is living, not only his body is present, but Jesus as a whole, body and blood, soul and divinity. The same holds for the wine changed into his blood.

The Roman Catholic Church considers the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is about what is changed, not about how the change occurs, the best defence against what it sees as the mutually opposed errors of, on the one hand, a merely figurative understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (the change of the substance is real), and, on the other hand, an interpretation that would amount to cannibalistic eating of the flesh and corporal drinking of the blood of Christ (the accidents that remain are real, not an illusion).

Now, here's the expert opinion posted at New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia :

Before proving dogmatically the fact of the substantial change here under consideration, we must first outline its history and nature.

(a) The scientific development of the concept of Transubstantiation can hardly be said to be a product of the Greeks, who did not get beyond its more general notes; rather, it is the remarkable contribution of the Latin theologians, who were stimulated to work it out in complete logical form by the three Eucharistic controversies mentioned above.... The Council of Trent (Sess. XIII, cap. iv; can. ii) not only accepted as an inheritance of faith the truth contained in the idea, but authoritatively confirmed the "aptitude of the term" to express most strikingly the legitimately developed doctrinal concept.... In a closer logical analysis of Transubstantiation, we find the first and fundamental notion to be that of conversion, which may be defined as "the transition of one thing into another in some aspect of being". As is immediately evident, conversion (conversio) is something more than mere change (mutatio). Whereas in mere changes one of the two extremes may be expressed negatively, as, e.g., in the change of day and night, conversion requires two positive extremes, which are related to each other as thing to thing, and must have, besides, such an intimate connection with each other, that the last extreme (terminus ad quem) begins to be only as the first (terminus a quo) ceases to be, as, e.g., in the conversion of water into wine at Cana.... Transubstantiation, however, is not a conversion simply so called, but a substantial conversion (conversio substantialis), inasmuch as one thing is substantially or essentially converted into another. Thus from the concept of Transubstantiation is excluded every sort of merely accidental conversion, whether it be purely natural (e.g. the metamorphosis of insects) or supernatural (e.g. the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor). Finally, Transubstantiation differs from every other substantial conversion in this, that only the substance is converted into another — the accidents remaining the same — just as would be the case if wood were miraculously converted into iron, the substance of the iron remaining hidden under the external appearance of the wood....

The application of the foregoing to the Eucharist is an easy matter. First of all the notion of conversion is verified in the Eucharist, not only in general, but in all its essential details.

In other words, Essjay was fired for parroting the experts without paying for the privilege. For a credulous refutation of transubstantiation, click here. For a brief summary of Henry VIII's support of transubstantiation, click here. For a brief discussion on the credulity required for even discussing transubstantiation, click here.

Or, you could make productive use of your time and spend the afternoon photographing a pair of rutting warthogs.


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