Transubstantiation and the Necessity of Thomistic Theology
Matthew J. Bellisario
Oct 19, 2017
"The chief doctrines of St. Thomas' philosophy cannot be regarded as mere opinions—which anyone might discuss pro and con, but rather as a foundation on which all science of both natural and divine things rests. If they are taken away, or perverted in any way, then this necessarily follows: that the students of sacred studies will not perceive even the meaning of those words whereby the divinely revealed dogmas are uttered by the teaching of the Church."
(Pope Pius X, Doctoris Angelici, June 29, 1914)
Introduction: The Crisis Today Concerning ‘The Real Presence’
Despite the Second Vatican Council’s intention to make the Catholic faith more easily understood, the years since the Council have proven otherwise. Mass attendance is half of what it was among Catholics before the Council. Coincidently many Catholics today have lost a sense of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. According to Georgetown University, in 1965 55% of Catholics went to Mass at least once a week. In 2016 only an estimated 22% are now going once a week. Only 12% attend all the Holy days of obligation that do not fall on Sunday. Statistics vary on the percentage of Catholics belief in the Real Presence of Christ, some saying as high as 63% although this figure was taken from Catholics who go to Mass at least a few times a year. Gallop pole figures taken from a wider range of those claiming to be Catholic said only 30% believed in the Church’s teaching, which correlates closer to the Mass attendance percentage. My correlation is simple, if a Catholic truly believes in the Church’s teaching concerning “transubstantiation”, they would be attending Mass at least weekly and on Holy Days of Obligation. There are many reasons for this decline in recent decades. I will focus only on one of them and that is the rejection of Thomistic theology among a large portion of the Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council. As a result of tenth rate catechesis in seminaries and in parishes, many souls have grown cold to the Catholic faith in recent decades.
Thomism and New Theology in the Wake of the Second Vatican Council
Thomistic theology and philosophy is often thought of as a particular school. It is a convenient way to identify those who adhere to a set of principles concerning these sciences. Yet, Thomas and those who hold to his theological and philosophical principles do not see themselves this way. Quite simply, they see themselves as purveyors of truth, and if truth can be labeled as a school of thought, then let it be Thomism. Thomas pursues what is true and then tirelessly explores the best way to convey the truth. Thomas synthesized the best of use of faith reason that any theologian before or since has been able to accomplish. Although many theologians have claimed to be Thomists, there remains a basic litmus test for determining whether a theologian can in fact truly refer to themselves as a Thomist. If one denies certain philosophical principles that effect their theological outcomes negatively, then one fails to be a Thomist. Not because one has denied a school of thought, but because one has denied reality. For example, if a theologian were to deny the principles of reality to which the mind must adhere in order of the object, then one ceases to be a Thomist, for lack of a better term. This includes recognizing undeniable truths such as the reality of form, matter, substance, accidents, formal causes, final causes, actuality, potentiality, and the precepts upon which they depend such as the law of non-contradiction. If one were to dismiss hylomorphism for example, then one would reject certain aspects of the nature of an object and hence rejecting the fullness of the understanding of the doctrine of “transubstantiation”. Likewise, when a theologian denies universals, they deny reality, thus they cannot be considered a realist, nor a Thomist. Those theologians taking up erroneous schools of modern philosophy rooted in subjectivity rather than objectivity in the late nineteenth century were labeled by the popes as modernists. These theologians largely denied principles of reality held by most scholastic theologians and philosophers, and instead replaced them with the subjective fantastical ideas of Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and the like.
Many of the popular Vatican II theologians adopted these philosophies in attempt to Christianize their thought, in a similar manner in which Thomas did with Aristotle. The only problem with this is there is little foundation for truth in the modern philosophical schools, while Aristotle’s was largely based on reality. This gave St. Thomas a structure or foundation from which to build his thought and reason upon, a foundation which simply is non-existent in most modern schools of thought. I will give one example of a popular Vatican II theologian who cannot be considered a Thomist, who in my opinion has caused considerable damage in the thinking of many of today’s theologians. Hans Urs von Balthasar stated very clearly in his modernist manifesto ‘Razing the Bastions’ that his idea of truth and intellectual matters were based on modern philosophical principles. One of them being that man was constantly in a historically changing reality. He stated, “This exclusively modern experience- that the different realms of truth demand a change of one’s intellectual standpoint (an experience given clear expression by Hegel’s dialectics, Bergson’s and Dilthey’s intellectual philosophy of life and of understanding, and Husserl’s phenomenology) - reinforces in an exceptional manner the necessity of truth in intellectual matters.” As we know, Hegel, a follower of Kant, was insistent upon a historically changing type of thought which was elevated higher and higher as man’s function and experience progressed through time. In doing this, the “truth of intellectual matters” that he speaks of are only figments of his imagination. Balthasar also hails the Catholic father of modernism, Maurice Blondel as “the greatest Catholic philosopher of modern times.”  Based on these statements it is easy to understand why von Balthasar had this erroneous idea of truth having to change or evolve as time progresses. In doing so it becomes impossible not to deny what a thing is objectively. This also leads to a direct denial of substance, which in terms of defining the Eucharistic species for example one must first understand being by way of substance, which is how Trent expresses Christ’s real bodily presence in the Eucharist.
This new philosophy also effected the way he saw theological realities. Thus, von Balthasar even rejected the ideas of Dante now calling them un-Christian, when once they were held as such. These false ideas of reality also give rise to theological error or at least manifest confusion in theological matters. It was this false idea of progression that led von Balthasar to reimagine the Church’s teaching on hell where he states that we cannot reconcile the New Testament’s antithesis between eternal damnation and God’s desire to save all men.  His idea that we must insist in focusing only on God’s desire to save all men, rather than also realizing the necessary antithesis of hell has been carried forward by today’s theologians such as Bishop Robert Barron. Barron has openly stated in one of his videos that Saint Thomas got it wrong concerning his teaching on hell and von Balthasar got it right. Barron praises dissident theologians like Karl Barth and says, “we have to hold to the existence of hell, at least as a possibility”. What are the consequences for reimagining theological principles such as this one under the guidance of false philosophy? In this case, because of these clouding of the waters concerning hell, many Catholics no longer believe that anyone beyond a Stalin or Hitler could ever end up in hell, and even they may someday get to heaven. When this thinking burrows its way into the general thinking of many in the Church, they tend to end up not practicing the faith. In the end there is nothing for them to worry about considering man’s relationship with God since they will ultimately end up in heaven regardless. The other consequence concerns evangelization, which is now seen as passé by many of today’s theologians. There are many more prominent theologians who are now using bad philosophy to reimagine theological teachings that are not in accordance with developing them in the sense of a deeper understanding as Saint Thomas did, but instead causing grave confusion or even loss of faith.
The Forgotten Papal Statements and Documents Concerning Thomism
Pope John XXII in 1323, only 49 years after Aquinas’ earthly passing, proclaimed St. Thomas a Saint. He wrote, "We believe that Brother Thomas is glorious in heaven, because his life was holy, and his doctrine alone is a miracle." In 1567 Pope Pius V declared him a Doctor of the Church and he was given a unique title by the Church, that of the Angelic, or Universal Doctor. These titles are unique to Thomas alone. It is no secret that St. Thomas’ works have been used by the Church to obtain a deeper understanding of theological truths and promote the truth of Christ’s teaching. It is well known that his theological work was referred to in great depth during the ecumenical councils of Constance, Florence, and Trent for example. His realistic approach to theology helped the Church to further explain and define dogmatic truths of the faith which include the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as a foundation for moral theology. Using Thomism, the Church not only survived the Protestant revolt, but it came away theologically stronger, because the Church developed a deeper understanding of divinely revealed truth. The method of St. Thomas became time tested as the Church made its way through history, refuting the errors of the world effectively. Looking to modern times, six popes in a row, from Pius IX to Pius XII all hailed him, his thought, and his theological approach as an indispensable asset to aiding the human intellect in understanding the Catholic faith.
In August of 1879 Pope Leo XIII launched his monumental encyclical ‘Aeternis Patris’, aimed at combating modernism in the Church. The document sought to ensure that all clergy in the Church be firmly rooted in the mind of St. Thomas. "Let, then, teachers carefully chosen by you do their best to instill the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas into the minds of their hearers; and let them clearly point out its solidity and excellence above all other teaching. Let this doctrine be the light of all places of learning, which you may have already opened, or may hereafter open. Let it be used for the refutation of errors that are gaining ground." Pope Leo XIII also clearly understood that the very foundations of the Church were being threatened by theologians who were not rooted in objective reality. He gave a clear solution to this problem in the same document, “...both by reason of the gravity of the subject and the condition of the time, we are again compelled to speak to you on the mode of taking up the study of philosophy which shall respond most fitly to the excellence of faith, and at the same time be consonant with the dignity of human science.” This was to be that of St. Thomas.
Saint Pope Pius X would be best known for his relentless determination combating the modernist crisis with five hard hitting documents. Each document warned of the danger of modernism, as well as proposing St. Thomas as the indispensable antidote. The first was ‘Acerbo Nimis’ (April 14, 1905) which stressed the importance of proper catechetical formation offering the Council of Trent’s teachings as a solid foundation. The next document was released on July 3rd of 1907, ‘Lamentabili Sane’, which is also often referred to as The Syllabus of Errors. In it he listed 65 of the most noxious modernist errors plaguing the Church, which have all but been forgotten in today’s theological mayhem. The following September of the same year he released his groundbreaking Encyclical ‘Pascendi Domenici Gregis.’ In this document Pope Pius X emphasized the gravity of the situation, and again proposed a clear course of action to stop the modernist incursion. “In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences...And let it be clearly understood above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and We, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of Our Predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, We do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the Superiors of religious institutions. Further let Professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment.” As time would tell, the modern Church largely set Thomas aside to grave detriment.
On September 1st of 1910 Pope Pius X concretized his Thomistic solution into a tangible reality when he made all clergy throughout the Church subject to his newly drafted ‘Oath Against Modernism.’ He not only made the clergy swear to adhere to all the formal teachings of the Church, but he also bound them to his two documents, ‘Lamentabili Sane’ as well as ‘Pascendi’. This included the clergy’s command to put the teaching of the Angelic Doctor at the heart of their study. Part of the Oath included, “Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili...” The line in the sand was drawn and this inoculation of St. Thomas would deal a hard-hitting blow to the new arch-heresy of modernism, and the school that had come to be known as the ‘Nouvelle Theologie.’ Under Saint Pius X’s papacy modernism was largely kept in check. Keeping with the leitmotif of his war against modernism, the Saint ended his reign with yet another Motu Proprio, ‘Doctoris Angelici.’ He wrote these now forgotten sobering words of wisdom, "The chief doctrines of St. Thomas' philosophy cannot be regarded as mere opinions—which anyone might discuss pro and con, but rather as a foundation on which all science of both natural and divine things rests. If they are taken away, or perverted in any way, then this necessarily follows: that the students of sacred studies will not perceive even the meaning of those words whereby the divinely revealed dogmas are uttered by the teaching of the Church." This of course is what eventually happened as these theologians began to be given a voice in the Church. Unfortunately, Pope Paul VI on July 17, 1967 imprudently approved the abolishment of Saint Pius X’s mandate that all clergy take the ‘Oath Against Modernism.’
The reign of Pope Benedict XV followed Saint Pius X. Benedict hailed St. Thomas and his work as indispensable to the Church, not just for that time, but for all ages. “...the eminent commendations of Thomas Aquinas by the Holy See no longer permit a Catholic to doubt that he was divinely raised up that the Church might have a master whose doctrine should be followed in a special way at all times.” Again, Benedict’s successor also followed suit. Soon after he took to the Chair of Peter, Pope Pius XI rolled out his magnanimous Encyclical ‘Studiorum Ducem’ which again held St. Thomas in the highest esteem. The document began with, “In a recent apostolic letter confirming the statutes of Canon Law, We declared that the guide to be followed in the higher studies by young men training for the priesthood was Thomas Aquinas. The approaching anniversary of the day when he was duly enrolled, six hundred years ago, in the calendar of the Saints, offers Us an admirable opportunity of inculcating this more and more firmly in the minds of Our students and explaining to them what advantage they may most usefully derive from the teaching of so illustrious a Doctor.” The document reiterated why the Church’s effectiveness in evangelizing the world remained largely on the clergy’s adherence to the teaching methodology of St. Thomas Aquinas. “...a combination of doctrine and piety, of erudition and virtue, of truth and charity, is to be found in an eminent degree in the angelic Doctor and it is not without reason that he has been given the sun for a device; for he both brings the light of learning into the minds of men and fires their hearts and wills with the virtues.”
The document continued, “We propose to comment briefly in this Letter on the sanctity and doctrine of Thomas Aquinas and to show what profitable instruction may be derived therefrom by priests, by seminarians especially, and, not least, by all Christian people.” This then made it clear that there was no substitute for Aquinas’ theological and philosophical principles, “in the first place, who has provided a better explanation than he of the nature and character of philosophy, its various divisions and the relative importance of each?...His teaching with regard to the power or value of the human mind is irrefragable...Such a doctrine goes to the root of the errors and opinions of those modern philosophers...The metaphysical philosophy of St. Thomas, although exposed to this day to the bitter onslaughts of prejudiced critics, yet still retains, like gold which no acid can dissolve, its full force and splendor unimpaired...There can be no doubt that Aquinas raised Theology to the highest eminence...Thomas is therefore considered the Prince of teachers...For in the first place he established apologetics on a sound and genuine basis by defining exactly the difference between the province of reason and the province of faith and carefully distinguishing the natural and the supernatural orders...The other branch of Theology, which is concerned with the interpretation of dogmas, also found in St. Thomas by far the richest of all commentators.” If we take these statements given by all of these papal documents we begin to see a leitmotif among all of these popes; there was to be no substitute for the Angelic Doctor’s philosophical the theological method at any time.
The story does not end here, Pope Pius XII, likewise was relentless in promoting St. Thomas Aquinas as the remedy for the continuing modernist assault on the Church. Not only did he publish documents but he also stopped many of the modernist theologians from teaching. In 1954 the Master General of the Dominican Order in Rome, Emanuel Suarez, was sent to Paris by the command of the Holy See to sack three Jesuit Provincials from Paris, Lyons and Toulouse. He also expelled four new theologians, Boisselet, Feret, Chenu and Congar, from Paris, France. In 1954, Pope Pius XII also condemned what the German theologian Karl Rahner had written in a 1949 article titled “The many Masses and the one Sacrifice.” His new Encyclical, ‘Humanis Genris’ although similar to those released by his predecessors, took specific aim at modernist philosophy, as well particular theological ideas of individual theologians such as the French Jesuit, Henri de Lubac. De Lubac, who was an avid defender of some of the condemned ideas of Pierre Telhard de Chardin, who promoted a deficient philosophical line of thinking called Monism. This philosophical error blurs the lines between the nature of God and man. In denying the reality of the proper nature between man, the world and God for example, some of his theological conclusions were heretical, such as implying that man really has no freewill. In the end he made the critical mistake of adapting his theology to an erroneous philosophical system, one which did not serve as a handmaid to theology, but its dictator.
It is worth quoting paragraph 32 of the encyclical ‘Humanis Generis’ at full length to understand how many of today’s theologians are diametrically opposed to the realist philosophy of St. Thomas. “How deplorable it is then that this philosophy, received and honored by the Church, is scorned by some, who shamelessly call it outmoded in form and rationalistic, as they say, in its method of thought. They say that this philosophy upholds the erroneous notion that there can be a metaphysic that is absolutely true; whereas in fact, they say, reality, especially transcendent reality, cannot better be expressed than by disparate teachings, which mutually complete each other, although they are in a way mutually opposed. Our traditional philosophy, then, with its clear exposition and solution of questions, its accurate definition of terms, its clear-cut distinctions, can be, they concede, useful as a preparation for scholastic theology, a preparation quite in accord with medieval mentality; but this philosophy hardly offers a method of philosophizing suited to the needs of our modern culture. They allege, finally, that our perennial philosophy is only a philosophy of immutable essences, while the contemporary mind must look to the existence of things and to life, which is ever in flux. While scorning our philosophy, they extol other philosophies of all kinds, ancient and modern, oriental and occidental, by which they seem to imply that any kind of philosophy or theory, with a few additions and corrections if need be, can be reconciled with Catholic dogma. No Catholic can doubt how false this is, especially where there is question of those fictitious theories they call immanentism, or idealism or materialism, whether historic or dialectic, or even existentialism, whether atheistic or simply the type that denies the validity of the reason in the field of metaphysics.” Pius XII makes it clear that the perennial philosophy of Thomas could not be substituted with erroneous modern philosophical systems. Unfortunately, we find many of our current theologians teaching the exact errors of what Pius XII taught against here.
Never has there been more papal praise for any theological or philosophical structure as there has been for Saint Thomas’. As great as Saint Augustine was, by God’s grace, Saint Thomas surpassed the wisdom of St. Augustine and gave us an even deeper understanding of our faith, which has yet to be surpassed. Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical ‘Aeternis Patris’ “Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all...The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.” With the theological and moral confusion that is plaguing the Church today we would be naïve to think that we should not go back and listen to what these popes were telling us. They were right in warning us of abandoning the solid theological and philosophical foundations of The Angelic Doctor. We have not listened and we have reaped the whirlwind.
Aggiornamento and the Pseudo-Thomists Concerning the Eucharist
The ‘Nouvelle Theologie’, a new modernist school of thought unfortunately gave us a new era of problematic theology which has still not run its course. These theologians were enamored with the philosophical idea of Aggiornamento, or “a bringing up to date.” What happened in this bringing up to date was beyond what Pope John XXIII called for at the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The “Aggiornamento” quickly led to an onslaught of modernist theologians who thought they knew better than all their predecessors. One of the most notable, the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, a self-proclaimed re-vitalizer of Thomism and yet paradoxically an avid follower of Heidegger and Hegel, is well known for his heretical theological premise concerning the Eucharist called “transignification”. Unsatisfied with the doctrine of “transubstantiation”, Rahner put an emphasis on the symbolism of the Sacraments, leading him to conclude that we need not focus on the substance any longer, but by what the Sacrament really means. As a result, “he sets himself up for an interpretation of the sacraments and of the Eucharist which almost directly inverts the traditional understanding of sacramental causality as efficacious signs of grace.”  Arrogantly Rahner once said, “It would be pitiful if we were to reconcile ourselves forever to the inadequate, and perhaps half-magical, misconceptions which we drag along with us from early religious instruction, and from the practices of our childhood.”  On September 3, 1965 Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Council of Trent’s teaching and condemned the theological errors of Rahner’s “transignification” and Edward Schillebeeckx’ tangled theological mess called “transfinalization” which was also another manifestation of bad philosophy gone awry. Unfortunately, Pope Paul VI did little to stop these men from continuing to teach their heresies.
Many dismiss these heretical ideas as being inconsequential since the average pew sitter probably has no idea what these theological heresies are, much less who invented them. Have these erroneous theological ideas concerning the Eucharist contributed to the loss of belief in the Real Presence that I pointed out earlier? The faithful Jesuit theologian Father John Hardon believed this erroneous thinking on the Eucharist unleashed a devastating assault on the belief of the Real Presence beginning first with the clergy, then following to the laity.  There seems to be no question that these and other theological absurdities have contributed to the loss of faith and lack of evangelization in the Church. Even though many do not realize what Karl Rahner’s teaching was, his mentality has been carried into the minds of many in the Church like a virus. The same results are also seen when theologians apply their erroneous methods of thinking to moral theology. Unfortunately, there is no space in this writing to expound upon this manifestation of the crisis.
Using Philosophy to Plumb the Depths of Revelation
There are those who use Saint Paul’s words to condemn men’s use of philosophy to better understand their faith. This thinking developed largely in the fundamentalist Protestant groups who take Colossians 2:8 out of context. “Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ” This warning of course was not meant that philosophy should not be the hand maid of Divine Revelation, but that the philosophy of men not be used to distort, usurp or reject the Gospel. It is a fact that men have been using various schools of reasoning to better understand what Christ revealed through His Divine Revelation since the Church began. It is in our human nature to use our intellect to understand Christ’s teaching. That is how we learn. The Gospel was not preached in a vacuum. God left room for humans to be human, and yet receive His Divine Revelation in its entirety. This is done so that they may love and serve God as He intended. This is true even if these mysteries will never be fully understood on this side of eternity. The Church however has produced grace filled Saints who were brought forth by God to give us a more in depth understanding of His Revelation.
An early notable achievement of philosophy in the Church led to a deeper understanding of obtaining holiness. The notion of “deification” developed from the notion of Plotinian ecstasy. Although the teaching of God’s grace as making us gradually more holy was there from the beginning, this development gave us a deeper understanding of how God accomplishes this transformation. Thus, the idea of remaining passive, practicing mortification and humility so God’s work can be done in man was better understood. This idea of deification has become part of the patrimony of the Church, even if the term today is used most often in the Eastern Churches. It is important however for the Christian to understand that for one to use philosophy for a good end, they must first be filled with the grace that God gives us through His Church and they must be well studied in Divine Revelation. A good philosopher never contradicts what has been revealed in Divine Revelation, but only seeks to deepen their understanding.
Another theological giant of the Church, Saint Augustine was well versed in the writings and thought of Plotinus and Plato. Some have said that Augustine was a neo-Platonic philosopher, but that does not tell full story. Augustine used what was true in Plato’s thought to dig deeper into the divine mysteries of the Church. Arguably, until the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church had not seen a man of such wisdom come along as Saint Augustine. Augustine transcended these philosophical schools the same as St. Thomas would use, yet transcend Aristotle’s method of thinking. “Plotinus is very right in advising us to emancipate ourselves from the senses, to master the passions and turn to the One God. But can Plotinus give us the power which will enable us to effect this?”  Here we see the basic premise that philosophy alone, or reason alone is not the answer, but faith served by reason.
Another reason that early Christians used philosophy was to refute the errors of the day in secular society, most importantly those criticisms leveled at the Church. We see for example the Church Fathers in the east such as Athanasius the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom using various tactics to refute the attacks of heretics on the Church. Their arguments remained steeped in Sacred Scripture and the authority of apostolic succession to obtain a proper theological interpretation. In addition apologetics became looked upon as more of a science, and so we see Christian apologists engaging various schools of thought to aid in spreading the Gospel and refuting error. For example, the problem of evil has always been an argument presented by non-believers to argue against the existence of God. It is difficult to quote Scripture as a source when the one you are debating with does not believe in the existence of God to begin with. Christians then began to look for truths that were found outside of Scripture which were found in the nature of things, which are God created. This developed into what we now refer to in apologetics as the Natural Law. As time went on Christians began to look at various philosophical schools of thought to help explain and defend the Christian faith to believers and non-believers. It is important to note that these men, Aquinas included, did not see themselves as mere philosophers, but foremost thinking theologians.
The Real Presence: Foundations
Although many theologians today have repeatedly stated that no particular schools of thought are officially endorsed by the Church, we see that many of the popes have indeed officially endorsed the methods of St. Thomas for reproving error and gaining a deeper understanding of theology. If we look to the Council of Florence first and then to Trent, we see that St. Thomas’ thought was indeed instrumental in forming the Church’s dogmatic teaching on the Eucharist. Before the Councils are examined, it is first important to look at the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist up until the rise of scholasticism. It is easy to prove that the Church has always taught that Jesus was believed to be present after the consecration during the Mass. Hence the bread and wine were no longer present, but replaced by Jesus Himself. The Church however never had an in depth theological explanation of exactly how Christ was made present in the Sacrament and how this event was made possible.
Sacred Scripture gives us the first primary source of the teaching in the Gospel of John 6:54-56. “Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.” As we know many of Jesus’ followers left Him taking him literally and He never corrected their interpretation. Likewise, 1 Cor 10:16 also tells us that Jesus indeed gave Himself in the Sacrament. This interpretation is confirmed by the unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers including Saints Ephraim, Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, and Chrysostom. Saint Ephraim (306-373) famously wrote in response to those denying that Christ was present after the consecration, “But if anyone despise it or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body.” Saint John Chrysostom (349-407) said in one of his homilies, “It is not the power of man which makes what is put before us the Body and Blood of Christ, but the power of Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words but their power and grace are from God. 'This is My Body,' he says, and these words transform what lies before him.” Saint Augustine (354-430) also gives us the teaching of Christ made present at the altar, “That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ.” The Church’s teaching on the Real Presence proclaimed that Christ was truly present after the consecration rather than the bread and wine. However, there was no mention of the term substance and other terms used by the scholastics in these statements of the Church Fathers. Beyond this basic understanding there was little further development concerning the explanation of this reality.
The Rise of Scholasticism
Beginning with scholastic philosophy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, theologians began to develop a reliable method for examining the truths of the faith. One of these truth explorations was looking for a more detailed explanation of how Christ could be present in the Eucharist, and yet the appearances of the bread and wine remained. This was not the only question that loomed over theologian’s heads. How was it that Christ could be substantially present in two places at once? Was Christ’s presence in the Sacrament realized in its quantitative dimension as He is in His glorified state, or was His presence in the form of a mystical state which was beyond quantitative dimensional qualities? These explorations into such theological questions was largely a western phenomenon, but eventually after the Western theologians some of the Eastern Orthodox Churches began to develop similar explanations and conclusions, though often denying Western influence.
As previously stated, theologians since the foundation of the Church have been using philosophy or a ratio to develop theological explanations. This is best understood as one’s method of using discursive reasoning. Saint Bonaventure stated it best, “per additionem rationis” by “addition of reason”. Up until the scholastics, Saint Augustine would be known for the most in depth comprehensive theology. His value however was not dismissed by the scholastics, rather he helped shape scholasticism. Aquinas cites him 2000 times in his Summa Theologica. Boethius (525) is credited by many scholars as the first scholastic as he used neo-platonic philosophy coupled with Aristotelian thought to try and answer questions on the Trinity. It is with Boethius that we see axiomatic methods and a scientific way of studying eternal truth start to develop. Thus, rules of logic became important to explain and defend truths of the faith. This also extended into metaphysics, those truths above physics. Other schools of thought later followed suit such as the famous school of St. Victor, or the Victorines in France in the 12th century. This new scientific method coupled with intense study of Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers and previous magisterial pronouncements is what is now known as Scholasticism.
Detailed theological expositions known as Sententia, or Sentences would become very popular in high scholasticism. One of the earliest was penned by Saint Isidore of Seville (560-633) who authored a three-volume collection that would become a model for theologians to come. As scholastic theology became more popular many schools developed. Scholasticism is not a uniform school of thought, “but rather a process of teaching and learning that distinguishes itself from other forms of theologizing.”  St. Augustine and Plotinism heavily influenced the Victorians for example, while later Thomistic theologians although relying on Augustine heavily, relied on a new form of Aristotelian philosophy which offered a more precise method of examination. Scholasticism’s general characteristics consisted of a basic lectio or reading and commenting on sections of a text. Ulrich G. Leinsle lists them into five phases, 1. Introductory questions concerning authorship, literary genre, time of composition, place in a systematic context, and outline, 2. The text is then presented aloud in sections, 3. The text under discussion is divided into themes in smaller sections, 4. The expositio is the thematic presentation of the doctrinal content of the sentence while confronting it with earlier opinions. This presumes an explanation of terms and distinctions among meanings. One then presents their opinion first with respect to authority but also by looking for objective distinctions to arrive at the true meaning of the text. 5. Finally the dubia or questions are presented after the presentation and the instructor answers the questions on the text. At the end a conclusion is then determined. It is not assumed that an answer can always be provided. If you follow this method you can easily see the rationality behind Peter Lombard’s famous Sentences, and Thomas Aquinas’ works.
Saint Anselm (1033-1109) is one of the first to coin “Faith seeking understanding” and is hence known as the “Father of Scholasticism”. His disputations on the Last Supper and Christ’s Real Presence are well known. In 1059 questions in Rome became popular not only in reference to the Eucharist, but in theological methodology concerning reason. This began a great era where the Church began to explore ways to make the faith more comprehensible with reason. Since the Church teaches the faith which is true, reason did not seek to disprove or cause doubt as to one’s faith in Church teaching, but rather sought to bolster one’s belief by providing a more in-depth understanding. Not just any intellectual reasoning would suffice, but only a method which was able to determine and convey truth, or reality. Many theologians saw some of the deficiencies in commonly used schools of thought. Many of these schools became debated and soon the university was born. One of the Church’s greatest Saints, Saint Dominic de Guzman would found an order that would change the way Church looked at theology forever.
Enter the Dominicans and Thomas Aquinas
On August 8th, 1170 Saint Dominic de Guzman was be born from a holy women Joan of Aza to bear a torch of light to the world to promulgate the truth of the Gospel and refute heresies. The Dominican order which he established in 1216 was to be a beacon of light in the Church, preaching for the salvation of souls while offering a sound defense of the Church. One of the charisms of the order which had never existed before was the method of holiness through study, instead of manual labor. The Dominicans quickly became affiliated with the universities being established at the time, most notably Paris, France. Due to their zeal for study soon two of the Church’s greatest theologians arose within the Dominican order that would change the face of the Church, Saint Albert the Great (1200-1280) and his student, Saint Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas (1225-1274) would study under the tutelage of St. Albert, eventually surpassing him in notoriety. What would make St. Thomas unique was that he eventually was able to find the most truthful philosophical approach to comprehending reality and theological questions than anyone had discovered before, or since. His development of Aristotelian philosophy enabled him to plumb the depths of theology in a more comprehensive and precise manner. Saint Thomas although well studied in Sacred Scripture, which was the focus of much of his work, was well versed in logic, rhetoric, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, which were also central to scholastic methodology. A theological foundation for many in that time was Peter Lombard (1100-1160), although his system proved to be deficient in certain areas. Saint Thomas studied Peter Lombard intensely, and was very familiar with the scholar’s theological works and composed a commentary on his work also titled ‘The Sentences’. Thomas miraculously synthesized the works of prior scholastics, Church Fathers, Sacred Scripture, and his adaption of Aristotelian reasoning to produce theological works that have aided the Church until our modern time.
Aquinas and Transubstantiation
There were several theories of explanation in the Scholastic period to answer the looming questions on the Eucharist. The famous controversy in Rome in 1059 began a war of theologies to constitute a proper understanding of Christ’s Real Presence. The council in Rome made an unrefined definition which reads as follows, “…that the bread and wine, placed on the altar, are not only a sacrament, but also the real body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and that his body and blood are touched and broken by the hands of the priest and chewed by the teeth of the faithful.” The controversy did not end there and in fact continued until Trent formally defined “transubstantiation”. A controversial figure, Durandus of Saint-Pourçain (1275-1334) was a theologian who seemed to oppose Saint Thomas’ explanation of Christ being present in quantity. The nominales such as William of Ockham (1285-1347) denied that there was even a distinction between quantity and substance, which was important in Aquinas’ and Trent’s explanation. St. Thomas’s explanation was controversial for a time; however, it was eventually accepted formally when he was canonized in 1323. Since that time Thomism has waxed and waned but the Magisterium of the Church found his methods and conclusions essential to enriching the faith. St. Thomas’ explanation of “transubstantiation” is still the most comprehensive we have. In fact, if one were to deny certain truths which are derived from his method of reason, one would deny the dogma proclaimed by the Church at the Councils of Florence and Trent. Thomas was able to answer several questions including how Christ was present in the Eucharist, although the appearances of bread and wine remained. By using proper reason and logic developed through the study of Aristotle, he could distinguish between substance and accidents. Thus, while a substance itself cannot be seen, the accidents attached to it can. When the substance of the bread and wine changed, the appearances were still there. How could this be understood? This was a mystery that lacked a sound explanation.
There are six important metaphysical realities that St Thomas gives us to understand the manner in which Christ is made present in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Thomistic scholar Reinhard Hutter describes these six important realities that Thomas teaches which offer us great insight into the doctrine of “transubstantiation”. First, he gives us the importance of substance and quantity. Second, the non-identity of substance and quantity, third, the dimensive quantity as the immediately inherent accident of material substance, fourth, the real distinction and hence the possible separability of the primary formal effect from its secondary, the fifth, helps us understand why, “in considering the conversion of one material substance into another material substance, it is impossible to disregard dimensive quantity. It is indeed the latter- or more precisely and properly considered, its primary formal effect- that under present intellectual conditions can greatly assist in keeping substantial, corporeal presence from sliding into mere metaphor of some atmospheric presence in general… once quantity is removed, substance lacks integral parts that are ordered formally by reason of the part and hence distinguishable.” The sixth, “last but not least because of real concomitance, Christ’s surpassing personal presence in the Eucharist has its indispensable anchor in the substantial presence of his body and blood under the Eucharistic species.” 
This means that Thomas solidifies the understanding of Christ being present substantially, which includes Him being present in his dimensive quantity, which is the primary formal effect, in its entirety, not in its secondary form of materiality. Thus, the error of limiting Christ to a quasi-spiritual personal presence is refuted since the quantitative dimension is never removed. We must also believe that Christ is not just substantively present but personally present, in other words it is Christ in His entire humanity and divinity that is present. Thomas then distinguishes between how the Sacrament itself makes Christ present, but also the metaphysical reality that follows from it. Christ is then present in two ways, one by power of the Sacrament alone, and the other by natural concomitance. Thomas explains in question 76 of his Summa Theologica the following, “It is absolutely necessary to confess according to Catholic faith that the entire Christ is in this sacrament. Yet we must know that there is something of Christ in this sacrament in a twofold manner: first, as it were, by the power of the sacrament; secondly, from natural concomitance. By the power of the sacrament, there is under the species of this sacrament that into which the pre-existing substance of the bread and wine is changed, as expressed by the words of the form, which are effective in this as in the other sacraments; for instance, by the words: "This is My body," or, "This is My blood." But from natural concomitance there is also in this sacrament that which is really united with that thing wherein the aforesaid conversion is terminated. For if any two things be really united, then wherever the one is really, there must the other also be: since things really united together are only distinguished by an operation of the mind. Because the change of the bread and wine is not terminated at the Godhead or the soul of Christ, it follows as a consequence that the Godhead or the soul of Christ is in this sacrament not by the power of the sacrament, but from real concomitance. For since the Godhead never set aside the assumed body, wherever the body of Christ is, there, of necessity, must the Godhead be; and therefore, it is necessary for the Godhead to be in this sacrament concomitantly with His body.” This reality of concomitance cements the fact that Christ is also present fully under each species, the bread, and the wine. This was an important development when the Councils of Florence and Trent formed its dogmatic canons on the Eucharistic presence of Christ.
The Ecumenical Councils of Florence and Trent Refer to Thomas
Although the Council of Trent is often the Council that is referred to for defining the dogma of “transubstantiation”, we must first look to the prior Council of Florence to see its roots take shape. The Council of Florence (1438-1445) was called in an effort to restore union with the Eastern Churches as well as settle a papal disagreement. Florence did address the dogma of The Real Presence, though it did not use the term “transubstantiation”. Its profession however concerning this matter did so in a fashion that was heavily influenced by Thomas. The Council stated, “The form of this sacrament are the words of the Saviour with which he effected this sacrament. A priest speaking in the person of Christ effects this sacrament. For, in virtue of those words, the substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ and the substance of wine into his blood. In such wise, however, that the whole Christ is contained both under the form of bread and under the form of wine, under any part of the consecrated host as well as after division of the consecrated wine, there is the whole Christ.” There are two important things here mentioned. The first the use of the term “form” which is unmistakably Thomistic based on Aristotelian philosophy to denote the reality of form and matter in the Sacrament. The word substance does not necessarily point to Thomas, but the fact that the way Christ is explained as being present whole in both forms under “any part”, reveals the Thomistic teaching of concomitance. It is also interesting to note that the earlier Council of Constance (1414–1418), although parts of it were abrogated due to papal infighting, condemned the error of John Wyclif concerning the Eucharist using direct Thomistic terms. The following example lists the following as errors, “1. The material substance of bread, and similarly the material substance of wine, remain in the sacrament of the altar. 2. The accidents of bread do not remain without their subject in the said sacrament. 3. Christ is not identically and really present in the said sacrament in his own bodily persona.” The term “accidents” is unmistakably Thomistic and the reference to “bodily persona” refers to Aquinas’ explanation of concomitance. When the Church was under assault from heretics like Wyclif concerning the Eucharist, they deferred directly to Thomistic theology to do so, not that of Ockham or Durandus. When they sought the restoration of the Eastern Churches they also rooted themselves in Thomistic theology to explain Christ’s Real Presence, not other scholastic explanations.
The Council of Trent held between 1545-1563 was called due to the upheaval caused by the horrific Protestant revolt. Many established doctrines and dogmas of the faith were being called into question by charlatans such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. One of the dogmas that was officially defined was “Transubstantiation”. Although the idea of the substance being changed had already been accepted and the term had been used possibly as early as the eleventh century, there had been no defined dogma of “transubstantiation” until Trent did so in the thirteenth session, canons one through four which are listed below.
CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.
CANON II.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.
CANON III.-If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.
CANON IV.-If any one saith, that, after the consecration is completed, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are not in the admirable sacrament of the Eucharist, but (are there) only during the use, whilst it is being taken, and not either before or after; and that, in the hosts, or consecrated particles, which are reserved or which remain after communion, the true Body of the Lord remaineth not; let him be anathema.
Several phrases here are taken directly from Thomas’ understanding of “transubstantiation” including “the whole Christ” “under each part of every species” and the reference to “consecrated particles” all point to the reality of concomitance. Thus, these ideas concretize the use of “substance” in reference to how Thomas understood and used the term and not other scholastic theologians who understood the term differently. When Trent says in reference to its definition, “the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation” it is understood in the Thomistic sense. There are some theologians today who claim that Trent did not refer to any theological school to formulate these canons. It is true that much of the terminology can be paralleled with other scholastic schools. However, some of the other scholastics such as those already mentioned did not hold to Trent’s definition of “transubstantiation”. For example, there are many who denied the quantitative dimensions of Christ being present since they understood “substance” differently. I now defer to the great theologian and historian Pope Leo XIII who said the following in his encyclical Aeternis Patris, which gives credence to the fact that the fathers of Trent and other Councils such as Florence gave special attention to Thomas to formulate its canonical decrees. “The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. In the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and the Vatican one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.” As far as I know no other work of any theologian has ever been laid upon the altar at the conclave of an Ecumenical Council. Another important fact that indicates that the defining of this dogma is Thomistic is that the Catechism of Trent which followed immediately after the Council of Trent (1566) explicitly uses Thomistic terms such as “accidents”, “although the words of consecration themselves clearly express it, is that the accidents which present themselves to the eyes or other senses exist in a wonderful and ineffable manner without a subject. All the accidents of bread and wine we can see, but they inhere in no substance, and exist independently of any; for the substance of the bread and wine is so changed into the body and blood of our Lord that they altogether cease to be the substance of bread and wine.”  Some say that it is only a legend that the Council Fathers had the Summa on the altar during the Council. Today’s reliable scholars however uphold the notion that anyone familiar with the definitions of Trent have no doubt as to the direct influence that Thomas had on its theologians, and the necessity of exegetes to rely upon him for proper understanding. Romanus Cessario, OP writes in his work ‘The Achievement of Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters’, “… as the presence of Thomists in influential positions at the Council of Trent suggests, anyone who wanted to exegete the main dogmatic definitions contained in the Decrees of the Council would have had to consult Aquinas, especially his Summa theologiae.” In the same work Cessario quotes a previous scholar who wrote concerning the supposed legend of the Summa being on the altar, “the authority of Saint Thomas has no need of legends. At Trent Aquinas supplied first class authority for both theologians and the Fathers. He would remain so for the post-Tridentine Church.”  It is a very firm position then to uphold that one must hold to Thomas’ theology if one is to hold to the fundamental theological definition of “transubstantiation”.
The Tangible Gifts of Thomistic Theology in Transubstantiation
If theology is to be of any use to the faithful it must have a practical applicability in their spiritual lives. Thomas did not write for the ivory tower elites, far from it. He intended to enrich the lives of the faithful to increase their faith and love for God. The early Church did believe Christ was present in the Eucharist but they were not able to offer a consistent reasoned explanation of how this was possible. As time progressed there were various levels of detraction aimed at discrediting the Real Presence of Christ. These were not only non-believers, but defectors from the Church claiming to believe in Christ yet denying His Real Presence, largely the Protestants. God sent a unique theologian beforehand who could accompany the articles of faith with sound reason. Thomas was by God’s grace, able to develop a philosophy based upon reality and truth, and with it he could further explain how Christ was indeed present and in what manner. Until that point no one had really been able to formulate a comprehensive reliable system of faith and reason. Trent used his explanations in defining the dogma of “transubstantiation” denying the explanations given by other scholastics. Thomas’ development of understanding reality in realizing the principles of matter, form, substance and the essence of things also developed the dogmatic and moral theology of the Church. I quote Rhienhard Hutter once again in relation to the defined dogma of “transubstantiation”, “…it is very hard, if not impossible for the intellectus fidei rightly to interpret and defend what is “de fidei” about the Holy Trinity and Christ’s divinity as well as humanity without continuously drawing upon the metaphysical notions and principles of essence, person, subsistence, nature and relation, it is equally hard if not impossible, to receive de fide the notion of “transubstantiation” as what “aptissime” expresses the mystery of faith of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharistic Elements with the intellectus fidei drawing upon the metaphysical notions and principles of being (ens.), form and matter, substance and accident.”
Thomas thus offers us a deeper glimpse into the Eucharistic mystery that we can meditate on, we can internalize. When we adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament we know that He is present in his entire person, even in his dimensive qualities. We know that although we see what appears to be bread and wine, that substance itself cannot be seen, and that the accidents are the only thing that remains of the bread and wine. Therefore, we now know why we physically see and touch what appears to be bread and wine. Christ is present in two manners, one through the Sacrament which changes the bread into His Body and the wine into His Blood, but He is also present by concomitance and therefore is present under both species in His entirety. Through this knowledge we have the best understanding of how Our Lord gives Himself to us in the Eucharist. “Consubstantiation” for example, is an impossibility. We are also able to offer a reasonable scientific explanation to non-believers of how this reality is possible. Thomas does not stop at mere theological pronouncements but goes into the spiritual realities that flow from them such as the graces we receive through the Eucharist, how it transforms us and in what manner we should receive Him. In our day and age where new philosophies have perverted theologians into developing false teachings concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, such as the novelties of “transignification” and “transfinalization”, we must insist as a long lineage of papal pronouncements have called for, a return to Thomistic theology. Simply put, a theologian using Hegel, Kant, or Heidegger could never have never assisted the Church in defining “transubstantiation”. Theologians in modern times have tried unsuccessfully to apply modern philosophies to improve our understanding of the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith and have failed miserably. They have made philosophy the dictator of Divine Revelation. Thomas still offers us the most reliable comprehensive understanding of our theological doctrines and dogmas including that of “transubstantiation”. It is his method of realism that allows philosophical principles to merge into Divine Revelation allowing reason to serve faith. This knowledge allows us to grow in the love of God because we can see deeper into the rich Divine Mysteries of God. It is fitting then to close with these words written not so long ago, “Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice. This is why the Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology… Rightly, then, he may be called an “apostle of the truth”. Looking unreservedly to truth, the realism of Thomas could recognize the objectivity of truth and produce not merely a philosophy of “what seems to be” but a philosophy of “what is”.” 
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