Remember When That Jesuit Attacked Transubstantiation?

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A few months ago, in responding to the call given by the USCCB for a “eucharistic revival,” Fr. Thomas Reese penned an article titled The Eucharist is about More than the Real Presence. He gives critiques of the traditional vision of eucharistic piety, and offers suggestions. In all honesty, we can thank Fr. Reese for some of his suggestions, such as his comments on the social nature of the Eucharist. This is something scholastic theologians dearly cherished. St. Thomas, borrowing from St. Augustine, calls the Eucharist the “sign of unity and bond of love.” In fact, a common title given to the Tract on the Eucharist in Theological Manuals was the “Sacrament of Christian Unity.”[1] Moreover, this aspect of the Sacrament is contained in the Secret for the feast of Corpus Christi itself.

Sadly, when one reads these helpful comments in light of the whole, the foundation for this emphasis is less than orthodox. His corrections are meant to correct “old piety” which he says is based on “bad theology.” What is this “bad theology?” He states his objection thus,

since my critics often accuse me of heresy, before I go further, let me affirm that I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I just don’t believe in transubstantiation because I don’t believe in prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics.

The Real Presence vs. Transubstantiation

In reading this section, something important should jump out. The dogmas of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation are two completely different dogmas. Thus, his escape that he “believes in the real presence” is as if I consoled you about my denial of gravity by pointing to my belief in atomic theory. If you were to point to the fact that these are two completely different theories in physics, I could not reply “well, they’re both about physics, right?”

Real presence is about the abiding substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, whereas, transubstantiation is about the manner of the substantial presence coming to be. To affirm the first and deny the latter is akin to affirming the existence of life, yet, denying the existence of birth. Further, Fr. Reese has failed to recognize that a belief in a “real presence” is a belief in the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul VI, as quoted in the CCC, explained what the real in real presence means,

this presence is called ‘real’—by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present (CCC 1374).

So, the statement given by Fr. Reese is nonsensical, he wishes to deny one dogma that is founded on “Aristotelian metaphysics,” and, in its place, affirms a completely different dogma based on “Aristotelian metaphysics” which is actually founded on the first (for, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the terminus of transubstantiation).


But, this is beside the point at hand. Did Fr. Reese save himself from falling into heresy? No. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.” (Can. 751) “Divine and Catholic Faith” is the assent to a certain proposition that has been, 1.) Revealed by God (“Divine”) and, 2.) Definitively proposed as such by the Church (“Catholic”).

The Church can definitively propose dogmas of divine and Catholic faith in two ways: by the solemn definition of a pope or ecumenical council; or by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Leaving the latter aside, a pope or ecumenical council can signify the intention to define something as being of “Divine and Catholic Faith” in two ways, first, positively, by some sort of statement that what follows is the faith of the Church to be professed by all Catholics (cf., Can. 749). Secondly, this can also happen negatively through anathema, i.e., condemning something as intrinsically destructive of faith (cf., Galatians 1:8-9). Has the Church defined Transubstantiation as being “of divine and Catholic faith” in either of these ways?

Yes, clearly and repeatedly. The Council of Trent (the classical example) states in session 13

If any one [denies], 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 [i.e., power];[2] let him be anathema (can. 1).

The first canon condemns those who deny the substantial presence of Christ in the eucharist, and, the second canon condemns those who deny transubstantiation:

If any one [says], 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 [denies] 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…which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema (can. 2).

These texts become classical “proof texts” by the magisterium and appear in countless documents, including its use of “substance” or “substantially.”[3]

This is something that also appears frequently in the post-conciliar magisterium (long after Greek philosophy became “meaningless” according to Fr. Reese). This is explicitly taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1376, 1413). Further, the post-conciliar Popes have spoken of this on a number of occasions, St. Paul VI,[4] St. John Paul II,[5] and Benedict XVI[6] in a number of places.[7] It is even spoken of in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani that goes along with the Novus Ordo.

While we heartily applaud the efforts of bishops to promote Eucharistic revival, it is indeed difficult when such men as Fr. Reese remain undisciplined.


[1] C.f., for example, Sacrae Theologiae Summa, IVA, Treatise III

[2] Virtue refers to the property of a thing as being able to bring about some effect. This seeks to condemn the virtualists such as Calvin, Cranmer, Bucer, etc. who denied the substantial presence, but affirms the true and real presence by way of virtue.

[3] E.g., Dominicae Cenae 9, Mediator Dei 129, Ecclesia in America 4, Ecclesia in Europa 22, etc.

[4] Mysterium Fidei, where he calls the opposites “false and disturbing opinions;” Solemni Hac Liturgia

[5] Ecclesia de Eucharistia; Homily, 8 April 1979; and, the four documents listed above

[6] Angelus, 14 June 2009; Homily, 9 April 2009, 11 June 2010.

[7] N.b., I have not seen anywhere where Pope Francis mentions it directly outside of references to “real presence,” yet, the ITC did release the document The Reciprocity Between Faith and Sacraments in the Sacramental Economy which does make explicit mention in 113.

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