Friday, July 08, 2011

What Saint Augustine, Bishop, Saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church Actually Held Pertaining to Transubstantiation: A Response to Turretinfan [Parts One and Two].


I.          Introduction.  

Recently, I came across a troika of postings by the Reformed Presbyterian apologist who goes by the sobriquet of Turretinfan over at his blog “Thoughts of Francis Turretin” in which he denigrates the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and its associated doctrine of Transubstantiation.  Mr. Fan’s first post is entitled: Augustine’s Sermon 272 and Transubstantiation;  the second: Augustine’s Sermon 227 and Transubstantiation; and the third: Augustine’s Letter 36 and Transubstantiation.   I found it rather troubling that Turretinfan sought to compare the teachings of St. Augustine with what “modern Rome” teaches yet did not take the time to explain to the reader what he thought “modern Rome” actually teaches in order for the reader to determine whether Turretinfan’s comparison is a fair one.  Instead, Mr. Fan apparently relies on his reader’s own understanding (or lack thereof) upon which to form the conclusion that St. Augustine did not hold to the doctrine of Transubstantiation without any actual evidence to support that  conclusion.  Without such evidence, the argument presented in Mr. Fan’s “commentary” is not a real commentary at all, but in actuality is nothing more than a dressed-up “letter to the editor” type opinion.   When I attempted to point out this rather serious flaw to Mr. Fan in a comment I made on his blog in the hope that he would take the time to correct it, Mr. Fan chose to delete it instead.

Because Turretinfan decided to delete my comment, I decided to make the effort to post a more detailed response here because I could not allow Mr. Fan’s misstatements in regards to either the teachings of the Catholic Church or its Doctor of Grace go unchallenged.  I hope and pray that the reader find this offering to be a worthy defense of the verity of the real and substantial Presence of Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.  Adoro te devote, latens Deitas!

II.        The Dogmas of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation.

Since I have criticized Mr. Fan for his failure to offer the reader what “modern Rome” teaches in regards to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, I will attempt to supply what is missing from his argument and set before the reader what “modern Rome” teaches before I make the effort to engage Mr. Fan’s treatment of the three Augustinian texts he selected to attack Catholic teaching.

Many people misunderstand what the doctrine of Transubstantiation is and believe that terms Transubstantiation and the Real Presence are interchangeable.  They are not.  To be clear, the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharistic sacrifice is NOT synonymous with the teaching of the Church in regards to Transubstantiation.  It is possible for a Christian to hold to the belief in the Real Presence and not hold to the doctrine of Transubstantiation.  For instance, the Catholic Church, the churches that follow the Orthodox tradition and many “high-church” Anglicans believe in both doctrines (although the Orthodox do not label their dogmatic understanding as “transubstantiation”).  Lutherans believe in the Real Presence but do not believe in the dogma of transubstantiation.  Rather they hold to the notion of consubstantiation, that the substance of Our Lord is impanated or united with the substances of  bread and wine.  Many of the Presbyterian-type denominations hold to a form of the Real Presence, but like the progenitor of their religion, John Calvin, they are rather fuzzy on the details:

Now, should any one ask me as to the mode, I will not be ashamed to confess that it is too high a mystery either for my mind to comprehend or my words to express; and to speak more plainly I rather feel than understand it. The truth of God, therefore, in which I can safely rest, I here embrace without controversy. He declares that his flesh is the meat, his blood the drink, of my soul; I give my soul to him to be fed with such food. In his sacred Supper he bids, me take, eat, and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I have no doubt that he will truly give and I receive. Only, I reject the absurdities which appear to be unworthy of the heavenly majesty of Christ, and are inconsistent with the reality of his human nature. Since they must also be repugnant to the word of God, which teaches both that Christ was received into the glory of the heavenly kingdom, so as to be exalted above all the circumstances of the world, (Luke 24: 26,) and no less carefully ascribes to him the properties belonging to a true human nature. This ought not to seem incredible or contradictory to reason, (Iren. Lib. 4 cap. 34;) because as the whole kingdom of Christ is spiritual, so whatever he does in his Church is not to be tested by the wisdom of this world; or, to use the words of Augustine "this mystery is performed by man like the others, but in a divine manner, and on earth, but in a heavenly manner." Such, I say, is the corporeal presence which the nature of the sacrament requires, and which we say is here displayed in such power and efficacy, that it not only gives our minds undoubted assurance of eternal life, but also secures the immortality of our flesh, since it is now quickened by his immortal flesh, and in a manner shines in his immortality. Those who are carried beyond this with their hyperboles, do nothing more by their extravagancies than obscure the plain and simple truth. If any one is not yet satisfied, I would have him here to consider with himself that we are speaking of the sacrament, every part of which ought to have reference to faith. Now by participation of the body, as we have explained, we nourish faith not less richly and abundantly then do those who drag Christ himself from heaven. Still I am free to confess that mixture or transfusion of the flesh of Christ with our souls which they teach I repudiate, because it is enough for us, that Christ, out of the substance of his flesh, breathes life into our souls, nay, diffuses his own life into us, though the real flesh of Christ does not enter us. I may add, that there can be no doubt that the analogy of faith by which Paul enjoins us to test every interpretation of Scripture, is clearly with us in this matter. Let those who oppose a truth so clear, consider to what standard of faith they conform themselves: "Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God," (1 John 4: 23; 2 John ver. 7.) These men, though they disguise the fact, or perceive it not, rob him of his flesh.

            Calvin, John.  Institutes, Book IV, chapter 17:32.

While one may believe in the Real Presence without believing in Transubstantiation, the converse is not true.  No one can believe in Transubstantiation without believing in the doctrine of Real Presence. 

For Catholics anyway, the dogma of the Real Presence in a nutshell is the belief that the Christ really being present in the consecrated bread and wine.  We do not call Jesus a liar, but accept Him at His word when He said:

"I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.  Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world....

"For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (John 6:51, 55).

Simply stated, the Catholic Church holds that the Holy Eucharist is nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself. 

Here is how the dogma of the Real Presence is defined at the Council of Trent:

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 I, Thirteenth Session, Council of Trent) (Emphasis Added).

In its Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Council Fathers stated the following:

CHAPTER I. On the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.

In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the August sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For neither are these things mutually repugnant,-that our Savior Himself always sitteth at the right hand of the Father in heaven, according to the natural mode of existing, and that, nevertheless, He be, in many other places, sacramentally present to us in his own substance, by a manner of existing, which, though we can scarcely express it in words, yet can we, by the understanding illuminated by faith, conceive, and we ought most firmly to believe, to be possible unto God: for thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood; words which,-recorded by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by Saint Paul, whereas they carry with them that proper and most manifest meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers,-it is indeed a crime the most unworthy that they should be wrested, by certain contentions and wicked men, to fictitious and imaginary tropes, whereby the verity of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, as the pillar and ground of truth, has detested, as satanical, these inventions devised by impious men; she recognizing, with a mind ever grateful and unforgetting, this most excellent benefit of Christ.

            CHAPTER II.  On the reason of the Institution of this most holy Sacrament.

Wherefore, our Savior, when about to depart out of this world to the Father, instituted this Sacrament, in which He poured forth as it were the riches of His divine love towards man, making a remembrance of his wonderful works; and He commanded us, in the participation thereof, to venerate His memory, and to show forth his death until He come to judge the world. And He would also that this sacrament should be received as the spiritual food of souls, whereby may be fed and strengthened those who live with His life who said, He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me; and as an antidote, whereby we may be freed from daily faults, and be preserved from mortal sins. He would, furthermore, have it be a pledge of our glory to come, and everlasting happiness, and thus be a symbol of that one body whereof He is the head, and to which He would fain have us as members be united by the closest bond of faith, hope, and charity, that we might all speak the same things, and there might be no schisms amongst us.

CHAPTER III.  On the excellency of the most holy Eucharist over the rest of the Sacraments.

The most holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the rest of the sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing, and is a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in the Eucharist this excellent and peculiar thing, that the other sacraments have then first the power of sanctifying when one uses them, whereas in the Eucharist, before being used, there is the Author Himself of sanctity. For the apostles had not as yet received the Eucharist from the hand of the Lord, when nevertheless Himself affirmed with truth that to be His own body which He presented (to them). And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; but the Body indeed under the species of bread, and the Blood under the species of wine, by the force of the words; but the body itself under the species of wine, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, by the force of that natural connexion and concomitancy whereby the parts of Christ our Lord, who hath now risen from the dead, to die no more, are united together; and the divinity, furthermore, on account of the admirable hypostatical union thereof with His body and soul. Wherefore it is most true, that as much is contained under either species as under both; for Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof.

And since Turretinfan in his trio of articles states the problem in terms of making a comparison of what St. Augustine, the Catholic Bishop of Hippo and its Doctor of Grace believes with what  “modern Rome” holds and teaches, it behooves us to look at what “modern Rome” teaches.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated and approved by the Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Laetamur Magnopere (Aug. 15, 1997) the Church teaches:

            The presence of Christ by the power of his word and the Holy Spirit

1373  "Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church: (FN 197) in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name," (FN 198) in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, (FN 199) in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister.  But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species." (FN 200)

1374  The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." (FN 201)  In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." (FN 202)   "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." (FN 203)

                        197.     Rom 8:34; cf. Lumen Gentium 48.

                        198.     Mt 18:20.

                        199.     Cf. Mt 25:31-46.

                        200.     Sacrosanctum concilium 7 (NB-which incidently references St. Augustine’s Tractatus in Ioannem, VI, n. 7)

                        201.     St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Book III, 73:3c.

                        202.     Council of Trent, Session Thirteen (October 1551): Denzinger-Schömetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, defintionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum 1651 (1965).

                        203.     Pope Paul VI, Mysterium fidei 39.

Now that we have summarized the teaching of the Church in regards to the doctrine of the Real Presence, let us move on to the doctrine of Transubstantiation.  Simply put, the doctrine of  Transubstantiation is the change or conversion, (by the action of the Holy Spirit at the moment that the words of institution are pronounced) of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, with only the appearances or accidents of bread and wine remaining.  This doctrine emphasizes the aspect of the doctrine of the Real Presence of Our Lord being “Substantially Present.”  When the Church speaks of “Substantially Present” it is stating that the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the Mass are substantially changed by the words of consecration.  We don’t believe that after the bread and wine are consecrated, we are eating Jesus in a carnal way, because, to all outward appearances, what one sees, smells, touches, and tastes is still bread and wine.  However, on a deeper metaphysical level (“substance"), that which makes bread, bread, and wine, wine, has been done away with, and the very Substance of Jesus Christ, His Body, His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity, takes its place.  The doctrine of Transubstantiation does not seek to explain “how” the bread and wine are changed, only the fact that they are substantially changed.

Here again is the teaching of the Council of Trent on this point:

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.
but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.  (Canon II, Thirteenth Session, Council of Trent) (Emphasis Added).

In its Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Council Fathers stated the following on the dogma of Transubstantiation:

            CHAPTER IV.           On Transubstantiation.

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made 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; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

And since the issue of what “modern Rome” teaches in regards to this doctrine is a paramount issue for Mr. Fan, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states on the matter:

                        1375    It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. the Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion. Thus St. John Chrysostom declares:

It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. the priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things
                                    offered. (FN 202)

                        and St. Ambrose says about this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. the power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed.... Could not Christ's word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature. (FN 203)

                        1376    The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "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."  (FN 204)

                        202      St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Treachery of Judas (407 AD) 1:6: PG 49, 380.

                        203      St. Ambrose, De Mysteriis 9:50; 52: PL 16, 405-407.

                        204      Council of Trent, Session Thirteen (October 1551): Denzinger-Schömetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, defintionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum 1642 (1965); cf. Mt. 26:26 ff.; Mk. 14:22 ff.; Lk. 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor. 11:24 ff.

There is much more that I could say on these two related, but separate doctrines.  Books upon books have been written about these two aspects of this great sacrament of unity.  Whole lives have been devoted to the contemplation and study of these great mysteries.  What I have written here barely touches the surface of a fathomless ocean.  That said, I hope that I have offered the reader sufficient information to see how these two separate doctrines are used together to explain how in the liturgy of the Mass in the act of consecration during the Eucharist the "substance" of the bread and wine is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the "substance" of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is the change at the level of substance from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ that is called "transubstantiation," not the Substantial Presence of Our Lord Himself in the sacrament.  According to Catholic faith, we can speak of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because this transubstantiation has occurred (CCC No. 1376).


III.       Critique of Turretinfan’s Three Commentaries.

Now that we have discussed what “modern Rome” actually teaches in regards to both the doctrines of the Real Presence and of Transubstantiation, let’s move on to discuss the three Augustinian texts that Mr. Fan picked to “prove” that St. Augustine did not hold to the notion of Transubstantiation.  Or to clarify the issue in contention here:  Does St. Augustine believe that when the bread and wine are consecrated in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (i.e. the Mass), undergoes a change into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ?  I shall undertake to show that he did so believe.

The path that I have chosen to take to prove that St. Augustine did in fact believe in Transubstantiation, that the during the act of consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, will be as follows.  First, we shall review the texts that Mr. Fan chose to show that St. Augustine did not so believe and then after critiquing Mr. Fan’s commentaries, I shall present the reader with a number of texts from his writings to demonstrate that he did so believe.

            A.        Letter 36 From Augustine to Casulanus. 

We shall start with Mr. Fan’s choice of St. Augustine’s Letter 36 to a fellow priest, Casulanus who was seeking some advice.  First, it must be said that the text does not provide the reader with any insight whatsoever as to St. Augustine’s thought as to whether he believed that a conversion of the Eucharistic elements from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Our Lord occurs at the part of the Mass when the priest pronounces the words of institution.  Moreover, I must point out that in my researches I could not find a single instance where Letter 36 is cited to by any real scholar or theologian, Catholic or Protestant, as proof or disproof of any of the three principle Eucharistic mysteries embodied in Catholic teaching: 1) the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; 2) the Eucharist as a true sacrifice of Christ and his Church; or 3) the Eucharist as the Sacrament of Unity.  Given the total dearth of discussion by Turretinfan of what he seems to think that “modern Rome” teaches in regards to the Eucharist that is at odds with one of its bishops, saints, and doctors or how he perceives that “modern Rome’s doctrinal statements on the Eucharist are negated by the selected text he references, I am unable to discern the thought process behind his selection of this particular letter to declaim against the teaching of the Catholic Church in regards to the dogma of Transubstantiation. 
That said, folks do cite to Letter 36 for a variety of reasons.  Letter 36's claim to fame is that it is the source of the famous saying, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’  (See, Letter 36, 13:32)   It is also cited to as proof of St. Augustine’s view that the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament are indeed Scripture, particularly since he cites in this Letter to passages from three different deuterocanonical books as Scripture: Daniel 3:23-93 (Letter 36, 7:16); Tobit 12:8 (Letter 36, 8:18); Sirach 3:1 (Letter 36, 11:26). 

From a theological standpoint, some Protestant sects cite to Letter 36 as proof that the Sunday observance of the Lord’s Day was a Roman invention, a perversion of the scriptural observance of the Sabbath on Saturday.  Some Orthodox apologists point to this letter touching on the Roman Church’s practice of fasting on Saturdays as proof of the errors of Rome since the practice of Saturday fasting (other than on Holy Saturday) was condemned at the Council of Trullo at the end of the 7th century AD.  Some Catholic writers cite to Letter 36 because in it we see the early development of the liturgical year focusing on “the celebration throughout the year of the mysteries of the Lord's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in such a way that the entire year becomes a 'year of the Lord's grace' ... with its focal point at Easter" (CCC §1168).  Throughout this letter, St. Augustine mentions the observance of the feasts of Easter and Pentecost by name, the fifty days of Easter, and the Church’s celebration or saints’ feast days and solemnities.

Moving on to the letter’s content, this letter was written sometime after April 397 AD during the time St Augustine was confronting those who adhered to the heresy of  Manichaeism (which he had formerly espoused himself).  One of the central features of the Manichaean heresy was the rejection and ridiculing of the Old Testament Scriptures.  To confront these heretics, St. Augustine insisted on the unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  His writings of that time period, even those which were not directed to Manichaeans, often emphasized that the Old Testament was nothing less than prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ and that the sacrifices of Old Law are to be understood as types (figures) of the unique sacrifice of Our Lord and of the Eucharist which is a sacramental celebration of that singular sacrifice.  As we shall see, this is a theme that is repeated in Turretinfan’s selection from Letter 36.

From a moral standpoint, St. Augustine’s letter to Casulanus stresses the importance of following one’s bishop in the observance of differing liturgical and disciplinary practices, traditions, and observances followed by the different sees of the Church.  In this letter, the disciplinary custom or tradition that was being discussed was fasting.  Should Casulanus follow the Roman custom of fasting on Saturdays or the custom followed by his own bishop?  Augustine offers the same answer he was given by St. Ambrose of Milan, Augustine’s spiritual father and teacher when he asked the same question:

“When I (Ambrose) am here (in Milan), I do not fast on the Sabbath; when I am in Rome, I fast on the Sabbath.  And to whatever church you come, observe its custom, if you do not want to be scandalized or to give scandal.”

See, Augustine, John E. Rotelle, and Roland Teske. Letters 1-99. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001, pg. 142.

To which St. Augustine added:

“Hence, if you willingly accept my advice, especially since I have probably said more than enough on this topic, at your request and under pressure from you, do not oppose your bishop on this matter, and follow what he himself does without any worry or quarrel.”


St. Augustine’s view on the importance of following one’s bishop is one that has been embodied in the teachings of the Catholic Church even today.  Each individual bishop's authority to ordain, and confirm, and judge as iudex ordinarius is well-defined and established under canon law and in the magisterial authority of the Church.  Further, each bishop possesses the right to exercise his authority in matters that do not touch the common heritage of the faith and discipline of the Church.  A bishop can order the details of worship in the churches under his authority in his diocese in matters which do not conflict with the common law of Church.

Now that we have gleaned how this letter has been used by the Church and those who oppose her, addressing the portion of the text of Letter 36 that Turretinfan seeks to use in refuting the doctrine of Transubstantiation, I offer the following commentary using an alternate translation from a book I own:   

            But, this fellow who says that the old things have passed away in the sense that “ in Christ
the sacrificial table has yielded to the altar sword to fasting, fire to prayers, animal to bread and  blood to the cup,” does not know that the term “altar” is used more frequently in the writings of the law and the prophets, and that an altar to God was first set up in the tabernacle that Moses erected.  “Sacrificial table” is also found in the apostolic writings where the martyrs cry out beneath the sacrificial table of God (Rev. 6:9-10) .  He says that the sword has yielded to fasting, not recalling that sword of the gospel with which the soldiers of both testaments are armed, a sword with a double edge (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12).  He says the fire has given place to prayers, as if prayers were also not offered in the temple and as if fire has not now been sent into the world by Christ (Lk. 12:49).  He says that animals have yielded to bread, as if he did not know that even then the loaves of proposition used to be put on the Lord’s table (Ex. 25:30), and that now he partakes of the body of the immaculate Lamb (1 Pt. 1:19; Mt. 26:26-28; Mk. 14:22-24; Lk. 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25) .  He says that blood has yielded to the cup, not thinking that even now he receives the blood in the cup. How much better and more appropriately would he say that the old things have passed away and new ones have come to be in Christ in such a way that altar yields to altar, the sword to the sword, fire to fire, bread to bread, animal to animal, and blood to blood.  We, of course, see that the carnal old condition yields in all of these to the spiritual new condition.  In that way, then, we should understand that on this passing seventh day whether people eat or some also fast, the carnal Sabbath has yielded to the spiritual Sabbath.  When in this latter we desire everlasting and true rest, we scorn in the former the temporal abstinence from work, which is now superstitious.

See, Augustine, John E. Rotelle, and Roland Teske. Letters 1-99. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001, pg. 137.

As I noted earlier, St. Augustine wrote Letter 36 in response to a request for advice from a young priest named Casulanus.  Apparently, Casulanus had read a treatise written by a priest residing in Rome claiming that it was incumbent on all Christians to follow the Roman custom of fasting on the Sabbath. Yet, Casulanus’ bishop followed a different custom of fasting on days different from what the treatise’s author had advocated.  Who’s right-Casulanus’ bishop or the priest from Rome? 

Saint Augustine starts out his letter stating that it was lawful for a person to fast on the Sabbath as the Scriptures tell us that Moses, Elijah and Our Lord did so.  That said, St. Augustine then moves on to the question of whether one should fast on the Lord’s Day.  St. Augustine replies that this cannot be done without causing scandal to the Church because even though the Scriptures give no certain definitive answer on this point, the custom or tradition (small “t”) of the people of God, or the decisions of our forefathers, must be regarded as the law.

Like Turretinfan, I will not go into detail on the manner of St. Augustine’s refutation of the writer’s treatise.  But unlike Turretinfan, I will offer the reader a little bit of the argument that Urbicus, the pseudonym that Casulanus charitably gives the author of the treatise, makes so one can understand the point that St. Augustine refutes in Chapter 24 of Letter 36 so to provide some context. 

In furtherance of his argument, Urbicus borrows a page from Origen and argues that all things Hebrew must be tossed out of the Christian religion.  He claims that all Christians must fast on the Sabbath like the Romans do because it is the duty of Christians to be as unlike Jews as much as possible.  To fast on the Sabbath is a rejection of everything Jewish and the Law of the Old Testament which Our Lord Himself had done away with.  To buttress this line of argumentation, Urbicus emphasizes the differences between the sacrifices of Israel and that of the Church .  Urbicus argues that the Jewish Ara (sacrificial table) had been replaced by the Christian Altare (altar); that the Jewish sacrifice of the flesh of animals had been supplanted by the Christian sacrifice of the bread; and that the Jewish offering of the blood of the animal victim had been replaced with the wine of the chalice.

In the passage I quote above, St. Augustine criticizes these distinctions as inaccurate.   St. Augustine points out that the term Altare occurs constantly in the Old Testament (Law and the Prophets) and the Altare of God stood in the Tabernacle erected by Moses himself.   St. Augustine notes  that the term Ara (sacrificial table) occurs in the apostolic writings and gives the example of the  Holy Martyrs pleading under the Ara Dei (Rev. 6:9-10).  In the Old Testament, show bread was offered on the Table of the Lord.  Now we partake of the Body of the Immaculate Lamb. Thusly, St. Augustine argues that Urbicus would have been better served if he had argued that the things of the Old Testament were all made new in Christ; that the Altare of the Jews had succeeded to another Altare of the Church, one Bread to another, one Lamb to another, etc....  Rather than trying to differentiate between the various aspects of the Hebrew sacrifice and the Church’s sacrifice, St. Augustine argues that Urbicus fails to realize that what is important is how we understand them through the transition from the carnal (temporal) reality of the Old Testament to the spiritual (eternal) realities of the New.  Thus, regardless of whether one fasted on the Sabbath or not, the carnal meaning of the day had already yielded to the new meaning provided by Jesus Christ and was no longer relevant for Christians.

Now Turretinfan claims that the way that Augustine's argument here makes the most sense:

“is if Augustine understands "Lamb" and "blood" non-literally, but figuratively.  A carnal sword with a spiritual sword, carnal fire with literal fire, carnal bread with spiritual bread, carnal victim with spiritual victim, carnal blood with spiritual blood, and (drumroll please!) therefore a carnal sabbath with a spiritual sabbath. In that spiritual sabbath we look forward to a true and eternal rest, not placing our hope in mere physical rest.”  

Unfortunately, by foisting a Protestant hermeneutic on St. Augustine’s argument, Mr. Fan makes the same mistake as Urbicus by making such artificial distinctions.  In truth, Augustine points out that while our understanding of these rites have changed, the rites themselves are the same.  In other words, St. Augustine is employing typology to interpret Scripture.

Typology is the discernment of persons, events, or things in the Old Testament which prefigured, and thus served as a "type" (or archetype or prototype) of, the fulfillment of God's plan in the person of Christ.  That which is prefigured is referred to as an "antitype."  The typology of the Old Testament which is made clear in the New Testament demonstrates the dynamic unity of the divine plan or what we Catholics call the Divine Economy. 

Typology is the method the Catholic Church has historically employed to understand the historical and theological relationships between people and events recorded in Sacred Scripture.  Typology guides the exegete to look at each event and person in salvation history as that person or event may be linked to what preceded in the biblical record and linked to what came after, uniting the reader to the divine mystery of the progression of God's plan for the salvation of mankind.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, the Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefiguration of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his Incarnate Son (CCC#128).
Quoting St. Augustine, CCC # 129 notes the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New:

"It is not the Old Testament that is abolished in Christ but the concealing veil, so that it may be understood through Christ. That which without Christ is obscure and hidden is, as it were, opened up.. It is not the case, therefore, that by the grace of the Lord that which was covered has been abolished as useless; rather, the covering which concealed useful truth has been removed. This is what happens to those who earnestly and piously - not proudly and wickedly - seek the sense of the Scripture. To them is carefully demonstrated the order of events, the reasons for deeds and words, and the agreement of the Old Testament with the New, so that not a single point remains where there is not complete harmony. The secret truths are conveyed in figures that are brought to light by interpretation."  De Utilitate Credendi  9.

Augustine replied: No one doubts that promises of temporal things are contained in the Old Testament, for which reason it is called the Old Testament; or that the kingdom of heaven and the promise of eternal life belong to the New Testament. But that in these temporal things were figures of future things which should be fulfilled in us upon whom the ends of the ages have come, is not my fancy, but the judgment of the apostle, when he says of such things, "These things were our examples;" and again, "These things happened to them for an example, and they are written for us on whom the ends of the ages have come." (1 Cor. 10:6, 11)  We receive the Old Testament, therefore, not in order to obtain the fulfillment of these promises, but to see in them predictions of the New Testament; for the Old bears witness to the New. Whence the Lord, after He rose from the dead, and allowed His disciples not only to see but to handle Him, still, lest they should doubt their mortal and fleshly senses, gave them further confirmation from the testimony of the ancient books, saying, "It was necessary that all things should be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets and Psalms, concerning me." (Lk. 24:44)  Our hope, therefore, rests not on the promise of temporal things. Nor do we believe that the holy and spiritual men of these times— the patriarchs and prophets— were taken up with earthly things. For they understood, by the revelation of the Spirit of God, what was suitable for that time, and how God appointed all these sayings and actions as types and predictions of the future. Their great desire was for the New Testament; but they had a personal duty to perform in those predictions, by which the new things of the future were foretold. So the life as well as the tongue of these men was prophetic. The carnal people, indeed, thought only of present blessings, though even in connection with the people there were prophecies of the future.  Contra Faustus 4:2

If, therefore, it was mainly for this purpose that Christ came, to wit, that man might learn how much God loves him; and that he might learn this, to the intent that he might be kindled to the love of Him by whom he was first loved, and might also love his neighbor at the command and showing of Him who became our neighbor, in that He loved man when, instead of being a neighbor to Him, he was sojourning far apart: if, again, all divine Scripture, which was written aforetime, was written with the view of presignifying the Lord's advent; and if whatever has been committed to writing in times subsequent to these, and established by divine authority, is a record of Christ, and admonishes us of love, it is manifest that on those two commandments of love to God and love to our neighbor hang not only all the law and the prophets, which at the time when the Lord spoke to that effect were as yet the only Holy Scripture, but also all those books of the divine literature which have been written at a later period for our health, and consigned to remembrance. Wherefore, in the Old Testament there is a veiling of the New, and in the New Testament there is a revealing of the Old. According to that veiling, carnal men, understanding things in a carnal fashion, have been under the dominion, both then and now, of a penal fear. According to this revealing, on the other hand, spiritual men,— among whom we reckon at once those then who knocked in piety and found even hidden things opened to them, and others now who seek in no spirit of pride, lest even things uncovered should be closed to them—understanding in a spiritual fashion, have been made free through the love wherewith they have been gifted. Consequently, inasmuch as there is nothing more adverse to love than envy, and as pride is the mother of envy, the same Lord Jesus Christ, God-man, is both a manifestation of divine love towards us, and an example of human humility with us, to the end that our great swelling might be cured by a greater counteracting remedy. For here is great misery, proud man! But there is greater mercy, a humble God! Take this love, therefore, as the end that is set before you, to which you are to refer all that you say, and, whatever you narrate, narrate it in such a manner that he to whom you are discoursing on hearing may believe, on believing may hope, on hoping may love.  On the Catechising of the Uninstructed 4:8

Thus when St. Augustine speaks of “how much better and more appropriately would he say that the old things have passed away and new ones have come to be in Christ in such a way that altar yields to altar, the sword to the sword, fire to fire, bread to bread, animal to animal, and blood to blood,” he is not talking about these things non-literally or figuratively as Turretinfan mistakenly claims, he is stating that these aspects of the Old Testament sacrifices were made new through Jesus Christ and are now reflected in the liturgy of the Church.

The above passage in Letter 36 shows us that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant are expressed typologically in the Eucharist.  Moreover, the tenor of the entire letter shows us that the events of the Old Covenant feasts, as celebrated in the liturgy of the chosen people of the Old Covenant, annually relive the past events of the Exodus experience in the present of each new generation of covenant believers, just as our liturgical year allow Catholics to relive the past events of the birth of Jesus, His Resurrection, the coming of God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, etc. and place those significant past events in the context of the present so that each of those events are as real and as present for us as they were when they originally happened.  This “re-presentation” includes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior on the Cross, which is made real and present in each and every Eucharistic celebration around the world at every hour of the day. 

This is what is important about Letter 36-to fully appreciate the revelation of God to man through the unfolding of salvation history it must be understood as a real unity between the Old and New Testaments, not a mere figurative one as suggested by Turretinfan.  What Letter 36 teaches, “modern Rome” still teaches today.  God bless! 

O my God, I firmly believe that You are really and corporally present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. I adore You here present from the very depths of my heart, and I worship Your Sacred Presence with all possible humility. O my soul, what joy to have Jesus Christ always with us, and to be able to speak to Him, heart to Heart, with all confidence. Grant, O Lord, that I, having adored Your Divine Majesty here on earth in this wonderful Sacrament, may be able to adore It eternally in heaven.

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine,
all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!  Amen.



Sean Patrick said...


Good work.

These guys...TurretinFan, Triablogue, Beggars All et al are seriously a pitiful bunch and I mean this in the 'they deserve our pity' sense.

Godismyjudge said...

You said: ‘on a deeper metaphysical level (“substance"), that which makes bread, bread, and wine, wine, has been done away with’

How can you say the substance of bread is meta-physical rather than physical? If what you mean by substance is neither physical, nor mental, nor conceptual, nor spiritual, whell, I am running low on categories in which to ascribe any meaning to your statement at all. How is this different than saying the substance doesn't exist (or is not really present)?

God be with you,

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Sean,

Thank you for the kind words! As for TF et al., they do deserve our prayers and I do pray for them and their souls constantly. It is one of the reasons that I do try to illustrate their misperceptions on Catholic teaching.

Dan, my friend! Thank you for your question. I am not a philosopher nor do I play one on TV, but I will give it a try to answer you as I understand things. Simply put, when I talk about substance, I am talking about a thing's essence. In transubstantiation, the form of the bread and wine, that is, its physical appearance and what can be discerned through the senses does not change, even down to the atomic level. If such a change were to occur, that would be a transformation. But that is not what the Church teaches. We don't believe that because the Catholic Church teaches that the whole Jesus, body, blood, spirit and divinity, is contained in the smallest fragment or drop of the consecrated host or wine.

No, what changes is the essence of the bread and wine, their nature that is beyond our senses. The best example that I can think of is found in Acts 9:4-5, 22:7, and 26:12-18 wherein Saint Paul was addressed by Our Lord, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" Was Our Lord speaking allegorically when He referred to Paul's persecution of the Church or was he speaking literally? If He is speaking literally, then it is seen here that Our Lord's presence in the Church is a real, substantial presence and not an allegorical or figurative presence. The truest, most intimate expression of that presence is found in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Thus, when I use the term metaphysical, I am talking about the reality of something that can not be discerned sensibly. The essence of what is Jesus is there in both His Incarnation and His Divinity. Any other answer in my mind can only lead to the conclusion that Jesus lied when He said "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood."

I hope that helps you understand my thought.

God bless!