Trialogus. Chapter 2. What Is Denoted by the Pronoun “This” in the Words of Consecration
6 min read
6 min read
I am delighted, brother, with your clear statement in regard to the faith of the church, which has been only too long hidden. I see not how the friars, or others, can escape your reasoning, without either inventing a sense for this passage of Scripture, or actually refusing to believe it.
Neither we ourselves, nor any one besides, can deny the force of this reasoning, and the good catholic should cherish it with care, as very dear to him. But heretics have assigned various significations to this Scripture. In the first place, they say, that the pronoun “this,” in the proposition of the sacrament, “this is my body,” denotes simply the body of our Lord, and not the bread, for otherwise, according to them, the proposition would be falser. As to what John, “On God,” and other illiterate heretics maintain, that the pronoun denotes nothing, I pass it over, as not worthy to be mentioned, and proceed to bring argument in full against the first heresy. The former of these pronouns denotes the bread which Christ took in his hands, and the pronoun following it, the same thing which was before denoted by the other. The subject, therefore, of the sacramental proposition, refers to this same bread. How is the believer to comprehend that Christ took bread in his hands, blessed, brake it, and gave it his disciples to eat, unless he understands by the former pronoun, “bread?” For the sacramental words had not yet been uttered, that it should cease to be bread. Our opinion is confirmed by Matthew 26., where Christ bids all his apostles drink of that cup, which they did. Also Mark 14., “And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank of it,” and in the same way, concerning the bread; whence the apostle’s words, in 1 Corinthians 11. are “For as often as ye eat this bread,” &c.: and from all this it appears, either that the Author of Scripture gives us a false representation, or that the apostles ate of the bread offered them by Christ. From the same source it is also plain, that the second pronoun denotes the same bread which is made the subject of the sacramental proposition,—“this is my body,” for, otherwise, the causal would be in every view absurd; and, besides, Christ would have been deluding his church.
This reasoning, founded on the object denoted by the pronoun, ought to give the faithful abundant confidence. The words of Christ point out the object of which the apostles took cognisance; but it is inconsistent to make them denote the mere body of Christ in its proper nature. Our Lord’s words, then, must denote something else; and nothing can they denote pertinently, more than the bread which Christ had held out to them in his hand. If the mere natural body of our Lord is meant, then the signification of these words of Christ would be, “This my body is my body.” But with this the apostles were acquainted before; and it would be out of place, in connexion with the injunction, that they should each eat of the bread.
Again, if the reference of the pronoun to bread be out of place in this connexion, how can it consistently be taught that the transubstantiation of the bread, by virtue of the words pronounced at the sacrament, is an accident without a subject, and an innovation of Christ’s body in place of the sacramental bread? This fictitious reference, which they ascribe to these pronouns, does away with the entire meaning of the sacrament.
Again, in the second sacramental clause concerning the wine, that wine in the cup is meant; therefore, by the connexion from a sufficient resemblance between this clause about the wine, and the former one in which the bread is consecrated, it appears plainly, that this same bread must be referred to, because no catholic would deny that the contents of the cup are meant, by metonymy; for Christ, in Mark 14. speaks thus—“This is my blood of the new testament.” There is no catholic in existence, who believes that cup of metal to be, sacramentally, the blood of Christ, but understands the term as referring to the wine contained in it. Further, to lay bare the wily turnings of this sophistry, the Holy Spirit ordained that it should be written in the masculine gender, Hic est sanguis meus, (this is my blood;) wherefore, among the many significations of scriptural passages, concerning which we are certain, this is one of the most certain, that in this, the proposition of the sacrament, bread, or wine, is meant.
This being admitted, the catholic must pass over to the complex signification of the sacramental proposition, “this is my body,” abandoning, as the height of heresy, the opinion that the Gospel, especially the words of Christ, can contain anything impossible or inappropriate. But since every word of Christ’s is true, and, in the highest sense of the term, catholic, and Christ has said that this bread is his body, it follows, manifestly, that this is true. It is about this point, however, that heretics maintain their struggle; they cannot deny that the pronoun denotes bread, and so they assign an extremely heretical compound, threefold signification. They say, first, that this,—namely, the bread,—is not the body of Christ, but that, by virtue of the sacramental words, it will be, in a certain way, the body of Christ. The second method appears more heretical still, for the opinion, that the bread will afterward become the body of Christ, is as inadmissible as the heretic’s own error; for, according to his showing, that bread would then be turned into, or identified with, the body of Christ, and, consequently, it would end in transubstantiation, and hence be the veritable body of Christ. Thus, in the second interpretation, we correct the first,—that this bread will become, in a certain manner, the body of Christ. The third course, again, (it being evident that nothing of that bread will remain in the body of Christ,) consists in denying any prior sense at all, saying, that the Author of Scripture means that this accident, per se, without any subject, is the sacramental sign of the body of Christ. And this is the signification of the proposition,—“This is my body.” The heretic sees that neither the matter, nor the form of bread, is transmuted into the body of Christ. In fact, the things themselves do not agree in subject; accordingly, he regards it as evident, that the catholic should not admit, that out of this bread will be made the body of Christ, as a statue is made out of bronze, or day is made out of night, (for they are both incongruous in subject,) but because these accidents, per se, without a subject, are sacramentally the figures of the body of Christ. Oh, how abominable is that figment, which would make it appear, that it is not bread which is denoted by that pronoun,—as is shown above!
An impossibility, according to our modern doctors, is incomprehensible; and according to Augustine, and other saints, it cannot be included even in the Divine Omnipotence, and so concerning the whole affair, these men are at a loss to express the genus of the accident to which this venerable sacrament should be referred. They speak falsely, therefore, when they say, that it might be meaner than horse-food, or than anything that may be named. So then, as these heretics, subsequent to the time of the loosing of Satan, have had no more understanding of this term than magpies, and as they falsely assert that neither Christ nor his apostles understood it, and so, of course, none of the fathers who came after them; we need not directly refute this error, for believers well know how constantly the body of Christ is made anew by an idiotic and unworthy priest; and it is not until these sacramental words have been duly uttered, that the accident without a subject is created; so that the demonstrative pronoun of the sacramental proposition may remain for ever without denoting an accident without a subject, so long as the bread continues bread.
It is this doctrine of the saints, that whosoever imposes upon Scripture a sense foreign to it, such as the Holy Spirit requireth not, such a man must be a heretic. This sense given to the above terms, by the persons alluded to, neither Scripture, revelation, nor reason can establish. No one of the saints, prior to the loosing of Satan, was acquainted with it. Jerome, Augustine, and other saints, and a vigorous reason, all totally contradict it. The doctrine, then, must be wholly abandoned, as one of special falsehood. These men must amend Holy Writ, and make it say, not that the accident without a subject, which they cannot comprehend, is the body of Christ, but that it is the sign of the body of Christ. But how then, by virtue of this sentence, comes transubstantiation, or the accident without a subject? Since this accident without a subject, may equally signify the body of Christ, these heretics cannot state at what instant transubstantiation, or the accident without a subject, really takes place.
Thus, then, is this three-fold doctrine annihilated, a doctrine contemptible and erroneous, after the manner of all other heresies which affect to be the doctrine of Christ. We must abide, then, by the opinion of the learned and acute Jerome, who says, that the bread, by virtue of Christ’s word, is, sacramentally, the body of our Saviour. Of what sort that bread is, and of what it is in its own nature, the true theologian can see by observation of other hosts, not consecrated.