Doctrine of the Church (Part 6)

June 05, 2014     Time: 00:32:57

We’ve been doing a series on the sacraments, and last time we looked at perhaps the most radical interpretation of the Lord’s Supper which is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. You will remember we explained how, on the Catholic view, when the bread and the wine are consecrated by the priest they are literally transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ. Although this doesn’t appear to us to be flesh and blood, it really is in its substance. It merely has the accidental properties of bread and of wine, but in fact it is the body and blood of Christ.

That does not exhaust the importance of the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper) for Catholics, however, because there is another very important facet of their doctrine that needs to be emphasized and that is the doctrine of the Eucharist (or the Mass) as a sacrifice which is offered to God. In early church history the church father Irenaeus, who was the Bishop of Lyons, characterized the Lord’s Supper as a thank offering which believers offer to God. It is an offering of thanksgiving to God for what he has done. During the third century after Christ, however, in the West the view of the Eucharist as a rite of thanksgiving began to give way to the belief that this was a propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice offered to God. You will remember when we talked about the Doctrine of Christ, we looked at the work of Christ and we saw that Christ’s atoning death is a propitiation for our sins. That is to say, it satisfies the wrath and the justice of God. Christ offers his life to God as a fulfillment of the demands of God’s justice. It is also expiatory in the sense that it cleanses us of sin. In the Catholic Church, the doctrine developed that when the Mass is celebrated and the body and blood of Christ are present there they are offered to God as a propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice for our sins.

This doctrine became codified as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent during the Counter-Reformation – the response to the Protestant Reformation. This Council met for a number of years between 1545 and 1563 and came to codify standard Catholic doctrine over against Protestantism. At the Council of Trent, the church affirmed that indeed the body and blood of Christ are present in the Eucharist. The bread and the wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, but in addition to that the church also said that the body and blood are both present in each element. So when you drink the wine, it is not simply the blood of Christ that you partake of, you also partake of the body of Christ in the wine. Similarly, if you eat the bread you take not only the body of Christ but the blood of Christ as well. Under each element there is a communion with both the body and the blood of Christ. Therefore the church declared that laymen should take the bread only and not drink the cup. That was reserved for the priests. Laypeople only get to participate in eating the bread. But there is no harm done to them because in taking the bread you get both the body and the blood of Christ.

In the 22nd session, chapter 2 of the Council of Trent[1], the Council declared that “the same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross.” In other words, it is the same Christ who shed his blood on the cross who is offered in the Eucharist (in the Mass).[2] Then it was a bloody manner in that he shed his blood on the cross. Now we don’t see the blood; it is present there but it is offered in a different manner to God. It declared that the sacrifice of the Mass is propitiatory; that is to say, it satisfies the demands of God’s wrath and justice. The only thing different between the sacrifice that is offered in the Mass and Jesus’ original sacrifice is just the manner of offering. It is a different manner of offering but the sacrifice is the same.[3] Back then Christ offered himself to God but now he offers himself via the priest. The priest consecrates the elements, and God turns them into the body and blood of Christ, and Christ offers himself via the priest. So the Council of Trent declares that the Mass is offered for sins and punishments not only of the living but also of the dead who may not yet be fully purified.[4] The reference here is to those who are in purgatory – people who have died but who are not yet sufficiently purified to go to heaven. So the Eucharist can be offered on behalf of their sins as well. So the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice offered to God which is propitiatory for sins and punishments of both the living and the dead.

In Canon 1 of the Council of Trent, the council says that the Mass is a “true and proper sacrifice” which is offered to God. In Canon 3, the Council says the sacrifice of the Mass is not only of “praise and thanksgiving” nor is it “a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross,” it is a “propitiatory sacrifice.” So this is a direct repudiation of Protestant views. The Lord’s Supper is not a mere commemorative meal where you remember Christ in his death and sacrifice, nor is it a sacrifice of thanksgiving such as Irenaeus contemplated. Rather, the Mass is offered to God as a propitiation for sins and punishments.

This doctrine was further unfolded at the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s (aka Vatican II). In the declaration on The Church, section 11, we’ve already seen – and I’ve quoted this before – that the Eucharist sacrifice is the “fount and apex of the whole Christian life.”[5] I pointed out before how that makes the Eucharist so important to Catholics. It is the fount and apex of the Christian life. But here I want to draw attention to the wording “the Eucharistic sacrifice.” It is a sacrifice that is being offered to God and is therefore the fount and apex of the whole Christian life. The Council goes on to say, “for in it people offer the Divine Victim and themselves to God.”[6] So Christ is offered to God, but also now it adds that the communicant offers himself to God as well. It is an offering not only of Christ but the communicant should also be offering himself to God, dedicating himself.

In section 28 of the document on The Church, Vatican II says that, “in the Eucharist the priest re-presents” [notice it is not represents, it is re-presents; that is, he presents again or presents anew] “and applies in the Mass the one sacrifice of the New Testament and joins to it the offering of the faithful.”[7] So in the Mass the priest re-presents the sacrifice made on Calvary to God and then joins with it the offering of the faithful who have come to celebrate the Eucharist.[8]

In the declaration on Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, the Council declares that Christ offers himself through the priest.[9] So in the Mass Christ offers himself through the priest. Then in the Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, the Council says, “In the Eucharistic sacrifice the work of our redemption continues to be carried out.”[10]

So I think you can see why this celebration would be so vitally important to Catholics. It is literally a re-offering to God of Christ’s body and blood for sins. It is a propitiatory sacrifice. It is not a new sacrifice – it is Christ’s sacrifice – but it is being re-presented every time the Mass is celebrated to God for sins and the punishments that sins deserve.

That is a quick summary of the Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper: transubstantiation and the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God for sin.


Question: Were any of these ideas completely new as a response to the Protestants? Or was it simply ideas that were already part of Catholicism and they developed them in a different way?

Answer: Right. This has a long history. I talked a little bit about that last time. I also mentioned that it was in the third century that this view began to develop in the West. So this is not something brand new but Trent is helpful in that it represents a very clear statement of Catholic doctrine in the face of the Protestant Reformation to serve to differentiate what Catholics believe from what Protestants believe. But these are not things that were just thought of de novo. There is a long history behind these ideas.

Question: I find this fascinating because if you look at what Christ said on the cross, he died on the cross for our sins and he said, “It is finished.” Yet what I am hearing is that every time they take the Eucharist it is a way of gaining redemption and sacrifice again – it is continual. Doesn’t that fly in the face somewhat of Scripture when Christ paid the price?

Answer: I think what you said is spoken like a good Protestant. Protestants would find this to be very disturbing, I think. It is a new offering of that sacrifice that Christ has made. It is not as though this is a new sacrifice. For example, in the Old Testament there would be bulls and goats and other things that would be offered anew. This is not a new sacrifice. But it is a continual offering to God of sacrifices. So in a sense, sacrifices continue to go on and continue to be presented to God for sin.

Question: Is it valid within the Catholic Church not because it is based on an understanding of Scripture but with Catholicism they have three grounds of their faith. One is Scripture but also the Pope and then church tradition. Is it coming out of that latter one rather than coming down to a Scriptural reference to support it?

Answer: I think so. It is important to understand that, for the Roman Catholic Church, church tradition has equal authority with Holy Scripture. The Church recognizes two sources of authority for Catholic doctrine. One will be Scripture. The other will be church tradition.

Followup: And the Pope, correct?

Answer: Yes, in that he can also promulgate doctrine when he speaks ex cathedra, but he has hardly ever done so (only on a couple of occasions).[11] So it will typically come from these sorts of councils like Trent or Vatican II where these doctrines get officially promulgated. So these have an authority for Catholics that is to be regarded with equal reverence and piety as the teaching of Holy Scripture.

Followup: They get that from earlier church . . . I’m just trying to look for the source of the reliability of this. Is it just the early church fathers? But then . . .?

Answer: Well, there were then, of course, the ecumenical councils which met and declared what Christians believed. These came to be vested with great authority. This takes us back to the very first section of this class on Doctrine of Revelation where we asked, “What is the source of authority for Christians?” What is the rule of faith? Of course, Protestants have defended the doctrine of sola scriptura which is that Scripture alone is the rule of faith. Scripture is our authority, and although church tradition is very important, it is fallible and isn’t to be placed on the same plane as Scripture which is our ultimate source of authority for Christian doctrine.

Question: Speaking of sola scriptura, I came across the term prima scriptura recently, which I think means that Scripture is primary but tradition secondary. Could you address that prima scriptura concept?

Answer: I think that the Catholic Church would say that Scripture has a primary place, but they would say that church tradition isn’t something really different from Scripture. It is just an unfolding of the teaching of Scripture. It is like the flower that is contained in the bud. So church tradition, in a sense, is an unfolding of the truths of Scripture. So Scripture would be primary, but church tradition as an unfolding of that teaching of Scripture has an equal authority and is to be regarded with equal reverence and piety.

Question: Two things as far as primacy of Scripture. It seems like the Catholic does the same way with Scripture that the Protestant does because the Protestant believes understanding through God’s Holy Spirit of the Scripture that is primary. The Catholic is just saying through tradition the people that have walked in the Spirit have revealed to us. So I think they are kind of saying the same thing.

Answer: I think with respect to Scripture you are right. In affirming the authority of Scripture, this is God-given and authoritative. So it is not a denial of the authority of Scripture. It would be the addition of another authority to guide us in the interpretation of Scripture.

Followup: I am thinking they are thinking you can only understand Scripture through the Holy Spirit. So they are saying tradition is the previous prior interpretations of elders that have understood it. We are kind of saying the same thing in a way.

Answer: Well, I think it is quite different to put church tradition on the same level as Scripture. That is very different. The Catholic will criticize the Protestant by saying “Look at the mess that exists among Protestants because you have no conciliar teaching authority and you rely upon the Holy Spirit. Look at the way the church has splintered and fractured. There is no agreement.” So without some kind of institutional teaching authority to authoritatively say, “This is what Scripture teaches” they would say the track record of Protestantism is testimony itself to the kind of relativism and doctrinal error that one gets into without having this kind of institution authority.

Followup: I agree with you. The reason they point to the tradition to stabilize is they say that tradition comes from the Scripture through the interpretation of the Holy Spirit.

Answer: Right, yes, of course. That is right. The tradition is not something contrary to Scripture, but flows out of it. Although when you get to doctrines like this you can see how very, very far from Scripture this teaching has evolved.

Followup: The other point was: do you think this is the sacrifice that will be stopped that is referred to in Revelation? This re-presenting of the original sacrifice?[12]

Answer: Oh, don’t ask me questions about the interpretation of the book of Revelation because that is one of the most difficult books in the New Testament to understand! So I don’t have any firm opinions about that.

Question: Isn’t it one step further that the Catholic Church would also say Scripture is only Scripture because the Church declares it to be so, which is a circular argument. It seems to me when you consider the Old Testament . . . I don’t know how you deal with that.

Answer: This is a point that is worth making. You are reminding us that in the Catholic view, the way you know which books are in the Canon (that is, which books are scriptural rather than not) is because the Church has declared that these are the books that are inspired by God. Again, the Catholic Church will say that in the absence of such an authoritative teaching you have no way of knowing what books should be in Scripture and what shouldn’t. How do you know Jude shouldn’t have been left out and 1 Clement included? There is no way to tell, they would say, in the absence of some teaching authority like the institutional church.

Question: Not to derail onto a tangent, but I was just curious: what was the motivation behind restricting why wine to just the priests?

Answer: I do not know the answer to that historically. That is something one would have to look into and I never cared to do so. It is odd – isn’t it? – that only one element would be allowed to the laity, but I don’t know what motivated that originally. Sorry.

[someone off-mic says, “How about the bubonic plague?”]

Someone suggests maybe disease could have helped to motivate it. I don’t know.


Let me move on then from the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation to the Lutheran doctrine which is called consubstantiation. How is that different from transubstantiation? At the Formula of Concord, which is the standard Lutheran statement of doctrine, the Formula rejects the view of transubstantiation. It says that the body and blood of Christ are not formed out of the bread and the wine. The bread and the wine are not transformed into the blood and body of Christ. Nevertheless, the Formula also rejects the idea that there is a mere spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. That is too weak a view of the Lord’s Supper for Lutherans. It has got to be more than a spiritual presence of Christ there. He needs to be present in his human nature, but it is not a transubstantiation either. So what is it? Well, it is in between. It is consubstantiation. What this holds is that the blood and the body of Christ are present along with the bread and the wine. So when the communicant eats the bread and drinks the wine he is drinking the blood of Christ and chewing and eating the body of Christ at the same time. They are there together.

Again, you might say, “But I don’t see them. I don’t taste them.” Why would you think that the body and the blood of Christ are there along with the bread and the wine? This gets back to a doctrine of Luther’s that we talked about when we looked at the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. You may remember that Luther had this peculiar doctrine called the communicatio idiomatum, or the communication of the attributes. That was the doctrine that in Christ’s exaltation the attributes of the divine nature were transferred over, or communicated, to his human nature. So the human nature of Christ took on some of the attributes or properties of his divine nature. One of their favorite illustrations was that of a red hot poker that has been lying in the fire.[13] The poker normally is cold and dark, but when it is in the fire long enough it becomes glowing and red and hot. It has taken on the properties of the fire properly belonging to the fire. Similarly, the human nature of Christ in his exalted status takes on some of the properties of the divine nature like ubiquity (that is to say, omnipresence). That is a great word if you don’t know it! Ubiquitous – it means everywhere. So the human nature of Christ becomes everywhere. It also takes on invisibility, which is a proper property of the divine nature. So when the communicant eats the bread and drinks the wine, Luther emphasizes he is chewing the body of Christ. He is actually eating it and drinking his blood because the human nature, having taken on the attributes of the divine nature, is now there. It is present. It is ubiquitous even though it is invisible and you don’t sense it. So on the Lutheran view, I think you can see there is a kind of middle way between a mere spiritual presence of Christ and transubstantiation that the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ. Rather, on the Lutheran doctrine, the bread and the wine are there with the blood and the body of Christ. The blood and the body of Christ are said to be in, under, and through the elements that you take. So, again, you do take the blood and the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.


Question: Did Luther, like Roman Catholicism, believe that there was efficacy in the taking of the host, that it would infuse grace? We don’t believe that, but did he? Did Luther believe that?

Answer: Yes, the Lutheran tradition is a sacramental tradition just like Catholicism. So it has means of grace.

Followup: So the Lutheran church teaches that?

Answer: Yes, it is a sacramental church. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments for Lutherans. They have fewer sacraments than Catholics do. Catholics have things like marriage, ordination, last rites, and so forth. But for those sacraments that Lutherans do recognize, yes, these are means of grace.

Followup: So, in my opinion, it is kind of like pulling up to a gas station and getting your tank filled. This is what you are doing. It is a continuous striving for salvation.

Answer: Yes, I like the analogy. If you don’t fill up your tank, you are going to run empty and your Christian life is going to bottom out and come to a halt maybe. So it is vital to be connected to the means of grace and to be constantly getting refueled. Yes.

Question: Back to the mingling of the two natures of Christ. The quick research I did on that – Monophysitism was condemned in Ephesus and Council of Chalcedon. It said by that logic should not that co-mingling of the divine and human in substance of the communion elements also be condemned as unorthodox which they condemned at those two councils – that mingling of the two natures?

Answer: Yes, what you are talking about here – we talked about this when we did the two natures of Christ – Monophysitism says there is one nature in Christ, a kind of blend of humanity and divinity. But Dyophysitism says, no, there are two natures in Christ and these are quite distinct. As I said when we covered the Doctrine of Christ, I think that it is a failing of Lutheran theology that it blurs the natures which you are not to do. The thing that the Council of Chalcedon insists on is that you do not divide the person or blur the natures. You have got to have one person but two distinct natures. In Lutheran theology, I just don’t see how he isn’t guilty of blurring the two natures of Christ by saying that the attributes of the divine nature are communicated over to the human nature.[14] That raises the very troubling question, “Why aren’t the attributes of the human nature then communicated over to the divine nature as well?” You would really get into a mess then. So I do think you are right that that is problematic and yet a very curious feature of this great Protestant Reformer and tradition.

Question: Christ’s nature though, at least his divine nature, can be present in the ceremony.

Answer: Yes, and this will be the Reformed view. We are starting with the strongest view – transubstantiation. Now I think you can see consubstantiation is somewhat weaker. Then we will look next time at the Reformed view and finally at the sort of Ordinance view that sees it as not a sacrament in any way.

Question: Is that view where the attributes are blurred particular to a post-ascension view of Christ or is it throughout his life and ministry on earth as well?

Answer: As I understand it, this comes with the exaltation of Christ. With his resurrection and ascension the human nature is glorified. Up to the burial, Christ is in what is called the state of humiliation. But then with the resurrection and the ascension to heaven comes the state of exaltation. That is, in my understanding, when the attributes of the divine nature are communicated over to the human nature so that Christ is now omnipresent or ubiquitous, not merely in his divine nature (which he has always been), but now his human nature is ubiquitous, which is really a strange view, I think.

I think you can see how these seemingly small questions about the nature of the Lord’s Supper can actually devolve into incredible theological differences between different Christian confessions. We are not done yet. Next time we’ll look at yet another interpretation of the Lord’s Supper before giving some assessment of these interpretations.[15]


[1] An English translation of the Council of Trent’s canons and decrees [ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848)] can be found at (accessed June 2, 2014).

[2] 5:18

[3] “For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different.” (Council of Trent, Session 22, Chapter 2).

[4] “Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles.” (Ibid.)

[5] cf. “Lumen Gentium,” Chapter II “On the People of God,” §11. See (accessed June 2, 2014).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., Chapter III “On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate,” §28. For this specific translation, see Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966).

[8] 10:19

[9] cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Chapter II “The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist,” §48. See (accessed June 2, 2014).

[10] cf. “Presbyterorum Ordinis,” Chapter III “The Life of Priests,” §13. See (accessed June 2, 2014).

[11] 15:00

[12] 20:06

[13] 25:03

[14] 30:04

[15] Total Running Time: 32:57 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)