By James M. Rochford

For more resources on this subject, see our earlier article “Catholicism.”

Perhaps the most controversial sacrament of Roman Catholicism is the Eucharist—what Evangelicals call “the Lord’s supper.” In Chapter 1 (“The Real Presence of our Lord…”), the Council of Trent explains, “The consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of those sensible things.”


(Mt. 26:26) Does this statement support the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation? (cf. Mk. 14:22; Lk. 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-25)

(Jn. 6:53) Does this passage support transubstantiation?

(1 Cor. 11:29) Is Paul referring to transubstantiation in this passage? Or something else?

History of Transubstantiation

At the Council of Trent Rome taught her belief was affirmed by “all our forefathers” (Thirteenth Session, Chapter 1, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. However, this is certainly not the case.

The Didache (AD 100): “On the Lord’s day assemble and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. If any have a dispute with his fellow, let him not come to the assembly till they be reconciled, that your sacrifice be not polluted. For this is the sacrifice spoken of by the Lord; ‘In every place and at every time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, said the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the Gentiles; (Mal. i. 11, 14).”[1]

This doesn’t refer to Jesus’ sacrifice, but to “your sacrifice.” The same Greek word for “sacrifice” (thusia) is used of Jesus’ sacrifice (Heb. 5:1), but it is also used of doing good deeds, praise, and financial giving (Heb. 13:15-16; Phil. 4:18). The same book also refers to the supper as the “cup” and the “bread,” and a means of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice in thanksgiving (Didache, 9).

Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 180) stated that the elements do not lose the nature of bread and wine (Against Heresies, 4.18.4-5; 5.2.2).

Tertullian (AD 200) said Jesus’ statement was figurative (Against Marcion, 3.19).

Clement of Alexandria (AD 200) called the bread and wine symbols of Jesus’ body (The Instructor, I.6).

Origen (AD 250) held his typical allegorical and spiritual view when referring to the elements in the Last Supper.

Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 340) called the elements the body and blood of Christ, but also referred to them as symbolic of spiritual realities (On the Theology of the Church, 3.2.12).

Augustine (AD 350) believed that John 6:53 should be understood spiritually and symbolically—not literalistically (On Christian Doctrine 3.16.2).

Gelasius I (5th century pope): “The sacrament which we receive of the body and blood of Christ is a divine thing. Wherefore also by means of it we are made partakers of the divine nature. Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease to be… Thus, as the elements pass into this, that is, the divine substance by the Holy Ghost, and none the less remain in their own proper nature.[2]

Bizarre traditions regarding Transubstantiation

One primary source records a lurid account of “host desecration.” There we read, “Jews of Passau. Under torture, 10 Jews admitted that they had obtained several hosts (communion wafers) and that when they had stabbed the hosts, blood flowed from them; that the form of a child arose; and that when they tried to burn the wafers in an oven two angels and two doves appeared. Four of the arrested Jews converted to Christianity and were treated kindly as a result: they were merely beheaded. The rest were torn with hot pincers and burned alive.”[3]

Radbertus, the ninth century theologian, told lurid stories of the bread turning into a child or lamb. When the priest broke the bread, an angel descended with a knife and slaughtered the child or lamb. As a result, blood flowed from the sacrifice into a cup.[4]

The denial of the cup to the laity, the present custom of the Roman Catholic Church, became common in the thirteenth century. It was at first due to the fear of profanation by spilling the consecrated blood of Christ. Philip Schaff writes, “The council of Constance threatened with excommunication all who distributed the wine to the laity.”[5] He also writes, “Another case related by Etienne of Bourbon is of a farmer who, wanting to be rich, followed the advice of a friend and placed the host in one of his beehives. The bees with great reverence made a miniature church, containing an altar, on which they placed the sacred morsel. All the bees from the neighborhood were attracted and sang beautiful melodies. The rustic went out, expecting to find the hives overflowing with honey but, to his amazement, found them all empty except the one in which the host had been deposited. The bees attacked him fiercely. He repaired to the priest, who, after consulting with the bishop, went in procession to the hive and found the miniature church with the altar and carried it back to the village church while the bees, singing songs, flew away.”[6]

[1] Didache, 14. Cited in Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 70.

[2] Gelasius I, On the Two Natures of Christ.

[3] Cited in Jacob R. Marcus ed., The Jew in the Medieval World (Atheneum, NY: Athenium, 1969) pp. 155-158.

[4] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), p. 548.

[5] Phillip Schaff, History Of The Christian Church, Chapter 14: “The Sacramental System,” (section 116).

[6] Phillip Schaff, History Of The Christian Church, Chapter 14: “The Sacramental System,” (section 116).