The issue of Transubstantiation was raised in a previous thread on the RCC dogma of Immaculate Conception, and so I thought i'd create a new thread to focus on transubstantiation specifically so that the other thread does not get too distracted. I will briefly explain the Coptic Orthodox position on this issue, and then I will go on to respond to the comments of our RC friend Michael_Thoma.
In his exposition The Orthodox Faith
, John of Damascus (who though not being a Coptic Orthodox authority - as he is a Father and Saint of the Eastern Orthodox, is nonetheless appealed to by the Coptic Orthodox authorities referred to below) in speaking about the operation of the Holy Spirit in general, makes it very clear that the work of the Holy Spirit "surpass[es] nature and cannot be discerned except by faith alone.”
The two examples which he speaks of in the context of this remark are 1) the work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, 2) the Work of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ upon the Holy Altar during the Divine Liturgy.
With respect to 2) one of the fundamental differences between the Orthodox and RC conception of the Holy Eucharist is the RC doctrine of “transubstantiation.” The problem the Orthodox have with the doctrine of transubstantiation, is that the RCC sought to rationalise the process by which the transformation takes place, via the imposition of philosophical language and concepts. In contrast, the appropriate and Orthodox answer concerning how the transformation takes place is simply: “by the Holy Spirit”, and the appropriate and Orthodox answer concerning how the Holy Spirit performs the transformation is even more simply: “we don’t know.”
This understanding of the Holy Eucharist, and this response to the RCC doctrine of transubstantiation, is advocated by H.G Bishop Youssef on the suscopts.org Q&A section.
Furthermore, Lecture XII: The Question of The Real Presence
, which is in fact a lecture adapted from The Church Sacraments
by Archdeacon Habib Guirgess, in fact appeals to the following quote of John of Damascus in making the case against the doctrine of transubstantiation: “And now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every word and thought … Let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit”
Now my response to Michael_Thoma's comments:
Transubstantiation was decreed to counter the protestant innovation of "consubstantiation" - the idea that Christ is mixed with bread.
Both transubstantiation and consubstantiation are “innovations”; we simply do not know the manner in which the bread and wine transform to the body and blood of Christ – whether the substance transforms, or whether the divine substance co-mingles with the earthly substance; these are all theories of men, invented to provide a rational/scientific explanation of things that are beyond rational/scientific investigation or explanation. It suffices for the Orthodox to know that they consume the true body and blood of Christ, and that such change/transformation occurs by the work of the Holy Spirit.
This term - transubstantiation - is not meant to describe any process of the Mystery, only clarify that Jesus is present sacramentally
I’m sorry, but I cannot honestly agree with your claim that transubstantiation is merely a confirmation of “real presence” so to speak; it does
delve into the question of “how” the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and answers it by alleging that the substance
changes whilst the accidents
remain the same. The RC doctrine of transubstantiation was not a reaction to the Protestant denial of “real presence” per se
, but more accurately, it was a reaction to the Protestant polemic that it is irrational and non-sensical to claim that one can consume the body and blood of Christ upon consuming bread and wine, respectively. The RC’s felt compelled to explain how the bread and wine could be the body and blood of Christ, in a way that appeases the intellect.
The Latin term "transubstatiation" describes no more than the Greek term - metousiosis.
Neither of those terms are legitimately used by Orthodox theologians. From Fr. Meyendroff’s book Byzantine Theology
:“…one never finds the term "essence" (ousia) used by Eastern Orthodox theologians in a Eucharistic context. A term like "transubstantiation" (metousiosis) would be considered improper in designating the Eucharistic mystery; generally the concept of metabole would be used, and it is found in the canon of John Chrysostom...”
Furthermore, Fr. Michael Pomazansky in his book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology
, writes:"The term "transubstantiation" is derived from Latin scholasticism of the medieval period: following the philosophical categories of Aristotle, "transubstantiation" refers to a change of the "substance"…of the Holy Gifts with the "accidents" or appearance of bread and wine, remaining constant. Orthodox theology, in contrast, does not attempt to "define" this Mystery in terms of such philosophical categories, and hence prefers the simple word "change." (page 280)
I would furthermore like to refer to St Cyril of Alexandria who is quoted on page 68 of the book Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (SVS Press: 1995): "Thus with complete assurance let’s partake of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine is given to you His Blood; that you, by partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood might be made of the same body and same blood with Him.”
A few paragraphs down in the same lecture, St. Cyril goes on to urge us not to apprehend the Bread and Wine as "bare elements, for they’re, according to the Lord's declaration, Christ’s Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, let faith establish you. Do not judge the matter from taste, but rather from faith be completely assured without misgiving that you have been vouchsafed Christ’s Body and Blood"