A Fictional Dialogue on the Real Presence in the Eucharist

Thomas: Hey Joe, how can you Catholics believe that the communion wafer actually turns into the Body and Blood of Christ? Do you expect me to accept that?!

Joe: Because in this case, we are the ones who insist on taking the Bible literally. There is much to suggest the miracle we call Transubstantiation. For instance, in John 6:51-56, Jesus states five times that "whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life" (v.54).

Thomas: That's obviously symbolism. Jesus usually taught in parables, and He was often misunderstood, like when He said He would rebuild the Temple in three days (Jn 2:18-21).

Joe: Yes, Thomas, but when the Jews (v.52) and "many" of His disciples (v.60) objected, Christ merely restated His words forcefully, rather than assure them He wasn't speaking literally. He was so firm that many left Him (v.66). He could have easily prevented their confusion.

Thomas: One exception to the rule doesn't prove much.

Joe: It's not an exception. Jesus took great care to correct wrong impressions, when the hearers were open to receiving His words, such as in John 3:1-15, where Nicodemus didn't comprehend being "born again," and Matthew 16:5-12, concerning the "leaven of the Pharisees."

Thomas: Hmmm. That's interesting. Do you know of any other examples where Jesus simply repeated an unpopular teaching?

Joe: Sure, like when Jesus talked about His power to forgive sins (Mt 9:2-7), and His eternal existence (Jn 8:56-8). These are cases where He was talking with hostile listeners such as the Pharisees. Since Jesus knew everything, He knew who would reject His words and who would accept them, and acted accordingly. In John 6, then, it looks like the hearers understood full well what He was saying, but didn't want to accept it, rather than accepting it while misunderstanding that it was symbolic, as Protestants maintain.

Thomas: But why should we just accept something without explanation? Isn't that expecting too much? Why does the Catholic Church make people believe stuff without giving the reasons for them - often things that seem unreasonable in the first place? I don't want to be gullible.

Joe: You and many other former Catholics may have had some bad and ineffective teaching along the way, but this doesn't prove that the doctrines of the Catholic Church are false. Reasons have been given for all its doctrines, and theologians have worked on and developed these for centuries. With a little effort, you could have found books on this subject and others which would have provided you with very good reasoning. I've talked to many people like you who have never read a single book defending Catholicism. But on the other hand reason can only go so far. After all, there is a thing called faith, too. You need to stop doubting, Thomas [Jn 20:24-31]! Jesus performed enough miracles to be trusted for the difficult things He said, such as "This is My body" (Lk 22:19). The Real Presence is no less believable than the Resurrection, Virgin Birth, walking on water, or the Second Coming - all supernatural physical events.

Thomas: You make some good points, but what about Paul? He doesn't talk about trans . . sub . . . What is it?

Joe: Transubstantiation. That's a 50 cent word which means, simply, "change of substance." I have to disagree about St. Paul. He sure seems to refer to some sort of Real Presence in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27, where he states that those taking communion ". . . unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." Is a man guilty of someone's "body and blood" if he desecrates a photograph (symbol) of them? The early Church concurred. All the Fathers, such as St. Ignatius (d.c.110), St. Justin Martyr (d.c.150), and St. Irenaeus (d.c.202), strongly affirm the Real Presence. In fact, Protestantism in the 16th century was the first Christian group of any historical and lasting importance to think differently. Even Martin Luther believed in the Real Presence and read others who differed with him on this out of the Church. It was Calvin and Zwingli primarily who introduced this doctrine into Protestantism and "mainstream" Christianity. Many Protestants today, however, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, still uphold the Real Presence.

Thomas: But a piece of bread is really Christ!? What sense does that make? Isn't that going a little bit too far!

Joe: We believe the substance of the bread has changed, while the appearance ("accidents") of bread remains. There are some partial parallels: That glass in your hand has H2O in two forms or accidents - ice and water, but both have the same substance. The food we're eating changes both substance and accidents when it is digested. Transubstantiation is hard to imagine, but nothing is impossible with God.

Thomas: Well, I guess I do need to read and study further. I'm not yet convinced, but if so many Christians, as you say, have believed this way, I can't simply dismiss it as nonsense. That would be kind of arrogant. I'll have to think about it - you've really challenged me. See ya later, Joe!

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Copyright 1995 by Dave Armstrong. All rights reserved.