Common Errors on Accidents, Substance, and the Eucharist

This article is a continuation of my previous article: Understanding Accidents, Substance, and the Eucharist.

The division of any created thing into accidents and substance is a metaphysical distinction. It is not possible for us to physically separate the accidents from the substance. It is a conceptual distinction, but it is also a true distinction about real things. Accidents are real, and substance is real.

The substance of any thing is its nature, what the thing is. If the substance were to change, then the thing would thereby change into a different type of thing. The substance is essential, in that it cannot be changed without changing the thing into something else. The accidents of any thing are its changeable qualities. When accidents change, the thing retains its same nature; it remains the same type of thing.

Any created thing consists solely of accidents and substance. There is nothing else. There is only that which can be changed without changing the nature of the thing, and that which cannot be changed without changing the nature of the thing. Conceptually, there are no other possibilities.

The Divine Nature is the only uncreated thing. The Divine Nature is substance without accidents. God is unchanging and unchangeable, and so He has no accidents. All that God is, is essential to His Nature; nothing in God is a non-essential quality. The substance of God is the same as His Nature. For the substance of any thing is its nature; it is that which makes a thing itself, that which makes any thing the particular type of thing that it is.

Common Errors

Some persons speak as if the substance of a thing were in addition to the thing itself, as if all things have an extra underlying reality, which is metaphysical, in addition to the physical reality. In this error, the substance it not considered to be the nature of the thing itself (except as a merely rhetorical claim). If this were true, then the substance of God’s Nature would be something in addition to His Nature, a further reality underlying His Nature. But such a claim is incompatible with Catholic dogma on the Divine Nature.

The reason that this error is postulated by some persons, is because they do not believe that the bread and wine change at the consecration of the Eucharist. They have lost their faith in transubstantiation (if they ever had any); they have lost their faith in the Real Presence. And so they claim that the molecules of bread and wine remain entirely unchanged by the consecration. And then, so as to seem as if they still have faith, they claim that the substance that changes is another plane of reality, a metaphysical reality underlying the thing itself, and only this underlying reality changes at the consecration.

The substance of a thing underlies its accidents, for the accidents are the appearances, and the substance is the nature of the thing. But the substance does not underlie the physical nature, as if the accidents include the nature of a thing, or as if the substance of a physical thing were not physical. To the contrary, the substance is the nature of a thing, therefore the substance of a physical object must be physical. The distinction between accidents and substance is a metaphysical distinction, but that distinction concerns real physical objects.

If the molecules of bread and wine were merely accidents, then the molecules could be changed and the bread and wine would remain bread and wine. For accidents by definition are changeable without changing the thing into a different type of thing. So what would happen if we took a piece of bread, and burned it up, so that the molecules changed into ashes and smoke? Would it still be bread? No, of course not. So then the molecules are not the accidents. Rather, the molecules themselves have accidents and substance. At the consecration, the substance of the molecules change and the accidents of the molecules do not change.

For the substance of a physical thing is its nature, and not some additional metaphysical reality underlying the nature of the thing. (The term “metaphysical” does not mean ‘beyond the physical’; rather, it refers to the nature or substance or essence of a thing, beyond its apparent physical attributes, i.e. beyond its accidents.)

Another common error is the claim that the human nature of Christ in the Eucharist has no accidents of its own. In other words, they claim that the substance of Christ’s body, blood, and soul have only the accidents of bread and wine, not the accidents proper to Christ’s human nature. This claim is contrary to the dogma that the whole human nature of Christ is present in the Eucharist. The whole human nature includes both accidents and substance. For accidents and substance are a conceptual distinction applied to each and every created thing. It is not possible for accidents to exist without substance, or substance to exist without accidents, in any created thing.

The accidents of human nature include changing thoughts and emotions, as well as the appearance of the human body. These accidents of Christ’s human nature are hidden in the Eucharist, but are nonetheless present. In a Eucharistic miracle, Christ permits some part of the accidents, such as blood or heart tissue, to become manifest, revealing to us that the accidents were always there, revealing to us that the substance must also be there. Yet the whole of Christ remains present in each and every part of the host, even in the part which by its accidents appears to be only blood or only heart tissue.

Yet another common error is to claim that the substance of bread and wine are replaced by the substance of the body and blood of Christ. To the contrary, transubstantiation implies a change of one substance into another substance, not a replacement.

Another error is to claim that the bread changes into the whole of Christ’s human nature, or even into the whole of Christ with both natures. But the dogma of Trent is clear on this point. The substance of bread changes only into the substance of the body, and the rest of Christ’s human nature (blood, soul) become present by concomitancy; the Divine Nature becomes present by the hypostatic union. The substance of wine changes only into the substance of the blood, and the rest of Christ’s human nature (body, soul) become present by concomitancy; the Divine Nature becomes present by the hypostatic union.

An uncommon but particularly grievous error is to claim that Christ is not physically present and not locally present in the Eucharist. While it is true that the presence of Christ in the host is not extended in physical dimensions, such that the head would be at the top of the host and the feet would be at the bottom of the host, nevertheless, it is a dogma of the Faith that Christ is truly physically present in the Eucharist.

Catechism of Trent: “in this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ whole and entire…. the word Christ designates the God-man, that is to say, one Person in whom are united the divine and human natures…the Holy Eucharist, therefore, contains both, and humanity whole and entire, consisting of the soul, all the parts of the body and blood, all of which must be believed to be in this Sacrament.”

The Eucharistic miracles in which blood or heart tissue become manifest in a host are teaching miracles. They teach us that Christ is physically present, by showing us that physical presence. They teach us that Christ is locally present by showing us a part of that physical body that is locally present.

It is false to say that Christ’s body can only be physically present in one place at a time, and so, being physically in Heaven, the Lord cannot also be in each and every host in the world. This claim rejects the dogma of the real Presence, replacing it with a hollow version of the “real sacramental presence” which is neither a local presence in each host, nor a physical presence in each host. The claim is based on the foolish idea that God cannot miraculously make a body present in more than one place at the same time.

This false doctrine has been repeatedly taught by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush:

“Christ is not present in the Eucharist as in a place”
“Christ is not LOCALLY PRESENT in the Eucharist”
“Christ’s glorified body is not ‘present in multiple locations at once’ ”
“No material body can be present in two places at the same time.” [Source]

This priest denies that God can miraculously cause a body to be in more than one place at the same time. So he denies the bi-location of the Saints. He denies that Christ is physically and locally present in each and every host in the world. Why? because this priest does not believe that the infinite power of God is able to cause body and soul to be in more than one place at the same time.

Very many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at all. And it is no wonder that they do not believe. For there are many false teachers among the faithful, undermining the dogmas of transubstantiation and the Real Presence, and replacing these important truths with their own foolishness.

[1 Corinthians]
{11:26} For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he returns.
{11:27} And so, whoever eats this bread, or drinks from the cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be liable of the body and blood of the Lord.
{11:28} But let a man examine himself, and, in this way, let him eat from that bread, and drink from that cup.
{11:29} For whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks a sentence against himself, not discerning it to be the body of the Lord.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.

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