An advertisement for a sketch of an outline of a prototheory of transubstantiation
January 4, 2008 — 17:40

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: ,   Comments: 8

Pre-Script: Matt, thanks for all your hard work updating the site!
This is a *very* inchoate idea, but that should be what blogs are for. So I’ve been thinking about transubstantiation. I’m going to throw a bunch of stuff out there and then try to tie it together. It will be the most disorganized thing I’ve ever posted but I’ve still got a few MS deadlines (almost done for now tho!) and, again, this is a friendly blog (and I don’t think the post so hopeless as to be rude to post). It will largely consist in my affirming the possibility of various things, many of which might be pretty controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, for those that share the affirmations there might be a way of understanding transubstantiation in the neighborhood.
Suppose you’re reading a novel and it says that a powerful wizard moved an object from one side of the planet to the other in an instant. You might worry about exactly what theory explains how that other object is the *same* object, but I don’t think there’s much reason to think the author has attributed the impossible to the magician. I don’t think even a philosopher with no off switch (me!) should be stopped in their tracks by such a story. I think it’s sufficient that it’s *that* object which the wizard decided to move *there*.
I think the same is true with time travel. Time travel stories involve no clear incoherencies. I think conceivability or apparent conceivability is defeasible evidence of possibility, and I’m aware of no clear arguments for the incoherence of time travel.
I think we need primitive thisness and primitive identity to solve various problems in metaphysics anyway (associated with Chisholm’s paradox) so I’m going to help myself to them if need be.
Finally, I think bilocation is possible (a species of multi-location where a usually one-one relation is one-many).
Finally finally, I think that the “accidents” or “secondary qualities” or whatever of substances are a result of the causal powers they have and that they have whatever causal powers God wills that they have at any given time.
So here’s the inchoate hunch/hope. God takes certain molecules of the body of Jesus and causes them to multi-locate across time and gives them new causal powers, one’s which mimic the normal causal powers of bread and wine.
I’m not claiming that this is original (maybe lots of people have already thought of something like this) or that it exhausts the doctrine (for example the “Soul and Divinity” part remains unexplained but I’m just trying to cover the material part). What I find interesting in this approach is that it seems to get us pretty close to the doctrine while making it clear what it commits us to and it’s surprisingly little (in my view since I hold all these views anyway, I get this view at *no* additional cost).
I have no doubt that Alex and Tim will let me know if I’ve run afoul of Catholic dogma (something I don’t want to do), but, again, I am not suggesting this as a definition of the doctrine but rather pointing out how far we can get towards it with such (relative) clarity and little cost.

  • Nullasalus

    An interesting idea – I’m certainly not a philosopher, so I couldn’t evaluate on any specifics.
    But, just for the sake of suggesting, I have any proposal. Perhaps God is in all things innately, but inactive so to speak. Or even potentially, but not actually. But the act of the priest at the mass activates/realizes the potentiality of what is present.
    Along the lines of how a given amount of particles have all of the components to be an atom. But no atom is present until those components are properly arranged.
    And, of course, I want to suggest nothing contrary to Church doctrine.

    January 4, 2008 — 20:44
  • Alexander Pruss

    I think this has the start of an orthodox account. But at least two tweaks are needed.
    1. You want this to happen to all molecules, not just some. Otherwise, you get the claim that only a part of Christ’s body is present, which is not what orthodox Catholic doctrine says.
    2. Catholic teaching holds (I don’t have the documents in front of me, but I think they do exist) that Christ’s body is wholly present in every part of where the accidents of bread are. This requires what I call “massive multilocation”, where every bit of Christ’s body comes to be present in every location (continuum many locations!) within the volume of the accidents of bread. This shouldn’t be a serious problem–if something can be present in seven places, it can be present continuum many places, surely.
    My main problem with this account is that I don’t believe in actual parts of substances. But I think a version of this account probably works without actual parts, with merely potential parts.
    Some other issues.
    3. You preserve the accidents qualitatively but not numerically. In other words, accidents just like those of bread continue to exist, but the very accidents that the bread had do not continue to exist. How serious a problem this is depends on how strongly one reads the teaching on the continuance of the existence of the accidents. Given that Trent does not even say that the accidents continue to exist–it says only that the “appearances” (species) continue to exist–there may be some wiggle room. But there may be another Council that has something more specific. I don’t have time right now to search. I am hopeful, though, that your account can survive this criticism.
    4. Catholic theologians have traditionally tended to reject the view that the accidents inhere in Christ, which is what your view implies. As far as I know, this rejection is not enshrined in any definitive magisterial teaching. Nonetheless, the rejection is nigh-universal, and carries some weight.
    5. Catholic theologians have traditionally tended to reject the view that Christ is spatially (or physically or locally) present in the Eucharist, in favor of Aquinas’ view that he is present in some other way (Aquinas says “substantially”, and has an account of how that works; others say “sacramentally”). As far as I know, this rejection is not enshrined in any definitive magisterial teaching. Nonetheless, the rejection is nigh-universal, and carries some weight. I am not particularly worried here. My suspicion (not founded on any deep study) is that these theologians reject the view not on account of any good theological grounds to the contrary, but simply out of philosophical convenience. I am with you here: I think Christ is present at Mass in the literal, spatial way in which I am present in Waco. He is additionally present in all kinds of mysterious ways in which I am not present anywhere.
    By the way, I don’t see why you need any kind of primitive thisness for this.
    Here is something I wrote in a paper on transubstantiation that will come out in a volume edited by Flint and Rea: “On the first model, space (or space-time—the same things can be said in a more relativistic framework, but for simplicity I just deal with space) consists of points. There is also a primitive relation L that can hold between an extended entity x and a non-empty set P of points in space at any given time. We can read LxP as “x is wholly located at P��?. Given this, what happens in the real presence on the present model is that the internal causal relations and intrinsic properties of Christ’s body remain as they were, but Christ’s body comes to be additionally L-related to the area in space to which the bread was previously related. Location is defined by a primitive relation between an object and a non-empty set of points, and while normally this a material object is thusly related to only one set of points, miraculously it can come to be thusly related to more than one set. This seems to be a coherent story about locatedness and of what it would mean for Christ’s body to come to be locally present in more than one place without changing in internal relations and intrinsic properties.”

    January 4, 2008 — 23:29
  • So here’s the inchoate hunch/hope. God takes certain molecules of the body of Jesus and causes them to multi-locate across time and gives them new causal powers, one’s which mimic the normal causal powers of bread and wine.
    Interesting suggestion. But…
    (1) What makes these molecules be the body and blood of Jesus Christ? After all, I presume that there are many molecules around that used to be parts of my body (carbon molecules that formed bits of sloughed off skin, etc. etc.). But they’re not now parts of my body. Instead, they help constitute cockroach bodies etc. More fundamentally, what even makes them the same molecules, having been transported across space and time? I’m genuinely puzzled regarding this.
    (2) What’s going on with the ‘mimicking’ here? So in the communion wine after consecration there are carbon molecules that God causes to act as if they’re ethanol molecules as far their causal powers are concerned…? Could these molecules really retain their identity while having an entirely different set of causal powers? I’m dubious whether you can split things up like this.

    January 5, 2008 — 0:58
  • I’m just about to dash out the door to a snowshoe race in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, but I can quickly reply to the two brief comments. I’ll have to think about Alex’s some more (though the first comment strikes me as probably correct).
    Keep in mind that it is the body and blood of *Jesus* the God-*man* so a general divine immanence won’t suffice.
    I tried to foreshadow my reply to the first question with the wizard story. I think that facts about identity are primitive facts and that it is sufficient that it is *those* molecules over which God said “Let *them* be *there-then*.”
    Regarding the second, I’m more and more of a Humean about these things as time goes on. I think pretty much any entity could have about any power.

    January 5, 2008 — 7:32
  • OK just read Alex’s comments while stretching. It all sounds very encouraging (except for being “scooped”!). :-)~ Thanks Alex!

    January 5, 2008 — 7:43
  • Alexander Pruss

    The mimicking… Well, here is a way of doing this. You could affirm that the individual molecules retain their standard individual causal powers. Thus the sugar molecule in Christ’s body has the same individual causal power as before. However, these powers now combine differently. After all, how a molecule functions depends on the context. So now the molecules gain a dispositional property of acting in a certain way when combined with all the other molecules in the Eucharistic context.
    There are three other ways of making this work.
    1. Allow for dispositions that are not the dispositions of a substance. Those who believe in non-Aristotelian laws of nature believe in such dispositions, so it’s not crazy. Then suppose that God brings it about that there are dispositions “there” which are the same dispositions that would be there if bread and wine were there.
    2. Allow that the pastly existing bread and wine has present causal powers (this may require the denial of presentism). This is weird, but not completely absurd. Certainly, distant stars no longer existent act on us when we see them at night. The difficulty is with back-and-forth interactions, but perhaps it can be handled. I like this view.
    3. Ground the appearances in the power of God. The Tradition is afraid, however, that if we do this, then God is an illusionist. Aquinas’ argument against the idea that God is a worker of illusion is to say that in fact our perceptions in the Eucharistic case are veridical–but they are not perceptions of a substance, but an accident.

    January 5, 2008 — 11:00
  • Enigman

    …maybe similarly, as Jesus said “upon this rock,” God took the molecules of some rock and caused them to multi-locate, so that at some of their locations they still had their previous causal powers (being still that rock) but the ones that thereby comprised Peter’s new body had the normal causal powers of his old body… which would mean that Jesus was speaking the literal truth; and surely we should presume that, if possible? Sorry if that sounds silly (or irrelevant), but I am interested in such theories (of transubstantiation, or similarly physicalistic reductionism), and WHY we find them important enough to bother with, despite their prima facie absurdity (surely worse than anything suggested to explain the literal truth of Noah’s Ark)…

    January 6, 2008 — 9:34
  • Enigman:
    Here one may need to invoke Tradition. The Tradition has taken “This is my body” fairly literally. “This rock” is not been taken literally. Moreover, there are theological reasons to take “This is my body” literally–ideas about Christ being present with us still, the attractiveness of the idea of his feeding us with himself, and so on. We shouldn’t posit a silly miracle–one that has no theological point and is of no benefit to anyone.
    What I mean is that the Christian Tradition has the exegetical resources to make the distinction.
    Sometimes, however, we take a view seriously only because others do so.

    January 7, 2008 — 12:48