Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
TAN Books and Publishers

Book I: The Greatest Work of God

THE contemplation of these four chief works of God, Creation, Incarnation, Justification and Glorification, has now prepared us to examine the fifth great work with which we are at present concerned, the mystery of Transubstantiation. It may be described as the true change and substantial conversion of the whole substance of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, produced under the species by a real productive act, proximately subject to the accidents of Bread and Wine, but without any adhesion to them, the substances of Bread and Wine perishing, altogether in the act. But these are hard words. Let me explain; and at length; as we are now concerned with getting a clear idea of that which is the subject of the whole treatise.

St. Thomas says that the Blessed Sacrament is the compendium of all miracles; for in it we behold one Body at one time in all Hosts, and in all parts of all Hosts, and that without extension. We see matter putting on the properties of spirit, and accidents without a substance producing all the same effects as substances. Thus another author calls it the abridgment of the miracles of grace. It is miraculous in the substance, he says; for it destroys the substance of bread and wine, and substitutes the body of God in their room. It is miraculous in quantity; for a body ought to have extension, and the Body of Jesus under the species has none. It is miraculous in quality; for a body ought to be sensible and palpable, yet the Body of Jesus is here invisible, neither is it subject to the action of anyone of the senses. It is miraculous in the action; for, on the one hand, the word of a man gives even to God a manner of Being altogether new, in order that he may nourish himself on Him; while, on the other, instead of changing that food into the man's own substance, the food transforms him into Itself and communicates to him its qualities. It is miraculous in the sort of passion endured therein; for we behold here a free prisoner, a living one dead, an impassible one suffering, a Body separated from the Blood and yet united with it, risen and still buried, eaten and not consumed, consumed and not destroyed. It is miraculous in local movements; for at one and the same time He is placed in different positions, He is lifted up and taken down, He is borne to the right and to the left as well, to the east and to the west both at once. It is miraculous in the situation; for our Lord has His Eyes in the same place as His Heart, and the Heart in the same place as the Head, and the Head in the same place as the Feet; all the parts of His adorable Body are all together, and yet nevertheless they undergo no confusion. It is miraculous in all the accidents of bread and wine; for they are detached from their subject, and have no other support than the almighty Hand of the Son of God, who holds them up.

Who has ever seen, proceeds Nouet whom I am quoting, so many wonders all at once? O how true it is that Divine love lives only in excesses! There are no bounds to its outbreaks, neither will it tolerate any obstacle to its designs. It is not content to do violence to the creature in order to satisfy its inclinations; but it lays hold of the Creator, and employs the power of God against Himself. If there were question only of working miracles above the laws of nature, it were but a child's-play of His power. But when I reflect upon the indignity of the place where He vouchsafes to dwell, it seems to me that it is not nature only which is compromised in the favours He shows to man, but still more His own grandeur. For who would ever dream that so lofty a majesty, which makes the pillars of heaven tremble, would stoop to dwell in so straight a prison as that which shuts in all that is most august in the adorable Trinity? In truth, when I consider that He who fills Heaven and earth with His immensity, is hidden under the roundness of the Host, and clothed with feeble accidents instead of the royal purple, I am seized with a holy horror, and am constrained to cry out to Him, a heavenly Adam! where are Thou? and who has put Thee in that state? A God in a tabernacle of worm-eaten wood! a God in a pyx of some poor metal! a God under a torn and tattered tent! Is this then the adorable Spouse who should set up His Throne in the sun? Is this the Incarnate Wisdom whose palace should be so magnificent and so superb? And behold! He is reduced to an atom, and shrouded with a poor curtain.

But let us approach the mystery, and regard it more in detail. We must almost hold our breath while we do so, for we are on holy ground, and as it were looking over God and putting our face close to His Hands, fashioning this stupendous work of His omnipotence. There are, as you know, many open questions in the Church regarding this mystery, and which are freely debated with much wisdom and affectionate piety in the schools. It would be out of place to encumber my pages with controversy, neither can I honestly follow one author only, which would be the easiest thing to do. When then I speak of things which do not fall under the definitions of the Church, and state simply an opinion as the true one, I would not be understood either to set myself up as a judge, or to affix any note of disapproval to the opposite opinion; but simply every student of theology has his opinions, follows one school rather than another, is convinced by this style of argument rather than that, and is biased by a sort of indescribable instinct, not less devotional than intellectual, to take one particular road across the beautiful empire of theology rather than another. I promise to give only approved and authorized opinions; but I shall not state the objections to them, as I am concerned only with my own convictions, and their devotional consequences, and not at all with controversy.

The writers, then, whom I shall follow, themselves following the lead of St. Thomas, who calls Transubstantiation the compendium of all miracles, teach that this mystery may be resolved into twelve miracles, or miraculous actions; and I shall not stop to discuss the precise and technical signification of the word miracle. Let us suppose ourselves to use it loosely. Of these twelve miracles, two concern the substance of the bread and wine, two more the species, six the Body of our Lord and its concomitants, and two the consecrator in the mass. Something must be said on each of these.

The first miracle is the destruction, the annihilation, the perishing, the vanishing, whichever word we will choose, of the substance of the bread and wine. It is not the customary language of theology to speak of them as annihilated, because according to the Divine intention their ceasing to be does not end in nothingness but in the position of the Body of Christ in their room. Nevertheless nothing whatever of the substance, of bread for instance, remains, neither form, nor matter, nor existence, nor any degree of it, but the whole perishes utterly, and as if it were reduced to nothing, without anything to succeed it. We know that if God were to restrain and to shut off the energy and action with which He fills the universe, it must all fall back at once into that nothingness out of which His omnipotent will evoked it at the first. His influx into creation, to borrow a word from the schools, is necessary to the continuance, not only of its holding together, but of its existing at all. His concurrence penetrates the whole world, circulates through it with unspeakable vitality, substantifying, to use an ugly but an expressive term of the scholastics, everything which is throughout creation. Now this influx and concurrence He withholds and exhausts, contrary to His general laws, from the substances of the Bread and Wine in the adorable Sacrifice. .Whereupon they lose their privilege of creatures, and wither and perish away, relapsing into their pristine nothingness. This miracle is a specimen of what He might do to the whole world, if He were to visit it. But He has created it to be forever; and, except in this solitary instance, He will uphold and sustain it, matter and spirit, to all eternity.

The second miracle, which also concerns the substances of the bread and wine, consists in the reproduction and restitution of the perished substances, when the species are corrupted or changed, and our Blessed Lord has withdrawn. It is not that the species themselves act the part of matter, or minister the material for corruption, or that they only appear to do so. But though separated from the substance which sustained them, they follow its laws, and suffer change in due season. Thus, when the change of the species has reached that point when it would not be natural for the proper substances of bread and wine any longer to consist with the accidents, at that moment by His wisdom and omnipotence our Lord restores and reproduces the substances, withdraws His sacramental presence, and the usual laws of creation resume their interrupted sway. All this is done in so occult a manner that there are no external signs by which we can detect either the original disappearance or the fresh substitution of the substance, so that there is nothing to break the meritorious exercise of supernatural faith. Neither is it new matter which is brought forth; but rather the old matter restored, which had existed before and then had ceased to exist, as if it had disappeared from creation into some nameless receptacle of the Divine Omnipotence, to be thence once more produced. This is difficult to explain; yet so theologians teach, and for reasons which seem convincing, though they are beyond our present scope. It seems more consistent with the analogy of creation that it should be so, in order that the world may not finally lose any of its primeval matter, which was created in order to last for ever, except for the brief time between consecration and the change of the species, when it was destroyed as it were by a kind of transient dispensation. This sort of reproduction is also more congruous to the reproduction of Christ's Body under the species; for as in Transubstantiation the Lord's Body is reproduced, which was already existing, and had never ceased to exist, so in this miracle that which had had a previous existence, and then had ceased, is reproduced. It is also more in harmony with the peculiar and marvellous character of the whole mystery and the fashion after which God vouchsafes to us His wisdom and omnipotence therein. Both these miracles concerning the substances of the bread and wine are, to use an emphatic word of one holy doctor, so "exotic" and so remote from the natural order of causes that we know of nothing at all parallel to them outside this mystery of Transubstantiation.

The first of the two miracles which concern the species, is that they exist and hold together without leaning upon any subject. This prodigy may be conceived to happen in one of three ways. God may impart to these accidents a new being, or restore to them the being they lost by the subtraction of the substances, without restoring the substances themselves. But this is not in keeping with the rest of the mystery; neither is it a necessary supposition; for the accidents have in reality never lost their being, but only changed the mode of it, by losing what the old metaphysicians call their inexistence in their subject. Or God may preserve the being and entity of the accidents, but may invigorate them with a new influx which should confer upon them an entirely fresh mode of existence, repugnant to that prior one of inhesion which belonged to them as accidents. But this also is an unnecessary supposition. Why should their new method of existence be repugnant to their ancient one? A form which is torn off from its subject requires nothing beyond the simple miraculous preservation of its being, independent of the method by which it existed formerly. Thus, thirdly, we may more truly conceive of this great wonder by supposing that God simply continues His intimate and vital concurrence and influx to the accidents, which are thus separated from their subject, so that their old mode of existence has perished. For the being of an accident is prior in nature to its union with its subject; and therefore the being of the sacramental species was prior in nature to their inexistence in the substances of bread and wine. Now, that which is prior by nature does not necessarily and intrinsically depend on that which was later, though it may depend upon it for its natural mode of existence. Thus, we may suppose that the first influx of God which gave them their being is simply continued without interruption, although in the ordinary course of things it would have been restrained at the time when the destruction of the substances deprived the accidents of their usual method of existence. And what peculiarly recommends this last hypothesis is that the style of the miracle, if we may dare so to speak, is more in keeping with the genius of the whole mystery. The accident of cold is intimately preserved in ice by the influx and concurrence of God. Supposing the ice to be thrown into a furnace, according to His ordinary laws God would withdraw His concurrence, and the heat which exists by His concurrence in the fire would expel the cold which falls away for want of that Divine influx. But obviously, if it pleased God to continue to preserve that cold by His concurrence, the fire would be powerless over the ice, let it burn ever so fiercely. This may illustrate how it may please God to preserve the accidents without their substances. Anyhow, whatever comes of these endeavours to explain it, the miracle itself is absolutely certain; the sacramental species remain, when their substances are withdrawn from them. Our Lord is to them instead of a substance. They lean upon Him, though they touch Him not; and as in the Incarnation the Sacred Humanity has no human person to support it, so here in Transubstantiation the accidents are without a substance to uphold them. It is one of the many affinities of these two most holy and beautiful mysteries.

The second miracle which concerns the species is, that they suffer the same contingencies and receive the same impressions, and are accompanied by the same" qualities, as if their substances had not perished. Thus they grow warm, or cold, or dry, and undergo similar mutations, just as they would do, if their subjects existed; and this not in appearance, and for the purpose of deceiving the senses, but in reality. In other words those qualities, such as heat, cold, dryness and the like, are produced there by the power of God in a miraculous way, without any subject to receive, suffer, and sustain them: and they mingle with and run into each other just as if they were tied together in a common subject. Some theologians have even spoken of these qualities as created expressly there and then; but that is not the case, except we use the term creation in a wide and somewhat less rigorous sense. We shall have a clearer idea of this miracle if we suppose fire to burn or the sun to diffuse its light in a vacuum, which they might do if God of His absolute power were pleased to concur, and thus enable the created cause, the fire or the sun, to act thus against the ordinary laws under which He has been pleased to place the natural world. Nowhere out of the mystery of Transubstantiation does it seem that God has vouchsafed to give His concurrence to qualities without a subject; and this shows us the singularity and eminence of the transcendent mystery which we are thus venturing to analyze.

We have now to consider six miracles which regard the Body of our Lord and its concomitants: and the first is the production of the Body and Blood of Christ, existing and permanent in Heaven, under the species of Bread and Wine, so that He is not less truly, less really, or less substantially in the Host, than He is in Heaven: and this most magnificent dogma is of Divine faith. You must not quarrel with me just now for using hard words. A clear idea of this mystery in your mind will soon result in increased love in your heart and deeper adoration in your spirit. Bear with me patiently, at least for a few more pages.

The question is, how this great mystery, this production of the Body of Christ is effected? By what manner of Divine operation is it under the species as it is in Heaven? How are we to qualify and describe the action which accomplishes this stupendous wonder? Obviously it is, in its plenitude, beyond the reach of human understanding; but we can find out much by reverently searching. One way in which theologians have endeavoured to explain it is as follows: The Body of Christ is not produced at all under the species. It is rather adduced there, in such a manner that Christ confers upon His Body existing in Heaven, and retaining its celestial location, a new location under the species of bread and wine; so that miraculously the same Body is in possession of two locations at one and the same moment, the one permanent in Heaven, the other transient under the species. Thus no production takes place, but simply, to coin a word, an adduction. There are three objections to this view, which in my judgment are fatal to it.

First of all, it is agreed on all hands that the theatre of all these miracles, the scene of all these prodigious Divine actions. is under the species and nowhere else. Now before a new location can be conferred upon the subject, the subject must be there to be located, to be settled in its new position; because, as the doctrine of the Church requires, the conferring of this new location can only be conferred on the Body of Christ under the species, and not on it in heaven, or anywhere else outside the species. And again what is especially conferred upon the Body of our Lord under the species is a new mode of existence, by which it shall exist as if it were a spirit, namely, invisibly and indivisibly; and this mode is intrinsical to the Body, which must therefore have actually been present to the species by an act prior to the conferring on it of this new kind of existence: and this prior act must necessarily have been of a productive character, and one whereby the same substantial being which the Body of Christ has in Heaven is bestowed upon the same Body with another mode of existence under the species. If it pleased God, says one great doctor, to reproduce the immense sun under a small gold coin, letting it retain the while its substantial being and locality in the heavens, He would work a similar miracle to the production of our Lord's Body under the species; and obviously the substance of the sun would have to be beneath the coin by an act prior in order, even if simultaneous in time, with its reception of its new and miraculous manner of existence. It does not seem then that a merely adductive act will satisfy the requisitions of the mystery.

Again; the Council of Trent defines that the Body is contained in this Sacrament truly, really, and substantially. Hence it follows that our Lord has as true, solid and integral a substantial being in the Blessed Sacrament as He has in Heaven; so that by the Divine power He might be preserved in the Blessed Sacrament, even if, by impossible supposition, He were to cease to be in Heaven, just as now He remains in Heaven in His natural mode of existence, and would remain, if there were no Blessed Sacrament on the earth at all. But He could not exist in the Blessed Sacrament, when He ceased to exist in heaven, if merely a new location had been conferred upon His Body. To satisfy the definition of the Church regarding the reality of the Sacramental life, it seems necessary to suppose that He exists in the Sacrament by a new "substantifying" influx and concurrence of God. Neither on the other hand can it be said that He could not be preserved in the Blessed Sacrament, if He ceased to be in Heaven, on the ground that in the Blessed Sacrament He remains in intrinsic and essential dependence upon Himself as He is in Heaven; because then He would not have a solid and absolute existence in the Blessed Sacrament, but a respective and diminished one, which would bring Him down nearly to an image or a figure.

The third objection to this view is from the very nature of Transubstantiation itself; as a "local adduction" cannot in any proper sense be termed a transubstantiation. If wine were poured into a vessel full of water, so that the substance of the water ceased through the infusion of wine, this would not be a substantial conversion or a transubstantiation of water into wine, although the substance of wine would be put under the accidents of water. In like manner to suppose that the ingress of Christ's Body into the species expelled locally the substance of bread, is not to suppose an action which can be properly termed transubstantiation, as the common examples of substantial conversions will show, such as the juice of the earth into grass, blood into flesh, the rod of Moses into a serpent, and the like. For all conversions consist of two things, the ceasing of the thing to be converted, and the existence of the thing into which it is converted; and if the conversion is to be a substantial conversion, both these changes must be substantial; the ceasing of the one must be as substantial as the existing of the other. These two terms, the ceasing of the one thing and the existing of the other, must be impossible together; they must not be able to co-exist, and they must mutually succeed each other. When the conversion is only one of substantial forms, they must succeed each other in the same subject or matter; but when the conversion is, as in the Blessed Sacrament, of one whole substance into one whole other substance, then they must succeed each other under the same accidents. Now the mere adductive action of conferring a new location on our Lord's Body would not suffice to effect such a substantial conversion as the Church seems to demand by using the word Transubstantiation. For these reasons we may venture to dissent from those who say that our Lord's Body is merely adduced under the species by receiving an additional location.

For the greatest theologian to speak of absolute truth in such a manner would be presumption. But we may perhaps say that the conclusions of Lessius and Coninch, which I will now give in almost their own words, seem to fit the mystery better than any other; and in a merely semidoctrinal treatise like this I need not burden myself with defending the controverted positions, or allowing objections which I acknowledge to be fair, but not overruling: it is enough for me to put before others the way in which theology has led me to look at the Blessed Sacrament myself.

They maintain that the Body of Christ is placed under the species by a productive action, which may be called a reproduction of the same substantial being, whereby the same being which it has in heaven is conferred on it and somehow reproduced under the species, although with another method of existence. If God can restore what has perished and reproduce it altogether the same, as He does when He restores the perished substance of bread, He can also produce for a second time that which continues to exist. We surely cannot deny this to be within the compass of omnipotence. And not for a second time only. The actual existence of the thing does not hinder but that God could produce it elsewhere a thousand times. He is of course not dependent on the circumstances which render this impossible in the natural order of things. From one man, says Lessius, He could produce an army. As in the stores of His wisdom and power there lie countless individuals of the same species, so also in the same stores each individual may lie countlessly, and He could give forth infinite reproductions of the same individual. And although a thing thus reproduced in itself, is in act one and the same, yet virtually it is manifold: for it is equal to many in localities, in operations, in beginnings and endings. Thus it fills distant places, and in a certain sense is distant from itself. It can accomplish different and even contrary effects in different places, and thus really avail to do of itself the work of many. When it begins or ends in one place, it does not necessarily begin or end in another. In one place it may be hot, in another cold; here it may ascend, there it may descend; here it may cease and die, there it may begin and be born. That this is the exact account of the mystery I do not say. But is this impossible to omnipotence? Is it out of harmony with other operations of omnipotence which we know of? Is it not in admirable keeping with the whole of this mystery, and does it not give a natural and commodious interpretation to the infallible words of Holy Church?

Let us now see the conclusions which theologians draw from this hypothesis, not to give it a more dignified name. First we see how in this mystery there is a true transubstantiation, or real change and substantial conversion of the substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ: because the Body of Christ is here produced by such a substantific action, that by the force of its production the substance of bread is compelled to cease. For it is produced as it is there in the way of a substance, not in any way, but with immediate reference to the accidents, as proximately subject to them, though without any adhesion. Secondly, the Fathers of the Church were justified in using such expressions as that the Body of Christ was "confected, effected, made, created," daily by His priests. For the action by which it is done is such a truly substantial productive and efficacious action, that, as Gabriel, Scotus and others teach, if the Body of Christ did not exist according to its natural being, it would by this mystery be produced out of nothing. Scotus says that, if God had so pleased, this mystery might have been instituted with the same virtue before the Incarnation, and so our Lord's sacramental life, speaking of Him as man, would have been prior to His natural life. Whatever comes of this view, adopted warmly by the saintly Lessius, it illustrates most pertinently and also most devotionally the matter in hand. Thirdly, the hypothesis most satisfactorily explains how, as the Council of Trent defines, the Body of Christ can be truly, really and substantially in the Sacrament, not less properly than it is in Heaven. And, fourthly, the hypothesis will be one way of explaining the various visible apparitions of our Lord on earth, to Paul near Damascus, to Peter near Rome, to St. Carpus, and to others elsewhere, consistently with what Scripture says, that the heavens must retain Him until the time of the restitution of all things; and this will meet the wishes of those who have a repugnance to believe that such visions were either merely angelical, or with aerial bodies.


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