Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback


Heretical doctrine; an attempt to hold the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist without admitting Transubstantiation

Click to enlarge

Consubstantiation. — This heretical doctrine is an attempt to hold the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist without admitting Transubstantiation. According to it, the substance of Christ’s Body exists together with the substance of bread, and in like manner the substance of His Blood together with the substance of wine. Hence the word Consubstantiation. How the two substances can co-exist is variously explained. The most subtle theory is that., just as God the Son took to Himself a human body without in any way destroying its substance, so does He in the Blessed Sacrament assume the nature of bread’. Hence the theory is also called “Impanation“, a term founded on the analogy of Incarnation.

The subject cannot be treated adequately except in connection with the general doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (q.v.). Here it will be sufficient to trace briefly the history of the heresy. In the earliest ages of the Church Christ’s words, “This is my body”, were understood by the faithful in their simple, natural sense. In the course of time discussion arose as to whether they were to be taken literally or figuratively; and when it was settled that they were to be taken literally in the sense that Christ is really and truly present, the question of the manner of this presence began to be agitated. The controversy lasted from the ninth to the twelfth century, after which time the doctrine of Transubstantiation, which teaches that Christ is present in the Eucharist by the change of the entire substance of bread and wine into His Body and Blood, was fully indicated as Catholic dogma. In its first phase it turned on the question, whether the Body was the historical body of Christ, the very body which was born, crucified, and risen. This was maintained by Paschasius Radbert and denied by Ratramnus in the middle of the ninth century. What concerns us here more closely is the next stage of the controversy, when Berengarius (1000-1088) denied, if not the Real Presence, at least any change of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood. He maintained that “the consecrated Bread, retaining its substance, is the Body of Christ, that is, not losing anything which it was, but assuming something which it was not” (panis sacratus in altari, salves sues substantift, est corpus Christi, non amittens quod erat sed assumens quod non erat—Cf. Marten and Durand, “Thesaurus Novus Anecd.”, IV, col. 105). It is clear that he rejected Transubstantiation; but what sort of presence he admitted would seem to have varied at different periods of his long career. His opinions were condemned in various councils held at Rome (1050, 1059, 1078, 1079), Vercelli (1050), Poitiers (1074), though both Pope Alexander II and St. Gregory VII treated him with marked consideration. His principal opponents were Lanfranc, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury (De Corpore et Sanguine Domini adversus Berengarium Turonensem), Durandus of Troarn (q.v.), Guitmundus of Aversa, and Hugh of Langres. Although it cannot be said that Berengarius found many adherents during his lifetime, yet his heresy did not die with him. It was maintained by Wyclif (Trialog., IV, 6, 10) and Luther (Walch, XX, 1228), and is the view of the High Church party among the Anglicans at the present time. Besides the councils above-mentioned, it was condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), the Council of Constance (1418.—”The substance of the material bread and in like manner the substance of the material wine remain in the Sacrament of the altar”, the first of the condemned propositions of Wyclif), and the Council of Trent (1551).

Berengarius and his modern followers have appealed chiefly to reason and the Fathers in support of their opinions. That Transubstantiation is not contrary to reason, and was at least implicitly taught by the Fathers, is shown in the article Transubstantiation. In the discussions of the Fathers about the two natures in the one Person the analogy between the Incarnation and the Eucharist was frequently referred to, and this led to the expression of views favoring Impanation. But after the definitive victory of St. Cyril’s doctrine, the analogy was seen to be deceptive. (See Batiffol, Etudes d’histoire, etc., 2nd series, p. 319 sqq.) The great Schoolmen unanimously rejected Consubstantiation, but they differed in their reasons for doing so. Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure maintained that the words, “This is my body”, disproved it; while Alexander of Hales, Scotus, Durandus, Occam, and Pierre d’Ailly declared that it was not inconsistent with Scripture, and could only be disproved by the authority of the Fathers and the teaching of the Church (Turmel, Hist. de la theol. posit., I, 313 sqq.). This line of argument has been a stumbling-block to Anglican writers, who have quoted some of the Schoolmen in support of their erroneous opinions on the Eucharist; e.g. Pusey, “The Doctrine of the Real Presence” (1855).


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!