Does transubstantiation mean matter is an illusion?


I’m a Protestant with a question about transubstantiation. I understand the basics of the doctrine and the philosophical terms behind it, so you needn’t rehash those. The issue I see is that, if the bread and wine “really and truly” transform into flesh and blood, why is there no accompanying chemical change? There is no change in how the elements appear, nor in how they taste, or how our bodies digest them. If you put them under a microscope and didn’t know they had been blessed, you would think they were ordinary bread and wine.

Under normal circumstances, when God transforms something, you can tell. Jesus changed the water into wine; presumably the color changed, and we know that the taste changed. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light – an observable change.

But the transformation of bread into flesh and wine into blood is completely unobservable, even in theory. I know the argument is that the accidents are unchanged but the substance changed, but under ordinary circumstances, what makes blood blood is its chemical makeup.

It seems like the doctrine of transubstantiation makes matter an illusion in much the same way Gnosticism did. You can’t trust your senses. The physical isn’t what matters. It’s the “spiritual” that matters. Am I misunderstanding anything? Is there a standard Catholic response to this type of charge? I can’t be the first one to have said it.

I hope I haven’t offended. Please understand that I’m earnestly looking for an answer, not trolling.


God also transformed Himself into a human person, yet you couldn’t “tell” that He was Divine just by looking at Him. Jesus Christ was fully God, yet there was no way to detect His Divine nature, touching him, looking at him, even if a person could have examined his flesh under a microscope He would have shown to be only a human being.

It is a gift from God that we are able to receive Him in the Eucharist, because eating flesh and blood would not be possible for people, and God would know this. There are many references in scripture where Jesus is clear that his flesh has to be consumed (John chapter 6) not only that, but even after in the Acts of the Apostles it was clear how much they had reverence for the Eucharist as the true Body of Christ.

Much of what we believe has been passed down directly from the Apostles. If you like, I can research the early church fathers and find where in the early church going back to the Apostles, and the 100-200 years after writings where it was clear that they believed and taught what the Eucharist was.

I can’t pretend to fully understand transubstantiation, but I believe in it and it is such a beautiful gift. Thank you for asking hope this helps, God bless.


The line between matter and energy is becoming more and more blurred. Likewise, the idea of mind/soul over matter is becoming more intriguing as a valid scientific question.

Transubstantiation is a lot easier to explain in the 21st century of quantum weirdness than it was 100 years ago.

You say that transformation of bread into flesh and wine into blood is completely unobservable but science is starting to realise that there is ‘stuff’ and phenomenon which we may never be able to observe because, as scientists are beginning to admit, we are getting close to the apparent limit of our observational capability.

We can’t keep making better and better Hadron Colliders.

We are approaching the point at which we can’t know ‘more’ about physics unless and until we transcend the laws of physics.


*"…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God" *


I think you are misunderstanding a little based on this quote. Transubstantiation for Catholics do not say it is just a “spiritual” reality of the flesh and blood. Some protestant denominations hold to this belief, that there is a spiritual presence of God in the Eucharist. Catholics do not believe this and go farther by asserting it is true flesh and true blood.

So to be sure, the transubstantiation doctrine has to do with the essence of the bread and wine, not just a spiritual reality. Essence is something deeper than what “spiritual” would entail.


no, it simply means that what your are “seeing” with your human eyes, in the bread & wine, is not what really “is” ie that the host and wine are, in fact, the body & blood of christ


That’s true, but I think a very different situation. Flesh, blood, bread, and wine are all physical by their very nature. The nature of God is not physical. So of course the physical aspects of Christ would be completely human and not at all divine – there are no physical aspects to God to begin with. To be honest, your comment would be a decent defense of the Lutheran view of Communion, since they say that the elements are bread and wine and flesh and blood at the same time. But Catholics don’t believe the blessed elements are bread or wine anymore, in contrast with Christ who is still man even as he is God (so of course he would “appear” to be man).


Besides the divinity is the humanity, which includes both the immaterial rational soul, and the material. The soul is has understanding and free will, and is eternal.


Our senses are limited even in the realm of matter, yet we trust them because we must.

But in Transubstantiation, “the spiritual is not all that matters.” In fact, it makes the physical even more important. Transubstantiation, not transignification.

Our LORD wanted us to receive all of HIM, His body, His soul, His life. But consuming a live, 200-pound human body would be undoable physically, so He took on a form accessible to our bodies.

If there were no Transubstantiation, His teaching in the Gospel of John would not have been so hard to accept. Nor would Saint Paul have made sense when warning the Corinthians to “judge the **body **rightly.”



If you truly *understand the basics of the doctrine *of transubstantiation, then stop using the word transformation as if it means the same thing.

Then, perhaps, you might answer your own question.



It is important to understand that the Whole Christ is truely present physically in the sacrament but in an invisible way. The Fathers of the early Church struggled to explain how this was possible. Finally Thomas Aquinas found an acceptable answer in the 13th century. According to him the visible things we see and detect in any substance are accidents according to the Categories of Substance given by Aristotle. The real substance was the underlying composit of matter and form called essence. The physical things we see are accidents which inhere to this inner substance. In other words, the accidents get their reality through the inner or underlying substance.

So in Transubstantiation the substance of the bread and wine ( the inner or underlying reality ) was changed into the Whole Christ. That left the visible accidents with no subject or substance in which to inhere, to be a part of. The accidents are real but because of the change that has taken place, they have no inner substance to be a part of. So now they exist, as real matter, but without an inner or underlying substance. You can view this as a miracle within the miracle of Transubstantiation. See the Summa Theologiae, Part 1, on the Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.



Numerous Eucharistic miracles have happened when God allows.

Here is one of the famous Eucharistic miracles. It happened in 700 AD. I hope this true story is helpful. If you Google “Eucharistic Miracles”, you will find many other amazing incidents.


Thank you. That is very interesting.


You’re right. I should have used the word “conversion.” I’ll edit the post accordingly. Still don’t know how to answer my own question, however. (Does the edit take care of the problem?)

Edit: Actually, I guess I can’t edit that post anymore. Pretend I changed it though. Does putting “conversion” everywhere that I had “transformation” take care of the issue?


Really interesting post GEddie.

What’s the significance of that? I.e. what would “transignification” entail?

If there were no Transubstantiation, His teaching in the Gospel of John would not have been so hard to accept. Nor would Saint Paul have made sense when warning the Corinthians to "judge the body rightly."

Can you elaborate on the part I bolded?


But how is the new substance (that of flesh and blood) in any sense a “composite of matter and form”? Materially, the flesh and blood is like bread and wine. In form, they are like bread and wine. Perhaps this is my lack of philosophical background showing, but using the senses of the words I’m familiar with, that definition of essence doesn’t clear things up.


We can usually trust our senses only because they accurately reflect external reality. Transubstantiation is the only exception. One could make an analogy that when one is watching a 3D movie with surround sound or practicing flying in an aircraft simulator, then one’s senses do not accurately reflect reality, either, but that’s a little different. They do reflect the reality of the trainer which mimics an airplane flying.

The fact is, that all we can EVER perceive of the outside world at all comes through our sense perceptions, and further, our sense perceptions are NOT the underlying reality itself.

If I see Bob in front of me, I can’t get Bob into my brain, I can only get my sense perceptions of Bob into my brain and then into my mind. That’s how I know he is there—by the sense perceptions. That is how I know anything.

But in transubstantiation, the sense perceptions—accidents—of bread and wine remain, while the underlying reality changes, becoming Jesus, whole and entire, body, blood, soul and divinity. There is nothing that will confirm the change, since sense perceptions remain unchanged, and even scientific instruments are only an extension of sense perception.

So yes, you can normally trust sense perceptions, but not in the case of transubstantiation.


Transubstantiation is even a little more mysterious than we normally think. It is not just that Christ is present whole and entire, his complete body and soul, even though all we see is a small white wafer. Space is an accident, not a substance; so is temporal extension.

When you think about it, the communion host that I receive is Jesus, whole and entire. But so is the communion host received by the person in line behind me, or received by the whole congregation. Is Jesus thereby multiplied into hundreds of ‘copies?’ Not at all. Jesus is one. The Jesus I receive is not different than the Jesus anyone else receives. He is one, not many. So in a very real sense, by receiving the one Jesus, we are also united through him with one another. And not just united with those at the same mass. Those who received communion at any mass anywhere at any time receive the one and same Jesus that I receive now at this mass. I am united with all of them. It is communion, after all. Jesus remains one, not many.


Transignification, or “a change of meaning,” is what would occur if as you earlier held, “only the spiritual mattered.” The bread would remain bread but would take on a new meaning. This, however, although held by some of our Protestant fellows, has none of the power of the Transubstantiational Body!

Our LORD chooses to give us His body and life. This is possible only Transubstantially, as even if we could consume the human body in His original form (bones, skull, skin, and all), the life would not remain. Transubstantiation gives us the power of His body as “soma” in Greek, his whole live self.

Re: Saint Paul. The reference is to 1Co 11:24-29. The Corinthians was warned that if they receive unworthily, they will be “guilty of the body and blood of the LORD.” This makes sense only if the Sacrament really is His body.



“I answer that,” says St. Thomas, “The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority.”

III, Q.75.

This is the Catholic’s version of salvation by faith alone. :stuck_out_tongue: (kidding)

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