Secular defense of the true presence?

Hi everyone,

I’ve been having a tough time defending the true presence to some atheist friends of mine. Since they don’t acknowledge any theological evidence as valid, I was wondering if there was a way to prove it, or at least the basis for it theologically?

Any help is greatly appreciated!

God bless!

You could always use the usual philosophical understanding from Aristotle (a Greek pagan who died 332 years before Jesus was born).

To Aristotle, everything has a substance (what the thing IS) and attributes (which he called accidents) - what the thing looks (tastes, etc) like.

Bread may have many different (and even opposite) properties. It can be black or white. It can be hard or soft, sweet or sour, fresh or stale, etc. But it has a certain “breadness” which is the substance. We would not call crackers or pancakes “bread” even though they share in almost all physical properties. If my wife asked me to buy bread and I bring home pancake mix she would think I was nuts. But, if you compare the ingredients, they are practically the same.

In 1964, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously remarked that he could not come up with a definition for pornography, but he would know it if he saw it. That’s because even porn has a substance, and that’s what Justice Potter would perceive.

In Catholic theology, the substance of the bread is changed. But you can’t perceive substance. No scientific test can reliably answer the question, “is this bread?” We know it instinctively and instantly, but science doesn’t know it at all.

The attributes (the things science can test) remain.

I had similar with a friend a couple of years ago,
you may wish to try it.
I simply asked him to prove to me the presence
of Love in his heart. (long story short)
He couldn’t, so I asked him if he believed that
the love he had for his wife was real,
He smiled and said “I see what you mean now”
then as he walked away I added,
“And no scientist’s test can ever find that Love in you”.

Though not yet a church goer, he is no longer an atheist.
He doubts science way more that he doubts religion now.

Hope it helped. :tiphat:

David, I don’t know of anyone with even the most basic education in science that holds to the Aristotelian view of matter. Consequently it’s not a convincing argument.

Purgatory Pete, surely your friend could have asked you to prove to him that you believed in the true presence. A belief is just as intangible as an emotion like love. You would both have been back at step one.

Careful with that, at least among our fellow Latin Rite Catholics.


That’s exactly what he asked me to prove.
So I asked him to prove the love in his heart.
We were not back at square one because he realised
that things can and do exist without tangible proof.
because he knew his love was real. :slight_smile:

I like the arguments/explanations offered here. But I am confused about why an atheist would ask you to prove the presence of something they don’t believe in, existing in a piece of bread. Like me asking you to prove phlogiston exists in wood.

No matter how clever an explanation you offer, I still know phlogiston doesn’t exist. Seems like this is only meaningful if you are speaking to someone who believes in the Divine in the first place.

And…addressing the “we recognize it’s breadiness” argument. Most people would consider pancakes more breadlike than the average communion wafer no? If your wife asked you to bring home bread and you brought home a package of oplaki wafers I’m guessing she would think you pretty odd.

The fact that Catholics consider communion wafers bread to begin with is a head scratcher for many. When we are told that what most people know as bread isn’t valid for use in the Eucharist but that somehow this sorta kinda wafer non bread thing is…it becomes easier to accept that Catholics believe that “bread” is Christ as well. Because the definition of bread is already sorta strange.

I hope that makes sense. I’m not dissing the wafers or the Real Presence, just giving input about how these things look (and taste) to a non Catholic.

Hi Kwiggs.

I think you might be on a non starter with this one. If your friends are atheist and won’t accept any theological arguments, you aren’t really going to get anywhere. Jesus can’t be present in the Eucharist because Jesus isn’t God because God doesn’t exist.

You don’t say why you need to defend TRP to your friends. Is that really the only thing stopping them believing in Christ? Is it a genuine enquiry, and if so why aren’t they interested in the theology? I’ve known atheists who like to argue about the most - I can’t think of a better phrase - obscure parts of the faith just for the fun of mocking it. If people don’t want to be convinced, they won’t be, no matter what you say - “even if someone should rise from the dead”!

All the best

My first (Anglican) parish used to use a bread roll on a Sunday. Sometimes, it hadn’t even defrosted properly…

My current (Catholic) parish is going through a batch of altar breads which taste exactly like ice cream cones. It makes it very hard to concentrate on the Lord :slight_smile:

It’s a philosophical argument, not a scientific one. :wink:

My point is that the ‘philosophical’ argument might have had some explanatory power before science explained what matter is. Now that science has shown us so much about the structure and nature of matter, I don’t think that the Aristotelian ‘philosophical’ argument has sufficient explanatory power (when compared to the scientific explanation) to even merit the time it takes to describe it.

That’s the fun part of philosophy: it deals with much more than you can measure with calipers and a particle accelerator. :wink:

Science has done much to explain the accidents of matter – that is, their physical properties – but cannot address the nature of matter.

Now that science has shown us so much about the structure and nature of matter, I don’t think that the Aristotelian ‘philosophical’ argument has sufficient explanatory power (when compared to the scientific explanation) to even merit the time it takes to describe it.

What you call the ‘nature’ of matter isn’t what philosophy is talking about when it talks about ‘nature’. Perhaps you can give an example of something that is the ‘nature’ of matter, and we’ll see where it falls in the context of philosophical categories.

A person who dismisses philosophy because of science doesn’t really understand what science is. :wink:

(Now, I’ll grant you that the scientific assertions in Aristotle’s Physics have been superseded by the scientific assertions made by modern science… but that doesn’t mean that his philosophical assertions are superseded by science.)

Why would the Church base its theology on the philosophies of a Greek pagan? This is especially trouble to me, considering the claims out there state that Catholicism is simply rehashed paganism with slightly different packaging.

Agreed, but do you think the OP’s friends are going to give any weight to philosophy if they aren’t interested in theology? it seems they’re after scientific evidence, i.e. would a consecrated host look different under a microscope?

Hi :slight_smile:

It’s not entirely accurate to say that the church bases its theology on Aristotle. It’s true that Aquinas does develop a lot of Aristotle’s thoughts, but he also dismissed a lot of it too. There’s also far more to theology than just Aristotle and Aquinas.

Basically, ancient philosophers performed the same role as modern scientists; investigating the nature of reality. Aquinas found that Aristotle, for the most part, offered an explanation that was most compatible with existing Christian understanding. Aristotle’s works were lost to the west for some time, and not really known in early Christianity. He took these ideas and developed and evolved them in a Christian context (which was often needed to counter heresy).

So no, Catholicism isn’t paganism rehashed. All truth comes from God, whether discovered by Christians or not - we don’t discount medicine because it wasn’t developed by Christians for example.

I hope that helps, I know it’s a bit brief and there are more knowledgable folk on this board. You could probably start a new thread on this subject :slight_smile:

First of all, the Church never attributes this teaching to Aristotle. The Church doesn’t attribute it to anybody in particular, but would probably say that She arrived at the idea without relying on anyone else (just as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz discovered calculus independently of each other).

Aristotle was a philosopher. He happened to be a pagan philosopher, but philosophy is philosophy. Philosophy is how humans discover truth. Math and science are subsets of philosophy (the scientific method, the transitive property - these are all philosophical concepts. Equality is a philosophical concept. Anytime you see an equals sign, you are looking at philosophy - see the Ship of Theseus paradox (and Thomas Hobbs’ interesting counter-paradox)).

Aesop’s Fables are another example of ancient Greek philosophy (written more than two centuries before even Aristotle). Many of these fables contain truths which were later taught by Jesus (such as the moral obligation to repay a debt of clemency, which Jesus described in Matthew 18:23-33 and Aesop described in The Mouse and the Lion). Jesus taught parables; Aesop taught fables, but they both taught truth, and sometimes those truths overlap.

Pagan philosophers were able to arrive at truth, not because they were pagans, but because they were philosophers (and they were very good philosophers - guys like Plato and Socrates). Truth is truth, no matter who expresses it first. No truth is “off limits” because a pagan philosopher discovered it first.

Dear Kwiggs,
God has made the eucharist for himself. It is a way for him to join with his body, his people. But only with those who perceive him through faith.

Imagine if God himself was detectable, and containable in the eucharist for all non-beleivers and scientists, and any random person, even evil persons to scrutinize and manipulate. God set it up in the most sublime way instead.

I am sorry but your atheist friend gets no proof. That would be impossible based on the way that God has decided to interact with us.

Jesus instructed us in this practice and you either believe him or you don’t.

Is belief real?

Can you prove that belief exists?

The only way is to observe the outward visible signs of someone’s belief. A person with belief that their team will win in soccer plays harder and tries harder. The one without belief gives up. So while we can’t see belief itself we can see its effect. So is belief itself real then? Of course it is.

With the Eucharist, your faith in Jesus is part of what makes the eucharist real. You cannot have the Eucharist without faith.

That means for your atheist friend that the Eucharist in fact does not contain the body of Christ (for him). And so we see that he is trapped in his own beliefs.

Sometimes it’s just interesting to know how other belief systems ‘work’.

Scientists don’t accept pseudoscience, the science that can be explained isn’t at odds with faith or reason. Thats as far as they go, even if you have a logical theory, its still just theory not a factual reality proven by math to them. There’s nothing wrong with this.

However, what facts do they have with matter and energy that would lead them to any contrary opinions of the universe based on proven science?

“If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” - Nikola Tesla.

As old as that is, it still applies with quantum mechanics and plank-enstein . It compliments Catholic theology.

So their denial of your theory, is in fact theory and pseudoscience, which ironically they do not believe in?

I think you’d need to explain that a little more clearly.

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