Religion and science: Eucharist



This is an article to show that ‘Eucharist’ is indeed the best example of paradox par excellence because it has been said that the best way to become thoroughly convinced that Eucharist or ‘transubstantiation’ is not true is to have someone try to convince you that it is true.

It is said that the English expression of hocus pocus had its origin in Eucharist, no less authority than Professor Phillip Cary mentions it in his lecture series History of Christian Theology. It is said that the etymology of the word can be traced to a distortion of hoc enim est corpus meum—’this is my body’—the words of consecration accompanying the elevation of the host at Eucharist . . . mocked by Puritans and others as a form of “magic words.” In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of transubstantiation in Eucharist.

My apologies upfront if the language appears blunt at times. I am just trying to make a sincere point and not hurt any feelings. Forgive me if my writing skills do not allow for greater diplomacy.

To see my other knols try my collections of knols on Islam, Christianity, Religion and Science etc.

Crossing the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, Kierkegaard who came to be regarded as a highly significant and influential figure in contemporary thought, had the nerve to suggest:
“It is not the business of any Christian writer or preacher to dilute Christianity to suit the general educated public. The doctrine of the incarnation was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, and so will it always be, for the doctrine not only transcends reason; it the paradox par excellence; and it can be affirmed only by faith, with passionate inwardness and interest. The substitution of reason for faith means the death of Christianity.”[1]
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, and cultural critic who was a major influence on existentialism and Protestant theology in the 20th century. What did he have in mind when he used the compliment paradox par excellence? Was he talking about Eucharist, Trinity, Atonement, Original Sin, Monasticism or all of the above? Today’s focus is Eucharist.
Eucharist is indeed the best example of paradox par excellence because it has been said that the best way to become thoroughly convinced that Eucharist or ‘transubstantiation’ is not true is to have someone try to convince you that it is true.
But what is Eucharist? It is one of the fundamental elements of Christian faith which is a sacra­ment, that is, a kind of sign or token of God: something requiring an action by believers at certain fixed times or on certain fixed occasions. It is a central sacrament, acknowledged by both Catholics and Protestants except for the peaceful Quakers, who insist that the whole of life is a sacrament. It is also called Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper. It commemorates the action of Jesus Christ at his Last Supper with his disciples, when he gave them bread saying, “This is my body,” and wine saying, “This is my blood.” The story of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus Christ on the night before his Crucifixion is reported in four books of the New Testament (Matt. 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:17–20; and I Cor. 11:23–25). This is not mentioned in the Gospel of John because according to John’s account Jesus died before eating the passover meal as he was the Lamb of God.  This is a dramatic contradiction between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.  At any rate, according to the synoptic’s account, Jesus’ last night with his disciples in Jerusalem was spent celebrating the Passover, that meal that Jews share to mark their deliverance from oppression in Egypt. It is alleged that Jesus exhorted his followers to remember him through a reenactment of the meal. The doctrine is also paradox par excellence because we learn from New Testament, itself that Jesus did not want to die on the cross. As the story of his prayer goes, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed. “My father, if it is possible may this cup be taken from me. “ Later on he says, while in the same place, Gethsemane, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of the sinners.” (Mathew 26:36-44) Why does he choose the word ‘betrayed’ if this is part of the divine plan?
Continuing with Eucharist, what did he mean by saying somewhat mysteriously that the bread they shared was his body and the wine they shared was his blood? This very question has given rise to some two thousand years of drama and discussion. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Most Christian traditions also teach that Jesus is present in the Eucharist in some special way, though they disagree about the mode, the locus, and the time of that presence. …
According to the Eucharistic doctrine of Roman Catholicism, the elements of bread and wine are ‘transubstantiated’ into the body and blood of Christ; i.e., their substance is converted into the substance of the body and blood, although the outward appearances of the elements, their ‘accidents,’ remain. Such practices as the adoration and reservation of the Host follow from this doctrine that the whole Christ is really present in his body and blood in the forms of consecrated bread and wine. During the 19th and 20th centuries the Roman Catholic Liturgical Movement put new emphasis on the frequency of communion, on the participation of the entire congregation in the priestly service, and on the Real Presence of Christ in the church as the fundamental presupposition for the Real Presence in the Eucharist.”[2]
Catholics are not alone in this doctrine, which is to borrow the phrase of Kierkegaard is paradox par excellence, something that looks and tastes like bread is not bread, as Eucharist says so. The Eucharistic beliefs and practices of Eastern Orthodoxy have much in common with those of Roman Catholicism, differing principally in the area of piety and liturgy rather than doctrine. The major difference includes the use of leavened rather than of unleavened bread.[3]
The Real Presence is accepted as a fact by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This means that although the bread and wine of the Eucharist may still look, smell and taste like bread and wine, they have actually been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and not God the Father, into the Body and Blood of Christ. 
Here, let me quote from the words of Professor of Philosophy, in Florida State University, Michael Ruse, an apologist for Christianity, who does not easily give up his rationality as he does believe in evolution, for example.  He writes:
“It is argued that, in the ceremony (the Mass) that the priest performs to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the accidents remain unchanged, whereas the properties change and hence the sub­stance changes. Hence, for Catholics it really is now the true Jesus in the Eucharist, even though no amount of physical examination of the mate­rial is going to make the slightest difference. Protestants challenge this belief directly, although there are differences among them on the proper alternative. Luther denied transubstantiation and argued rather for con­substantiation. Jesus is still present in the bread and wine in some impor­tant sense but not in the way claimed by the Catholics. Luther’s analogy (taken from the third century theologian Origen) was of the heating of a piece of iron. The substance (the iron) remains unchanged, but Christ (the heat) is now present. More radical reformers would have none of this and denied that the bread and wine are anything more than symbolic of Christ. We do this in remembrance of him – to concentrate on his suffering and his sacrificial love of us sinners – and there is to be no presence of what is essentially otherwise cannibalism. ‘The flesh is not present liter­ally and corporally. For if it were, its mass and substance would be perceived, and it would be pressed with the teeth’”[4]
In review of the different Christian views on Eucharist one can fully appreciate the contradictions and problems inherent in this sacrament.  But, we also need to understand, as to why more than a billion people continue to practice Eucharist, despite it being such a paradox? Perhaps it can be best explained in the experience of a former Catholic, “I continued to go to church, but one morning I happened to attend an earlier communion service than my usual one. A much more pedestrian affair than the 9.30 Sung Eucharist, it had no music, no candles – and no sense of being transported, saved or sanctified. I sat there bored out of my skull, waiting for it to be over. A disturbing thought occurred to me: could it be that my earlier feelings of reverence, of being in a state of grace, had come simply from the music and the elaborate ceremonial? That if you took those away, you were left with nothing?”[5]
If it were some peripheral detail of Christianity we need not focus on the Eucharist. After all, almost all religions in their medieval times and history have had their share of superstitions and myths. But, we are here talking about a central doctrine by which billions of Christians have been indoctrinated into these false doctrines, by imprinting these false notions on the minds of children from their very infancy. The letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles make it clear that early Christianity believed that this institution included a mandate to continue the celebration as an anticipation in this life of the joys of the banquet that was to come in the Kingdom of God.[6] What the Eucharist does for the Church and believers is that it serves as one of the tools to indoctrinate an obsession with one man, Jesus! It creates a lacuna in the psyche of the indoctrinated by repeated exposure and experience, in a way that the victim becomes unable to think rationally on this issue. This dogma by its visual and experiential nature has helped perpetuate other related dogma.
The belief of the Holy Eucharist is a fundamental belief and all popes have expressed their belief in it. In the words of Pope Pius XII:
“Some even say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation, based on an antiquated philosophic notion of substance, should be so modified that the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist be reduced to a kind of symbolism, whereby the consecrated species would be merely efficacious signs of the spiritual presence of Christ and of His intimate union with the faithful members of His Mystical Body.” [7]
In the words of Pope John Paul II:
“Lord Jesus, Who in the Eucharist make your dwelling among us and become our traveling companion, sustain our Christian communities so that they may be ever more open to listening and accepting your Word. May they draw from the Eucharist a renewed commitment to spreading in society, by the proclamation of your Gospel, the signs and deeds of an attentive and active charity,”[8]
Pope Benedict XVI in his prolific style has authored at least two books on the subject, the Heart of Life and the Eucharist (Spiritual Thoughts) and God Is Near Us: The Eucharist. God is indeed near us as the Quran says, “And assuredly, We (Allah) have created man and We know what his mind whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than even his jugular vein.” (Al Quran 50:17)

But the Quran also says that there is nothing like Him. Eucharist is like making an idol and Jesus may peace be on him will not approve of it. When a teacher of the Law of Moses asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:28-29)

For staters, let me present picture of Pope Benedict XVI as a testimony of his belief in Eucharist:

Grappling with this mystery and attempting to reconcile faith and reason, medieval scholars distinguished between the appearance of a thing (its look, smell and taste) and its underlying substance. They maintained that the substance of things could be changed without changing the appearances. Nevertheless, the need to question the evidence of the human senses calls for extremely strong faith on the part of believers and makes the doctrine seem preposterous to those without such faith. Adding to the problem is an impression held by almost all that science makes such belief unreasonable, it was possible to justify the dogma in time of alchemy but hard to sustain it when physics and chemistry is taught in the middle and high schools.


There is obviously some sense in which I and you are the same persons as we were yesterday. The idea of Eucharist led to such an enormous struggle not only in the religious sphere but also in the sphere of secular philosophies. Let us hear this discussion from the sharp and pointed pen of Bertrand Russell.

He tackles this artificial and sterile distinction, appearance of a thing (its look, smell and taste) versus its underlying substance, made by the medieval Christian apologists sometimes called Scholastics. He writes:
“Let us take an example. We may say ‘Socrates was wise,’ ‘Socrates was Greek,’ ‘Socrates taught Plato,’ and so on; in all these statements, we attribute different at­tributes to Socrates. The word ‘Socrates’ has exactly the same meaning in all these sentences; the Irian Socrates is thus some­thing different from his attributes, something in which the attributes are said to ‘inhere.’ Natural knowledge only enables us to recog­nize a thing by its attributes; if Socrates had a twin with exactly the same attributes, we should not be able to tell them apart. Never­theless a substance is something other than the sum of its attributes. This appears most clearly from the doctrine of the Eucharist. In transubstantiation, the at­tributes of the bread remain, but the sub­stance becomes that of the Body of Christ. In the period of the rise of modern philosophy, all the innovators from Descartes to Leibnitz (except Spinoza) took great pains to prove that their doctrines were consistent with transubstantiation; the authorities hesitated for a long time, but finally decided that safety was only to be found in scholasticism.
It thus appeared that, apart from revela­tion, we never could be sure whether a thing or person seen at one time was, or was not, identical with a similar thing or person seen at another time; we were, in fact, exposed to the risk of a perpetual comedy of errors. Under Locke’s influence, his followers took a step upon which he did not venture: they denied the whole utility of the notion of substance. Socrates, they said, in so far as we can know anything about him, is known by his attributes. When you have said where and when he lived, what he looked like, what he did, and so on, you have said all that there is to say about him; there is no need to suppose an entirely unknowable core, in which his attributes inhere like pins in a pin-cushion. What is absolutely and essentially unknowable can­not even be known to exist, and there is no point in supposing that it does.
The conception of substance, as something having attributes, but distinct from any and all of them, was retained by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz; also, though with greatly diminished emphasis, by Locke. It was, however, rejected by Hume, and has gradually been extruded both from psychology and from physics.”[9]
To translate the detailed quote above in every day language, ‘the whole idea of Eucharist is a big mess, when we look at it in an age of science and information!’  The history of Eucharist among the philosphers of Europe also reveal the impediment and barrier that it created in evolution of human thought at the time of renaissance.
It is important to point out that in the earliest days of Christianity, allegations were made which stated that Christians were cannibals because they claimed to be consuming flesh and blood. Our Christian ancestors explained that they were not practicing cannibalism because they were not literally consuming flesh and blood; it was symbolic! Sometimes Eucharist is literal, sometimes it is symbolic. Sometimes it is ‘consubstantiation’, sometimes it is ‘Transubstantiation,’ to be explained later.  It is paradox par excellence!
Catholicism must admit that the literal body and blood are hidden and appear as bread and wine, but can this be labeled literal? If it smells like bread and wine, if it looks like bread and wine and if it tastes like bread and wine then it is bread and wine. Lack of proof is not proof. Jesus turned water into wine and the guests at the wedding did not say, “Why are you serving us water?” and Jesus did not respond “It looks like water and tastes like water, but it is wine under the appearance of water.” Rather, the guests considered that wine to be the finest served that night (see John 2:1-10).
“The institution of the Eucharist is one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Eucharist not only commemorates the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, but also makes it truly present. The priest and victim of the sacrifice are one and the same (Christ). The only difference is how the Eucharist is offered: in an unbloody manner.”[10] Again, Eucharist is everything, it is paradox par excellence!
Eucharist was not a miracle that happened a few thousand years ago and could be put on the back burner. It was a fundamental distortion of thought that was happening on a large scale en mass every Sunday. Rationality could not rescued from the iron grip of this paradox without struggle! The saint to save humanity from this bondage was no other than the famous European philosopher David Hume.
Mankind needed a Hume or a Kant to tackle this big problem, by centuries of false indoctrination. David Hume tried to explain it away by humor. He tells of the story of Sancho’s two kinsmen in Don Quixote who respectively tasted leather and iron in their wine, though ridiculed by their companions, they had their good taste confirmed by the discovery of a key attached to a leather thong. One would think that Hume is implying that taste will always belie the miracle of the consecrated wine. At another place Hume related a story of a converted Turk who so confuses his catechism that he concludes there is no God because yesterday he ate him during the Eucharist.
What he proposed in a more serious tone, a decisive criterion that has been called the Hume’s Maxim.
In 1758 he published his most influential work, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. When confronted by the claim of an event so improbable and extraordinary that it is called a miracle, Hume asks us to inquire what is more likely: that a supernatural act occurred contrary to the laws of nature, or that people who describe such acts are mistaken in their assessment of the event’s supernatural nature? Hume’s Maxim is best defined in his own words: “The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), ‘That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.’ “
Hume then weighs which is more likely: “When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.”[11]
In other words what Hume is saying is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.
The more you look into the mystery of this paradox par excellence the greater convulsions your rationality goes through. For example, the doctrine has been described both as ‘consubstantiation’, and as ‘Transubstantiation.’ The thought of ‘consubstantiation’ holds that the bread and wine are transformed during the Lord’s Supper in such a manner that the substance of Christ co-exists ‘in, with and under’ the substance of bread and wine. Transubstantiation, on the other hand, holds that after the consecration by the priest, the substance of bread and wine cease to exist and only the substance of Christ remains under the appearance of bread and wine. Although the two doctrines are in some respects similar, the implications are drastically different. To take one as an example, the doctrine of ‘consubstantiation’ would not permit a Christian to worship the host after consecration because it is both the uncreated God and created bread and wine. This is not the case with transubstantiation since the Eucharist is really God under the appearance of created objects.
To summarize the doctrine before drawing the final conclusions, from this paradox par excellence, let us read the description of Eucharist in Catholic Church in wikipedia, the references have been deleted:
“The only minister of the Eucharist, that is, one authorized to celebrate the rite and consecrate the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest (either bishop or presbyter) acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi). In other words the priest celebrant represents Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and acts before God the Father in the name of the Church. The matter used must be wheaten bread and grape wine; this is essential for validity.
At a celebration of the Eucharist at Lourdes, the chalice is shown to the people immediately after the consecration of the wine. According to the Roman Catholic Church, when the bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist, they cease to be bread and wine, and become instead the body and blood of Christ. The empirical appearances are not changed, but the reality is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit who has been called down upon the bread and wine. The consecration of the bread (known as the host) and wine represents the separation of Jesus’ body from his blood at Calvary. However, since he has risen, the Church teaches that his body and blood can no longer be truly separated. Where one is, the other must be. Therefore, although the priest (or minister) says “The body of Christ” when administering the host, and “The blood of Christ” when presenting the chalice, the communicant who receives either one receives Christ, whole and entire.
The mysterious change of the reality of the bread and wine began to be called “transubstantiation” in the eleventh century. It seems that the first text in which the term appears is of Gilbert of Savardin, Archbishop of Tours, in a sermon from 1079 (Patrologia Latina CLXXI 776). The term first appeared in a papal document in the letter Cum Marthae circa to a certain John, Archbishop of Lyon, 29 November 1202, then in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and afterward in the book “Iam dudum” sent to the Armenians in the year 1341. An explanation utilizing Aristotle’s hylemorphic theory of reality did not appear until the thirteenth Century, with Alexander of Hales (died 1245).
Catholics may receive Holy Communion outside of Mass, but then it is normally given only as the host. The consecrated hosts are kept in a tabernacle after the celebration of the Mass and brought to the sick or dying during the week. Occasionally, the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, so that it may be the focus of prayer and adoration.”

When modern day Christian apologists or the philosophers in the West, try to correlate their religion with science they conveniently ignore the fundamental doctrines of Trinity, Atonement, Original Sin, Monasticism or Eucharist. What they are really correlating with science is the religion of Islam without the mention of the name of Muhammad (saw) or the Holy Quran. Scores of such books have been written by such apologists. On a lighter note, it seems that only part of Christianity they remember at such times is ‘transubstantiation.’ Substitute the teachings of Islam for Christianity and use the label of Christianity!

His holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad, in his epic making book, Christianity a Journey from Fact to Fiction, has examined many a contradictions in Christianity from the point of view of logic, reason and science.[12]
The concept of Trinity has been examined in previous articles, by the author, Trinity in the Holy Quran and Bible and Four Leaflet Shamrock. These can be reviewed online.[13] In these articles one of the issues that has been addressed is the fact that this universe speaks of one God and not three Gods. The Christian philosophers and apologists continue to have their cake and eat it too. Take the case of Professor of Philosophy Michael Ruse. He writes, “I doubt that evolutionism has much to say about Trinity, for example. The question of origins, however, is crucial to Christianity, and this is (virtually by definition) a matter on which evolution has much to say.”[14] They always like to answer the wrong question, the one that is directed at the Muslims and never focus on the real question for Christian mythology. They never tell us which parallel universes or which living beings did Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost make to deserve to be called gods?

“For Plato (c. 428–c. 348 BC) and Kant, ethics is a matter of pure reason gaining pure insight into eternal truth,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “But Hegel argued that human beings are too deeply embedded in history to attain such purity and that their grasp of the right and the good is mediated by the laws and customs of the societies in which they live.”[15]

In line with Hegel’s prediction, people in the East as well as the West are boxed by their traditions and history. I invite the Christian brethren and sisters not to be boxed, cribbed or cabined in the ‘either’ / ‘or’ choices of Christianity or atheism, as presented by the popular media. Prove Hegel wrong and rise unto Plato’s and Kant’s ideal, mentioned above. Islam is clearly a third liberating choice. All of us have the responsibility of broadening our horizons. Read some more about true Islam rather than letting media cook it up for you![16] [17]


[1] Frederick Charles Copleston.  A History of Philosophy.  Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.  Page 155.

[4] Professor Michael Ruse.  Can a Darwinian be a Christian.  Cambridge University Press 2000.  Page 40.


[9] Bertrand Russell.  Religion and Science.  First Printed in 1935.  Reprinted in 1997 by Oxford University Press.  Pages 115-116.


[11] David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Chicago University press 1952. Origianlly published in 1758.

[14] Professor Michael Ruse.  Can a Darwinian be a Christian.  Cambridge University Press 2000.  Page 49.