A Primer on Roman Catholicism (pt. 4)
Let us now consider the Roman Catholic eucharist in itself. I have been considering sacraments as received by a person who is not qualified to receive. Now let us look at the doctrine itself as Rome promulgates it before the world. It is not only that it may be abused by people who use it unqualifiedly. What I will now show is that it is intrinisically and in itself, as understood and taught by the Roman church, a travesty of that which the Lord Himself established.
Everyone knows that the Roman church teaches transubstantiation. Virtually everyone knows what that means. Somehow the bread becomes the body of Christ. The substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ. The result is that when a person communes properly he actually eats the body of Jesus Christ miraculously present now in the transubstantiated bread. When the priest drinks the cup, he drinks the very blood of Jesus Christ now miraculously, corporeally, and substantially present in the cup.
I will ignore here the contention of Rome that the person does not taste what tastes like flesh, and he does not drink what tastes like blood, because of the nature of “substance.” The teaching is that it is the “accidents” of anything which a person actually encounters in an experience with it and not the “substance.” So a person actually devours the substance of the body of Christ. Because it is the substance and not the accidents of His body, it does not taste as if the person were actually masticating the body of Christ and drinking the blood of Christ. It is a fact even though it does not seem to be a fact. It is a fact because it is a transubstantiation of the substance but not a transubstantiation of the accidents of the substance.
This is just by way of reminding the reader what the doctrine is. My concern here is to show that there is no biblical warrant for such teaching. The first thing we observe is that to say Christ’s body is literally present in the bread is a meaningless proposition. When we were considering baptism, we noticed that even though Jesus says (John 3:5) that we cannot enter the kingdom of God except by water and the Spirit, we know that He does not mean, and could not mean, that the water itself has the power to convert. There is no magic in the water, nor does God use it miraculously. While Christ is making it very clear that baptism is necessary, it is also obvious that it is not necessary as being power-water when actually all the power is in God.
Here too we have a situation like baptism. One cannot entertain a conception of bread being literally the body of anyone, not to mention the body of Jesus Christ. Bread is bread and it cannot be something other than that as long as it remains bread. Roman Catholics will say I am being rationalistic here. They will say that I am not being truly humble, accepting the teaching of the Bible which has Jesus saying, “You must eat My flesh,” and “This is My body which is given for you,” in the Lord’s Supper. “That is what the Lord says and, whether you can understand it or not, you’d better believe it!”
I am not trying to be wiser than God, nor do I have the colossal audacity to reject His teaching and substitute my own. What I am saying, as a child of God trying to grasp the words of God, is that there is no meaning for the human intellect in saying that bread is the body of Jesus Christ. The resurrected body of Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God the Father in heaven right now, and will remain there until He comes again in His body to “judge the quick and the dead.” He is not in this piece of bread, nor is His blood in the cup we drink.
When we contradict the Roman Catholic testimony of people (in their great exuberation and jubilation when they receive the wafer in their mouth), we are not denying their experience. They usually reply to our criticism by accusing us of consummate arrogance. They say, “You claim to know that we do not have an experience which we say we have? Aren’t you being very, very presumptuous? How can you know what we do experience or what we do not experience? How are you qualified to say we do not actually have this immense transforming satisfaction in participating in the Mass?”
I am not denying anybody’s experience. As long as I believe as I do, that they are honest persons, I am sure that they are testifying to feelings which they truly have. Nor do I deny that they are having those feelings when they are actually eating that wafer which the priest puts on their tongue. Nor do I deny that when they eat that wafer they think they are devouring the body of Jesus Christ. Nor do I question them when they say that “we have this experience because we are eating the very body of our Savior who died to save us.” I do not doubt that they think that is the case. But I do not only doubt, but I am certain that is not the case, and that I can prove it.
You see, there are two points at issue, not only one. These people are saying two things: (1) we have this wonderful experience; and (2) this experience comes from our masticating the body of Jesus Christ. Now I am not questioning that they have this experience. I am not questioning, in other words, the first part of their affirmation. What I am questioning is the second part of their statement, that this experience comes from the masticating of the body of Jesus Christ. They believe that as firmly as they testify to the experience they have based on that belief. But the experience is one thing, the basis for it is another. The experience can be theirs, without doubt. But the masticating of the body of Jesus Christ, which they think is the source of it, is utterly impossible, I say.
There is nothing arrogant about making that statement. I am not presuming even to know their feelings except as they reveal them to me. But is it any presumption for me to question whether they can have ever masticated the body of Jesus Christ? If I can show that they could not have, that it is impossible to have, masticated the body of Jesus Christ in the Mass, then have I not demonstrated the second part of their testimony is absolutely false, even though they believe it to be true, and feel joyful for so believing?
I do not have to do this because I have already shown that there is no warrant for believing in transubstantiation. It is not taught by the Bible, nor is it even rational to the human mind. A finite body can only be in one place at one time. It is a doctrine of Roman Catholic orthodoxy as well as Protestant orthodoxy that the body of Jesus Christ is a finite body. It is also a part of Roman orthodoxy as well as ours that Christ is corporeally present at the right hand of God in heaven right now. So if a finite body has to be at one place at one time, and the body of Jesus Christ is in heaven now and not on earth, then it follows immediately that His body is not on earth anywhere. Christ’s body is not in the wafer nor any place else, not to mention on thousands of different altars. Christ’s body is only in heaven.
If we have proven that, we have proven those to be false witnesses who claim that their exhilaration at eating the wafer comes from actually masticating the body of Christ. That is impossible. The body of Jesus Christ is in heaven. You cannot see it or touch it, much less eat it. Your experience may be real, but the basis on which you rest it is nonexistent. It is nonreal.
I do not presume to say where these people get their feelings, but I do presume to say as a sane human being, along with the rest of the human race, that there is no way of conceiving that the body of Jesus Christ is in that wafer that Romanists eat at the Mass. I beg Romanists to realize that, though they may have a wonderful feeling, it does not come from the so-called sacrifice of the Mass.
If it cannot possibly come from that source, and if they realize that, then they can ask themselves, “How do I come to feel so exhilarated and joyous when I participate in the Mass?” They will know the nonanswer is that they have masticated the body of Christ. It is not that, whatever else it may be. An intelligent person will realize that if it is not what he thinks it is, he will become extremely dubious about the experience based on it. It is based on he knows not what, because what he thought it was based on it could not possibly be based on.
It is a sad fact that people can have exhilarated feelings about something they believe which is later demonstrated to be nonexistent. People hear at times that they are inheriting fortunes, and of course they are delighted at the prospect of having so much cash suddenly. As soon as they realize that was a false report and they do not have the cash, then exhilaration collapses and they wish they never had had it. This is what I think would happen to any Roman Catholic who sits down and deliberately thinks through this matter. It ought to lead to his conversion to realize that all his joy is resting on a non-existent fact, and that he is involved in perpetuating a fundamental fraud to the whole world, namely, that he is happy because of an experience which he could not possibly have had.
Romanists (and some Protestants) will charge me with rationalism for denying that a body can be at many different places at the same time. I am being rational (as the Bible is), not rationalistic. Christ has one body, not many bodies as transubstantionism affirms. Every Sunday, He is supposed to have different bodies all around the world. That would not be a thousand miracles, it would be a thousand lies. Christ miraculously multiplied one boy’s lunch. He does not multiply His one body. The very utterance of such an absurd error involves a half-dozen Christological and her-meneutical errors.
Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.
Note: This primer is intended to give an overview of the significant theological differences between historic Protestantism and historic Roman Catholicism. In a primer of this size, it is not possible to give a thorough examination of a theology that has been controverted for centuries. For a fuller treatment of the main difference between Catholicism and Protestantism—justification by faith alone—see Justification by Faith Alone or, for Dr. Sproul’s response to “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” see Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together.