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Transubstantiation Versus Christianity.*

Our attention was recently called to a small polemical treatise on the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, by the remark of an intelligent and respected Christian friend, of the Baptist denomination, that he considered “its refutation of this doctrine, and consequently of Catholicism, as irresistible as any demonstration in Euclid.”

To those occupying a neutral, and therefore independent position, these doctrinal controversies are not unfrequently fruitful in instruction as well as entertainment; and as Mr. Carson’s work is of a popular character, making no pretensions to leaned criticism or abstruse research, and as it appears, moreover, to be well received by Protestant Christians generally, we felt considerable interest in discovering how far the author was successful in assailing one of the Christian mysteries without impinging upon some of the others,—how far, in short, he could refute an opponent’s absurdity without endangering his own religion; and we have accordingly given the work a careful perusal.

* “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation subversive of the Foundations of Human Belief; therefore incapable of being proved by any evidence, or of being received by men under the influence of Common Sense. By Alexander Carson, A. M., (Third Edition, improved.) Dublin: William Carson, 1837.”

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Mr. Carson is a somewhat vigorous, though by no means a courteous writer. He too often seems to forget that the opponent worthy of refutation is worthy of respect, and that no legitimate argument can be really strengthened by intolerance or dogmatism. The opening sentence in his treatise, for example, is as follows:—

“Since God stretched the heavens over the earth, there has not been broached in human language an absurdity so monstrous as that of transubstantiation.”

Now, laying aside the very great questionableness of this assertion in point of fact, the declaration certainly seems much better adapted to gain the plaudits of consenting colleagues, than to win conviction from a reluctant adversary. Our Protestant friends, in the vehemence of their reprobation, are too apt to overlook the fact that most of those to whom they are indebted for their boasted “reformation” received this “monstrous” dogma in some shape or other;—that both Luther and Calvin (each in his peculiar way, the one corporeally, the other spiritually,) believed in a real presence of Christ in the eucharist. This momentous doctrine, which has occasioned such interminable and exasperated dispute, and so much horrid bloodshed among Christians, is founded, as is well known, on the mystic words, “This is my body,” recorded in Matt. xxvi. 26, Mark xiv. 22, Luke xxii. 19. In combating the Catholic or literal application of this passage, Mr. Carson founds his “stronghold,” as he calls it, on the proposition that “The things which we distinctly perceive by the senses do really exist, and are what we perceive them to be.” (p. 5.) As regards any miraculous transformation in the sacramental host, “Four of our senses solemnly declare that this is false.” (p. 6.) “The evidence of sense is to every man an immediate revelation; [therefore] every man having the use of his senses has an immediate revelation from God that transubstantiation is a lie.” (p. 18.) “If the faculties of my mind are from God, transubstantiation cannot be true. I cannot call my Maker a liar!” (p. 55.) The argument is short, though very unnecessarily amplified by Mr. C. Not <<407>>satisfied, however, with leaving the question here, but pursuing it to its extreme limits, he denies not only the reality but the possibility of the alleged mystery, and ventures to assert that though God “could make the wafer into a man, Almighty Power itself could not make that man to be Jesus Christ.” (p. 38.) To sustain this position, he proceeds to announce, in a series of twenty-five “axioms,” what things are impossible with God.

“I appeal to the common sense of mankind, I undertake to prove not only that transubstantion is not true, but that Almighty power could not make it true.” (p. 40.)

“Axiom 1st. One piece of matter cannot become another piece of matter, identically different from it.” (ib.)

Several pages are devoted to the illustration and enforcement of this position, which of course excludes the usual refuge of a miracle.

“Miracles are light as air in proof of a contradiction. It is always clearer that a contradiction is false, than that any miracle is real.”* (p. 43.)

* This appears to be borrowed from Mr. Hume’s celebrated argument against the credibility of miracles: “It is always clearer that the testimony for a miracle may be false, than that any miracle is real.”

However irresistible this argument, there is a difficulty in its application from the unfortunate disagreement among Christians as to what actually constitutes a “contradiction.” For example, the great mass of Christians (Protestant as well as Catholic) profess to believe in the eternal sonship of Christ. That is, they hold that he never had a beginning, yet that he had a father; that he was never born, yet nevertheless that he was begotten; that the same nature which was generated by another yet existed for ever.† To our unregenerated reason this appears sufficiently incomprehensible, not to say ridiculous. Let us hear the learned Dr. Adam Clarke on this point. “To say that he was begotten from all eternity is in my opinion absurd; and the phrase eternal son is a positive self-contradiction.” (Comment. on Luke i.)

† “The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. . . . The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.”—Athanasian Creed.

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Says Mr. Carson,—“What reason declares a contradiction cannot be true.” “Everything must be abandoned that involves a contradiction.” (p. 60.)

“If I believe that I have been made by a God of truth, can I refuse implicit credit to the faculties which he has given me, and which, by the very constitution of my mind, he has compelled me to believe? If the faculties of my mind are from God, [eternal generation] cannot be true. I cannot call my Maker a liar!” (p. 55.)

How many of our Baptist or Presbyterian friends will acquiesce with us in this conclusion? Alas! how true is the remark of Mr. C. that

“Men distinguished by talents, by literature, by science,—men on other subjects eminently conspicuous for profound thinking, have become lunatics in religion, to show their obedience to the Church.” (p. 52.)

When intelligent and learned Christians shall concur in their definition of a contradiction, they may wield the sword of “reason and common sense” with more propriety, and perhaps with greater effect.

To many persons of acknowledged intelligence and candour, the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity has appeared a palpable contradiction, and one, therefore, for the confirmation of which “miracles are light as air.” And we very much doubt whether Mr. C. himself could express his notion of that venerated mystery in mathematical or geometrical terms, fond as he appears to be of axiomatic belief. He has unwarily stumbled upon an argument of the infidel Holbach, in his work entitled “Good Sense.” “Were a miracle possible, and had I really witnessed it, could you thereby make me believe that God was his own father?—that being a son, he was eternal?—that he could yet become a man and die, or a bit of bread and live? Could it ever convince me that two and two do not make four, or that one is three, and three one?”

Perhaps we ought to apologise for having adverted to this point, since Mr. C. appears to consider this an unfair method of controversy.

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“The defenders of Popery,” says he (p. 83), “have placed the doctrine of the Trinity between themselves and the enemy’s fire, as Cambyses did the cats in attacking the Egyptians. This has been the usual stratagem with them at all times.” And he notices the “just indignation” of “the learned Bishop Sherlock” at this course. As disinterested spectators of this amusing warfare, we think the “usual stratagem” a very fair one; and if these indignant Egyptians dare not risk their sacred cat, let them frankly own that it is at least a very successful one. We regret Mr. C.’s soreness on the subject, but hope we may venture to follow with cautious and reverent steps his own previous advances upon this delicate ground.

“The Roman Catholic doctors fancy that they find a parallel for the absurdities of Popery in the Scripture doctrine of the Trinity.” (p. 60.) “But there is no foundation for this argument. The doctrine of the Trinity . . . is not a contradiction, though it is incomprehensible. The three that bear record in heaven are not three in the same sense in which they are one.” (p. 61.)

We can here join with the Unitarian and the Infidel Protestant in thanking Mr. C. for removing the stumbling-block which our “common sense” had heretofore opposed to this unspeakable mystery and since we are informed that the idea of trinity and that of unity are to be applied to entirely different objects, we can assure Mr. C. notwithstanding the modest diffidence of his enunciation, that there is no longer the slightest “incomprehensibility” about the matter. Oneness, as referable to the yard, is just equivalent to threeness as applied to feet. If we apply unity to the person of the Deity, we must then of course apply the trinity to his characters or offices, (as Solomon was at once a king, a philosopher, and a poet,) and this is Sabellianism; or if, on the other hand, we apply unity to the character or office of Godhead, we must, of course, apply the trinity to the persons constituting that office, (as three individuals may form one Triumvirate, or one Court of Justice,) and this is Tritheism. Of these two opposite theories, which will Mr. C. prefer? Let him remember that they constitute the only alternatives presented <<410>>by his own distinctions; the dilemma he cannot shun while occupying the “strongholds of reason and the senses.”

Certain it is, however, that the vast majority of Christians, utterly repudiating anything so rational or comprehensible as either of these creeds, zealously maintain an intermediate one, based upon the Catholic and Christian verity, to which, though inexplicable in human language, an unhesitating assent is required, before a passport to salvation can be allowed.* These three systems of the Trinity,—the Sabellian, the Catholic, and the Tritheistic—are the only ones conceivable. The wildest extravagance of error has not yet had cunning to devise a fourth. If Mr. C. will not accept the rational dilemma above presented, but really acquiesces in the Catholic scheme, (as we have no doubt he does,) let him abandon his vain distinctions, and be content submissively to acknowledge, (however sublime, or however important may be this mighty mystery theologically,) that to the apprehension of our poor human reason, and in the presentation of our poor human language, it involves a mathematical contradiction.† Non possum intelligere. Credo quia impossible! If Mr. C. finds the doctrine of transubstantiation “absurd,” let him compassionately consider that to us, whose intellects are still unregenerated by grace, his own cherished doctrine is no less so.

* “The Catholic faith is this:—That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one. . . .
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord; and yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord; so we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there be three Gods, or three Lords. . . .
“Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly!”—Athanasian Creed.

† Let f, s, and g, represent the three persons in the Trinity ; then f+s+g= God. But f=God, therefore f+s+g=f. Removing the common term f, from both sides of the equation, we have s+g=0. (Q. E. D.)

“Let us suppose for a moment that this argument is well-<<411>>founded, what is its legitimate use? Is it that, as we receive one absurdity, we need not scruple at swallowing another? If it be a true representation, it would be an argument to reject both, not to receive both. No absurdity ought to be received. Everything must be abandoned that involves a contradiction.” (p. 60.) Amen!

Although Mr. C.’s first axiom has been expressly limited by him to “a piece of matter,” we shall find that its force is in no wise affected by the substitution of spirit, or anything else.

“One [spirit or substance] cannot become another [spirit or substance] identically different from it.” There is but one God, (Deut. vi. 4; Isaiah xlv. 6; Mark xii. 32,) an individual, personal God,—undivided person, undivided God. By the axiom, the Heavenly Father cannot be another, or second person, “identically different from” Himself. Still less can He be a third person. Are  there three distinct “persons” in the Godhead, and is each person perfect God?* Then the first person cannot be identically the same God as the third person. What could be clearer? An “impossibility,” Mr. C., by your own showing. “I appeal to the common sense of mankind. I undertake to prove not only that [trinitarianism] is not true, but that Almighty Power could not make it true!”

* “The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.” “We are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God.”—Athanasian Creed.

 “Axiom 2d. A finite substance cannot be in two different places at the same time.

“Christ’s body and soul cannot be in the heaven of heavens, and, at the same time, in innumerable places on earth.” (p. 44.)

“I maintain that, in the sense of the assertion, it cannot properly be said that God himself is in two places.”† (p. 47.)

† The Jewish philosophers call God מקומו של עולם or simply המקום i.e. the place of the world, or emphatically the place, because He is the place, so to say, in which the world exists, but He is not embraced in the world. This idea exhibits to us his ubiquity and omnipresence in the strongest light; for He is everywhere, not by any exertion of power, but because nothing can exclude his presence. He is everywhere, because He cannot be absent. This, at the same time, proves his absolute unity, and excludes the idea of a paternity in one portion of the Deity, and the being begotten in the other.—Ed. Oc.

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“Of God it may be said that he is wholly in every point of space. Is not this a contradiction? How can he be wholly here, and at the same time wholly in another place? There is no contradiction here; for, when I say that God is wholly in the room in which I now write, I do not mean the same thing as when I say that I am wholly in this room.” (p. 48.)

Mr. C. appears to find it much easier to say what he “does not mean,” than to tell us precisely what he does mean. It appears, however, that he does believe, with the great mass of Protestants, in the final resurrection of the human body—the resuscitation of the identical corpse that was laid in the grave. Now physiology teaches us that our bodies are in a constant state of change; that there is an unceasing influx and efflux of particles to and from this material system; that in the course of from seven to ten years the whole original mass is thus eliminated, so that aged men have, in this manner, lost every atom of their bodies many times over. From the number of human beings who have lived, as compared with the quantity of available matter on the earth, it is easily demonstrable that the elementary substances must have been lived over repeatedly; and not only the cannibal who dies with a portion of the body of his brother man directly assimilated into his own body, but every human being, now in existence, must contain some matter previously occupied by other men. Nay, it is exceedingly probable that many of us shall consign to the grave a body with no atom of it that has not been reoccupied by some of our predecessors. If we are all to rise again together, to whom shall these divided particles belong? How shall the same matter appear simultaneously in different bodies?

“A finite substance cannot be in two different places at the same time.”

“If the faculties of my mind are from God, [the doctrine of the resurrection] cannot be true. I cannot call my Maker a liar.”

“I appeal to the common sense of mankind. I undertake to prove, not only that [the resurrection] is not true, but that Almighty power could not make it true.”*

* Our correspondent denies, it seems, the doctrine of the resurrection on physical grounds—its impossibility. But, to a believer in Scripture, this mere denial of the possibility does not present an insurmountable difficulty to credit what the words of the Bible evidently convey to us as doctrinal matter. It is indeed extremely difficult to explain how the decayed body is to become instinct with life; no man could effect this by any power inherent in him; but who can assert that He, who caused the body to grow up from so insignificant an origin, cannot reconstruct it at any time He pleases? You will say that it is not the same at death as at its birth. But this again does not say that a renewed body springing, if you will, from the minutest possible remnant of its ancient matter may not grow up, under the new creative word of the Lord, as a fit and holy habitation for the purified soul of man, who will then live in an association infinitely purer than ever existed before. The small size of the earth, as now existing, for the immense population then to dwell on it, is also no objection; for its material too may become enlarged, and the manner of sustaining existence being in that case entirely different from what it is now, will not demand acres for each spiritualized body for its sustenance. We would present to our learned correspondent one consideration: Geologists allege to discover in the crust of our globe the evidence of various stages of existence, in fact, the proofs of a progressive creation. If this be admitted, who will be bold enough to maintain that the present race of creatures, animate and inanimate, do not contain within themselves the germs of a new and much vaster and magnificent order of things, which, for want of a better term, we may literally call the resurrection of the dead? We cannot now enlarge, and pre­sent, therefore, these views merely as exhibiting the divine possibility in effecting this, to man unattainable, phenomenon, which, after all, is hardly more wonderful than the constant change which the human body confessedly undergoes, and is yet identically the same from birth until death, so that a family likeness is transmitted even to generation after generation. Our belief, however, does not add the least weight to the dogmas of the Christian church, as calm reflection will easily prove.—Ed. Oc.

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“Can one body be in millions of places at once? The man who refuses to confess that this is impossible, I would despair of being able to convince that three and three make six.” (p. 44 :) [or that three do not make one.]

Mr. C. has inconsiderately committed himself on this point:

“The identical body that died shall be raised; but because it is to be raised a glorious and spiritual body, it is no longer flesh and blood.” (p. 69.)

If flesh and blood have died, and flesh and blood be not raised, how can the body that “shall be raised” be “the identical body that died?” Only two pages before this, Mr. C. denies the possibility of a corporeal presence in the eucharist, because “nothing can be flesh and blood literally that possesses not the peculiar qualities of flesh and blood.” (p. 67.) But here, in an<<414>>other connexion, he hesitates not to affirm the real presence of an “identical body” that does not possess “its peculiar qualities!” Oh, Protestantism, where is thy consistency? And thou, boasted confounder of absurdity, and advocate of “common sense,” suffer us to whisper thee a kindly lesson: “Cast first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote which is in thy brother’s eye.”

“Axiom 3d. A part is less than the whole.”

The second person in the Trinity is evidently not the whole Trinity, one person being but the third part of three persons. Wherefore, by this incontestable axiom, the second person is less than the Trinity; or , in other words, Jesus the Christ is less than God,—Athanasius to the contrary notwithstanding. “I appeal to the common sense of mankind,” &c., &c.

But neither time nor space will permit the recapitulation of the whole twenty-five axioms with which Mr. C. demolishes transubstantiation. His batteries are plied with zeal and effect but he is deficient either in the courage or the honesty to apply his self-evident truths in their legitimate consequences. His tenets, incidentally disclosed, are incompatible with his avowed principles of belief. He dares not carry out his own reasonings to their inevitable conclusions. The question he so triumphantly asks in exposing the follies of the Catholic theology finds just as fitting application in the inconsistencies of his own: “Does madness then become wisdom in religion? Is the sacrifice of common sense the only test of allegiance to the Church?” (p. 52.) It would seem so indeed! The Protestant who boldly challenges one belief, stops short before another, and deems it an impiety to reason upon it.

“Men distinguished by talents, by literature, by science,—men on other subjects eminently conspicuous for profound thinking, have become lunatics in religion, to show their obedience to the Church,” (ib.) If Protestants dare not trust the faculties which the God of truth has given them, let them have the consistency, at least, to abandon their guidance, and, like the devout Catholic, surrender all belief to authority. If they prefer making reason the arbiter of credibility, let them hesitate not to submit all doctrines to its inquest and decision.

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Let them cease to babble about the “truths which lie above the grasp of reason.” Such “truths” are not adapted to—such never could have been intended for—a “reasoning” being. What reason cannot comprehend, does not and cannot concern it.

Mr. Carson deserves credit for avowedly resorting to the principles and constitution of the human mind, to discover what shall be received as the aliment of that mind; and we recommend his work to our Catholic and Protestant friends, as one that may be profitably read. Its errors are generally rather those of omission than of commission. Its conclusions, as far as they go, are for the most part admirable. To the following, for instance, we cordially assent:

“That the religion of the Church of Rome is false, is more obvious than the existence of God.” (p. 63.)

And the family feature (he might have added) is prominent in all the numerous progeny—legitimate or illegitimate—that have sprung from the “Babylonian mother.”

In his discussion of the sacramental mystery, Mr. C. bestows but a small share of attention upon its scriptural consideration though, in a passing remark in the early part of his treatise, he is betrayed into perhaps an undue strength of expression: “As respects the grammatical import of the words ‘This is my body,’ to any unprejudiced mind, in the smallest degree above idiocy, there cannot be even a difficulty.” (p. 15.) And yet, strangely enough, he admits, on the very same page, that “it found a difficulty even to the masculine mind of Luther!” For honour’s sake, at least, he should have spared his great apostle’s memory.

In taking leave of Mr. Carson we would commend to the especial attention of his Christian readers the following passages:

“Whether I shall succeed or not in convincing the reader of the propriety of my interpretation of the words of Scripture respecting the Lord’s Supper, is a matter of indifference as to the proof of my position. My ground is so strong, that no source of evidence can afford argument to dislodge me. The Scriptures themselves have no authority over the primary truths of reason and the senses. . . . .Should all the angels in heaven, then, stand around me and beseech me to receive transubstantiation I would not submit.” (p. 78.)

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“By making myself master of the strongholds of reason and the senses, I occupy a fortress that is eternally invincible; and if the Scriptures themselves would join my opponents, by the very act they would prove themselves spurious, and would put it in my power to destroy their authority. Before I should surrender the primary truths of reason and the senses, it would be my duty to the God of nature to level every tower of Zion. My guns overlook Jerusalem itself; and before I should allow the Holy City to give shelter to Transubstantiation, I would not leave in her one stone above another.” (p. 80.)

W. B. T.