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Essence and Existence

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(Latin essentia, existentia)

Since they are transcendentals, it is not possible to put forward a strict
definition of either of the subjects of the present article. Essence, however, is
properly described as that whereby a thing is what it is. Existence is that
whereby the essence is an actuality in the line of being.

Essence is properly described as that whereby a thing is what it is, an

equivalent of the to ti en einai of Aristotle (Metaph., VII, 7). The essence is
thus the radical or ground from which the various properties of a thing
emanate and to which they are necessarily referred. Thus the notion of the
essence is seen to be the abstract counterpart of the concrete entity; the
latter signifying that which is or may be (ens actu, ens potenti), while the
former points to the reason or ground why it is precisely what it is. As
furnishing in this manner an answer to the question What? (Quid?) as, e.g.,
What is man? essence is equivalent to quiddity; and thus, as St. Thomas
remarks (I, Q. iii, a. 3), the essence of a thing is that which is expressed by its



Essence and nature express the same reality envisaged in the two points of
view as being or acting. As the essence is that whereby any given thing is
that which it is, the ground of its characteristics and the principle of its being,
so its nature is that whereby it acts as it does, the essence considered as the
foundation and principle of its operation. Hence again St. Thomas: "Nature is
seen to signify the essence of a thing according as it has relation to its proper
operation" (De ente et essentia, cap. i).


Furthermore, essence is also in a manner synonymous with form, since it is

chiefly by their formal principle that beings are segregated into one or other
of the species. Thus, while created spiritual things, because they are not
composed of matter and form, are specifically what they are by reason of
their essences or "forms" alone, the compounded beings of the corporeal
world receive their specification and determination of nature, or essence,
principally from their substantial forms.


A further synonym of essence is species; but it is to be carefully noted that

essence in this connexion is used rather with a logical or metaphysical
connotation than with a real or physical one. This distinction is of
considerable importance. The real or physical essence of compound entities
consists in, or results from, the union of the constituent parts. Thus if we
consider man as a being composed of matter and form, body and soul, the
physical essence will be the body and soul. Apart from any act of abstraction,
body and soul exist in the physical order as the constituents of man. On the
other hand, we may consider man as the result of a composition of genus
proximum and differentia ultima, i.e. of his animality and his rationality. Here
the essence, humanity, is metaphysical or logical. Thus, while the real
essence, to speak still only of composite beings, consists in the collection of

all those physical component parts that are required to constitute the entity
what it is, either actually or potentially existent, without which it can be
neither actual nor potential, the logical essence is no more than the
composition of ideas or notions, abstracted mentally and referred together in
what are known as "second intentions".
Distinction between metaphysical and physical essence

This consideration provides a basis for the distinction of essences according

to the degree of physical and metaphysical complexity or simplicity which
they severally display. The Supreme Being has or rather is a unique and
utterly simple essence, free from all composition, whether physical or
metaphysical. Moreover, in God otherwise, as we shall see, than in
creatures there is no distinction of any kind between His essence and His
existence. Spiritual created beings, however, as free from the composition of
matter and form, have physically simple essences; yet they are composite in
that their essences are the result of a union of genus and differentia, and are
not identical with their existence. In the angel the essence is the species
consequent on this union. Corporeal creatures not only share in metaphysical
complexity of essence, but have, on account of their material composition, a
physical complexity as well.

The characteristic attributes of the essence are immutability, indivisibility,

necessity, and infinity.

Immutability. Since the essence of anything is that whereby the thing is

what it is, it follows directly from the principle of contradiction that essences
must be immutable. This, of course, is not true in the sense that physical
essences cannot be brought into being or cease to exist, nor that they cannot
be decomposed into their constituent parts, nor yet that they are not subject
to accidental modification. The essence of God alone, as stated above, is so
entirely free from any sort of composition that it is in the strictest sense
immutable. Every essence, however, is immutable in this, that it cannot be
changed or broken up into its constituent parts and yet remain the same
essence. The attribute is transcendental and is applied to essence precisely
as it is essence. Thus, while the essence of any given man may be broken up
into body and soul, animality and rationality, man as man and humanity as
humanity is changeless. One individual ceases to exist; the essence itself,
whether verified or not in concrete actuality, persists. The definition, "man is
a rational animal", is an eternally immutable truth, verifiable whenever and

wherever the subject man is given, either as a concrete and existent entity,
or as a mere potentiality.

Indivisibility. Similarly, essences are said to be indivisible; that is to say, an

essence ceases to be what it is when it is broken up into its constituents.
Neither body nor soul alone is man. Neither animality nor rationality, taken
separately, is humanity. Therefore, precisely as essence, it is indivisible.

Necessity. In like manner necessity is predicated of essences. They are

necessary in that, though they may be merely possible and contingent, each
must of necessity always be itself. In the order of actual being, the real
essence is necessarily what it is, since it is that whereby the thing is what it
is; in the order of the merely possible, it must necessarily be identical with

Infinity. Finally, essences are said to be eternal and infinite in the negative
sense that, as essences, there is no reason for their non-existence, nor for
their limitation to a given number of individuals in any species.

From what has been said, the distinction between essence considered as
physical and as metaphysical will be apparent. It is the metaphysical essence
that is eternal, immutable, indivisible, necessary, etc.; the physical essence
that is temporal, contingent, etc. In other words, the metaphysical essence is
a formal universal, while the physical essence is that real particularization of
the universal that provides the basis for the abstraction.
Non-Scholastic views

So far the present article has been occupied in exhibiting the Scholastic view
with regard to essence, and in obtaining a certain precision of thought rather
than in raising any problems intimately connected with the subject. Notice
must be taken, however, of a philosophical tradition which has found
adherents mainly among British philosophers and which is at variance with
the Scholastic. This tradition would treat as futile and illusory any
investigation or discussion concerning the essences of things. By those who
hold it, either

the fact of essence is flatly denied and what we conceive of under that
name is relegated to the region of purely mental phenomena;
or, what practically amounts to the same thing, that fact is judged to be
doubtful and consequently irrelevant;
or again, while the fact itself may be fully admitted, essence is declared to
be unknowable, except in so far as we may be said to know that it is a fact.

Of those who take up one or other of these positions with regard to the
essence of things, the most prominent may be cited.

Hobbes and Locke, Mill, Hume, Reid, and Bain, the Positivists and the
Agnostics generally, together with a considerable number of scientists of the
present day, would not improperly be described as either doubtful or
dogmatically negative as to the reality, meaning, and cognoscibility of
essence. The proponents and defenders of such a position are by no means
always consistent. While they make statements of their case, based for the
most part on purely subjective views of the nature of reality, that the
essences of beings are nonentities, or at least unknowable, and, as a
consequence, that the whole science of metaphysics is no more than a jargon
of meaningless terms and exploded theories, they, on the other hand,
express opinions and make implicit admissions that tell strongly against their
own thesis. Indeed, it would generally seem that these philosophers, to some
extent at least, misunderstand the position which they attack, that they
combat a sort of intuitive knowledge of essences, erroneously supposed by
them to be claimed by Scholastics, and do not at all grasp the theory of the
natures of things as derived from a painstaking consideration of their
characteristic properties. Thus even Bain admits that there may in all
probability be some one fundamental property to which all the others might
be referred; and he even uses the words "real essence" to designate that
property. Mill tells us that "to penetrate to the more hidden agreement on
which these more obvious and superficial agreements (the differenti
leading to the greatest number of interesting propria) depend, is often one of
the most difficult of scientific problems. And as it is among the most difficult,
so it seldom fails to be among the most important". Father Rickaby in his
"General Metaphysics" gives the citations from both Mill and Bain, as well as
an important admission from Comte, that the natural tendency of man is to
inquire for persistent types, a synonym, in this context, for essences. The
philosophical tradition, or school, to which allusion is made although we
have anticipated its assertions by the admissions into which its professors
have allowed themselves to be drawn by the exigencies of reason and human

language may be divided roughly into two main classes, with their
representatives in Locke and Mill. Locke got rid of the old doctrine by making
the "supposed essences" no more than the bare significations of their names.
He does not, indeed, deny that there are real essences; on the contrary, he
fully admits this. But he asserts that we are incapable of knowing more than
the nominal or logical essences which we form mentally for ourselves. Mill,
though, as we have seen, he occasionally abandons his standpoint for one
more in keeping with the Scholastic view, professedly goes further than Locke
in utterly rejecting real essences, a rejection quite in keeping with his general
theory of knowledge, which eliminates substance, causality, and necessary

The considerations previously advanced will serve to indicate a line of

argument used against scepticism in this matter. The Scholastics do not and
never have claimed any direct or perfect acquaintance with the intimate
essences of all things. They recognize that, in very many cases, no more than
an approximate knowledge can be obtained, and this only through accidental
characteristics and consequently by a very indirect method. Still, though the
existence of the concrete beings, of which the essences are in question, is
contingent and mutable, human knowledge, especially in the field of
mathematics, reaches out to the absolute and necessary. For example, the
properties of a circle or triangle are deducible from its essence. That the one
differs specifically from the other, and each from other figures, that their
diverse and necessary attributes, their characteristic properties, are
dependent upon their several natures and can be inferred by a mathematical
process from these so much we know. The deductive character of certain
geometrical proofs, proceeding from essential definitions, may at least be
urged as an indication that the human mind is capable of grasping and of
dealing with essences.

Similarly, and even from the admissions of the opponents of the Scholastic
tradition given above, it may reasonably be maintained that we have a direct
knowledge of essence, and also an indirect, or inductive knowledge of the
physical natures existent in the world about us. The essences thus known do
not necessarily point to the fact of existence; they may or may not exist; but
they certify to us what the things in question are. The knowledge and reality
of essences emerges also from the doctrine of universals, which, although
formally subjective in character, are true expressions of the objective realities
from which they are abstracted. As Father Rickaby remarks: "In the rough the
form of expression could hardly be rejected, that science seeks to arrive at
the very nature of things and has some measure of success in the

enterprise"; and again, "In short, the very admission that there is such a thing
as physical science, and that science is cognitio rerum per causas a
knowledge of things, according to the rationale of them is tantamount to
saying that some manner of acquaintance with essences is possible; that the
world does present its objects ranged according to at least a certain number
of different kinds, and that we can do something to mark off one kind from
another." (General Metaphysics, c. III.)

Existence is that whereby the essence is an actuality in the line of being. By

its actuation the essence is removed from the merely possible, is placed
outside its causes, and exists in the world of actual things. St. Thomas
describes it as the first or primary act of the essence as contrasted with its
secondary act or operation (I Sent., dist. xxxiii, Q. i, a. 1, ad 1); and again, as
"the actuality of all form or nature" (Summa, I, Q. iii, a. 4). Whereas the
essence or quiddity gives an answer to the question as to what the thing is,
the existence is the affirmative to the question as to whether it is. Thus, while
created essences are divided into both possible and actual, existence is
always actual and opposed by its nature to simple potentiality.

With regard to the existence of things, the question has been raised as to
whether, in the ideal order, the possible is antecedent to the actual. The
consideration here does not touch on the real or physical order, in which it is
conceded by Scholastics that the potentiality of creatures precedes their
actuality. The unique actuality, pure and simple (as against such theorists as
von Hartmann, maintaining an absolute primitive potentiality of all
existence), that necessarily precedes all potentiality, is that of God, in Whom
essence and existence are identical. We are concerned with the question: Is
the concept of a possible entity prior to that of an existing one? Rosmini
answers this question in the affirmative. The School generally takes the
opposite view, maintaining the thesis that the primitive idea is of existent
entity that is, essence as actualized and placed outside of its causes in
the concrete, though confused and indeterminate. Such an idea is of narrow
intension, but extensively it embraces all being. The thesis is supported by
various considerations, such as that the essence is related to its existence as
potential to actual, that the act generally is prior to potentiality, and that this
latter is known, and only known, through its corresponding actuality. Or, we
know the possible being as that which may be, or may exist; and this
necessary relation to actual existence, without which the possible is not
presented to the mind, indicates the priority, in the line of thought, of the

actually existent over the merely possible. Existence is thus seen to be in

some sense distinguished from the essence which it actuates.

The question agitated in the School arises at this point: What is the nature of
the distinction that obtains between the physical essence and the existence
of creatures? It is to be borne in mind that the controversy turns not upon a
distinction between the merely possible essence and the same essence as
actualized, and thus physically existent; but on the far different and
extremely nice point as to the nature of the distinction to be drawn between
the actualized and physically existent essence and its existence or actuality,
by which it is existent in the physical order. That there is no such distinction
in God is conceded by all. With regard to creatures, several opinions have
been advanced. Many Thomists hold that a real distinction obtains here and
that the essence and existence of creatures differ as different entities.
Others, among them Dominicus Soto, Lepidi, etc., seem to prefer a distinction
other than real. The Scotists, affirming their "formal distinction", which is
neither precisely logical nor real, but practically equivalent to virtual, decide
the point against a real distinction. Francisco Surez, with many of his school,
teaches that the distinction to be made is a logical one. The principal
arguments in favour of the two chief views may be summarized as follows:


If essence and existence were but one thing, we should be unable to

conceive the one without conceiving the other. But we are as a fact able to
conceive of essence by itself.
If there be no real distinction between the two, then the essence is
identical with the existence. But in God alone are these identical.


A real physical essence is actual in the line of being and not merely
possible. But this actuality must belong to it, as a physical essence; for it is,
ex hypothesi, neither nothing nor merely possible, and the actuality of an
essence is its existence. Cardinal Franselin cast the argument in this form:
"Est omnino evidens in re posit extra suas causas, in statu actualitatis, ne

ratione quidem abstrahi posse formalem existentiam" (De Verbo Incarnato).

It is inconceivable how the existence of a real or physical essence should
differ from the essence of its existence.

These positions are maintained, not only by argument, but by reference to

the authority and teaching of St. Thomas, as to whose genuine doctrine there
is considerable difference of opinion and interpretation. It does not, however,
appear to be a matter of great moment, as Soto remarks, whether one holds
or rejects the doctrine of a real distinction between essence and existence, so
long as the difference between God and His creatures is safe-guarded, in that
existence is admitted to be of the essence of God and not of the essence of
creatures. And this would seem to be sufficiently provided for even in the
supposition that created essences are not distinct from their existences as
one thing is from another, but as a thing from its mode.


BLANC, Dict. de Phil. (Paris, 1906); EGIDIUS, Tractatus de ente et essenti

(Thomist); FELDNER, Jahrh. fr Phil., II, VII; FRICK, Ontologia (Freiburg im Br.,
1897); KLEUTGEN, Die Philosophie der Vorzeit (Innsbruck, 1878); LAHOUSSE,
Prlectiones Logic et Ontologi (Louvain, 1899); LEPIDI, Elementa
Philosophi Christian (Louvain, 1873); LIBERATORE, Institutiones
Philosophi (Prati, 1883); LIMBOURG, De distinctione essenti ab existenti
Theses Quattuor; LOCKE, Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Works
(London, 1714); LORENZELLI, Philosophi Theoretic Institutiones (Paris,
1896); MARTINEAU, Types of Ethical Theory (1885); MERCIER, Ontologie
(Paris, 1902); MILL, System of Logic (1843); REID, ed. HAMILTON, Works
(1872); RICKABY, General Metaphysics (London, 1898); RITTLER, Wesenheit
und Dasein in den Geschpfen; SUAREZ, Disputationes Metaphysic.
About this page

APA citation. Aveling, F. (1909). Essence and Existence. In The Catholic

Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 28,
2016 from New Advent: Retrieved November 28, 2016 from New Advent:

MLA citation. Aveling, Francis. "Essence and Existence." The Catholic

Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 28 Nov.
201628 Nov. 2016 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J.

Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor.

Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email

address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every
letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback especially notifications about
typographical errors and inappropriate ads.
Copyright 2012 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of

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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > N > Nature

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Etymologically (Latin natura from nasci, to be born, like the corresponding

Greek physis from phyein, to bring forth) has reference to the production of
things, and hence generally includes in its connotation the ideas of energy
and activity. It will be convenient to reduce to two classes the various
meanings of the term nature according as it applies to the natures of
individual beings or to nature in general.

I. In an individual being, especially if its constitutive elements and its

activities are manifold and complex, the term nature is sometimes applied to
the collection of distinctive features, original or acquired, by which such an
individual is characterized and distinguished from others. Thus it may be said
it is the nature of one man to be taller, stronger, more intelligent, or more
sociable than another. This meaning, however, is superficial; in philosophical
terminology and even in ordinary language, nature refers to something
deeper and more fundamental. These features are manifestations of a man's
nature; they are not his nature. Nature properly signifies that which is
primitive and original, or, according to etymology, that which a thing is at
birth, as opposed to that which is acquired or added from external sources.
But the line that divides the natural from the artificial cannot be drawn with
precision. Inorganic beings never change except under the influence of
external agencies, and in the same circumstances, their mode of activity is
uniform and constant. Organisms present a greater complexity of structure,
power of adaptation, and variety of function. For their development out of a
primitive germ they require the co-operation of many external factors, yet
they have within themselves the principle of activity by which external
substances are elaborated and assimilated. In any being the changes due to
necessary causes are called natural, whereas those produced by intentional
human activity are called artificial. But it is clear that art supposes nature and
is but a special adaptation of natural aptitudes, capacities, or activities for
certain esthetic or useful purposes. Stars, rivers, forests, are works of nature;
parks, canals, gardens, and machines are works of art. If necessary
conditions are realized, where the seed falls a plant will grow naturally. But
the seed may be placed purposely amid certain surroundings, the growth of
the plant may be hastened, its shape altered, and, in general, the result to be
expected from natural activities may be modified. By training the aptitudes of
an animal are utilized and its instincts adapted for specific ends. In such
cases the final result is more or less natural or artificial according to the
mode and amount of human intervention.

In scholastic philosophy, nature, essence, and substance are closely related

terms. Both essence and substance imply a static point of view and refer to
constituents or mode of existence, while nature implies a dynamic point of

view and refers to innate tendencies. Moreover, substance is opposed to

accidents, whereas we may speak of the nature and essence not only of
substances but also of accidents like colour, sound, intelligence, and of
abstract ideals like virtue or duty. But when applied to the same substantial
being, the terms substance, essence, and nature in reality stand only for
different aspects of the same thing, and the distinction between them is a
mental one. Substance connotes the thing as requiring no support, but as
being itself the necessary support of accidents; essence properly denotes the
intrinsic constitutive elements by which a thing is what it is and is
distinguished from every other; nature denotes the substance or essence
considered as the source of activities. "Nature properly speaking is the
essence (or substance) of things which have in themselves as such a
principle of activity (Aristotle, "Metaphysics", 1015a, 13). By a process of
abstraction the mind arises from individual and concrete natures to those of
species and genera.

A few special remarks must be added concerning human nature. This

expression may mean something concrete, more or less different in various
individuals, or more generally something common to all men, i.e., the
abstract human nature by which mankind as a whole is distinguished from
other classes of living beings. In both cases it is conceived as including
primitive and fundamental characteristics, and as referring to the source of
all activities. Hence nature, as the internal principle of action, is opposed in
the first place to violence and coercion which are external principles of action
and prevent the normal play of human faculties. It is opposed also, but less
strictly, to education and culture which at times may be the checking of
natural tendencies, at times also their development and perfection.
Education, physical and mental, is not a primitive endowment; it must be
acquired and is built upon nature as on its foundation. In this sense habit has
been termed a second nature. But although education is due largely to
external causes and influences acting on the mind and the organism, from
another point of view it is also the unfolding of innate aptitudes, and hence
partly natural.

As between nature in general and art, so between human nature and

education there is no clear dividing line. Natural is also frequently contrasted
with conventional; language, style, gestures, expressions of feelings, etc., are
called more or less natural. This opposition becomes more acute in the
theories of Hobbes and Rousseau who lay stress on the antithesis between
the primitive or natural state of man and the present social condition due to
the contract by which men agreed to surrender their rights into the hands of

the common authority.

From the theological point of view the distinctions between nature and person
and between the natural and the supernatural orders are of primary
importance. The former arose from the dogma of the Trinity, i.e., of one
Divine Nature in three persons, and chiefly from that of the Incarnation, i.e.,
of the two Natures, Divine and human, in the one Divine Person in Christ. The
Human Nature in Christ is complete and perfect as nature, yet it lacks that
which would make it a person, whether this be something negative, as
Scotists hold, namely the mere fact that a nature is not assumed by a higher
person, or, as Thomists assert, some positive reality distinct from nature and
making it incommunicable.

The faculties of man are capable of development and perfection, and, no

matter what external influences may be at work, this is but the unfolding of
natural capacities. Even artificial productions are governed by the laws of
nature, and, in man, natural activities, after they are perfected differ not in
kind but only in degree, from those that are less developed. The supernatural
order is above the exigencies and capacities of all human nature. It consists
of an end to be reached, namely, the intuitive vision of God in heaven not
the mere discursive and imperfect knowledge which is acquired by the light
of reason and of the means to attain such an end, namely, a principle
which must be added to natural faculties so as to uplift them and make them
capable of knowing and reaching this higher destiny. More specifically it
includes an enlightenment of the intellect by a positive revelation of God
manifesting man's supernatural end and the conditions for obtaining it; it also
implies for every individual the indispensable help of Divine grace both
actual, by which God illumines and strengthens human faculties, and
sanctifying, by which human nature is elevated to a higher mode of activity.
Hence theologians oppose the state of pure nature in which God could have
placed man, to the supernatural state to which in fact man was raised.

II. Nature is frequently taken for the totality of concrete natures and their
laws. But here again a narrower and a broader meaning must be
distinguished. Nature refers especially to the world of matter, in time and
space, governed by blind and necessary laws and thus excludes the mental
world. Works of nature, opposed to works of art, result from physical causes,
not from the actual adaptation by human intelligence. This signification is
found in such expressions as natural history, natural philosophy, and in
general, natural science, which deal only with the constitution, production,

properties, and laws of material substances. Sometimes also nature is allinclusive, embracing mind as well as matter; it is our whole world of
experience, internal as well as external. And frequently nature is looked upon
as a personified abstraction, as the one cause of whatever takes place in the
universe, endowed with qualities, tendencies, efforts, and will, and with aims
and purposes which it strives to realize.

The problems to which the philosophical study of nature has given rise are
numerous. All however centre around the question of the unity of nature: Can
all the beings of the world be reduced to one common principle, and if so
what is this principle? The first Greek philosophers, who were almost
exclusively philosophers of nature, endeavoured to find some primitive
element out of which all things were made; air, water, fire, and earth were in
turn or all together supposed to be this common principle. The problem has
persisted through all ages and received many answers. Aristotle's primary
matter, for instance, is of the same nature in all things, and today ether, or
some other substance or energy is advocated by many as the common
substratum of all material substances. After static unity, dynamic unity is
looked for, that is, all the changes that take place in the universe are referred
to the same principle. Dynamism admits forces of various kinds which,
however, it tries to reduce to as small a number as possible, if not to only one
form of energy manifesting itself in different ways. Mechanism holds that
everything is explainable by the sole assumption of movement
communicated from one substance to another. Teleological views give to final
causes a greater importance, and look upon the ends of various beings as
subordinated to the one end which the universe tends to realize.

If nature includes both mental and physical phenomena, what are the
relations between these two classes? On this point also the history of
philosophy offers many attempts to substitute some form of Monism for the
Dualism of mind and matter, by reducing mind to a special function of
matter, or matter to a special appearance of mind, or both to a common

Finally, is nature as a whole self-sufficient, or does it require a transcendent

ground as its cause and principle? Is the natura naturans one and the same
with the natura naturata? By some these expressions are used in a
pantheistic sense, the same substance underlies all phenomena; by others
the natura naturans, as first cause, is held to be really distinct from the
natura naturata, as effect. This is the question of the existence and nature of

God and of his distinction from the world. Here the question of the possibility
of miracles is suggested. If nature alone exists, and if all its changes are
absolutely necessary, everything takes place according to a strict
determinism. If, on the contrary, God exists as a transcendent, intelligent,
and free cause of nature and its laws not only nature in all its details depends
ultimately on God's will, but its ordinary course may be suspended by a
miraculous intervention of the First Cause. (See ARTS; NATURALISM;


EISLER, Worterbuch der philos. Begriffe; RICKABY, General Metaphysics (New

York, 1900); GUTBERLET, Naturphilosophie (Mnster, 1894); HARPER,
Metaphysics of the School (London, 1879-84); MERCIER, Ontologie (Louvain,
1902); NYS, Cosmologie (Louvain, 1906), and literature under NATURALISM.
About this page

APA citation. Dubray, C. (1911). Nature. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New

York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 28, 2016 from New
Advent: Retrieved November 28, 2016 from New Advent:

MLA citation. Dubray, Charles. "Nature." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10.
New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 28 Nov. 201628 Nov. 2016

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kenneth M.

Caldwell. Dedicated to Dr. Wilfried ver Eecke.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,

Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email

address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every
letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback especially notifications about
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The Blessed Trinity

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This article is divided as follows:

Dogma of the Trinity

Proof of the doctrine from Scripture
Proof of the doctrine from Tradition
The Trinity as a mystery
The doctrine as interpreted in Greek theology
The doctrine as interpreted in Latin theology

The dogma of the Trinity

The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the
Christian religion the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three
Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being
truly distinct one from another.

Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is
God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one
God." In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal
generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the
Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the
Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent.
This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus
Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which
she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons
are denoted together. The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a
translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180. He speaks
of "the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom (To Autolycus
II.15). The term may, of course, have been in use before his time. Afterwards
it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian (On Pudicity 21). In the next
century the word is in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen ("In
Ps. xvii", 15). The first creed in which it appears is that of Origen's pupil,
Gregory Thaumaturgus. In his Ekthesis tes pisteos composed between 260
and 270, he writes:

There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity:

nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed,
but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the
Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and
unalterable forever (P.G., X, 986).

It is manifest that a dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation.

When the fact of revelation, understood in its full sense as the speech of God
to man, is no longer admitted, the rejection of the doctrine follows as a
necessary consequence. For this reason it has no place in the Liberal
Protestantism of today. The writers of this school contend that the doctrine of

the Trinity, as professed by the Church, is not contained in the New

Testament, but that it was first formulated in the second century and received
final approbation in the fourth, as the result of the Arian and Macedonian
controversies. In view of this assertion it is necessary to consider in some
detail the evidence afforded by Holy Scripture. Attempts have been made
recently to apply the more extreme theories of comparative religion to the
doctrine of the Trinity, and to account for it by an imaginary law of nature
compelling men to group the objects of their worship in threes. It seems
needless to give more than a reference to these extravagant views, which
serious thinkers of every school reject as destitute of foundation.
Proof of doctrine from Scripture
New Testament

The evidence from the Gospels culminates in the baptismal commission of

Matthew 28:20. It is manifest from the narratives of the Evangelists that
Christ only made the great truth known to the Twelve step by step.

First He taught them to recognize in Himself the Eternal Son of God. When His
ministry was drawing to a close, He promised that the Father would send
another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, in His place. Finally after His
resurrection, He revealed the doctrine in explicit terms, bidding them "go and
teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:18). The force of this passage is decisive.
That "the Father" and "the Son" are distinct Persons follows from the terms
themselves, which are mutually exclusive. The mention of the Holy Spirit in
the same series, the names being connected one with the other by the
conjunctions "and . . . and" is evidence that we have here a Third Person coordinate with the Father and the Son, and excludes altogether the supposition
that the Apostles understood the Holy Spirit not as a distinct Person, but as
God viewed in His action on creatures.

The phrase "in the name" (eis to onoma) affirms alike the Godhead of the
Persons and their unity of nature. Among the Jews and in the Apostolic
Church the Divine name was representative of God. He who had a right to use
it was invested with vast authority: for he wielded the supernatural powers of
Him whose name he employed. It is incredible that the phrase "in the name"
should be here employed, were not all the Persons mentioned equally Divine.
Moreover, the use of the singular, "name," and not the plural, shows that

these Three Persons are that One Omnipotent God in whom the Apostles
believed. Indeed the unity of God is so fundamental a tenet alike of the
Hebrew and of the Christian religion, and is affirmed in such countless
passages of the Old and New Testaments, that any explanation inconsistent
with this doctrine would be altogether inadmissible.

The supernatural appearance at the baptism of Christ is often cited as an

explicit revelation of Trinitarian doctrine, given at the very commencement of
the Ministry. This, it seems to us, is a mistake. The Evangelists, it is true, see
in it a manifestation of the Three Divine Persons. Yet, apart from Christ's
subsequent teaching, the dogmatic meaning of the scene would hardly have
been understood. Moreover, the Gospel narratives appear to signify that none
but Christ and the Baptist were privileged to see the Mystic Dove, and hear
the words attesting the Divine sonship of the Messias.

Besides these passages there are many others in the Gospels which refer to
one or other of the Three Persons in particular and clearly express the
separate personality and Divinity of each. In regard to the First Person it will
not be necessary to give special citations: those which declare that Jesus
Christ is God the Son, affirm thereby also the separate personality of the
Father. The Divinity of Christ is amply attested not merely by St. John, but by
the Synoptists. As this point is treated elsewhere (see JESUS CHRIST), it will
be sufficient here to enumerate a few of the more important messages from
the Synoptists, in which Christ bears witness to His Divine Nature.

He declares that He will come to be the judge of all men (Matthew 25:31).
In Jewish theology the judgment of the world was a distinctively Divine, and
not a Messianic, prerogative.
In the parable of the wicked husbandmen, He describes Himself as the son
of the householder, while the Prophets, one and all, are represented as the
servants (Matthew 21:33 sqq.).
He is the Lord of Angels, who execute His command (Matthew 24:31).
He approves the confession of Peter when he recognizes Him, not as
Messias a step long since taken by all the Apostles but explicitly as the
Son of God: and He declares the knowledge due to a special revelation from
the Father (Matthew 16:16-17).
Finally, before Caiphas He not merely declares Himself to be the Messias,

but in reply to a second and distinct question affirms His claim to be the Son
of God. He is instantly declared by the high priest to be guilty of blasphemy,
an offense which could not have been attached to the claim to be simply the
Messias (Luke 22:66-71).

St. John's testimony is yet more explicit than that of the Synoptists. He
expressly asserts that the very purpose of his Gospel is to establish the
Divinity of Jesus Christ (John 20:31). In the prologue he identifies Him with the
Word, the only-begotten of the Father, Who from all eternity exists with God,
Who is God (John 1:1-18). The immanence of the Son in the Father and of the
Father in the Son is declared in Christ's words to St. Philip: "Do you not
believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" (14:10), and in other
passages no less explicit (14:7; 16:15; 17:21). The oneness of Their power
and Their action is affirmed: "Whatever he [the Father] does, the Son also
does in like manner" (5:19, cf. 10:38); and to the Son no less than to the
Father belongs the Divine attribute of conferring life on whom He will (5:21).
In 10:29, Christ expressly teaches His unity of essence with the Father: "That
which my Father hath given me, is greater than all . . . I and the Father are
one." The words, "That which my Father hath given me," can, having regard
to the context, have no other meaning than the Divine Name, possessed in its
fullness by the Son as by the Father.

Rationalist critics lay great stress upon the text: "The Father is greater than I"
(14:28). They argue that this suffices to establish that the author of the
Gospel held subordinationist views, and they expound in this sense certain
texts in which the Son declares His dependence on the Father (5:19; 8:28). In
point of fact the doctrine of the Incarnation involves that, in regard of His
Human Nature, the Son should be less than the Father. No argument against
Catholic doctrine can, therefore, be drawn from this text. So too, the
passages referring to the dependence of the Son upon the Father do but
express what is essential to Trinitarian dogma, namely, that the Father is the
supreme source from Whom the Divine Nature and perfections flow to the
Son. (On the essential difference between St. John's doctrine as to the Person
of Christ and the Logos doctrine of the Alexandrine Philo, to which many
Rationalists have attempted to trace it, see LOGOS.)

In regard to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the passages which can
be cited from the Synoptists as attesting His distinct personality are few. The
words of Gabriel (Luke 1:35), having regard to the use of the term, "the
Spirit," in the Old Testament, to signify God as operative in His creatures, can

hardly be said to contain a definite revelation of the doctrine. For the same
reason it is dubious whether Christ's warning to the Pharisees as regards
blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31) can be brought forward as
proof. But in Luke 12:12, "The Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour
what you must say" (Matthew 10:20, and Luke 24:49), His personality is
clearly implied. These passages, taken in connection with Matthew 28:19,
postulate the existence of such teaching as we find in the discourses in the
Cenacle reported by St. John (14, 15, 16). We have in these chapters the
necessary preparation for the baptismal commission. In them the Apostles
are instructed not only as the personality of the Spirit, but as to His office
towards the Church. His work is to teach whatsoever He shall hear (16:13) to
bring back their minds the teaching of Christ (14:26), to convince the world of
sin (16:8). It is evident that, were the Spirit not a Person, Christ could not
have spoken of His presence with the Apostles as comparable to His own
presence with them (14:16). Again, were He not a Divine Person it could not
have been expedient for the Apostles that Christ should leave them, and the
Paraclete take His place (16:7). Moreover, notwithstanding the neuter form of
the word (pneuma), the pronoun used in His regard is the masculine ekeinos.
The distinction of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son is involved
in the express statements that He proceeds from the Father and is sent by
the Son (15:26; cf. 14:16, 14:26). Nevertheless, He is one with Them: His
presence with the Disciples is at the same time the presence of the Son
(14:17-18), while the presence of the Son is the presence of the Father

In the remaining New Testament writings numerous passages attest how

clear and definite was the belief of the Apostolic Church in the three Divine
Persons. In certain texts the coordination of Father, Son, and Spirit leaves no
possible doubt as to the meaning of the writer. Thus in 2 Corinthians 13:13,
St. Paul writes: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God,
and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all." Here the
construction shows that the Apostle is speaking of three distinct Persons.
Moreover, since the names God and Holy Ghost are alike Divine names, it
follows that Jesus Christ is also regarded as a Divine Person. So also, in 1
Corinthians 12:4-11: "There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and
there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord: and there are diversities
of operations, but the same God, who worketh all [of them] in all [persons]."
(Cf. also Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2-3)

But apart from passages such as these, where there is express mention of the
Three Persons, the teaching of the New Testament regarding Christ and the

Holy Spirit is free from all ambiguity. In regard to Christ, the Apostles employ
modes of speech which, to men brought up in the Hebrew faith, necessarily
signified belief in His Divinity. Such, for instance, is the use of the Doxology in
reference to Him. The Doxology, "To Him be glory for ever and ever" (cf. 1
Chronicles 16:38; 29:11; Psalm 103:31; 28:2), is an expression of praise
offered to God alone. In the New Testament we find it addressed not alone to
God the Father, but to Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation
1:6; Hebrews 13:20-21), and to God the Father and Christ in conjunction
(Revelations 5:13, 7:10).

Not less convincing is the use of the title Lord (Kyrios). This term represents
the Hebrew Adonai, just as God (Theos) represents Elohim. The two are
equally Divine names (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4). In the Apostolic writings Theos
may almost be said to be treated as a proper name of God the Father, and
Kyrios of the Son (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:5-6); in only a few
passages do we find Kyrios used of the Father (1 Corinthians 3:5; 7:17) or
Theos of Christ. The Apostles from time to time apply to Christ passages of
the Old Testament in which Kyrios is used, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:9
(Numbers 21:7), Hebrews 1:10-12 (Psalm 101:26-28); and they use such
expressions as "the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31; 2 Corinthians 5:11;
Ephesians 5:21), "call upon the name of the Lord," indifferently of God the
Father and of Christ (Acts 2:21; 9:14; Romans 10:13). The profession that
"Jesus is the Lord" (Kyrion Iesoun, Romans 10:9; Kyrios Iesous, 1 Corinthians
12:3) is the acknowledgment of Jesus as Jahweh. The texts in which St. Paul
affirms that in Christ dwells the plenitude of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9),
that before His Incarnation He possessed the essential nature of God
(Philippians 2:6), that He "is over all things, God blessed for ever" (Romans
9:5) tell us nothing that is not implied in many other passages of his Epistles.

The doctrine as to the Holy Spirit is equally clear. That His distinct personality
was fully recognized is shown by many passages. Thus He reveals His
commands to the Church's ministers: "As they were ministering to the Lord
and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Separate me Saul and
Barnabas . . ." (Acts 13:2). He directs the missionary journey of the Apostles:
"They attempted to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them
not" (Acts 16:7; cf. Acts 5:3; 15:28; Romans 15:30). Divine attributes are
affirmed of Him.

He possesses omniscience and reveals to the Church mysteries known only

to God (1 Corinthians 2:10);

it is He who distributes charismata (1 Corinthians 12:11);

He is the giver of supernatural life (2 Corinthians 3:8);
He dwells in the Church and in the souls of individual men, as in His temple
(Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19).
The work of justification and sanctification is attributed to Him (1
Corinthians 6:11; Romans 15:16), just as in other passages the same
operations are attributed to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 2:17).

To sum up: the various elements of the Trinitarian doctrine are all expressly
taught in the New Testament. The Divinity of the Three Persons is asserted or
implied in passages too numerous to count. The unity of essence is not
merely postulated by the strict monotheism of men nurtured in the religion of
Israel, to whom "subordinate deities" would have been unthinkable; but it is,
as we have seen, involved in the baptismal commission of Matthew 28:19,
and, in regard to the Father and the Son, expressly asserted in John 10:38.
That the Persons are co-eternal and coequal is a mere corollary from this. In
regard to the Divine processions, the doctrine of the first procession is
contained in the very terms Father and Son: the procession of the Holy Spirit
from the Father and Son is taught in the discourse of the Lord reported by St.
John (14-17) (see HOLY GHOST).
Old Testament

The early Fathers were persuaded that indications of the doctrine of the
Trinity must exist in the Old Testament and they found such indications in not
a few passages. Many of them not merely believed that the Prophets had
testified of it, they held that it had been made known even to the Patriarchs.
They regarded it as certain that the Divine messenger of Genesis 16:7, 16:18,
21:17, 31:11; Exodus 3:2, was God the Son; for reasons to be mentioned
below (III. B.) they considered it evident that God the Father could not have
thus manifested Himself (cf. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 60; Irenaeus,
Against Heresies IV.20.7-11; Tertullian, Against Praxeas 15-16; Theophilus, To
Autolycus II.22; Novatian, On the Trinity 18, 25, etc.). They held that, when
the inspired writers speak of "the Spirit of the Lord", the reference was to the
Third Person of the Trinity; and one or two (Irenaeus, Against Heresies II.30.9;
Theophilus, To Autolycus II.15; Hippolytus, Against Noetus 10) interpret the
hypostatic Wisdom of the Sapiential books, not, with St. Paul, of the Son
(Hebrews 1:3; cf. Wisdom 7:25-26), but of the Holy Spirit. But in others of the
Fathers is found what would appear to be the sounder view, that no distinct

intimation of the doctrine was given under the Old Covenant. (Cf. Gregory
Nazianzen, Fifth Theological Oration 31; Epiphanius, "Ancor." 73, "Haer.", 74;
Basil, Against Eunomius II.22; Cyril of Alexandria, "In Joan.", xii, 20.)

Some of these, however, admitted that a knowledge of the mystery was

granted to the Prophets and saints of the Old Dispensation (Epiphanius,
"Haer.", viii, 5; Cyril of Alexandria, "Con. Julian., " I). It may be readily
conceded that the way is prepared for the revelation in some of the
prophecies. The names Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14) and God the Mighty (Isaiah
9:6) affirmed of the Messias make mention of the Divine Nature of the
promised deliverer. Yet it seems that the Gospel revelation was needed to
render the full meaning of the passages clear. Even these exalted titles did
not lead the Jews to recognize that the Saviour to come was to be none other
than God Himself. The Septuagint translators do not even venture to render
the words God the Mighty literally, but give us, in their place, "the angel of
great counsel."

A still higher stage of preparation is found in the doctrine of the Sapiential

books regarding the Divine Wisdom. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom appears
personified, and in a manner which suggests that the sacred author was not
employing a mere metaphor, but had before his mind a real person (cf. verses
22, 23). Similar teaching occurs in Ecclesiasticus 24, in a discourse which
Wisdom is declared to utter in "the assembly of the Most High", i.e. in the
presence of the angels. This phrase certainly supposes Wisdom to be
conceived as person. The nature of the personality is left obscure; but we are
told that the whole earth is Wisdom's Kingdom, that she finds her delight in
all the works of God, but that Israel is in a special manner her portion and her
inheritance (Ecclesiasticus 24:8-13).

In the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon we find a still further advance. Here
Wisdom is clearly distinguished from Jehovah: "She is . . . a certain pure
emanation of the glory of the almighty God. . .the brightness of eternal light,
and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty, and the image of his goodness"
(Wisdom 7:25-26. Cf. Hebrews 1:3). She is, moreover, described as "the
worker of all things" (panton technitis, 7:21), an expression indicating that
the creation is in some manner attributable to her. Yet in later Judaism this
exalted doctrine suffered eclipse, and seems to have passed into oblivion.
Nor indeed can it be said that the passage, even though it manifests some
knowledge of a second personality in the Godhead, constitutes a revelation of
the Trinity. For nowhere in the Old Testament do we find any clear indication

of a Third Person. Mention is often made of the Spirit of the Lord, but there is
nothing to show that the Spirit was viewed as distinct from Jahweh Himself.
The term is always employed to signify God considered in His working,
whether in the universe or in the soul of man. The matter seems to be
correctly summed up by Epiphanius, when he says: "The One Godhead is
above all declared by Moses, and the twofold personality (of Father and Son)
is strenuously asserted by the Prophets. The Trinity is made known by the
Gospel" ("Haer.", lxxiv).
Proof of the doctrine from tradition
The Church Fathers

In this section we shall show that the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity has from
the earliest times been taught by the Catholic Church and professed by her
members. As none deny this for any period subsequent to the Arian and
Macedonian controversies, it will be sufficient if we here consider the faith of
the first four centuries only. An argument of very great weight is provided in
the liturgical forms of the Church. The highest probative force must
necessarily attach to these, since they express not the private opinion of a
single individual, but the public belief of the whole body of the faithful. Nor
can it be objected that the notions of Christians on the subject were vague
and confused, and that their liturgical forms reflect this frame of mind. On
such a point vagueness was impossible. Any Christian might be called on to
seal with his blood his belief that there is but One God. The answer of Saint
Maximus (c. A.D. 250) to the command of the proconsul that he should
sacrifice to the gods, "I offer no sacrifice save to the One True God," is typical
of many such replies in the Acts of the martyrs. It is out of the question to
suppose that men who were prepared to give their lives on behalf of this
fundamental truth were in point of fact in so great confusion in regard to it
that they were unaware whether their creed was monotheistic, ditheistic, or
tritheistic. Moreover, we know that their instruction regarding the doctrines of
their religion was solid. The writers of that age bear witness that even the
unlettered were thoroughly familiar with the truths of faith (cf. Justin, First
Apology 60; Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.4.2).

(1) Baptismal formulas

We may notice first the baptismal formula, which all acknowledge to be

primitive. It has already been shown that the words as prescribed by Christ

(Matthew 28:19) clearly express the Godhead of the Three Persons as well as
their distinction, but another consideration may here be added. Baptism, with
its formal renunciation of Satan and his works, was understood to be the
rejection of the idolatry of paganism and the solemn consecration of the
baptised to the one true God (Tertullian, De Spectaculis 4; Justin, First
Apology 4). The act of consecration was the invocation over them of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The supposition that they regarded the Second
and Third Persons as created beings, and were in fact consecrating
themselves to the service of creatures, is manifestly absurd. St. Hippolytus
has expressed the faith of the Church in the clearest terms: "He who
descends into this laver of regeneration with faith forsakes the Evil One and
engages himself to Christ, renounces the enemy and confesses that Christ is
God . . . he returns from the font a son of God and a coheir of Christ. To Whom
with the all holy, the good and lifegiving Spirit be glory now and always,
forever and ever. Amen" (Sermon on Theophany 10).

(2) The doxologies

The witness of the doxologies is no less striking. The form now universal,
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," so clearly
expresses the Trinitarian dogma that the Arians found it necessary to deny
that it had been in use previous to the time of Flavian of Antioch
(Philostorgius, "Hist. eccl.", III, xiii).

It is true that up to the period of the Arian controversy another form, "Glory
to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit," had been more common
(cf. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians 58-59; Justin, First Apology 67). This
latter form is indeed perfectly consistent with Trinitarian belief: it, however,
expresses not the coequality of the Three Persons, but their operation in
regard to man. We live in the Spirit, and through Him we are made partakers
in Christ (Galatians 5:25; Romans 8:9); and it is through Christ, as His
members, that we are worthy to offer praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

But there are many passages in the ante-Nicene Fathers which show that the
form, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to [with] the Holy Spirit,"
was also in use.

In the narrative of St. Polycarp's martyrdom we read: "With Whom to Thee

and the Holy Spirit be glory now and for the ages to come" (Martyrdom of
Polycarp 14; cf. 22).
Clement of Alexandria bids men "give thanks and praise to the only Father
and Son, to the Son and Father with the Holy Spirit" (The Pedagogue III.12).
St. Hippolytus closes his work against Noetus with the words: "To Him be
glory and power with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Holy Church now and
always for ever and ever. Amen" (Against Noetus 18).
Denis of Alexandria uses almost the same words: "To God the Father and to
His Son Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit be honour and glory forever and ever,
Amen" (in St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 29.72).
St. Basil further tells us that it was an immemorial custom among
Christians when they lit the evening lamp to give thanks to God with prayer:
Ainoumen Patera kai Gion kai Hagion Pneuma Theou ("We praise the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God").

(3) Other patristic writings

The doctrine of the Trinity is formally taught in every class of ecclesiastical

writing. From among the apologists we may note Justin, First Apology 6;
Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 12. The latter tells us that Christians
"are conducted to the future life by this one thing alone, that they know God
and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the
communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of
these three, the Spirit, the Son, and the Father, and their distinction in unity."
It would be impossible to be more explicit. And we may be sure that an
apologist, writing for pagans, would weigh well the words in which he dealt
with this doctrine.

Amongst polemical writers we may refer to Irenaeus (Against Heresies I.22

and IV.20.1-6). In these passages he rejects the Gnostic figment that the
world was created by aeons who had emanated from God, but were not
consubstantial with Him, and teaches the consubstantiality of the Word and
the Spirit by Whom God created all things.

Clement of Alexandria professes the doctrine in The Pedagogue I.6, and

somewhat later Gregory Thaumaturgus, as we have already seen, lays it

down in the most express terms in his Creed.

(4) As contrasted with heretical teachings

Yet further evidence regarding the Church's doctrine is furnished by a

comparison of her teaching with that of heretical sects.

The controversy with the Sabellians in the third century proves conclusively
that she would tolerate no deviation from Trinitarian doctrine. Noetus of
Smyrna, the originator of the error, was condemned by a local synod, about
A.D. 200. Sabellius, who propagated the same heresy at Rome c. A.D. 220,
was excommunicated by St. Callistus.

It is notorious that the sect made no appeal to tradition: it found

Trinitarianism in possession wherever it appeared at Smyrna, at Rome, in
Africa, in Egypt. On the other hand, St. Hippolytus, who combats it in the
"Contra Noetum", claims Apostolic tradition for the doctrine of the Catholic
Church: "Let us believe, beloved brethren, in accordance with the tradition of
the Apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven to the holy Virgin
Mary to save man."

Somewhat later (c. A.D. 260) Denis of Alexandria found that the error was
widespread in the Libyan Pentapolis, and he addressed a dogmatic letter
against it to two bishops, Euphranor and Ammonius. In this, in order to
emphasize the distinction between the Persons, he termed the Son poiema
tou Theou and used other expressions capable of suggesting that the Son is
to be reckoned among creatures. He was accused of heterodoxy to St.
Dionysius of Rome, who held a council and addressed to him a letter dealing
with the true Catholic doctrine on the point in question. The Bishop of
Alexandria replied with a defense of his orthodoxy entitled "Elegxhos kai
apologia," in which he corrected whatever had been erroneous. He expressly
professes his belief in the consubstantiality of the Son, using the very term,
homoousios, which afterwards became the touchstone of orthodoxy at Nicaea
(P.G., XXV, 505). The story of the controversy is conclusive as to the doctrinal
standard of the Church. It shows us that she was firm in rejecting on the one
hand any confusion of the Persons and on the other hand any denial of their


The information we possess regarding another heresy that of Montanus

supplies us with further proof that the doctrine of the Trinity was the Church's
teaching in A.D. 150. Tertullian affirms in the clearest terms that what he held
as to the Trinity when a Catholic he still holds as a Montanist (Against Praxeas
2); and in the same work he explicitly teaches the Divinity of the Three
Persons, their distinction, the eternity of God the Son (Against Praxeas 27).
Epiphanius in the same way asserts the orthodoxy of the Montanists on this
subject (Haer., lxviii). Now it is not to be supposed that the Montanists had
accepted any novel teaching from the Catholic Church since their secession
in the middle of the second century. Hence, inasmuch as there was full
agreement between the two bodies in regard to the Trinity, we have here
again a clear proof that Trinitarianism was an article of faith at a time when
the Apostolic tradition was far too recent for any error to have arisen on a
point so vital.
Later controversy

Notwithstanding the force of the arguments we have just summarised, a

vigorous controversy has been carried on from the end of the seventeenth
century to the present day regarding the Trinitarian doctrine of the anteNicene Fathers. The Socinian writers of the seventeenth century (e.g. Sand,
"Nucleus historiae ecclesiastic", Amsterdam, 1668) asserted that the
language of the early Fathers in many passages of their works shows that
they agreed not with Athanasius, but with Arius. Petavius, who was at that
period engaged on his great theological work, was convinced by their
arguments, and allowed that at least some of these Fathers had fallen into
grave errors. On the other hand, their orthodoxy was vigorously defended by
the Anglican divine Dr. George Bull ("Defensio Fidei Nicaean", Oxford, 1685)
and subsequently by Bossuet, Thomassinus, and other Catholic theologians.
Those who take the less favourable view assert that they teach the following
points inconsistent with the post-Nicene belief of the Church:

That the Son even as regards His Divine Nature is inferior and not equal to
the Father;
that the Son alone appeared in the theophanies of the Old Testament,
inasmuchas the Father is essentially invisible, the Son, however, not so;
that the Son is a created being;

that the generation of the Son is not eternal, but took place in time.

We shall examine these four points in order.

(1) In proof of the assertion that many of the Fathers deny the equality of the
Son with the Father, passages are cited from Justin (First Apology 13, 32),
Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.8.3), Clement of Alexandria (Stromata VII.2),
Hippolytus (Against Noetus 14), Origen (Against Celsus VIII.15). Thus Irenaeus
(Against Heresies III.8.3) says: "He commanded, and they were created . . .
Whom did He command? His Word, by whom, says the Scripture, the heavens
were established. And Origen (Against Celsus VIII.15) says: "We declare that
the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this belief we
ground on the saying of Jesus Himself: "The Father who sent me is greater
than I."

Now in regard to these passages it must be borne in mind that there are two
ways of considering the Trinity. We may view the Three Persons insofar as
they are equally possessed of the Divine Nature or we may consider the Son
and the Spirit as deriving from the Father, Who is the sole source of Godhead,
and from Whom They receive all They have and are. The former mode of
considering them has been the more common since the Arian heresy. The
latter, however, was more frequent previously to that period. Under this
aspect, the Father, as being the sole source of all, may be termed greater
than the Son. Thus Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa,
and the Fathers of the Council of Sardica, in their synodical letter, all treat our
Lord's words, teaches "The Father is greater than I" as having reference to His
Godhead (cf. Petavius, "De Trin.", II, ii, 7, vi, 11). From this point of view it
may be said that in the creation of the world the Father commanded, the Son
obeyed. The expression is not one which would have been employed by Latin
writers who insist that creation and all God's works proceed from Him as One
and not from the Persons as distinct from each other. But this truth was
unfamiliar to the early Fathers.

(2) Justin (Dialogue with Trypho 60) Irenaeus (Against Heresies IV.20.7-11),
Tertullian ("C. Marc.", II, 27; Against Praxeas 15-16), Novatian (On the Trinity
18.25), Theophilus (To Autolycus II.22), are accused of teaching that the
theophanies were incompatible with the essential nature of the Father, yet
not incompatible with that of the Son. In this case also the difficulty is largely

removed if it be remembered that these writers regarded all the Divine

operations as proceeding from the Three Persons as such, and not from the
Godhead viewed as one. Now Revelation teaches us that in the work of the
creation and redemption of the world the Father effects His purpose through
the Son. Through Him He made the world; through Him He redeemed it;
through Him He will judge it. Hence it was believed by these writers that,
having regard to the present disposition of Providence, the theophanies could
only have been the work of the Son. Moreover, in Colossians 1:15, the Son is
expressly termed "the image of the invisible God" (eikon tou Theou rou
aoratou). This expression they seem to have taken with strict literalness. The
function of an eikon is to manifest what is itself hidden (cf. St. John
Damascene, "De imagin.", III, n. 17). Hence they held that the work of
revealing the Father belongs by nature to the Second Person of the Trinity,
and concluded that the theophanies were His work.

(3) Expressions which appear to contain the statement that the Son was
created are found in Clement of Alexandria (Stromata V.14 and VI.7), Tatian
(Address to the Greeks 5), Tertullian (Against Praxeas 6; Against Hermogenes
18-20), Origen (Commentary on John I.22). Clement speaks of Wisdom as
"created before all things" (protoktistos), and Tatian terms the Word the "firstbegotten work of (ergon prototokon) the Father."

Yet the meaning of these authors is clear. In Colossians 1:16, St. Paul says
that all things were created in the Son. This was understood to signify that
creation took place according to exemplar ideas predetermined by God and
existing in the Word. In view of this, it might be said that the Father created
the Word, this term being used in place of the more accurate generated,
inasmuch as the exemplar ideas of creation were communicated by the
Father to the Son. Or, again, the actual Creation of the world might be termed
the creation of the Word, since it takes place according to the ideas which
exist in the Word. The context invariably shows that the passage is to be
understood in one or another of these senses.

The expression is undoubtedly very harsh, and it certainly would never have
been employed but for the verse, Proverbs 8:22, which is rendered in the
Septuagint and the old Latin versions, "The Lord created (ektise) me, who am
the beginning of His ways." As the passage was understood as having
reference to the Son, it gave rise to the question how it could be said that
Wisdom was created (Origen, De Principiis I.2.3). It is further to be
remembered that accurate terminology in regard to the relations between the

Three Persons was the fruit of the controversies which sprang up in the fourth
century. The writers of an earlier period were not concerned with Arianism,
and employed expressions which in the light of subsequent errors are seen to
be not merely inaccurate, but dangerous.

(4) Greater difficulty is perhaps presented by a series of passages which

appear to assert that prior to the Creation of the world the Word was not a
distinct hypostasis from the Father. These are found in Justin (Dialogue with
Trypho 61), Tatian (Address to the Greeks 5), Athenagoras (A Plea for the
Christians 10), Theophilus (To Autolycus II.10); Hippolytus (Against Noetus
10); Tertullian (Against Praxeas 5-7; Against Hermogenes 18). Thus
Theophilus writes (To Autolycus II.22):

What else is this voice [heard in Paradise] but the Word of God Who is also
His Son? . . . For before anything came into being, He had Him as a
counsellor, being His own mind and thought [i.e. as the logos endiathetos, c.
x]). But when God wished to make all that He had determined on, then did He
beget Him as the uttered Word [logos prophorikos], the firstborn of all
creation, not, however, Himself being left without Reason (logos), but having
begotten Reason, and ever holding converse with Reason.

Expressions such as these are undoubtedly due to the influence of the Stoic
philosophy: the logos endiathetos and logos prophorikos were current
conceptions of that school. It is evident that these apologists were seeking to
explain the Christian Faith to their pagan readers in terms with which the
latter were familiar. Some Catholic writers have indeed thought that the
influence of their previous training did lead some of them into
Subordinationism, although the Church herself was never involved in the
error (see LOGOS). Yet it does not seem necessary to adopt this conclusion. If
the point of view of the writers be borne in mind, the expressions, strange as
they are, will be seen not to be incompatible with orthodox belief. The early
Fathers, as we have said, regarded Proverbs 8:22, and Colossians 1:15, as
distinctly teaching that there is a sense in which the Word, begotten before
all worlds, may rightly be said to have been begotten also in time. This
temporal generation they conceived to be none other than the act of
creation. They viewed this as the complement of the eternal generation,
inasmuch as it is the external manifestation of those creative ideas which
from all eternity the Father has communicated to the Eternal Word. Since, in
the very same works which contain these perplexing expressions, other
passages are found teaching explicitly the eternity of the Son, it appears

most natural to interpret them in this sense.

It should further be remembered that throughout this period theologians,

when treating of the relation of the Divine Persons to each other, invariably
regard them in connection with the cosmogony. Only later, in the Nicene
epoch, did they learn to prescind from the question of creation and deal with
the threefold Personality exclusively from the point of view of the Divine life
of the Godhead. When that stage was reached expressions such as these
became impossible.
The trinity as a mystery

The Vatican Council has explained the meaning to be attributed to the term
mystery in theology. It lays down that a mystery is a truth which we are not
merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which,
even when revealed, remains "hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so
to speak, by a kind of darkness" (Constitution, "De fide. cath.", iv). In other
words, our understanding of it remains only partial, even after we have
accepted it as part of the Divine message. Through analogies and types we
can form a representative concept expressive of what is revealed, but we
cannot attain that fuller knowledge which supposes that the various elements
of the concept are clearly grasped and their reciprocal compatibility manifest.
As regards the vindication of a mystery, the office of the natural reason is
solely to show that it contains no intrinsic impossibility, that any objection
urged against it on Reason. "Expressions such as these are undoubtedly the
score that it violates the laws of thought is invalid. More than this it cannot

The Vatican Council further defined that the Christian Faith contains
mysteries strictly so called (can. 4). All theologians admit that the doctrine of
the Trinity is of the number of these. Indeed, of all revealed truths this is the
most impenetrable to reason. Hence, to declare this to be no mystery would
be a virtual denial of the canon in question. Moreover, our Lord's words,
Matthew 11:27, "No one knoweth the Son, but the Father," seem to declare
expressly that the plurality of Persons in the Godhead is a truth entirely
beyond the scope of any created intellect. The Fathers supply many passages
in which the incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature is affirmed. St. Jerome
says, in a well-known phrase: "The true profession of the mystery of the
Trinity is to own that we do not comprehend it" (De mysterio Trinitatus recta
confessio est ignoratio scientiae "Proem ad 1. xviii in Isai."). The

controversy with the Eunomians, who declared that the Divine Essence was
fully expressed in the absolutely simple notion of "the Innascible"
(agennetos), and that this was fully comprehensible by the human mind, led
many of the Greek Fathers to insist on the incomprehensibility of the Divine
Nature, more especially in regard to the internal processions. St. Basil,
Against Eunomius I.14; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures VI; St.
John Damascene, Of the Orthodox Faith I.2, etc.).

At a later date, however, some famous names are to be found defending a

contrary opinion. Anselm ("Monol.", 64), Abelard ("ln Ep. ad Rom."), Hugo of
St. Victor ("De sacram." III, xi), and Richard of St. Victor ("De Trin.", III, v) all
declare that it is possible to assign peremptory reasons why God should be
both One and Three. In explanation of this it should be noted that at that
period the relation of philosophy to revealed doctrine was but obscurely
understood. Only after the Aristotelean system had obtained recognition from
theologians was this question thoroughly treated. In the intellectual ferment
of the time Abelard initiated a Rationalistic tendency: not merely did he claim
a knowledge of the Trinity for the pagan philosophers, but his own Trinitarian
doctrine was practically Sabellian. Anselm's error was due not to Rationalism,
but to too wide an application of the Augustinian principle "Crede ut
intelligas". Hugh and Richard of St. Victor were, however, certainly influenced
by Abelard's teaching. Raymond Lully's (1235-1315) errors in this regard were
even more extreme. They were expressly condemned by Gregory XI in 1376.
In the nineteenth century the influence of the prevailing Rationalism
manifested itself in several Catholic writers. Frohschammer and Gnther both
asserted that the dogma of the Trinity was capable of proof. Pius IX
reprobated their opinions on more than one occasion (Denzinger, 1655 sq.,
1666 sq., 1709 sq.), and it was to guard against this tendency that the
Vatican Council issued the decrees to which reference has been made. A
somewhat similar, though less aggravated, error on the part of Rosmini was
condemned, 14 December, 1887 (Denz., 1915).
The doctrine as interpreted in Greek theology
Nature and personality

The Greek Fathers approached the problem of Trinitarian doctrine in a way

which differs in an important particular from that which, since the days of St.
Augustine, has become traditional in Latin theology.

In Latin theology thought fixed first on the Nature and only subsequently on
the Persons. Personality is viewed as being, so to speak, the final complement
of the Nature: the Nature is regarded as logically prior to the Personality.
Hence, because God's Nature is one, He is known to us as One God before He
can be known as Three Persons. And when theologians speak of God without
special mention of a Person, conceive Him under this aspect.

This is entirely different from the Greek point of view. Greek thought fixed
primarily on the Three distinct Persons: the Father, to Whom, as the source
and origin of all, the name of God (Theos) more especially belongs; the Son,
proceeding from the Father by an eternal generation, and therefore rightly
termed God also; and the Divine Spirit, proceeding from the Father through
the Son. The Personality is treated as logically prior to the Nature. Just as
human nature is something which the individual men possesses, and which
can only be conceived as belonging to and dependent on the individual, so
the Divine Nature is something which belongs to the Persons and cannot be
conceived independently of Them.

The contrast appears strikingly in regard to the question of creation. All

Western theologians teach that creation, like all God's external works,
proceeds from Him as One: the separate Personalities do not enter into
consideration. The Greeks invariably speak as though, in all the Divine works,
each Person exercises a separate office. Irenaeus replies to the Gnostics, who
held that the world was created by a demiurge other than the supreme God,
by affirming that God is the one Creator, and that He made all things by His
Word and His Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit (Against Heresies I.22, II.4.4-5,
II.30.9 and IV.20.1). A formula often found among the Greek Fathers is that all
things are from the Father and are effected by the Son in the Spirit
(Athanasius, "Ad Serap.", I, xxxi; Basil, On the Holy Spirit 38; Cyril of
Alexandria, "De Trin. dial.", VI). Thus, too, Hippolytus (Against Noetus 10) says
that God has fashioned all things by His Word and His Wisdom creating them
by His Word, adorning them by His Wisdom (gar ta genomena dia Logou kai
Sophias technazetai, Logo men ktizon Sophia de kosmon). The Nicene Creed
still preserves for us this point of view. In it we still profess our belief "in one
God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth . . . and in one Lord
Jesus Christ . . . by Whom all things were made . . . and in the Holy Ghost."
The divine unity

The Greek Fathers did not neglect to safeguard the doctrine of the Divine

Unity, though manifestly their standpoint requires a different treatment from

that employed in the West. The consubstantiality of the Persons is asserted
by St. Irenus when he tells us that God created the world by His Son and
His Spirit, "His two hands" (Against Heresies IV.20.1). The purport of the
phrase is evidently to indicate that the Second and Third Persons are not
substantially distinct from the First. A more philosophical description is the
doctrine of the Recapitulation (sygkephalaiosis). This seems to be first found
in the correspondence between St. Denis of Alexandria and St. Dionysius of
Rome. The former writes: "We thus [i.e., by the twofold procession] extend
the Monad [the First Person] to the Trinity, without causing any division, and
were capitulate the Trinity in the Monad without causing diminution" (outo
men emeis eis te ten Triada ten Monada, platynomen adiaireton, kai ten
Triada palin ameioton eis ten Monada sygkephalaioumetha P.G., XXV, 504).
Here the consubstantiality is affirmed on the ground that the Son and Spirit,
proceeding from the Father, are nevertheless not separated from Him; while
they again, with all their perfections, can be regarded as contained within

This doctrine supposes a point of view very different from that with which we
are now familiar. The Greek Fathers regarded the Son as the Wisdom and
power of the Father (1 Corinthians 1:24) in a formal sense, and in like
manner, the Spirit as His Sanctity. Apart from the Son the Father would be
without His Wisdom; apart from the Spirit He would be without His Sanctity.
Thus the Son and the Spirit are termed "Powers" (Dynameis) of the Father.
But while in creatures the powers and faculties are mere accidental
perfections, in the Godhead they are subsistent hypostases. Denis of
Alexandria regarding the Second and Third Persons as the Father's "Powers",
speaks of the First Person as being "extended" to them, and not divided from
them. And, since whatever they have and are flows from Him, this writer
asserts that if we fix our thoughts on the sole source of Deity alone, we find
in Him undiminished all that is contained in them.

The Arian controversy led to insistence on the Homosia. But with the Greeks
this is not a starting point, but a conclusion, the result of reflective analysis.
The sonship of the Second Person implies that He has received the Divine
Nature in its fullness, for all generation implies the origination of one who is
like in nature to the originating principle. But here, mere specific unity is out
of the question. The Divine Essence is not capable of numerical
multiplication; it is therefore, they reasoned, identically the same nature
which both possess. A similar line of argument establishes that the Divine
Nature as communicated to the Holy Spirit is not specifically, but numerically,

one with that of the Father and the Son. Unity of nature was understood by
the Greek Fathers as involving unity of will and unity of action (energeia). This
they declared the Three Persons to possess (Athanasius, "Adv. Sabell.", xii,
13; Basil, Epistle 189, no. 7; Gregory of Nyssa, "De orat. dom., " John
Damascene, Of the Orthodox Faith III.14). Here we see an important advance
in the theology of the Godhead. For, as we have noted, the earlier Fathers
invariably conceive the Three Persons as each exercising a distinct and
separate function.

Finally we have the doctrine of Circuminsession (perichoresis). By this is

signified the reciprocal inexistence and compenetration of the Three Persons.
The term perichoresis is first used by St. John Damascene. Yet the doctrine is
found much earlier. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria says that the Son is called the
Word and Wisdom of the Father "because of the reciprocal inherence of these
and the mind" (dia ten eis allela . . . ., hos an eipoi tis, antembolen). St. John
Damascene assigns a twofold basis for this inexistence of the Persons. In
some passages he explains it by the doctrine already mentioned, that the
Son and the Spirit are dynameis of the Father (cf. "De recta sententia"). Thus
understood, the Circuminsession is a corollary of the doctrine of
Recapitulation. He also understands it as signifying the identity of essence,
will, and action in the Persons. Wherever these are peculiar to the individual,
as is the case in all creatures, there, he tells us, we have separate existence
(kechorismenos einai). In the Godhead the essence, will, and action are but
one. Hence we have not separate existence, but Circuminsession
(perichoresis) (Of the Orthodox Faith I.8). Here, then, the Circuminsession has
its basis in the Homosia.

It is easy to see that the Greek system was less well adapted to meet the
cavils of the Arian and Macedonian heretics than was that subsequently
developed by St. Augustine. Indeed the controversies of the fourth century
brought some of the Greek Fathers notably nearer to the positions of Latin
theology. We have seen that they were led to affirm the action of the Three
Persons to be but one. Didymus even employs expressions which seem to
show that he, like the Latins, conceived the Nature as logically antecedent to
the Persons. He understands the term God as signifying the whole Trinity, and
not, as do the other Greeks, the Father alone: "When we pray, whether we
say 'Kyrie eleison', or 'O God aid us', we do not miss our mark: for we include
the whole of the Blessed Trinity in one Godhead" (De Trin., II, xix).
Mediate and immediate procession

The doctrine that the Spirit is the image of the Son, as the Son is the image of
the Father, is characteristic of Greek theology. It is asserted by St. Gregory
Thaumaturgus in his Creed. It is assumed by St. Athanasius as an
indisputable premise in his controversy with the Macedonians (Ad Serap., I,
xx, xxi, xxiv; II, i, iv). It is implied in the comparisons employed both by him
(Ad Serap. I, xix) and by St. Gregory Nazianzen (Orations 31.31-32), of the
Three Divine Persons to the sun, the ray, the light; and to the source, the
spring, and the stream. We find it also in St. Cyril of Alexandria ("Thesaurus
assert.", 33), St. John Damascene (Of the Orthodox Faith I.13), etc. This
supposes that the procession of the Son from the Father is immediate; that of
the Spirit from the Father is mediate. He proceeds from the Father through
the Son.

Bessarion rightly observes that the Fathers who used these expressions
conceived the Divine Procession as taking place, so to speak, along a straight
line (P.G., CLXI, 224). On the other hand, in Western theology the symbolic
diagram of the Trinity has ever been the triangle, the relations of the Three
Persons one to another being precisely similar. The point is worth noting, for
this diversity of symbolic representation leads inevitably to very different
expressions of the same dogmatic truth. It is plain that these Fathers would
have rejected no less firmly than the Latins the later Photian heresy that the
Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. (For this question the reader is
referred to HOLY GHOST.)
The Son

The Greek theology of the Divine Generation differs in certain particulars

from the Latin. Most Western theologians base their theory on the name,
Logos, given by St. John to the Second Person. This they understand in the
sense of "concept" (verbum mentale), and hold that the Divine Generation is
analogous to the act by which the created intellect produces its concept.
Among Greek writers this explanation is unknown. They declare the manner
of the Divine Generation to be altogether beyond our comprehension. We
know by revelation that God has a Son; and various other terms besides Son
employed regarding Him in Scripture, such as Word, Brightness of His glory,
etc., show us that His sonship must be conceived as free from any relation.
More we know not (cf. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 29.8, Cyril of Jerusalem,
Catechetical Lectures XI.19; John Damascene, Of the Orthodox Faith I.8). One
explanation only can be given, namely, that the perfection we call fecundity
must needs be found in God the Absolutely Perfect (St. John Damascene, Of
the Orthodox Faith I.8). Indeed it would seem that the great majority of the

Greek Fathers understood logos not of the mental thought; but of the uttered
word (Athanasius, Dionysius of Alexandria, ibid.; Cyril of Alexandria, "De
Trin.", II). They did not see in the term a revelation that the Son is begotten
by way of intellectual procession, but viewed it as a metaphor intended to
exclude the material associations of human sonship (Gregory of Nyssa,
Against Eunomius IV; Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 30; Basil, "Hom. xvi"; Cyril
of Alexandria, "Thesaurus assert.", vi).

We have already adverted to the view that the Son is the Wisdom and Power
of the Father in the full and formal sense. This teaching constantly recurs
from the time of Origen to that of St. John Damascene (Origen apud
Athanasius, De decr. Nic.; Athanasius, Against the Arians I; Cyril of Alexandria,
"Thesaurus"; John Damascene, Of the Orthodox Faith I.12). It is based on the
Platonic philosophy accepted by the Alexandrine School. This differs in a
fundamental point from the Aristoteleanism of the Scholastic theologians. In
Aristotelean philosophy perfection is always conceived statically. No action,
transient or immanent, can proceed from any agent unless that agent, as
statically conceived, possesses whatever perfection is contained in the
action. The Alexandrine standpoint was other than this. To them perfection
must be sought in dynamic activity. God, as the supreme perfection, is from
all eternity self-moving, ever adorning Himself with His own attributes: they
issue from Him and, being Divine, are not accidents, but subsistent realities.
To these thinkers, therefore, there was no impossibility in the supposition that
God is wise with the Wisdom which is the result of His own immanent action,
powerful with the Power which proceeds from Him. The arguments of the
Greek Fathers frequently presuppose this philosophy as their basis; and
unless it be clearly grasped, reasoning which on their premises is conclusive
will appear to us invalid and fallacious. Thus it is sometimes urged as a
reason for rejecting Arianism that, if there were a time when the Son was not,
it follows that God must then have been devoid of Wisdom and of Power a
conclusion from which even Arians would shrink.
The Holy Spirit

A point which in Western theology gives occasion for some discussion is the
question as to why the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is termed the Holy
Spirit. St. Augustine suggests that it is because He proceeds from both the
Father and the Son, and hence He rightly receives a name applicable to both
(On the Trinity XV.37). To the Greek Fathers, who developed the theology of
the Spirit in the light of the philosophical principles which we have just
noticed, the question presented no difficulty. His name, they held, reveals to

us His distinctive character as the Third Person, just as the names Father and
Son manifest the distinctive characters of the First and Second Persons (cf.
Gregory Thaumaturgus, Declaration of Faith; Basil, Epistle 214.4; Gregory
Nazianzen, Oration 25.16). He is autoagiotes, the hypostatic holiness of God,
the holiness by which God is holy. Just as the Son is the Wisdom and Power by
which God is wise and powerful, so the Spirit is the Holiness by which He is
holy. Had there ever been a time, as the Macedonians dared to say, when the
Holy Spirit was not, then at that time God would have not been holy (St.
Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31.4).

On the other hand, pneuma was often understood in the light of John 10:22
where Christ, appearing to the Apostles, breathed on them and conferred on
them the Holy Spirit. He is the breath of Christ (John Damascene, Of the
Orthodox Faith I.8), breathed by Him into us, and dwelling in us as the breath
of life by which we enjoy the supernatural life of God's children (Cyril of
Alexandria, "Thesaurus"; cf. Petav., "De Trin", V, viii). The office of the Holy
Spirit in thus elevating us to the supernatural order is, however, conceived in
a manner somewhat different from that of Western theologians. According to
Western doctrine, God bestows on man sanctifying grace, and consequent on
that gift the Three Persons come to his soul.

In Greek theology the order is reversed: the Holy Spirit does not come to us
because we have received sanctifying grace; but it is through His presence
we receive the gift. He is the seal, Himself impressing on us the Divine image.
That Divine image is indeed realized in us, but the seal must be present to
secure the continued existence of the impression. Apart from Him it is not
found (Origen, Commentary on John II.6; Didymus, "De Spiritu Sancto", x, 11;
Athanasius, "Ep. ad. Serap.", III, iii). This Union with the Holy Spirit constitutes
our deification (theopoiesis). Inasmuch as He is the image of Christ, He
imprints the likeness of Christ upon us; since Christ is the image of the
Father, we too receive the true character of God's children (Athanasius, loc.
cit.; Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31.4). It is in reference to this work in our
regard that in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed the Holy Spirit is termed
the Giver of life (zoopoios). In the West we more naturally speak of grace as
the life of the soul. But to the Greeks it was the Spirit through whose personal
presence we live. Just as God gave natural life to Adam by breathing into his
inanimate frame the breath of life, so did Christ give spiritual life to us when
He bestowed on us the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The doctrine as interpreted in Latin theology

The transition to the Latin theology of the Trinity was the work of St.
Augustine. Western theologians have never departed from the main lines
which he laid down, although in the Golden Age of Scholasticism his system
was developed, its details completed, and its terminology perfected.

It received its final and classical form from St. Thomas Aquinas. But it is
necessary first to indicate in what consisted the transition effected by St.
Augustine. This may be summed up in three points:

He views the Divine Nature as prior to the Personalities. Deus is for him not
God the Father, but the Trinity. This was a step of the first importance,
safeguarding as it did alike the unity of God and the equality of the Persons in
a manner which the Greek system could never do. As we have seen, one at
least of the Greeks, Didymus, had adopted this standpoint and it is possible
that Augustine may have derived this method of viewing the mystery from
him. But to make it the basis for the whole treatment of the doctrine was the
work of Augustine's genius.
He insists that every external operation of God is due to the whole Trinity,
and cannot be attributed to one Person alone, save by appropriation (see
HOLY GHOST). The Greek Fathers had, as we have seen, been led to affirm
that the action (energeia) of the Three Persons was one, and one alone. But
the doctrine of appropriation was unknown to them, and thus the value of this
conclusion was obscured by a traditional theology implying the distinct
activities of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
By indicating the analogy between the two processions within the Godhead
and the internal acts of thought and will in the human mind (On the Trinity
IX.3.3 and X.11.17), he became the founder of the psychological theory of the
Trinity, which, with a very few exceptions, was accepted by every subsequent
Latin writer.

In the following exposition of the Latin doctrines, we shall follow St. Thomas
Aquinas, whose treatment of the doctrine is now universally accepted by
Catholic theologians. It should be observed, however, that this is not the only
form in which the psychological theory has been proposed. Thus Richard of
St. Victor, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure, while adhering in the
main to Western tradition, were more influenced by Greek thought, and give
us a system differing somewhat from that of St. Thomas.
The Son

Among the terms employed in Scripture to designate the Second Person of

the Blessed Trinity is the Word (John 1:1). This is understood by St. Thomas of
the Verbum mentale, or intellectual concept. As applied to the Son, the name,
he holds, signifies that He proceeds from the Father as the term of an
intellectual procession, in a manner analogous to that in which a concept is
generated by the human mind in all acts of natural knowledge. It is, indeed,
of faith that the Son proceeds from the Father by a veritable generation. He
is, says the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed, begotten before all worlds".
But the Procession of a Divine Person as the term of the act by which God
knows His own nature is rightly called generation. This may be readily shown.
As an act of intellectual conception, it necessarily produces the likeness of
the object known. And further, being Divine action, it is not an accidental act
resulting in a term, itself a mere accident, but the act is the very substance of
the Divinity, and the term is likewise substantial. A process tending
necessarily to the production of a substantial term like in nature to the Person
from Whom it proceeds is a process of generation. In regard to this view as to
the procession of the Son, a difficulty was felt by St. Anselm (Monol., lxiv) on
the score that it would seem to involve that each of the Three Persons must
needs generate a subsistent Word. Since all the Powers possess the same
mind, does it not follow, he asked, that in each case thought produces a
similar term? This difficulty St. Thomas succeeds in removing. According to
his psychology the formation of a concept is not essential to thought as such,
though absolutely requisite to all natural human knowledge. There is,
therefore, no ground in reason, apart from revelation, for holding that the
Divine intellect produces a Verbum mentale. It is the testimony of Scripture
alone which tells us that the Father has from all eternity begotten His
consubstantial Word. But neither reason nor revelation suggests it in the case
of the Second and Third Persons (I:34:1, ad 3).

Not a few writers of great weight hold that there is sufficient consensus
among the Fathers and Scholastic theologians as to the meaning of the
names Word and Wisdom (Proverbs 8), applied to the Son, for us to regard
the intellectual procession of the Second Person as at least theologically
certain, if not a revealed truth (cf. Francisco Surez, "De Trin.", I, v, p. 4;
Petavius, VI, i, 7; Franzelin, "De Trin.", Thesis xxvi). This, however, seems to
be an exaggeration. The immense majority of the Greek Fathers, as we have
already noticed, interpret logos of the spoken word, and consider the
significance of the name to lie not in any teaching as to intellectual
procession, but in the fact that it implies a mode of generation devoid of all
passion. Nor is the tradition as to the interpretation of Proverbs 8, in any
sense unanimous. In view of these facts the opinion of those theologians

seems the sounder who regard this explanation of the procession simply as a
theological opinion of great probability and harmonizing well with revealed
The Holy Spirit

Just as the Son proceeds as the term of the immanent act of the intellect, so
does the Holy Spirit proceed as the term of the act of the Divine will. In
human love, as St. Thomas teaches (I:27:3), even though the object be
external to us, yet the immanent act of love arouses in the soul a state of
ardour which is, as it were, an impression of the thing loved. In virtue of this
the object of love is present to our affections, much as, by means of the
concept, the object of thought is present to our intellect. This experience is
the term of the internal act. The Holy Spirit, it is contended, proceeds from
the Father and the Son as the term of the love by which God loves Himself.
He is not the love of God in the sense of being Himself formally the love by
which God loves; but in loving Himself God breathes forth this subsistent
term. He is Hypostatic Love. Here, however, it is necessary to safeguard a
point of revealed doctrine. It is of faith that the procession of the Holy Spirit is
not generation. The Son is "the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). And
the Athanasian Creed expressly lays it down that the Holy Ghost is "from the
Father and the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but

If the immanent act of the intellect is rightly termed generation, on what

grounds can that name be denied to the act of the will? The answers given in
reply to this difficulty by St. Thomas, Richard of St. Victor, and Alexander of
Hales are very different. It will be sufficient here to note St. Thomas's
solution. Intellectual procession, he says, is of its very nature the production
of a term in the likeness of the thing conceived. This is not so in regard to the
act of the will. Here the primary result is simply to attract the subject to the
object of his love. This difference in the acts explains why the name
generation is applicable only to the act of the intellect. Generation is
essentially the production of like by like. And no process which is not
essentially of that character can claim the name.

The doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit by means of the act of the
Divine will is due entirely to Augustine. It is nowhere found among the
Greeks, who simply declare the procession of the Spirit to be beyond our
comprehension, nor is it found in the Latins before his time. He mentions the

opinion with favour in the "De fide et symbolo" (A.D. 393); and in the "De
Trinitate" (A.D. 415) develops it at length. His teaching was accepted by the
West. The Scholastics seek for Scriptural support for it in the name Holy
Spirit. This must, they argue, be, like the names Father and Son, a name
expressive of a relation within the Godhead proper to the Person who bears it.
Now the attribute holy, as applied to person or thing, signifies that the being
of which it is affirmed is devoted to God. It follows therefore that, when
applied to a Divine Person as designating the relation uniting Him to the other
Persons, it must signify that the procession determining His origin is one
which of its nature involves devotion to God. But that by which any person is
devoted to God is love. The argument is ingenious, but hardly convincing;
and the same may be said of a somewhat similar piece of reasoning
regarding the name Spirit (I:36:1). The Latin theory is a noble effort of the
human reason to penetrate the verities which revelation has left veiled in
mystery. It harmonizes, as we have said, with all the truths of faith. It is
admirably adapted to assist us to a fuller comprehension of the fundamental
doctrine of the Christian religion. But more than this must not be claimed. It
does not possess the sanction of revelation.
The divine relations

The existence of relations in the Godhead may be immediately inferred from

the doctrine of processions, and as such is a truth of Revelation. Where there
is a real procession the principle and the term are really related. Hence, both
the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit must involve
the existence of real and objective relations. This part of Trinitarian doctrine
was familiar to the Greek Fathers. In answer to the Eunomian objection, that
consubstantiality rendered any distinction between the Persons impossible,
Gregory of Nyssa replies: "Though we hold that the nature [in the Three
Persons] is not different, we do not deny the difference arising in regard of
the source and that which proceeds from the source [ten katato aition kai to
aitiaton diaphoran]; but in this alone do we admit that one Person differs from
another" ("Quod non sunt tres dii"; cf. Gregory Nazianzen, Fifth Theological
Oration 9; John Damascene, Of the Orthodox Faith I.8). Augustine insists that
of the ten Aristotelean categories two, stance and relation, are found in God
(On the Trinity V.5). But it was at the hands the Scholastic theologians that
the question received its full development. The results to which they led,
though not to be reckoned as part of the dogma, were found to throw great
light upon the mystery, and to be of vast service in the objections urged
against it.

From the fact that there are two processions in Godhead, each involving both
a principle and term, it follows that there must be four relations, two
origination (paternitas and spiratio) and two of procession (filiatio and
processio). These relations are what constitute the distinction between the
Persons. They cannot be distinguished by any absolute attribute, for every
absolute attribute must belong to the infinite Divine Nature and this is
common to the Three Persons. Whatever distinction there is must be in the
relations alone. This conclusion is held as absolutely certain by all
theologians. Equivalently contained in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, it
was clearly enunciated by St. Anselm ("De process. Sp. S.", ii) and received
ecclesiastical sanction in the "Decretum pro Jacobitis" in the form: "[In divinis]
omnia sunt unum ubi non obviat relationis oppositio." Since this is so, it is
manifest that the four relations suppose but Three Persons. For there is no
relative opposition between spiration on the one hand and either paternity or
filiation on the other. Hence the attribute of spiration is found in conjunction
with each of these, and in virtue of it they are each distinguished from
procession. As they share one and the same Divine Nature, so they possess
the same virtus spirationis, and thus constitute a single originating principle
of the Holy Spirit.

Inasmuch as the relations, and they alone, are distinct realities in the
Godhead, it follows that the Divine Persons are none other than these
relations. The Father is the Divine Paternity, the Son the Divine Filiation, the
Holy Spirit the Divine Procession. Here it must be borne in mind that the
relations are not mere accidental determinations as these abstract terms
might suggest. Whatever is in God must needs be subsistent. He is the
Supreme Substance, transcending the divisions of the Aristotelean
categories. Hence, at one and the same time He is both substance and
relation. (How it is that there should be in God real relations, though it is
altogether impossible that quantity or quality should be found in Him, is a
question involving a discussion regarding the metaphysics of relations, which
would be out of place in an article such as the present.)

It will be seen that the doctrine of the Divine relations provides an answer to
the objection that the dogma of the Trinity involves the falsity of the axiom
that things which are identical with the same thing are identical one with
another. We reply that the axiom is perfectly true in regard to absolute
entities, to which alone it refers. But in the dogma of the Trinity when we
affirm that the Father and Son are alike identical with the Divine Essence, we
are affirming that the Supreme Infinite Substance is identical not with two
absolute entities, but with each of two relations. These relations, in virtue of

their nature as correlatives, are necessarily opposed the one to the other and
therefore different. Again it is said that if there are Three Persons in the
Godhead none can be infinite, for each must lack something which the others
possess. We reply that a relation, viewed precisely as such, is not, like
quantity or quality, an intrinsic perfection. When we affirm again it is relation
of anything, we affirm that it regards something other than itself. The whole
perfection of the Godhead is contained in the one infinite Divine Essence. The
Father is that Essence as it eternally regards the Son and the Spirit; the Son is
that Essence as it eternally regards the Father and the Spirit; the Holy Spirit is
that Essence as it eternally regards the Father and the Son. But the eternal
regard by which each of the Three Persons is constituted is not an addition to
the infinite perfection of the Godhead.

The theory of relations also indicates the solution to the difficulty now most
frequently proposed by anti-Trinitarians. It is urged that since there are Three
Persons there must be three self-consciousnesses: but the Divine mind ex
hypothesi is one, and therefore can possess but one self-consciousness; in
other words, the dogma contains an irreconcilable contradiction. This whole
objection rests on a petitio principii: for it takes for granted the identification
of person and of mind with self-consciousness. This identification is rejected
by Catholic philosophers as altogether misleading. Neither person nor mind is
self-consciousness; though a person must needs possess self-consciousness,
and consciousness attests the existence of mind (see PERSONALITY). Granted
that in the infinite mind, in which the categories are transcended, there are
three relations which are subsistent realities, distinguished one from another
in virtue of their relative opposition then it will follow that the same mind will
have a three-fold consciousness, knowing itself in three ways in accordance
with its three modes of existence. It is impossible to establish that, in regard
of the infinite mind, such a supposition involves a contradiction.

The question was raised by the Scholastics: In what sense are we to

understand the Divine act of generation? As we conceive things, the relations
of paternity and filiation are due to an act by which the Father generates the
Son; the relations of spiration and procession, to an act by which Father and
Son breathe forth the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas replies that the acts are
identical with the relations of generation and spiration; only the mode of
expression on our part is different (I:41:3, ad 2). This is due to the fact that
the forms alike of our thought and our language are moulded upon the
material world in which we live. In this world origination is in every case due
to the effecting of a change. We call the effecting of the change action, and
its reception passion. Thus, action and passion are different from the

permanent relations consequent on them. But in the Godhead origination is

eternal: it is not the result of change. Hence the term signifying action
denotes not the production of the relation, but purely the relation of the
Originator to the Originated. The terminology is unavoidable because the
limitations of our experience force us to represent this relation as due to an
act. Indeed throughout this whole subject we are hampered by the
imperfection of human language as an instrument wherewith to express
verities higher than the facts of the world. When, for instance, we say that
the Son possesses filiation and spiration the terms seem to suggest that
these are forms inherent in Him as in a subject. We know, indeed, that in the
Divine Persons there can be no composition: they are absolutely simple. Yet
we are forced to speak thus: for the one Personality, not withstanding its
simplicity, is related to both the others, and by different relations. We cannot
express this save by attributing to Him filiation and spiration (I:32:2).
Divine mission

It has been seen that every action of God in regard of the created world
proceeds from the Three Persons indifferently. In what sense, then, are we to
understand such texts as "God sent . . . his Son into the world" (John 3:17),
and "the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father" (John
15:26)? What is meant by the mission of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? To
this it is answered that mission supposes two conditions:

That the person sent should in some way proceed from the sender and
that the person sent should come to be at the place indicated.

The procession, however, may take place in various ways by command, or

counsel, or even origination. Thus we say that a king sends a messenger, and
that a tree sends forth buds. The second condition, too, is satisfied either if
the person sent comes to be somewhere where previously he was not, or if,
although he was already there, he comes to be there in a new manner.
Though God the Son was already present in the world by reason of His
Godhead, His Incarnation made Him present there in a new way. In virtue of
this new presence and of His procession from the Father, He is rightly said to
have been sent into the world. So, too, in regard to the mission of the Holy
Spirit. The gift of grace renders the Blessed Trinity present to the soul in a
new manner: that is, as the object of direct, though inchoative, knowledge
and as the object of experimental love. By reason of this new mode of

presence common to the whole Trinity, the Second and the Third Persons,
inasmuch as each receives the Divine Nature by means of a procession, may
be said to be sent into the soul. (See also HOLY GHOST; LOGOS;


Among the numerous patristic works on this subject, the following call for
special mention: ST. ATHANASIUS, Orationes quatuor contra Arianos; IDEM,
Liber de Trinitate et Spiritu Sancto; ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN, Orationes V de
theologia; DIDYMUS ALEX., Libri III de Trinitate; IDEM, Liber de Spir. Sancto;
ST. HILARY OF POITIERS, Libri XII de Trinitate; ST. AUGUSTINE, Libri XV de
Trinitate; ST. JOHN DAMASCENE, Liber de Trinitate; IDEM, De fide orthodoxa, I.
Among the medieval theologians: ST. ANSELM, Lib. I. de fide Trinitatis;
RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR, Libri VI de Trinitate; ST.THOMAS, Summa, I, xxviixliii; BESSARION, Liber de Spiritu Saneto contra Marcum Ephesinum.
Among more recent writers: PETAVIUS, De Trinitate; NEWMAN. Causes of the
Rise and Success of Arianism in Theol. Tracts. (London, 1864).
About this page

APA citation. Joyce, G. (1912). The Blessed Trinity. In The Catholic

Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Joyce, George. "The Blessed Trinity." The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,

Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email

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(Latin sub-stare, substantia)

Substance, the first of Aristotle's categories, signifies being as existing in and

by itself, and serving as a subject or basis for accidents and accidental
The fundamentals of substance

Substance being a genus supremum, cannot strictly be defined by an analysis

into genus and specific difference; yet a survey of the universe at large will
enable us to form without difficulty an accurate idea of substance. Nothing is
more evident than that things change. It is impossible for anything to be
twice in absolutely the same state; on the other hand all the changes are not
equally profound. Some appear to be purely external: a piece of wood may be
hot or cold, lying flat or upright, yet it is still wood; but if it be completely

burnt so as to be transformed into ashes and gases, it is no longer wood; the

specific, radical characteristics by which we describe wood have totally
disappeared. Thus there are two kinds of changes: one affects the radical
characteristics of things, and consequently determines the existence or nonexistence of these things; the other in no way destroys these characteristics,
and so, while modifying the thing, does not affect it fundamentally. It is
necessary, therefore, to recognize in each thing certain secondary realities
(see ACCIDENT) and also a permanent fundamentum which continues to exist
notwithstanding the superficial changes, which serves as a basis or support
for the secondary realities what, in a word, we term the substance. Its
fundamental characteristic is to be in itself and by itself, and not in another
subject as accidents are.

The Scholastics, who accepted Aristotle's definition, also distinguished

primary substance (substantia prima) from secondary substance (substantia
secunda): the former is the individual thing substance properly so called;
the latter designates the universal essence or nature as contained in genus
and species. And, again, substance is either complete, e.g. man, or
incomplete, e.g. the soul; which, though possessing existence in itself, is
united with the body to form the specifically complete human being. The
principal division; however, is that between material substance (all corporeal
things) and spiritual substance, i.e. the soul and the angelic spirits. The latter
are often called substanti separat, to signify that they are separate from
matter, i.e. neither actually conjoined with a material organism nor requiring
such union as the natural complement of their being (St. Thomas, "Contra
Gentes", II, 91 sqq.). St. Thomas further teaches that the name substance
cannot properly be applied to God, not only because He is not the subject of
any accidents, but also because in Him essence and existence are identical,
and consequently He is not included in any genus whatever. For the same
reason, it is impossible that God should be the formal being of all things (esse
formale omnium), or, in other words, that one and the same existence should
be common to Him and them (op. cit., I, 25, 26).

In the visible world there is a multitude of substances numerically distinct.

Each, moreover, has a specific nature which determines the mode of its
activity and at the same time, through its activity, becomes, in some degree,
manifest to us. Our thinking does not constitute the substance; this exists
independently of us, and our thought at most acquires a knowledge of each
substance by considering its manifestations. In this way we come to know
both the nature of material things and the nature of the spiritual substance
within us, i.e. the soul. In both cases our knowledge may be imperfect, but we

are not thereby justified in concluding that only the superficial appearances
or phenomena are accessible to us, and that the inner substantial being, of
matter or of mind, is unknowable.

Since the close of the Scholastic period, the idea of substance and the
doctrines centering about it have undergone profound modifications which in
turn have led to a complete reversal of the Scholastic teaching on vital
questions in philosophy. Apart from the traditional concept formulated above,
we must note especially Descartes' definition that substance is "a being that
so exists as to require nothing else for its existence". This formula is
unfortunate: it is false, for the idea of substance determines an essence
which, if it exists, has its own existence not borrowed from an ulterior basis,
and which is not a modification of some being that supports it. But this idea
in no way determines either the manner in which actual existence has been
given to this essence or the way in which it is preserved. The Cartesian
definition, moreover, is dangerous; for it suggests that substance admits of
no efficient cause, but exists in virtue of its own essence. Thus Spinoza,
following in the footsteps of Descartes declared that "substance is that which
is conceived in itself and by itself", and thence deduced his pantheistic
system according to which there is but one substance i.e. God all things
else being only the modes or attributes of the Divine substance (see
PANTHEISM). Leibniz's definition is also worthy of note. He considers
substance as "a being gifted with the power of action". Substance certainly
can act, since action follows being, and substance is being par excellence.
But this property does not go to the basis of reality. In every finite substance
the power to act is distinct from the substantial essence; it is but a property
of substance which can be defined only by its mode of existence.
The reality of substance

The most important question concerning substance is that of its reality. In

ancient days Heraclitus, in modern times Hume, Locke, Mill, and Taine, and in
our day Wundt, Mach, Paulsen, Ostwald, Ribot, Jodi, Hffding, Eisler, and
several others deny the reality of substance and consider the existence of
substance as an illusory postulate of naive minds. The basis of this radical
negation is an erroneous idea of substance and accident. They hold that,
apart from the accidents, substance is nothing, a being without qualities,
operations, or end. This is quite erroneous. The accidents cannot be
separated thus from the substance; they have their being only in the
substance; they are not the substance, but are by their very nature
modifications of the substance. The operations which these writers would

thus attribute to the accidents are really the operations of the substance,
which exercises them through the accidents. Finally, in attributing an
independent existence to the accidents they simply transform them into
substance, thus establishing just what they intend to deny. It can be said that
whatever exists is either a substance or in a substance.

The tendency of modern philosophy has been to regard substance simply as

an idea which the mind indeed is constrained to form, but which either does
not exist objectively or, if it does so exist, cannot be known. According to
Locke (Essay ii, 23), "Not imagining how simple ideas can subsist by
themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein
they do subsist and from which they do result; which therefore we call
substance; so that if any one will examine himself concerning his notion of
pure substance in general, he will find he has no other idea. of it at all, but
only a supposition if he knows not what support of such qualities, which are
capable of producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called
accidents." He protests, however, that this statement refers only to the idea
of substance, not to its being; and he claims that "we have as clear a notion
of the substance of spirit as we have of body" (ibid.). Hume held that the idea
of substance "is nothing but a collection of simple ideas that are united by
the imagination and have a particular name assigned to them, by which we
are able to recall, either to ourselves or others, that collection" (Treatise, bk. I,
pt. IV); and that the soul is "a bundle of conceptions in a perpetual flux and

For Kant substance is a category of thought which applies only to

phenomena, i.e. it is the idea of something that persists amid all changes.
The substantiality and immortality of the soul cannot be proved by the pure
reason, but are postulated by the moral law which pertains to the practical
reason. J. S. Mill, after stating that "we may make propositions also respecting
those hidden causes of phenomena which are named substances and
attributes", goes on to say: "No assertion can be made, at least with a
meaning, concerning those unknown and unknowable entities, except in
virtue of the phenomena by which alone they manifest themselves to our
faculties" (Logic, bk. i, I, c. v): in other words, substance manifests itself
through phenomena and yet is unknowable. Mill defines matter as "a
permanent possibility of sensation", so that no substantial bond is required
for material objects; but for conscious states a tie is needed in which there is
something "real as the sensations themselves and not a mere product of the
laws of thought" ("Examination", c. xi; cf. Appendix). Wundt, on the contrary,
declares that the idea (hypothetical) of substance is necessary to connect the

phenomena presented in outer experience, but that it is not applicable to our

inner experience except for the psycho-physical processes (Logik, I, 484
sqq.). This is the basis of Actualism, which reduces the soul to a series of
conscious states. Herbert Spencer's view is thus expressed: "Existence means
nothing more than persistence; and hence, in mind, that which persists in
spite of all changes, and maintains the unity of the aggregate in defiance of
all attempts to divide it, is that of which existence in the full sense of the
word must be predicated that which we must postulate as the substance of
mind in contradistinction to the varying forms it assumes. But, if so, the
impossibility of knowing the substance of mind is manifest" (Princ. of
Psychol., Pt. II, c. i). Elsewhere he declares that it is the same Unknowable
Power which manifests itself alike in the physical world and in consciousness
a statement wherein modern Agnosticism returns to the Pantheism of

This development of the concept of substance is instructive; it shows to what

extremes subjectivism leads, and what inconsistencies it brings into the
investigation of the most important problems of philosophy. While the inquiry
has been pursued in the name of criticism, its results, so far as the soul is
concerned, are distinctly in favour of Materialism; and while the aim was
supposed to be a surer knowledge on a firmer basis, the outcome is
Agnosticism either open or disguised. It is perhaps as a reaction against such
confusion in the field of metaphysics that an attempt has recently been made
by representatives of physical science to reconstruct the idea of substance by
making it equivalent to "energy". The attempt so far has led to the conclusion
that energy is the most universal substance and the most universal accident
(Ostwald, "Vorlesungen ber Naturphilosophie", 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1902, p.

For the theological significance of substance see EUCHARIST. See also



BALMES, Fundamental Philosophy, II (new ed., New York, 1903); JOHN

RICKABY. General Metaphysics (3rd ed., New York, 1898); WALKER, Theories of
Knowledge (New York, 1910); HARPER, The Metaphysics of the School

(London, 1879-84); MERCIER, Ontologie (Louvain, 1903); LORENZELLI,

Philosophi theoretic institutiones (Rome, 1896); WILLEMS, Institutiones
philosophic, I (Trier, 1906); KLEUTGEN, Philosophie d. Vorzeit, II; PRAT, De la
notion de substance (Paris, 1903). See also the bibliographical references
in EISLER, Wrterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, III (Berlin, 1910).
About this page

APA citation. Munnynck, M.M. (1912). Substance. In The Catholic

Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Munnynck, Mark Mary de. "Substance." The Catholic

Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J.

Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,

Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Person

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The Latin word persona was originally used to denote the mask worn by an
actor. From this it was applied to the role he assumed, and, finally, to any
character on the stage of life, to any individual. This article discusses (1) the
definition of "person", especially with reference to the doctrine of the
Incarnation; and (2) the use of the word persona and its Greek equivalents in
connection with the Trinitarian disputes. For the psychological treatment see

The classic definition is that given by Boethius in "De persona et duabus

naturis", c. ii: Natur rationalis individua substantia (an individual substance
of a rational nature).

Substantia -- "Substance" is used to exclude accidents: "We see that

accidents cannot constitute person" (Boethius, op. cit.). Substantia is used in
two senses: of the concrete substance as existing in the individual, called
substantia prima, corresponding to Aristotle's ousia prote; and of
abstractions, substance as existing in genus and species, called substantia
secunda, Aristotle's ousia deutera. It is disputed which of the two the word
taken by itself here signifies. It seems probable that of itself it prescinds from
substantia prima and substantia secunda, and is restricted to the former
signification only by the word individua.

Individua Individua, i.e., indivisum in se, is that which, unlike the higher
branches in the tree of Porphyry, genus and species, cannot be further
subdivided. Boethius in giving his definition does not seem to attach any
further signification to the word. It is merely synonymous with singularis.

Rationalis naturae -- Person is predicated only of intellectual beings. The

generic word which includes all individual existing substances is suppositum.
Thus person is a subdivision of suppositum which is applied equally to
rational and irrational, living and non-living individuals. A person is therefore
sometimes defined as suppositum naturae rationalis.

The definition of Boethius as it stands can hardly be considered a satisfactory

one. The words taken literally can be applied to the rational soul of man, and
also the human nature of Christ. That St. Thomas accepts it is presumably
due to the fact that he found it in possession, and recognized as the
traditional definition. He explains it in terms that practically constitute a new
definition. Individua substantia signifies, he says, substantia, completa, per
se subsistens, separata ab aliia, i.e., a substance, complete, subsisting per
se, existing apart from others (III, Q. xvi, a. 12, ad 2um).

If to this be added rationalis naturae, we have a definition comprising the five

notes that go to make up a person: (a) substantia-- this excludes accident; (b)
completa-- it must form a complete nature; that which is a part, either
actually or "aptitudinally" does not satisfy the definition; (c) per se
subsistens--the person exists in himself and for himself; he is sui juris, the
ultimate possessor of his nature and all its acts, the ultimate subject of
predication of all his attributes; that which exists in another is not a person;
(d) separata ab aliis--this excludes the universal, substantia secunda, which
has no existence apart from the individual; (e) rationalis naturae--excludes all
non-intellectual supposita.

To a person therefore belongs a threefold incommunicability, expressed in

notes (b), (c), and (d). The human soul belongs to the nature as a part of it,
and is therefore not a person, even when existing separately. The human
nature of Christ does not exist per se seorsum, but in alio, in the Divine
Personality of the Word. It is therefore communicated by assumption and so is
not a person. Lastly the Divine Essence, though subsisting per se, is so
communicated to the Three Persons that it does not exist apart from them; it
is therefore not a person.

Theologians agree that in the Hypostatic Union the immediate reason why
the Sacred Humanity, though complete and individual, is not a person is that

it is not a subsistence, not per se seorsum subsistens. They have, however,

disputed for centuries as to what may be the ultimate determination of the
nature which if present would make it a subsistence and so a person, what in
other words is the ultimate foundation of personality. According to Scotus, as
he is usually understood, the ultimate foundation is a mere negation. That
individual intellectual nature is a person which is neither of its nature
destined to be communicated--as is the human soul--nor is actually
communicated--as is the Sacred Humanity. If the Hypostatic Union ceased,
the latter would ipso facto, without any further determination, become a
person. To this it is objected that the person possesses the nature and all its
attributes. It is difficult to believe that this possessor, as distinct from the
objects possessed, is constituted only by a negative. Consequently, the
traditional Thomists, following Cajetan, hold that there is a positive
determination which they call the "mode" of subsistence. It is the function of
this mode to make the nature incommunicable, terminated in itself, and
capable of receiving its own esse, or existence. Without this mode the human
nature of Christ exists only by the uncreated esse of the Word.

Suarez also makes the ultimate foundation of personality a mode. In his view,
however, as he holds no real distinction between nature and esse, it does not
prepare the nature to receive its own existence, but is something added to a
nature conceived as already existing. Many theologians hold that the very
concept of a mode, viz., a determination of a substance really distinct from it
but adding no reality, involves a contradiction. Of more recent theories that
of Tiphanus ("De hypostasi et persona", 1634) has found many adherents. He
holds that a substance is a suppositum, an intelligent substance a person,
from the mere fact of its being a whole, totum in se. This totality, it is
contended, is a positive note, but adds no reality, as the whole adds nothing
to the parts that compose it. In the Hypostatic Union the human nature is
perfected by being assumed, and so ceases to be a whole, being merged in a
greater totality. The Word, on the other hand, is not perfected, and so
remains a person. Opposing theologians, however, hold that this notion of
totality reduces on analysis to the Scotistic negative. Lastly the neo-Thomists,
Terrien, Billot, etc., consider personality to be ultimately constituted by the
esse, the actual existence, of an intelligent substance. That which subsists
with its own esse is by that very fact incommunicable. The human nature of
Christ is possessed by the Word and exists by His infinite esse. It has no
separate esse of its own and for this reason is not a person. The suppositum
is a suppositum as being ens in the strictest sense of the term. Of all Latin
theories this appears to approach most nearly to that of the Greek fathers.
Thus in the "Dialogues of the Trinity" given by Migne among the works of St.
Athanasius, the author, speaking of person and nature in God, says: He gar

hypostasis to einai semainei he de theotes to ti einai (Person denotes esse,

the Divine nature denotes the quiddity; M. 28, 1114). An elaborate treatment
is given by St. John Damascene, Dial. xlii.
The use of the word persona and its Greek equivalents in connection with the
Trinitarian disputes

For the constitution of a person it is required that a reality be subsistent and

absolutely distinct, i.e. incommunicable. The three Divine realities are
relations, each identified with the Divine Essence. A finite relation has reality
only in so far as it is an accident; it has the reality of inherence. The Divine
relations, however, are in the nature not by inherence but by identity. The
reality they have, therefore, is not that of an accident, but that of a
subsistence. They are one with ipsum esse subsistens. Again every relation,
by its very nature, implies opposition and so distinction. In the finite relation
this distinction is between subject and term. In the infinite relations there is
no subject as distinct from the relation itself; the Paternity is the Father--and
no term as distinct from the opposing relation; the Filiation is the Son. The
Divine realities are therefore distinct and mutually incommunicable through
this relative opposition; they are subsistent as being identified with the
subsistence of the Godhead, i.e. they are persons. The use of the word
persona to denote them, however, led to controversy between East and West.
The precise Greek equivalent was prosopon, likewise used originally of the
actor's mask and then of the character he represented, but the meaning of
the word had not passed on, as had that of persona, to the general
signification of individual. Consequently tres personae, tria prosopa, savoured
of Sabellianism to the Greeks. On the other hand their word hypostasis, from
hypo-histemi, was taken to correspond to the Latin substantia, from substare. Tres hypostases therefore appeared to conflict with the Nicaean
doctrine of unity of substance in the Trinity. This difference was a main cause
of the Antiochene schism of the fourth century (see MELETIUS OF ANTIOCH).
Eventually in the West, it was recognized that the true equivalent of
hypostasis was not substantia but subsistentia, and in the East that to
understand prosopon in the sense of the Latin persona precluded the
possibility of a Sabellian interpretation. By the First Council of Constantinople,
therefore, it was recognized that the words hypostasis, prosopon, and
persona were equally applicable to the three Divine realities. (See


BOETHIUS, De Persona et Duabus Naturis, ii, iii, in P.L., LXIV, 1342 sqq.;
RICKABY, General Metaphysics, 92-102, 279-97 (London, 1890); DE REGNON,
Etudes sur la Triniti, I. studies i, iv; ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, III, Q. xvi, a. 12; De
Potentia, ix, 1-4; TERRIEN, S. Thomae Doctrina de Unione Hypostatica, bk. I,
c. vii; bk. III, cc. vi-vii (Paris, 1894); FRANZELIN, De Verbo Incarnato, sect. III,
cc. iii-iv (Rome, 1874); HARPER, Metaphysics of the School, vol. I, bk. III, c. ii,
art. 2 (London, 1879).
About this page

APA citation. Geddes, L. (1911). Person. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New

York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 1, 2016 from New

MLA citation. Geddes, Leonard. "Person." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11.
New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 Dec. 2016

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Rosalie Nesbit.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort,

S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email

address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every
letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback especially notifications about
typographical errors and inappropriate ads.
Copyright 2012 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of

The Real Presence of Christ in the


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Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
The Real Presence of Christ in the

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In this article we shall consider:

the fact of the Real Presence, which is,

indeed, the central dogma;

the several allied dogmas grouped
about it, namely:
Totality of Presence,
Permanence of Presence and the
Adorableness of the Eucharist
the speculations of reason, so far as
speculative investigation regarding the
august mystery under its various aspects
is permissible, and so far as it is desirable
to illumine it by the light of philosophy.

The real presence as a fact

According to the teaching of theology a

revealed fact can be proved solely by
recurrence to the sources of faith, viz.
Scripture and Tradition, with which is also
bound up the infallible magisterium of the

Proof from Scripture

This may be adduced both from the words

of promise (John 6:26 sqq.) and,
especially, from the words of Institution as
recorded in the Synoptics and St. Paul (1
Corinthians 11:23 sqq.).

The words of promise (John 6)

By the miracles of the loaves and fishes

and the walking upon the waters, on the
previous day, Christ not only prepared His
hearers for the sublime discourse
containing the promise of the Eucharist,
but also proved to them that He
possessed, as Almighty God-man, a power
superior to and independent of the laws of
nature, and could, therefore, provide such
a supernatural food, none other, in fact,

than His own Flesh and Blood. This

discourse was delivered at Capharnaum
(John 6:26-72), and is divided into two
distinct parts, about the relation of which
Catholic exegetes vary in opinion. Nothing
hinders our interpreting the first part [John
6:26-48 (51)] metaphorically and
understanding by "bread of heaven" Christ
Himself as the object of faith, to be
received in a figurative sense as a spiritual
food by the mouth of faith. Such a
figurative explanation of the second part
of the discourse (John 6:52-72), however,
is not only unusual but absolutely
impossible, as even Protestant exegetes
(Delitzsch, Kostlin, Keil, Kahnis, and
others) readily concede. First of all the
whole structure of the discourse of
promise demands a literal interpretation of
the words: "eat the flesh of the Son of
man, and drink his blood". For Christ
mentions a threefold food in His address,
the manna of the past (John 6:31, 32, 49,,
59), the heavenly bread of the present

(John 6:32 sq.), and the Bread of Life of

the future (John 6:27, 52). Corresponding
to the three kinds of food and the three
periods, there are as many dispensers
Moses dispensing the manna, the Father
nourishing man's faith in the Son of God
made flesh, finally Christ giving His own
Flesh and Blood. Although the manna, a
type of the Eucharist, was indeed eaten
with the mouth, it could not, being a
transitory food, ward off death. The
second food, that offered by the Heavenly
Father, is the bread of heaven, which He
dispenses hic et nunc to the Jews for their
spiritual nourishment, inasmuch as by
reason of the Incarnation He holds up His
Son to them as the object of their faith. If,
however, the third kind of food, which
Christ Himself promises to give only at a
future time, is a new refection, differing
from the last-named food of faith, it can
be none other than His true Flesh and
Blood, to be really eaten and drunk in Holy
Communion. This is why Christ was so

ready to use the realistic expression "to

chew" (John 6:54, 56, 58: trogein) when
speaking of this, His Bread of Life, in
addition to the phrase, "to eat" (John 6:51,
53: phagein). Cardinal Bellarmine (De
Euchar., I, 3), moreover, calls attention to
the fact, and rightly so, that if in Christ's
mind the manna was a figure of the
Eucharist, the latter must have been
something more than merely blessed
bread, as otherwise the prototype would
not substantially excel the type. The same
holds true of the other figures of the
Eucharist, as the bread and wine offered
by Melchisedech, the loaves of proposition
(panes propositionis), the paschal lamb.
The impossibility of a figurative
interpretation is brought home more
forcibly by an analysis of the following
text: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son
of man, and drink his blood, you shall not
have life in you. He that eateth my flesh
and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting
life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood

is drink indeed" (John 6:54-56). It is true
that even among the Semites, and in
Scripture itself, the phrase, "to eat some
one's flesh", has a figurative meaning,
namely, "to persecute, to bitterly hate
some one". If, then, the words of Jesus are
to be taken figuratively, it would appear
that Christ had promised to His enemies
eternal life and a glorious resurrection in
recompense for the injuries and
persecutions directed against Him. The
other phrase, "to drink some one's blood",
in Scripture, especially, has no other
figurative meaning than that of dire
chastisement (cf. Isaiah 49:26; Apocalypse
16:6); but, in the present text, this
interpretation is just as impossible here as
in the phrase, "to eat some one's flesh".
Consequently, eating and drinking are to
be understood of the actual partaking of
Christ in person, hence literally.

This interpretation agrees perfectly with

the conduct of the hearers and the
attitude of Christ regarding their doubts
and objections. Again, the murmuring of
the Jews is the clearest evidence that they
had understood the preceding words of
Jesus literally (John 6:53). Yet far from
repudiating this construction as a gross
misunderstanding, Christ repeated them
in a most solemn manner, in John (6:54
sqq.). In consequence, many of His
Disciples were scandalized and said: "This
saying is hard, and who can hear it?" (John
6:61); but instead of retracting what He
had said, Christ rather reproached them
for their want of faith, by alluding to His
sublimer origin and His future Ascension
into heaven. And without further ado He
allowed these Disciples to go their way
(John 6:62 sqq.). Finally He turned to His
twelve Apostles with the question: "Will
you also go away?

Then Peter stepped forth and with humble

faith replied: "Lord, to whom shall we go?
thou hast the words of eternal life. And we
have believed and have known, that thou
art the Christ, the Son of God" (John 6:68
sqq.). The entire scene of the discourse
and murmurings against it proves that the
Zwinglian and Anglican interpretation of
the passage, "It is the spirit that
quickeneth", etc., in the sense of a
glossing over or retractation, is wholly
inadmissible. For in spite of these words
the Disciples severed their connection
with Jesus, while the Twelve accepted with
simple faith a mystery which as yet they
did not understand. Nor did Christ say:
"My flesh is spirit", i.e. to be understood in
a figurative sense, but: "My words are
spirit and life". There are two views
regarding the sense in which this text is to
be interpreted. Many of the Fathers
declare that the true Flesh of Jesus (sarx)
is not to be understood as separated from
His Divinity (spiritus), and hence not in a

cannibalistic sense, but as belonging

entirely to the supernatural economy. The
second and more scientific explanation
asserts that in the Scriptural opposition of
"flesh and blood" to "spirit", the former
always signifies carnal-mindedness, the
latter mental perception illumined by faith,
so that it was the intention of Jesus in this
passage to give prominence to the fact
that the sublime mystery of the Eucharist
can be grasped in the light of supernatural
faith alone, whereas it cannot be
understood by the carnal-minded, who are
weighed down under the burden of sin.
Under such circumstances it is not to be
wondered at that the Fathers and several
Ecumenical councils (Ephesus, 431;
Nica, 787) adopted the literal sense of
the words, though it was not dogmatically
defined (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, c.
i). If it be true that a few Catholic
theologians (as Cajetan, Ruardus Tapper,
Johann Hessel, and the elder Jansenius)
preferred the figurative interpretation, it

was merely for controversial reasons,

because in their perplexity they imagined
that otherwise the claims of the Hussite
and Protestant Utraquists for the partaking
of the Chalice by the laity could not be
answered by argument from Scripture. (Cf.
Patrizi, "De Christo pane vit", Rome,
1851; Schmitt, "Die Verheissung der
Eucharistie bei den Vtern", 2 vols.,
Wrzburg, 1900-03.)

The words of Institution

The Church's Magna Charta, however, are

the words of Institution, "This is my body
this is my blood", whose literal meaning
she has uninterruptedly adhered to from
the earliest times. The Real Presence is
evinced, positively, by showing the
necessity of the literal sense of these
words, and negatively, by refuting the
figurative interpretations. As regards the

first, the very existence of four distinct

narratives of the Last Supper, divided
usually into the Petrine (Matthew 26:26
sqq.; Mark 14:22 sqq.) and the double
Pauline accounts (Luke 22:19 sq.; 1
Corinthians 11:24 sq.), favors the literal
interpretation. In spite of their striking
unanimity as regards essentials, the
Petrine account is simpler and clearer,
whereas Pauline is richer in additional
details and more involved in its citation of
the words that refer to the Chalice. It is
but natural and justifiable to expect that,
when four different narrators in different
countries and at different times relate the
words of Institution to different circles of
readers, the occurrence of an unusual
figure of speech, as, for instance, that
bread is a sign of Christ's Body, would,
somewhere or other, betray itself, either in
the difference of word-setting, or in the
unequivocal expression of the meaning
really intended, or at least in the addition
of some such mark as: "He spoke,

however, of the sign of His Body." But

nowhere do we discover the slightest
ground for a figurative interpretation. If,
then, natural, literal interpretation were
false, the Scriptural record alone would
have to be considered as the cause of a
pernicious error in faith and of the
grievous crime of rendering Divine
homage to bread (artolatria) a
supposition little in harmony with the
character of the four Sacred Writers or
with the inspiration of the Sacred Text.
Moreover, we must not omit the important
circumstance, that one of the four
narrators has interpreted his own account
literally. This is St. Paul (1 Corinthians
11:27 sq.), who, in the most vigorous
language, brands the unworthy recipient
as "guilty of body and of the blood of the
Lord". There can be no question of a
grievous offense against Christ Himself
unless we suppose that the true Body and
the true Blood of Christ are really present
in the Eucharist. Further, if we attend only

to the words themselves their natural

sense is so forceful and clear that Luther
wrote to the Christians of Strasburg in
1524: "I am caught, I cannot escape, the
text is too forcible" (De Wette, II, 577). The
necessity of the natural sense is not based
upon the absurd assumption that Christ
could not in general have resorted to use
of figures, but upon the evident
requirement of the case, which demand
that He did not, in a matter of such
paramount importance, have recourse to
meaningless and deceptive metaphors.
For figures enhance the clearness of
speech only when the figurative meaning
is obvious, either from the nature of the
case (e.g. from a reference to a statue of
Lincoln, by saying: "This is Lincoln") or
from the usages of common parlance (e.g.
in the case of this synecdoche: "This glass
is wine"), Now, neither from the nature of
the case nor in common parlance is bread
an apt or possible symbol of the human
body. Were one to say of a piece of bread:

"This is Napoleon", he would not be using

a figure, but uttering nonsense. There is
but one means of rendering a symbol
improperly so called clear and intelligible,
namely, by, conventionally settling
beforehand what it is to signify, as, for
instance, if one were to say: "Let us
imagine these two pieces of bread before
us to be Socrates and Plato". Christ,
however, instead of informing His Apostles
that he intended to use such a figure, told
them rather the contrary in the discourse
containing the promise: "the bread that I
will give, is my flesh, for the life of the
world" (John 6:52), Such language, of
course, could be used only by a God-man;
so that belief in the Real Presence
necessarily presupposes belief in the true
Divinity of Christ, The foregoing rules
would of themselves establish the natural
meaning with certainty, even if the words
of Institution, "This is my body this is
my blood", stood alone, But in the original
text corpus (body) and sanguis (blood) are

followed by significant appositional

additions, the Body being designated as
"given for you" and the Blood as "shed for
you [many]"; hence the Body given to the
Apostles was the self same Body that was
crucified on Good Friday, and the Chalice
drunk by them, the self same Blood that
was shed on the Cross for our sins,
Therefore the above-mentioned
appositional phrases directly exclude
every possibility of a figurative

We reach the same conclusion from a

consideration of the concomitant
circumstances, taking into account both
the hearers and the Institutor. Those who
heard the words of Institution were not
learned Rationalists, possessed of the
critical equipment that would enable
them, as philologists and logicians, to
analyze an obscure and mysterious
phraseology; they were simple,

uneducated fishermen, from the ordinary

ranks of the people, who with childlike
navet hung upon the words of their
Master and with deep faith accepted
whatever He proposed to them, This
childlike disposition had to be reckoned
with by Christ, particularly on the eve of
His Passion and Death, when He made His
last will and testament and spoke as a
dying father to His deeply afflicted
children. In such a moment of awful
solemnity, the only appropriate mode of
speech would be one which, stripped of
unintelligible figures, made use of words
corresponding exactly to the meaning to
be conveyed. It must be remembered,
also, that Christ as omniscient God-man,
must have foreseen the shameful error
into which He would have led His Apostles
and His Church by adopting an unheard-of
metaphor; for the Church down to the
present day appeals to the words of Christ
in her teaching and practice. If then she
practices idolatry by the adoration of mere

bread and wine, this crime must be laid to

the charge of the God-man Himself.
Besides this, Christ intended to institute
the Eucharist as a most holy sacrament, to
be solemnly celebrated in the Church even
to the end of time. But the content and
the constituent parts of a sacrament had
to be stated with such clearness of
terminology as to exclude categorically
every error in liturgy and worship. As may
be gathered from the words of
consecration of the Chalice, Christ
established the New Testament in His
Blood, just as the Old Testament had been
established in the typical blood of animals
(cf. Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 9:11 sqq.). With
the true instinct of justice, jurists prescribe
that in all debatable points the words of a
will must be taken in their natural, literal
sense; for they are led by the correct
conviction, that every testator of sound
mind, in drawing up his last will and
testament, is deeply concerned to have it
done in language at once clear and

unencumbered by meaningless
metaphors. Now, Christ, according to the
literal purport of His testament, has left us
as a precious legacy, not mere bread and
wine, but His Body and Blood. Are we
justified, then, in contradicting Him to His
face and exclaiming: "No, this is not your
Body, but mere bread, the sign of your

The refutation of the so-called

Sacramentarians, a name given by Luther
to those who opposed the Real Presence,
evinces as clearly the impossibility of a
figurative meaning. Once the manifest
literal sense is abandoned, occasion is
given to interminable controversies about
the meaning of an enigma which Christ
supposedly offered His followers for
solution. There were no limits to the
dispute in the sixteenth century, for at
that time Christopher Rasperger wrote a
whole book on some 200 different

interpretations: "Ducent verborum, 'Hoc

est corpus meum' interpretationes"
(Ingolstadt, 1577). In this connection we
must restrict ourselves to an examination
of the most current and widely known
distortions of the literal sense, which were
the butt of Luther's bitter ridicule even as
early as 1527. The first group of
interpreters, with Zwingli, discovers a
figure in the copula est and renders it:
"This signifies (est = significat) my Body".
In proof of this interpretation, examples
are quoted from scripture, as: "The seven
kine are seven years" (Genesis 41:26) or:
"Sara and Agar are the two covenants"
(Galatians 4:24), Waiving the question
whether the verb "to be" (esse, einai) of
itself can ever be used as the "copula in a
figurative relation" (Weiss) or express the
"relation of identity in a metaphorical
connection" (Heinrici), which most
logicians deny, the fundamental principles
of logic firmly establish this truth, that all
propositions may be divided into two great

categories, of which the first and most

comprehensive denominates a thing as it
is in itself (e.g. "Man is a rational being"),
whereas the second designates a thing
according as it is used as a sign of
something else (e.g, "This picture is my
father"). To determine whether a speaker
intends the second manner of expression,
there are four criteria, whose joint
concurrence alone will allow the verb "to
be" to have the meaning of "signify".
Abstracting from the three criteria,
mentioned above, which have reference
either to the nature of the case, or to the
usages of common parlance, or to some
convention previously agreed upon, there
remains a fourth and last of decisive
significance, namely: when a complete
substance is predicated of another
complete substance, there can exist no
logical relation of identity between them,
but only the relation of similarity,
inasmuch as the first is an image, sign,
symbol, of the other. Now this last-named

criterion is inapplicable to the Scriptural

examples brought forward by the
Zwinglians, and especially so in regard to
their interpretation of the words of
Institution; for the words are not: "This
bread is my Body", but indefinitely: "This is
my Body". In the history of the Zwinglian
conception of the Lord's Supper, certain
"sacramental expressions" (locutiones
sacramentales) of the Sacred Text,
regarded as parallelisms of the words of
Institution, have attracted considerable
attention. The first is to be found in 1
Corinthians 10:4: "And the rock was
[signified] Christ", Yet it is evident that, if
the subject rock is taken in its material
sense, the metaphor, according to the
fourth criterion just mentioned, is as
apparent as in the analogous phrase
"Christ is the vine". If, however, the word
rock in this passage is stripped of all that
is material, it may be understood in a
spiritual sense, because the Apostle
himself is speaking of that "spiritual rock"

(petra spiritalis), which in the Person of

the Word in an invisible manner ever
accompanied the Israelites in their
journeyings and supplied them with a
spiritual fountain of waters. According to
this explanation the copula would here
retain its meaning "to be". A nearer
approach to a parallel with the words of
Institution is found apparently in the socalled "sacramental expressions": "Hoc est
pactum meum" (Genesis 17:10), and "est
enim Phase Domini" (Exodus 12:11). It is
well known how Zwingli by a clever
manipulation of the latter phrase
succeeded in one day in winning over to
his interpretation the entire Catholic
population of Zurich. And yet it is clear
that no parallelism can be discerned
between the aforesaid expressions and
the words of Institution; no real
parallelism, because there is question of
entirely different matters. Not even a
verbal parallelism can be pointed out,
since in both texts of the Old Testament

the subject is a ceremony (circumcision in

the first case, and the rite of the paschal
lamb in the second), while the predicate
involves a mere abstraction (covenant,
Passover of the Lord). A more weighty
consideration is this, that on closer
investigation the copula est will be found
to retain its proper meaning of "is" rather
than "signifies". For just as the
circumcision not only signified the nature
or object of the Divine covenant, but really
was such, so the rite of the Paschal lamb
was really the Passover (Phase) or Pasch,
instead of its mere representation. It is
true that in certain Anglican circles it was
formerly the custom to appeal to the
supposed poverty of the Aramaic tongue,
which was spoken by Christ in the
company of His Apostles; for it was
maintained that no word could be found in
this language corresponding to the
concept "to signify". Yet, even prescinding
from the fact that in the Aramaic tongue
the copula est is usually omitted and that

such an omission rather makes for its

strict meaning of "to be", Cardinal
Wiseman (Hor Syriac, Rome, 1828, pp.
3-73) succeeded in producing no less than
forty Syriac expressions conveying the
meaning of "to signify" and thus
effectually exploded the myth of the
Semitic tongue's limited vocabulary.

A second group of Sacramentarians, with

colampadius, shifted the diligently
sought-for metaphor to the concept
contained in the predicate corpus, giving
to the latter the sense of "signum
corporis", so that the words of Institution
were to be rendered: "This is a sign
[symbol, image, type] of my Body".
Essentially tallying with the Zwinglian
interpretation, this new meaning is equally
untenable. In all the languages of the
world the expression "my body"
designates a person's natural body, not
the mere sign or symbol of that body. True

it is that the Scriptural words "Body of

Christ" not infrequently have the meaning
of "Church", which is called the mystical
Body of Christ, a figure easily and always
discernible as such from the text or
context (cf. Colossians 1:24). This mystical
sense, however, is impossible in the words
of Institution, for the simple reason that
Christ did not give the Apostles His Church
to eat, but His Body, and that "body and
blood", by reason of their real and logical
association, cannot be separated from one
another, and hence are all the less
susceptible of a figurative use. The case
would be different if the reading were:
"This is the bread of my Body, the wine of
my Blood". In order to prove at least this
much, that the contents of the Chalice are
merely wine and, consequently, a mere
sign of the Blood, Protestants have
recourse to the text of St. Matthew, who
relates that Christ, after the completion of
the Last Supper, declared: "I will not drink
from henceforth of this fruit of the vine

[genimen vitis]" (Matthew 26:29). It is to

be noted that St. Luke (22:18 sqq.), who is
chronologically more exact, places these
words of Christ before his account of the
Institution, and that the true Blood of
Christ may with right still be called
(consecrated) wine, on the one hand,
because the Blood was partaken of after
the manner in which wine is drunk and, on
the other, because the Blood continues to
exist under the outward appearances of
the wine. In its multifarious wanderings
from the old beaten path being
consistently forced with the denial of
Christ's Divinity to abandon faith in the
Real Presence, also, modern criticism
seeks to account for the text along other
lines. With utter arbitrariness, doubting
whether the words of Institution originated
from the mouth of Christ, it traces them to
St. Paul as their author, in whose ardent
soul something original supposedly
mingled with his subjective reflections on
the value attached to "Body" and on the

"repetition of the Eucharistic banquet".

From this troubled fountain-head the
words of Institution first found their way
into the Gospel of St. Luke and then, by
way of addition, were woven into the texts
of St. Matthew and St. Mark. It stands to
reason that the latter assertion is nothing
more than a wholly unwarrantable
conjecture, which may be passed over as
gratuitously as it was advanced. It is,
moreover, essentially untrue that the
value attached to the Sacrifice and the
repetition of the Lord's Supper are mere
reflections of St. Paul, since Christ
attached a sacrificial value to His Death
(cf. Mark 10:45) and celebrated His
Eucharistic Supper in connection with the
Jewish Passover, which itself had to be
repeated every year. As regards the
interpretation of the words of Institution,
there are at present three modern
explanations contending for supremacy
the symbolical, the parabolical, and the
eschatological. According to the

symbolical interpretation, corpus is

supposed to designate the Church as the
mystical Body and sanguis the New
Testament. We have already rejected this
last meaning as impossible. For is it the
Church that is eaten and the New
Testament that is drunk? Did St. Paul
brand the partaking of the Church and of
the New Testament as a heinous offense
committed against the Body and Blood of
Christ? The case is not much better in
regard to the parabolical interpretation,
which would discern in the pouring out of
the wine a mere parable of the shedding
of the Blood on the Cross. This again is a
purely arbitrary explanation, an invention,
unsupported by any objective foundation.
Then, too, it would follow from analogy,
that the breaking of the bread was a
parable of the slaying of Christ's Body, a
meaning utterly inconceivable. Rising as it
were out of a dense fog and laboring to
take on a definite form, the incomplete
eschatological explanation would make

the Eucharist a mere anticipation of the

future heavenly banquet. Supposing the
truth of the Real Presence, this
consideration might be open to discussion,
inasmuch as the partaking of the Bread of
Angels is really the foretaste of eternal
beatitude and the anticipated
transformation of earth into heaven. But
as implying mere symbolical anticipation
of heaven and a meaningless
manipulation of unconsecrated bread and
wine the eschatological interpretation is
diametrically opposed to the text and finds
not the slightest support in the life and
character of Christ.
Proof from Tradition

As for the cogency of the argument from

tradition, this historical fact is of decided
significance, namely, that the dogma of
the Real Presence remained, properly
speaking, unmolested down to the time of
the heretic Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088),

and so could claim even at that time the

uninterrupted possession of ten centuries.
In the course of the dogma's history there
arose in general three great Eucharistic
controversies, the first of which, begun by
Paschasius Radbertus, in the ninth
century, scarcely extended beyond the
limits of his audience and concerned itself
solely with the philosophical question,
whether the Eucharistic Body of Christ is
identical with the natural Body He had in
Palestine and now has in heaven. Such a
numerical identity could well have been
denied by Ratramnus, Rabanus Maurus,
Ratherius, Lanfranc, and others, since
even nowadays a true, though accidental,
distinction between the sacramental and
the natural condition of Christ's Body must
be rigorously maintained. The first
occasion for an official procedure on the
part of the Church was offered when
Berengarius of Tours, influenced by the
writings of Scotus Eriugena (d. about 884),
the first opponent of the Real Presence,

rejected both the latter truth and that of

Transubstantiation. He repaired, however,
the public scandal he had given by a
sincere retractation made in the presence
of Pope Gregory VII at a synod held in
Rome in 1079, and died reconciled to the
Church. The third and the sharpest
controversy was that opened by the
Reformation in the sixteenth century, in
regard to which it must be remarked that
Luther was the only one among the
Reformers who still clung to the old
Catholic doctrine, and, though subjecting
it to manifold misrepresentations,
defended it most tenaciously. He was
diametrically opposed by Zwingli of
Zurich, who, as was seen above, reduced
the Eucharist to an empty, meaningless
symbol. Having gained over to his views
such friendly contemporary partisans as
Carlstadt, Bucer, and colampadius, he
later on secured influential allies in the
Arminians, Mennonites, Socinians, and
Anglicans, and even today the rationalistic

conception of the doctrine of the Lord's

Supper does not differ substantially from
that of the Zwinglians. In the meantime, at
Geneva, Calvin was cleverly seeking to
bring about a compromise between the
extremes of the Lutheran literal and the
Zwinglian figurative interpretations, by
suggesting instead of the substantial
presence in one case or the merely
symbolical in the other, a certain mean,
i.e. "dynamic", presence, which consists
essentially in this, that at the moment of
reception, the efficacy of Christ's Body and
Blood is communicated from heaven to
the souls of the predestined and spiritually
nourishes them. Thanks to Melanchthon's
pernicious and dishonest double-dealing,
this attractive intermediary position of
Calvin made such an impression even in
Lutheran circles that it was not until the
Formula of Concord in 1577 that the
"crypto-Calvinistic venom" was
successfully rejected from the body of
Lutheran doctrine. The Council of Trent

met these widely divergent errors of the

Reformation with the dogmatic definition,
that the God-man is "truly, really, and
substantially" present under the
appearances of bread and wine, purposely
intending thereby to oppose the
expression vere to Zwingli's signum,
realiter to colampadius's figura, and
essentialiter to Calvin's virtus (Sess. XIII,
can. i). And this teaching of the Council of
Trent has ever been and is now the
unwavering position of the whole of
Catholic Christendom.

As regards the doctrine of the Fathers, it is

not possible in the present article to
multiply patristic texts, which are usually
characterized by wonderful beauty and
clearness. Suffice it to say that, besides
the Didache (9, 10, 14), the most ancient
Fathers, as Ignatius (Smyrnans 7;
Ephesians 20; Philadelphians 4), Justin
(First Apology 66), Irenus (Against

Heresies IV.17.5, IV.18.4 and V.2.2),

Tertullian (On the Resurrection of the Flesh
8; On Pudicity 9; On Prayer 19; On
Baptism 16), and Cyprian (Treatise 3.16
and Treatise 4.18), attest without the
slightest shadow of a misunderstanding
what is the faith of the Church, while later
patristic theology bears witness to the
dogma in terms that approach
exaggeration, as Gregory of Nyssa (Great
Catechism III.37), Cyril of Jerusalem
(Mystagogical Catechesis 4, no. 2 sqq.),
and especially the Doctor of the Eucharist,
Chrysostom [Homily 82 on Matthew, 1
sqq.; Homily 46 on John, 2 sqq.; Homily 24
on First Corinthians, 1 sqq.; Homily 9 de
pnit., 1], to whom may be added the
Latin Fathers, Hilary (On the Holy Trinity
VIII.4.13) and Ambrose (On the Mysteries
8.49, 9.51 sq.). Concerning the Syriac
Fathers see Th. Lamy "De Syrorum fide in
re eucharistic" (Louvain, 1859).

The position held by St. Augustine is at

present the subject of a spirited
controversy, since the adversaries of the
Church rather confidently maintain that he
favored their side of the question in that
he was an out-and-out "Symbolist". In the
opinion of Loofs ("Dogmengeschichte", 4th
ed., Halle, 1906, p. 409), St. Augustine
never gives the "reception of the true
Body and Blood of Christ" a thought; and
this view Ad. Harnack (Dogmengeschichte,
3rd ed., Freiburg, 1897, III, 148)
emphasizes when he declares that St.
Augustine "undoubtedly was one in this
respect with the so-called pre-Reformation
and with Zwingli". Against this rather
hasty conclusion Catholics first of all
advance the undoubted fact that
Augustine demanded that Divine worship
should be rendered to the Eucharistic
Flesh (Enarration on Psalm 33, no. 1), and
declared that at the Last Supper "Christ
held and carried Himself in His own hands"
(Enarration on Psalm 98, no. 9). They

insist, and rightly so, that it is not fair to

separate this great Doctor's teaching
concerning the Eucharist from his doctrine
of the Holy Sacrifice, since he clearly and
unmistakably asserts that the true Body
and Blood are offered in the Holy Mass.
The variety of extreme views just
mentioned requires that an attempt be
made at a reasonable and unbiased
explanation, whose verification is to be
sought for and found in the acknowledged
fact that a gradual process of
development took place in the mind of St.
Augustine. No one will deny that certain
expressions occur in Augustine as forcibly
realistic as those of Tertullian and Cyprian
or of his intimate literary friends,
Ambrose, Optatus of Mileve, Hilary, and
Chrysostom. On the other hand, it is
beyond question that, owing to the
determining influence of Origen and the
Platonic philosophy, which, as is well
known, attached but slight value to visible
matter and the sensible phenomena of the

world, Augustine did not refer what was

properly real (res) in the Blessed
Sacrament to the Flesh of Christ (caro),
but transferred it to the quickening
principle (spiritus), i.e. to the effects
produced by a worthy Communion. A
logical consequence of this was that he
allowed to caro, as the vehicle and
antitype of res, not indeed a mere
symbolical worth, but at best a transitory,
intermediary, and subordinate worth
(signum), and placed the Flesh and Blood
of Christ, present under the appearances
(figur) of bread and wine, in too decided
an opposition to His natural, historical
Body. Since Augustine was a strenuous
defender of personal co-operation and
effort in the work of salvation and an
enemy to mere mechanical activity and
superstitious routine, he omitted insisting
upon a lively faith in the real personality of
Jesus in the Eucharist, and called attention
to the spiritual efficiency of the Flesh of
Christ instead. His mental vision was fixed,

not so much upon the saving caro, as

upon the spiritus, which alone possessed
worth. Nevertheless a turning-point
occurred in his life. The conflict with
Pelagianism and the diligent perusal of
Chrysostom freed him from the bondage
of Platonism, and he thenceforth attached
to caro a separate, individual value
independent of that of spiritus, going so
far, in fact, as to maintain too strongly
that the Communion of children was
absolutely necessary to salvation.

If, moreover, the reader finds in some of

the other Fathers difficulties, obscurities,
and a certain inaccuracy of expression,
this may be explained on three general

because of the peace and security there

is in their possession of the Church's truth,
whence resulted a certain want of

accuracy in their terminology;

because of the strictness with which the
Discipline of the Secret, expressly
concerned with the Holy Eucharist, was
maintained in the East until the end of the
fifth, in the West down to the middle of the
sixth century;
because of the preference of many
Fathers for the allegorical interpretation of
Scripture, which was especially in vogue in
the Alexandrian School (Clement of
Alexandria, Origen, Cyril), but which found
a salutary counterpoise in the emphasis
laid on the literal interpretation by the
School of Antioch (Theodore of
Mopsuestia, Theodoret). Since, however,
the allegorical sense of the Alexandrians
did not exclude the literal, but rather
supposed it as a working basis, the
realistic phraseology of Clement (The
Pedagogue I.6), of Origen (Against Celsus
VIII.13; Hom. ix, in Levit., x) and of Cyril (in
Matt., xxvi, xxvii; Contra Nestor., IV, 5)

concerning the Real Presence is readily

accounted for. (For the solution of patristic
difficulties, see Pohle, "Dogmatik", 3rd ed.,
Paderborn, 1908, III, 209 sqq.)

The argument from tradition is

supplemented and completed by the
argument from prescription, which traces
the constant belief in the dogma of the
Real Presence through the Middle Ages
back to the early Apostolic Church, and
thus proves the anti-Eucharistic heresies
to have been capricious novelties and
violent ruptures of the true faith as
handed down from the beginning. Passing
over the interval that has elapsed since
the Reformation, as this period receives its
entire character from the Council of Trent,
we have for the time of the Reformation
the important testimony of Luther (Wider
etliche Rottengeister, 1532) for the fact
that the whole of Christendom then
believed in the Real Presence. And this

firm, universal belief can be traced back

uninterruptedly to Berengarius of Tours (d.
1088), in fact omitting the sole
exception of Scotus Eriugena to
Paschasius Radbertus (831). On these
grounds, therefore, we may proudly
maintain that the Church has been in
legitimate possession of this dogma for
fully eleven centuries. When Photius
started the Greek Schism in 869, he took
over to his Church the inalienable treasure
of the Catholic Eucharist, a treasure which
the Greeks, in the negotiations for reunion
at Lyons in 1274 and at Florence in 1439,
could show to be still intact, and which
they vigorously defended in the
schismatical Synod of Jerusalem (1672)
against the sordid machinations of the
Calvinistic-minded Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of
Constantinople (1629). From this it follows
conclusively that the Catholic dogma must
be much older than the Eastern Schism
under Photius. In fact, even the Nestorians
and Monophysites, who broke away from

Rome in the fifth century, have, as is

evident from their their literature and
liturgical books, preserved their faith in
the Eucharist as unwaveringly as the
Greeks, and this in spite of the dogmatic
difficulties which, on account of their
denial of the hypostatic union, stood in the
way of a clear and correct notion of the
Real Presence. Therefore the Catholic
dogma is at least as old as Nestorianism
(A.D. 431). But is it not of even greater
antiquity? To decide this question one has
only to examine the oldest Liturgies of the
Mass, whose essential elements date back
to the time of the Apostles (see articles on
the various liturgies), to visit the Roman
Catacombs, where Christ is shown as
present in the Eucharistic food under the
symbol of a fish (see EARLY SYMBOLS OF
THE EUCHARIST), to decipher the famous
Inscription of Abercius of the second
century, which, though composed under
the influence of the Discipline of the
Secret, plainly attests the faith of that age.

And thus the argument from prescription

carries us back to the dim and distant past
and thence to the time of the Apostles,
who in turn could have received their faith
in the Real Presence from no one but
Christ Himself.
The totality of the real presence

In order to forestall at the very outset, the

unworthy notion, that in the Eucharist we
receive merely the Body and merely the
Blood of Christ but not Christ in His
entirety, the Council of Trent defined the
Real Presence to be such as to include
with Christ's Body and His Soul and
Divinity as well. A strictly logical
conclusion from the words of promise: "he
that eateth me the same also shall live by
me", this Totality of Presence was also the
constant property of tradition, which
characterized the partaking of separated
parts of the Savior as a sarcophagy (flesheating) altogether derogatory to God.

Although the separation of the Body,

Blood, Soul, and Logos, is, absolutely
speaking, within the almighty power of
God, yet then actual inseparability is
firmly established by the dogma of the
indissolubility of the hypostatic union of
Christ's Divinity and Humanity. In case the
Apostles had celebrated the Lord's Supper
during the triduum mortis (the time during
which Christ's Body was in the tomb),
when a real separation took place
between the constitutive elements of
Christ, there would have been really
present in the Sacred Host only, the
bloodless, inanimate Body of Christ as it
lay in tomb, and in the Chalice only the
Blood separated from His Body and
absorbed by the earth as it was shed, both
the Body and the Blood, however,
hypostatically united to His Divinity, while
His Soul, which sojourned in Limbo, would
have remained entirely excluded from the
Eucharistic presence. This unreal, though
not impossible, hypothesis, is well

calculated to throw light upon the

essential difference designated by the
Council of Trent (Sess, XIII, c. iii), between
the meanings of the words ex vi verborum
and per concomitantiam. By virtue of the
words of consecration, or ex vi verborum,
that only is made present which is
expressed by the words of Institution,
namely the Body and the Blood of Christ.
But by reason of a natural concomitance
(per concomitantiam), there becomes
simultaneously present all that which is
physically inseparable from the parts just
named, and which must, from a natural
connection with them, always be their
accompaniment. Now, the glorified Christ,
Who "dieth now no more" (Romans 6:9)
has an animate Body through whose veins
courses His life's Blood under the vivifying
influence of soul. Consequently, together
with His Body and Blood and Soul, His
whole Humanity also, and, by virtue of the
hypostatic union, His Divinity, i.e. Christ
whole and entire, must be present. Hence

Christ is present in the sacrament with His

Flesh and Blood, Body and Soul, Humanity
and Divinity.

This general and fundamental principle,

which entirely abstracts from the duality
of the species, must, nevertheless, be
extended to each of the species of bread
and wine. For we do not receive in the
Sacred Host one part of Christ and in the
Chalice the other, as though our reception
of the totality depended upon our
partaking of both forms; on the contrary,
under the appearance of bread alone, as
well as under the appearance of wine
alone, we receive Christ whole and entire
(cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. iii).
This, the only reasonable conception, finds
its Scriptural verification in the fact, that
St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29) attaches
the same guilt "of the body and the blood
of the Lord" to the unworthy "eating or
drinking", understood in a disjunctive

sense, as he does to "eating and drinking",

understood in a copulative sense. The
traditional foundation for this is to be
found in the testimony of the Fathers and
of the Church's liturgy, according to which
the glorified Savior can be present on our
altars only in His totality and integrity, and
not divided into parts or distorted to the
form of a monstrosity. It follows, therefore,
that supreme adoration is separately due
to the Sacred Host and to the consecrated
contents of the Chalice. On this last truth
are based especially the permissibility and
intrinsic propriety of Communion only
under one kind for the laity and for priests
not celebrating Mass (see COMMUNION
UNDER BOTH KINDS). But in particularizing
upon the dogma, we are naturally led to
the further truth, that, at least after the
actual division of either Species into parts,
Christ is present in each part in His full
and entire essence. If the Sacred Host be
broken into pieces or if the consecrated
Chalice be drunk in small quantities, Christ

in His entirety is present in each particle

and in each drop. By the restrictive clause,
separatione fact the Council of Trent
(Sess. XIII, can. iii) rightly raised this truth
to the dignity of a dogma. While from
Scripture we may only judge it improbable
that Christ consecrated separately each
particle of the bread He had broken, we
know with certainty, on the other hand,
that He blessed the entire contents of the
Chalice and then gave it to His disciples to
be partaken of distributively (cf. Matthew
26:27 sq.; Mark 14:23). It is only on the
basis of the Tridentine dogma that we can
understand how Cyril of Jerusalem
(Mystagogical Catechesis 5, no. 21)
obliged communicants to observe the
most scrupulous care in conveying the
Sacred Host to their mouths, so that not
even "a crumb, more precious than gold or
jewels", might fall from their hands to the
ground; how Csarius of Arles taught that
there is "just as much in the small
fragment as in the whole"; how the

different liturgies assert the abiding

integrity of the "indivisible Lamb", in spite
of the "division of the Host"; and, finally,
how in actual practice the faithful partook
of the broken particles of the Sacred Host
and drank in common from the same cup.

While the three foregoing theses contain

dogmas of faith, there is a fourth
proposition which is merely a theological
conclusion, namely, that even before the
actual division of the Species, Christ is
present wholly and entirely in each
particle of the still unbroken Host and in
each drop of the collective contents of the
Chalice. For were not Christ present in His
entire Personality in every single particle
of the Eucharistic Species even before
their division took place, we should be
forced to conclude that it is the process of
dividing which brings about the Totality of
Presence, whereas according to the
teaching of the Church the operative

cause of the Real and Total Presence is to

be found in Transubstantiation alone. No
doubt this last conclusion directs the
attention of philosophical and scientific
inquiry to a mode of existence peculiar to
the Eucharistic Body, which is contrary to
the ordinary laws of experience. It is,
indeed, one of those sublime mysteries,
concerning which speculative theology
attempts to offer various solutions [see
below under (5)].

Before proving dogmatically the fact of the

substantial change here under
consideration, we must first outline its
history and nature.

(a) The scientific development of the

concept of Transubstantiation can hardly
be said to be a product of the Greeks, who
did not get beyond its more general notes;

rather, it is the remarkable contribution of

the Latin theologians, who were
stimulated to work it out in complete
logical form by the three Eucharistic
controversies mentioned above, The term
transubstantiation seems to have been
first used by Hildebert of Tours (about
1079). His encouraging example was soon
followed by other theologians, as Stephen
of Autun (d. 1139), Gaufred (1188), and
Peter of Blois (d. about 1200), whereupon
several ecumenical councils also adopted
this significant expression, as the Fourth
Council of the Lateran (1215), and the
Council of Lyons (1274), in the profession
of faith of the Greek Emperor Michael
Palologus. The Council of Trent (Sess.
XIII, cap. iv; can. ii) not only accepted as
an inheritance of faith the truth contained
in the idea, but authoritatively confirmed
the "aptitude of the term" to express most
strikingly the legitimately developed
doctrinal concept. In a closer logical
analysis of Transubstantiation, we find the

first and fundamental notion to be that of

conversion, which may be defined as "the
transition of one thing into another in
some aspect of being". As is immediately
evident, conversion (conversio) is
something more than mere change
(mutatio). Whereas in mere changes one
of the two extremes may be expressed
negatively, as, e.g., in the change of day
and night, conversion requires two
positive extremes, which are related to
each other as thing to thing, and must
have, besides, such an intimate
connection with each other, that the last
extreme (terminus ad quem) begins to be
only as the first (terminus a quo) ceases to
be, as, e.g., in the conversion of water into
wine at Cana. A third element is usually
required, known as the commune tertium,
which, even after conversion has taken
place, either physically or at least logically
unites one extreme to the other; for in
every true conversion the following
condition must be fulfilled: "What was

formerly A, is now B." A very important

question suggests itself as to whether the
definition should further postulate the
previous non-existence of the last
extreme, for it seems strange that an
existing terminus a quo, A, should be
converted into an already existing
terminus ad quem, B. If the act of
conversion is not to become a mere
process of substitution, as in sleight-ofhand performances, the terminus ad quem
must unquestionably in some manner
newly exist, just as the terminus a quo
must in some manner really cease to
exist. Yet as the disappearance of the
latter is not attributable to annihilation
properly so called, so there is no need of
postulating creation, strictly so called, to
explain the former's coming into
existence. The idea of conversion is amply
realized if the following condition is
fulfilled, viz., that a thing which already
existed in substance, acquires an
altogether new and previously non-

existing mode of being. Thus in the

resurrection of the dead, the dust of the
human bodies will be truly converted into
the bodies of the risen by their previously
existing souls, just as at death they had
been truly converted into corpses by the
departure of the souls. This much as
regards the general notion of conversion.
Transubstantiation, however, is not a
conversion simply so called, but a
substantial conversion (conversio
substantialis), inasmuch as one thing is
substantially or essentially converted into
another. Thus from the concept of
Transubstantiation is excluded every sort
of merely accidental conversion, whether
it be purely natural (e.g. the
metamorphosis of insects) or supernatural
(e.g. the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount
Tabor). Finally, Transubstantiation differs
from every other substantial conversion in
this, that only the substance is converted
into another the accidents remaining
the same just as would be the case if

wood were miraculously converted into

iron, the substance of the iron remaining
hidden under the external appearance of
the wood.

The application of the foregoing to the

Eucharist is an easy matter. First of all the
notion of conversion is verified in the
Eucharist, not only in general, but in all its
essential details. For we have the two
extremes of conversion, namely, bread
and wine as the terminus a quo, and the
Body and Blood of Christ as the terminus
ad quem. Furthermore, the intimate
connection between the cessation of one
extreme and the appearance of the other
seems to be preserved by the fact, that
both events are the results, not of two
independent processes, as, e.g.
annihilation and creation, but of one single
act, since, according to the purpose of the
Almighty, the substance of the bread and
wine departs in order to make room for

the Body and Blood of Christ. Lastly, we

have the commune tertium in the
unchanged appearances of bread and
wine, under which appearances the preexistent Christ assumes a new,
sacramental mode of being, and without
which His Body and Blood could not be
partaken of by men. That the
consequence of Transubstantiation, as a
conversion of the total substance, is the
transition of the entire substance of the
bread and wine into the Body and Blood of
Christ, is the express doctrine of the
Church (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. ii).
Thus were condemned as contrary to faith
the antiquated view of Durandus, that only
the substantial form (forma substantialis)
of the bread underwent conversion, while
the primary matter (materia prima)
remained, and, especially, Luther's
doctrine of Consubstantiation, i.e. the
coexistence of the substance of the bread
with the true Body of Christ. Thus, too, the
theory of Impanation advocated by

Osiander and certain Berengarians, and

according to which a hypostatic union is
supposed to take place between the
substance of the bread and the God-man
(impanatio = Deus panis factus), is
authoritatively rejected. So the Catholic
doctrine of Transubstantiation sets up a
mighty bulwark around the dogma of the
Real Presence and constitutes in itself a
distinct doctrinal article, which is not
involved in that of the Real Presence,
though the doctrine of the Real Presence
is necessarily contained in that of
Transubstantiation. It was for this very
reason that Pius VI, in his dogmatic Bull
"Auctorem fidei" (1794) against the
Jansenistic pseudo Synod of Pistoia (1786),
protested most vigorously against
suppressing this "scholastic question", as
the synod had advised pastors to do.

(b) In the mind of the Church,

Transubstantiation has been so intimately

bound up with the Real Presence, that

both dogmas have been handed down
together from generation to generation,
though we cannot entirely ignore a
dogmatico-historical development. The
total conversion of the substance of bread
is expressed clearly in the words of
Institution: "This is my body". These words
form, not a theoretical, but a practical
proposition, whose essence consists in
this, that the objective identity between
subject and predicate is effected and
verified only after the words have all been
uttered, not unlike the pronouncement of
a king to a subaltern: "You are a major",
or, "You are a captain", which would
immediately cause the promotion of the
officer to a higher command. When,
therefore, He Who is All Truth and All
Power said of the bread: "This is my body",
the bread became, through the utterance
of these words, the Body of Christ;
consequently, on the completion of the
sentence the substance of bread was no

longer present, but the Body of Christ

under the outward appearance of bread.
Hence the bread must have become the
Body of Christ, i.e. the former must have
been converted into the latter. The words
of Institution were at the same time the
words of Transubstantiation. Indeed the
actual manner in which the absence of the
bread and the presence of the Body of
Christ is effected, is not read into the
words of Institution but strictly and
exegetically deduced from them. The
Calvinists, therefore, are perfectly right
when they reject the Lutheran doctrine of
Consubstantiation as a fiction, with no
foundation in Scripture. For had Christ
intended to assert the coexistence of His
Body with the Substance of the bread, He
would not have expressed a simple
identity between hoc and corpus by
means of the copula est, but would have
resorted to some such expression as: "This
bread contains my body", or, "In this
bread is my Body." Had He desired to

constitute bread the sacramental

receptacle of His Body, He would have had
to state this expressly, for neither from the
nature of the case nor according to
common parlance can a piece of bread be
made to signify the receptacle of a human
body. On the other hand, the synecdoche
is plain in the case of the Chalice: "This is
my blood", i.e. the contents of the Chalice
are my blood, and hence no longer wine.

Regarding tradition, the earliest witnesses,

as Tertullian and Cyprian, could hardly
have given any particular consideration to
the genetic relation of the natural
elements of bread and wine to the Body
and Blood of Christ, or to the manner in
which the former were converted into the
latter; for even Augustine was deprived of
a clear conception of Transubstantiation,
so long as he was held in the bonds of
Platonism. On the other hand, complete
clearness on the subject had been

attained by writers as early as Cyril of

Jerusalem, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Gregory
of Nyssa, Chrysostom, and Cyril of
Alexandria in the East, and by Ambrose
and the later Latin writers in the West.
Eventually the West became the classic
home of scientific perfection in the difficult
doctrine of Transubstantiation. The claims
of the learned work of the Anglican Dr.
Pusey (The Doctrine of the Real Presence
as contained in the Fathers, Oxford, 1855),
who denied the cogency of the patristic
argument for Transubstantiation, have
been met and thoroughly answered by
Cardinal Franzelin (De Euchar., Rome,
1887, xiv). The argument from tradition is
strikingly confirmed by the ancient
liturgies, whose beautiful prayers express
the idea of conversion in the clearest
manner. Many examples may be found in
Renaudot, "Liturgi orient." (2nd ed.,
1847); Assemani, "Codex liturg." (13 vols.,
Rome 1749-66); Denzinger, "Ritus
Orientalium" (2 vols., Wrzburg, 1864),

Concerning the Adduction Theory of the

Scotists and the Production Theory of the
Thomists, see Pohle, "Dogmatik" (3rd ed.,
Paderborn, 1908), III, 237 sqq.
The permanence and adorableness of the

Since Luther arbitrarily restricted Real

Presence to the moment of reception (in
usu, non extra), the Council of Trent (Sess.
XIII, can. iv) by a special canon
emphasized the fact, that after the
Consecration Christ is truly present and,
consequently, does not make His Presence
dependent upon the act of eating or
drinking. On the contrary, He continues
His Eucharistic Presence even in the
consecrated Hosts and Sacred particles
that remain on the altar or in the ciborium
after the distribution of Holy Communion.
In the deposit of faith the Presence and
the Permanence of Presence are so closely
allied, that in the mind of the Church both

continue on as an undivided whole. And

rightly so; for just as Christ promised His
Flesh and blood as meat and drink, i.e. as
something permanent (cf. John 6:50 sqq.),
so, when He said: "Take ye, and eat. This
is my body", the Apostles received from
the hand of the Lord His Sacred Body,
which was already objectively present and
did not first become so in the act of
partaking. This non-dependence of the
Real Presence upon the actual reception is
manifested very clearly in the case of the
Chalice, when Christ said: "Drink ye all of
this. For [enim] this is my Blood." Here the
act of drinking is evidently neither the
cause nor the conditio sine qua non for the
presence of Christ's Blood.

Much as he disliked it, even Calvin had to

acknowledge the evident force of the
argument from tradition (Instit. IV, xvii,
sect. 739). Not only have the Fathers, and
among them Chrysostom with special

vigor, defended in theory the permanence

of the Real Presence, but the constant
practice of the Church has also
established its truth. In the early days of
the Church the faithful frequently carried
the Blessed Eucharist with them to their
homes (cf. Tertullian, "Ad uxor.", II, v;
Cyprian, Treatise 3.26) or upon long
journeys (Ambrose, De excessu fratris, I,
43, 46), while the deacons were
accustomed to take the Blessed
Sacrament to those who did not attend
Divine service (cf. Justin, Apol., I, n. 67), as
well as to the martyrs, the incarcerated,
and the infirm (cf. Eusebius, Church
History VI.44). The deacons were also
obliged to transfer the particles that
remained to specially prepared
repositories called Pastophoria (cf.
Apostolic Constitutions, VIII, xiii).
Furthermore, it was customary as early as
the fourth century to celebrate the Mass of
the Presanctifed (cf. Synod of Laodicea,
can. xlix), in which were received the

Sacred Hosts that had been consecrated

one or more days previously. In the Latin
Church the celebration of the Mass of the
Presanctified is nowadays restricted to
Good Friday, whereas, ever since the
Trullan Synod (692), the Greeks celebrate
it during the whole of Lent, except on
Saturdays, Sundays, and the feast of the
Annunciation (25 March). A deeper reason
for the permanence of Presence is found in
the fact, that some time elapses between
the confection and the reception of the
sacrament, i.e. between the Consecration
and the Communion, whereas in the case
of the other sacraments both the
confection and the reception take place at
the same instant. Baptism, for instance,
lasts only as long as the baptismal action
or ablution with water, and is, therefore, a
transitory sacrament; on the contrary, the
Eucharist, and the Eucharist alone,
constitutes a permanent sacrament (cf.
Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, cap. iii). The
permanence of Presence, however, is

limited to an interval of time of which the

beginning is determined by the instant of
Consecration and the end by the
corruption of the Eucharistic Species. If
the Host has become moldy or the
contents of the Chalice sour, Christ has
discontinued His Presence therein. Since in
the process of corruption those
elementary substances return which
correspond to the peculiar nature of the
changed accidents, the law of the
indestructibility of matter, notwithstanding
the miracle of the Eucharistic conversion,
remains in force without any interruption.

The Adorableness of the Eucharist is the

practical consequence of its permanence.
According to a well known principle of
Christology, the same worship of latria
(cultus latri) as is due to the Triune God
is due also to the Divine Word, the Godman Christ, and in fact, by reason of the
hypostatic union, to the Humanity of

Christ and its individual component parts,

as, e.g., His Sacred Heart. Now, identically
the same Lord Christ is truly present in the
Eucharist as is present in heaven;
consequently He is to be adored in the
Blessed Sacrament, and just so long as He
remains present under the appearances of
bread and wine, namely, from the moment
of Transubstantiation to the moment in
which the species are decomposed (cf.
Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. vi).

In the absence of Scriptural proof, the

Church finds a warrant for, and a propriety
in, rendering Divine worship to the Blessed
Sacrament in the most ancient and
constant tradition, though of course a
distinction must be made between the
dogmatic principle and the varying
discipline regarding the outward form of
worship. While even the East recognized
the unchangeable principle from the
earliest ages, and, in fact, as late as the

schismatical Synod of Jerusalem in 1672,

the West has furthermore shown an
untiring activity in establishing and
investing with more and more solemnity,
homage and devotion to the Blessed
Eucharist. In the early Church, the
adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was
restricted chiefly to Mass and Communion,
just as it is today among the Orientals and
the Greeks. Even in his time Cyril of
Jerusalem insisted just as strongly as did
Ambrose and Augustine on an attitude of
adoration and homage during Holy
Communion (cf. Ambrose, De Sp. Sancto,
III, ii, 79; Augustine, In Ps. xcviii, n. 9). In
the West the way was opened to a more
and more exalted veneration of the
Blessed Eucharist when the faithful were
allowed to Communicate even outside of
the liturgical service. After the
Berengarian controversy, the Blessed
Sacrament was in the eleventh and twelfth
centuries elevated for the express purpose
of repairing by its adoration the

blasphemies of heretics and,

strengthening the imperiled faith of
Catholics. In the thirteenth century were
introduced, for the greater glorification of
the Most Holy, the "theophoric
processions" (circumgestatio), and also
the feast of Corpus Christi, instituted
under Urban IV at the solicitation of St.
Juliana of Lige. In honor of the feast,
sublime hymns, such as the "Pange
Lingua" of St. Thomas Aquinas, were
composed. In the fourteenth century the
practice of the Exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament arose. The custom of the
annual Corpus Christi procession was
warmly defended and recommended by
the Council of Trent (Sess. XIII, cap. v). A
new impetus was given to the adoration of
the Eucharist through the visits to the
Blessed Sacrament (Visitatio SS.
Sacramenti), introduced by St. Alphonsus
Liguori; in later times the numerous orders
and congregations devoted to Perpetual
Adoration, the institution in many dioceses

of the devotion of "Perpetual Prayer", the

holding of International Eucharistic
Congresses, e.g. that of London in
September, 1908, have all contributed to
keep alive faith in Him Who has said:
"behold I am with you all days, even to the
consummation of the world" (Matthew
Speculative discussion of the real

The principal aim of speculative theology

with regard to the Eucharist, should be to
discuss philosophically, and seek a logical
solution of, three apparent contradictions,

the continued existence of the

Eucharistic Species, or the outward
appearances of bread and wine, without
their natural underlying subject
(accidentia sine subjecto);

the spatially uncircumscribed, spiritual

mode of existence of Christ's Eucharistic
Body (existentia corporis ad modum
the simultaneous existence of Christ in
heaven and in many places on earth

(a) The study of the first problem, viz.

whether or not the accidents of bread and
wine continue their existence without their
proper substance, must be based upon the
clearly established truth of
Transubstantiation, in consequence of
which the entire substance of the bread
and the entire substance of the wine are
converted respectively into the Body and
Blood of Christ in such a way that "only
the appearances of bread and wine
remain" (Council of Trent, Sess. XIII, can. ii:
manentibus dumtaxat speciebus panis et
vini). Accordingly, the continuance of the
appearances without the substance of

bread and wine as their connatural

substratum is just the reverse of
Transubstantiation. If it be further asked,
whether these appearances have any
subject at all in which they inhere, we
must answer with St. Thomas Aquinas
(III:77:1), that the idea is to be rejected as
unbecoming, as though the Body of Christ,
in addition to its own accidents, should
also assume those of bread and wine. The
most that may be said is, that from the
Eucharistic Body proceeds a miraculous
sustaining power, which supports the
appearances bereft of their natural
substances and preserves them from
collapse. The position of the Church in this
regard may be readily determined from
the Council of Constance (1414-1418). In
its eighth session, approved in 1418 by
Martin V, this synod condemned the
following articles of Wyclif:

"Substantia panis materialis et similiter

substantia vini materialis remanent in

Sacramento altaris", i.e. the material
substance of bread and likewise the
material substance of wine remain in the
Sacrament of the Altar;
"Accidentia panis non manent sine
subjecto", i.e. the accidents of the bread
do not remain without a subject.

The first of these articles contains an open

denial of Transubstantiation. The second,
so far as the text is concerned, might be
considered as merely a different wording
of the first, were it not that the history of
the council shows that Wyclif had directly
opposed the Scholastic doctrine of
"accidents without a subject" as absurd
and even heretical (cf, De Augustinis, De
re sacramentari, Rome, 1889, II, 573
sqq.), Hence it was the intention of the
council to condemn the second article, not
merely as a conclusion of the first, but as
a distinct and independent proposition;

wherefore we may gather the Church's

teaching on the subject from the
contradictory proposition; "Accidentia
panis manent sine subjecto," i.e. the
accidents of bread do remain without a
subject. Such, at least, was the opinion of
contemporary theologians regarding the
matter; and the Roman Catechism,
referring to the above-mentioned canon of
the Council of Trent, tersely, explains: "The
accidents of bread and wine inhere in no
substance, but continue existing by
themselves." This being the case, some
theologians in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, who inclined to
Cartesianism, as E, Maignan, Drouin, and
Vitasse, displayed but little theological
penetration when they asserted that the
Eucharistic appearances were optical
illusions, phantasmagoria, and makebelieve accidents, ascribing to Divine
omnipotence an immediate influence upon
the five senses, whereby a mere
subjective impression of what seemed to

be the accidents of bread and wine was

created. Since Descartes (d. 1650) places
the essence of corporeal substance in its
actual extension and recognizes only
modal accidents metaphysically united to
their substance, it is clear, according to his
theory, that together with the conversion
of the substance of bread and wine, the
accidents must also be converted and
thereby made to disappear. If the eye
nevertheless seems to behold bread and
wine, this is to be attributed to an optical
illusion alone. But it is clear at first blush,
that no doubt can be entertained as to the
physical reality, or in fact, as to the
identity of the accidents before and after
Transubstantiation, This physical, and not
merely optical, continuance of the
Eucharistic accidents was repeatedly
insisted upon by the Fathers, and with
such excessive rigor that the notion of
Transubstantiation seemed to be in
danger. Especially against the
Monophysites, who based on the

Eucharistic conversion an a pari argument

in behalf of the supposed conversion of
the Humanity of Christ into His Divinity,
did the Fathers retort by concluding from
the continuance of the unconverted
Eucharistic accidents to the unconverted
Human Nature of Christ. Both
philosophical and theological arguments
were also advanced against the
Cartesians, as, for instance, the infallible
testimony of the senses, the necessity of
the commune tertium to complete the
idea of Transubstantiation [see above,
(3)], the idea of the Sacrament of the Altar
as the visible sign of Christ's invisible
Body, the physical signification of
Communion as a real partaking of food
and drink the striking expression
"breaking of bread" (fractio panis), which
supposes the divisible reality of the
accidents, etc. For all these reasons,
theologians consider the physical reality of
the accidents as an incontrovertible truth,
which cannot without temerity be called in


As regards the philosophical possibility of

the accidents existing without their
substance, the older school drew a fine
distinction between modal and absolute
accidents, By the modal accidents were
understood such as could not, being mere
modes, be separated from their substance
without involving a metaphysical
contradiction, e.g. the form and motion of
a body. Those accidents were designated
absolute, whose objective reality was
adequately distinct from the reality of
their substance, in such a way that no
intrinsic repugnance was involved in their
separability, as, e.g., the quantity of a
body. Aristotle, himself taught (Metaphys.,
VI, 3rd ed. of Bekker, p. 1029, a. 13), that
quantity was not a corporeal substance,
but only a phenomenon of substance.
Modern philosophy, on the other hand, has
endeavored since the time of John Locke,

to reject altogether from the realm of

ideas the concept of substance as
something imaginary, and to rest satisfied
with qualities alone as the excitants of
sensation, a view of the material world
which the so-called psychology of
association and actuality is trying to carry
out in its various details. The Catholic
Church does not feel called upon to follow
up the ephemeral vagaries of these new
philosophical systems, but bases her
doctrine on the everlasting philosophy of
sound reason, which rightly distinguishes
between the thing in itself and its
characteristic qualities (color, form, size,
etc.). Though the "thing in itself" may
even remain imperceptible to the senses
and therefore be designated in the
language of Kant as a noumenon, or in the
language of Spencer, the Unknowable, yet
we cannot escape the necessity of seeking
beneath the appearances the thing which
appears, beneath the colour that which is
colored beneath the form that which has

form, i.e. the substratum or subject which

sustains the phenomena. The older
philosophy designated the appearances by
the name of accidents, the subject of the
appearances, by that of substance. It
matters little what the terms are, provided
the things signified by them are rightly
understood. What is particularly important
regarding material substances and their
accidental qualities, is the necessity of
proceeding cautiously in this discussion,
since in the domain of natural philosophy
the greatest uncertainty reigns even at
the present day concerning the nature of
matter, one system pulling down what
another has reared, as is proved in the
latest theories of atomism and energy, of
ions and electrons.

The old theology tried with St. Thomas

Aquinas (III:77) to prove the possibility of
absolute accidents on the principles of the
Aristotelean-Scholastic hylomorphism, i.e.

the system which teaches that the

essential constitution of bodies consists in
the substantial union of materia prima and
forma substantialis. Some theologians of
today would seek to come to an
understanding with modern science, which
bases all natural processes upon the very
fruitful theory of energy, by trying with
Leibniz to explain the Eucharistic
accidentia sine subjecto according to the
dynamism of natural philosophy.
Assuming, according to this system, a real
distinction between force and its
manifestations, between energy and its
effects, it may be seen that under the
influence of the First Cause the energy
(substance) necessary for the essence of
bread is withdrawn by virtue of
conversion, while the effects of energy
(accidents) in a miraculous manner
continue. For the rest it may be said, that
it is far from the Church's intention to
restrict the Catholic's investigation
regarding the doctrine of the Blessed

Sacrament to any particular view of

natural philosophy or even to require him
to establish its truth on the principles of
medieval physics; all that the Church
demands is, that those theories of
material substances be rejected which not
only contradict the teaching of the Church,
but also are repugnant to experience and
sound reason, as Pantheism, Hylozoism,
Monism, Absolute Idealism, Cartesianism,

(b) The second problem arises from the

Totality of Presence, which means that
Christ in His entirety is present in the
whole of the Host and in each smallest
part thereof, as the spiritual soul is
present in the human body [see above,
(2)]. The difficulty reaches its climax when
we consider that there is no question here
of the Soul or the Divinity of Christ, but of
His Body, which, with its head, trunk, and
members, has assumed a mode of

existence spiritual and independent of

space, a mode of existence, indeed,
concerning which neither experience nor
any system of philosophy can have the
least inkling. That the idea of conversion
of corporeal matter into a spirit can in no
way be entertained, is clear from the
material substance of the Eucharistic Body
itself. Even the above-mentioned
separability of quantity from substance
gives us no clue to the solution, since
according to the best founded opinions not
only the substance of Christ's Body, but by
His own wise arrangement, its corporeal
quantity, i.e. its full size, with its complete
organization of integral members and
limbs, is present within the diminutive
limits of the Host and in each portion
thereof. Later theologians (as Rossignol,
Legrand) resorted to the unseemly
explanation, according to which Christ is
present in diminished form and stature, a
sort of miniature body; while others (as
Oswald, Fernandez, Casajoana) assumed

with no better sense of fitness the mutual

compenetration of the members of
Christ's Body to within the narrow
compass of the point of a pin. The
vagaries of the Cartesians, however, went
beyond all bounds. Descartes had already,
in a letter to P. Mesland (ed. Emery, Paris,
1811), expressed the opinion, that the
identity of Christ's Eucharistic with His
Heavenly Body was preserved by the
identity of His Soul, which animated all the
Eucharistic Bodies. On this basis, the
geometrician Varignon suggested a true
multiplication of the Eucharistic Bodies
upon earth, which were supposed to be
most faithful, though greatly reduced,
miniature copies of the prototype, the
Heavenly Body of Christ. Nor does the
modern theory of n-dimensions throw any
light upon the subject; for the Body of
Christ is not invisible or impalpable to us
because it occupies the fourth dimension,
but because it transcends and is wholly
independent of space. Such a mode of

existence, it is clear, does not come within

the scope of physics and mechanics, but
belongs to a higher, supernatural order,
even as does the Resurrection from the
sealed tomb, the passing in and out
through closed doors, the Transfiguration
of the future glorified risen Body. What
explanation may, then, be given of the

The simplest treatment of the subject was

that offered by the Schoolmen, especially
St. Thomas (III:76:4), They reduced the
mode of being to the mode of becoming,
i.e. they traced back the mode of
existence peculiar to the Eucharistic Body
to the Transubstantiation; for a thing has
to so "be" as it was in "becoming", Since
ex vi verborum the immediate result is the
presence of the Body of Christ, its
quantity, present merely per
concomitantiam, must follow the mode of
existence peculiar to its substance, and,

like the latter, must exist without division

and extension, i.e. entirely in the whole
Host and entirely in each part thereof. In
other words, the Body of Christ is present
in the sacrament, not after the manner of
"quantity" (per modum quantitatis), but of
"substance" (per modum substanti),
Later Scholasticism (Bellarmine, Francisco
Surez, Billuart, and others) tried to
improve upon this explanation along other
lines by distinguishing between internal
and external quantity. By internal quantity
(quantitas interna seu in actu primo) is
understood that entity, by virtue of which
a corporeal substance merely possesses
"aptitudinal extension", i.e. the
"capability" of being extended in tridimensional space. External quantity, on
the other hand (quantitas externa seu in
actu secundo), is the same entity, but in
so far as it follows its natural tendency to
occupy space and actually extends itself in
the three dimensions. While aptitudinal
extension or internal quantity is so bound

up with the essences of bodies that its

separability from them involves a
metaphysical contradiction, external
quantity is, on the other hand, only a
natural consequence and effect, which can
be so suspended and withheld by the First
Cause, that the corporeal substance,
retaining its internal quantity, does not
extend itself into space. At all events,
however plausibly reason may seem to
explain the matter, it is nevertheless face
to face with a great mystery.

(c) The third and last question has to do

with the multilocation of Christ in heaven
and upon thousands of altars throughout
the world. Since in the natural order of
events each body is restricted to one
position in space (unilocatio), so that
before the law proof of an alibi
immediately frees a person from the
suspicion of crime, multilocation without
further question belongs to the

supernatural order. First of all, no intrinsic

repugnance can be shown in the concept
of multilocation. For if the objection be
raised, that no being can exist separated
from itself or show forth local distances
between its various selves, the sophism is
readily detected; for multilocation does
not multiply the individual object, but only
its external relation to and presence in
space. Philosophy distinguishes two
modes of presence in creatures:

the circumscriptive, and

the definitive.

The first, the only mode of presence

proper to bodies, is that by virtue of which
an object is confined to a determinate
portion of space in such wise that its
various parts (atoms, molecules,
electrons) also occupy their corresponding
positions in that space. The second mode

of presence, that properly belonging to a

spiritual being, requires the substance of a
thing to exist in its entirety in the whole of
the space, as well as whole and entire in
each part of that space. The latter is the
soul's mode of presence in the human
body. The distinction made between these
two modes of presence is important,
inasmuch as in the Eucharist both kinds
are found in combination. For, in the first
place, there is verified a continuous
definitive multilocation, called also
replication, which consists in this, that the
Body of Christ is totally present in each
part of the continuous and as yet
unbroken Host and also totally present
throughout the whole Host, just as the
human soul is present in the body. And
precisely this latter analogy from nature
gives us an insight into the possibility of
the Eucharistic miracle. For if, as has been
seen above, Divine omnipotence can in a
supernatural manner impart to a body
such a spiritual, unextended, spatially

uncircumscribed mode of presence, which

is natural to the soul as regards the
human body, one may well surmise the
possibility of Christ's Eucharistic Body
being present in its entirety in the whole
Host, and whole and entire in each part

There is, moreover, the discontinuous

multilocation, whereby Christ is present
not only in one Host, but in numberless
separate Hosts, whether in the ciborium or
upon all the altars throughout the world.
The intrinsic possibility of discontinuous
multilocation seems to be based upon the
non-repugnance of continuous
multilocation. For the chief difficulty of the
latter appears to be that the same Christ
is present in two different parts, A and B,
of the continuous Host, it being immaterial
whether we consider the distant parts A
and B joined by the continuous line AB or
not. The marvel does not substantially

increase, if by reason of the breaking of

the Host, the two parts A and B are now
completely separated from each other. Nor
does it matter how great the distance
between the parts may be. Whether or not
the fragments of a Host are distant one
inch or a thousand miles from one another
is altogether immaterial in this
consideration; we need not wonder, then,
if Catholics adore their Eucharistic Lord at
one and the same time in New York,
London, and Paris. Finally, mention must
be made of mixed multilocation, since
Christ with His natural dimensions reigns
in heaven, whence he does not depart,
and at the same time dwells with His
Sacramental Presence in numberless
places throughout the world. This third
case would be in perfect accordance with
the two foregoing, were we per impossible
permitted to imagine that Christ were
present under the appearances of bread
exactly as He is in heaven and that He had
relinquished His natural mode of

existence. This, however, would be but

one more marvel of God's omnipotence.
Hence no contradiction is noticeable in the
fact, that Christ retains His natural
dimensional relations in heaven and at the
same time takes up His abode upon the
altars of earth.

There is, furthermore, a fourth kind of

multilocation, which, however, has not
been realized in the Eucharist, but would
be, if Christ's Body were present in its
natural mode of existence both in heaven
and on earth. Such a miracle might be
assumed to have occurred in the
conversion of St. Paul before the gates of
Damascus, when Christ in person said to
him: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou
me?" So too the bilocation of saints,
sometimes read of in the pages of
hagiography, as, e.g., in the case of St.
Alphonsus Liguori, cannot be arbitrarily
cast aside as untrustworthy. The Thomists

and some later theologians, it is true,

reject this kind of multilocation as
intrinsically impossible and declare
bilocation to be nothing more than an
"apparition" without corporeal presence.
But Cardinal De Lugo is of opinion, and
justly so, that to deny its possibility might
reflect unfavorably upon the Eucharistic
multilocation itself. If there were question
of the vagaries of many Nominalists, as,
e.g., that a bilocated person could be
living in Paris and at the same time dying
in London, hating in Paris and at the same
time loving in London, the impossibility
would be as plain as day, since an
individual, remaining such as he is, cannot
be the subject of contrary propositions,
since they exclude one another. The case
assumes a different aspect, when wholly
external contrary propositions, relating to
position in space, are used in reference to
the bilocated individual. In such a
bilocation, which leaves the principle of
contradiction intact, it would be hard to

discover an intrinsic impossibility.

About this page

APA citation. Pohle, J. (1909). The Real

Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In The
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert
Appleton Company. Retrieved December
1, 2016 from New Advent:

MLA citation. Pohle, Joseph. "The Real

Presence of Christ in the Eucharist." The
Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York:
Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 1 Dec.

Transcription. This article was transcribed

for New Advent by Charles Sweeney, SJ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat.

May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor.
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of
New York.

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