Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Transubstantiation and hylemorphism


One of the key themes of the early modern philosophers’ revolt against Scholasticism was a move away from an Aristotelian hylemorphist conception of the nature of physical substance to some variation or other of the mechanical philosophy.  The other day I was asked a very interesting question: Can transubstantiation be formulated in terms of a mechanistic conception of physical substance rather than a hylemorphic one?  My answer was that I would not peremptorily say that it cannot be, but that the suggestion certainly raises serious philosophical and theological problems.

Here’s why.  Hylemorphism in its most straightforward version roughly agrees with common sense about which of the things of everyday experience are distinct substances, which are different parts of the same substance, and which are aggregates rather than true substances.  For example, it would say that a stone, a tree, and a dog are all distinct substances from one another; that a particular dog’s nose and its right front leg are different parts of the same substance rather than distinct substances; and that a pile of stones is an aggregate rather than a substance in its own right.  Of course, use of the term “substance” in the technical Aristotelian sense isn’t part of common sense, but even untutored common sense would surely involve the supposition that a stone, a tree, and a dog are all distinct things or objects, that the nose and leg of the dog are parts of a larger thing or object rather than separate things or objects, and that a pile of stones is a bunch of things or objects rather than a single object.  At least to that extent, common sense would more or less agree with what I am calling a straightforward version of hylemorphism.  (See chapter 3 of Scholastic Metaphysics for exposition and defense of the hylemorphist account of substance.)

Now, the mechanical world picture that pushed aside the hylemorphist model tended radically to revise the common sense understanding of physical objects in one of two general ways, depending on how mechanism was spelled out.  It reduced ordinary physical objects either to mere aggregates of their innumerably many component parts, or to mere modes of some larger blob of which they were the parts.

Descartes and Spinoza essentially took the latter option.  Though Descartes is often described as positing a plurality of extended substances alongside the plurality of thinking substances, his considered view seemed to be that strictly speaking, there is only a single extended substance, of which the ordinary objects of our experience are merely modifications.  Spinoza more famously took such a position (or rather, he took it that Deus sive Natura was the one substance of which the ordinary physical objects of our experience are all modes).  On this view, a stone, a tree, and a dog are not really distinct substances, but merely distinct aspects of one and the same substance – in something like the way common sense regards the color, weight, and shape of a stone to be mere modes of one and the same object, the stone.

Atomist and corpuscularian versions of the mechanical philosophy went in the other direction.  They essentially make either atoms or corpuscles the true substances, and ordinary objects mere aggregates of these purported substances.  Just as a pile of rocks is not a true substance but merely a collection of substances (or as the hylemorphist would say, being a pile of rocks is a merely accidental form rather than a substantial form), so too a stone, a tree, or a dog is on this view merely a collection of particles.  In effect, the particles are the true substances, and the stone, tree, or dog is like the pile – a relatively superficial arrangement of metaphysically more fundamental entities.

So, to come to transubstantiation, the idea, of course, is that in the Eucharist, while the accidents of bread and wine remain, the substance of bread and wine are miraculously replaced with that of Christ.  Suppose, then, that we were to adopt Descartes’ version of the mechanical philosophy, on which there is just one big physical substance underlying all the things ordinary perceptual experience reveals to us.  That would entail that the substance that underlies the accidents of bread and wine that are about to be consecrated is the very same substance as that which underlies stones, trees, dogs, cats, human bodies, apples, oranges, the sun, the moon, water, lead, gold, and every other thing we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. 

But in that case, when transubstantiation occurs, it is not just the substance underlying the accidents of bread and wine that is replaced, but the substance underlying all of these other things too.  In other words, after transubstantiation occurs, it is really the body and blood of Christ that underlies what we perceive as stones, trees, dogs, cats, human bodies, the sun, the moon, water, etc.!  Everything in the physical world would be transubstantiated.  We would be left with a kind of pantheism.  Absolutely every physical thing would have to treated with the same reverence that the Eucharist is, because every physical thing would be the Eucharist!

Another bizarre implication of this is that transubstantiation could occur only once.  For only at the first time it occurs is the one physical substance replaced by that of Christ.  If a priest were ever to try to consecrate bread and wine again, he would fail, because there is no longer any physical substance there to be replaced.  It is already the body and blood of Christ.

Suppose we went the other route, that of either atomism or corpuscularianism.  Then, like stones, trees, and dogs, bread and wine would not be true substances but merely accidental collections of innumerably many true substances.  They would be like a pile of rocks, only instead it would be fundamental particles (atoms or corpuscles, depending on your favored version of the mechanical philosophy) that would be piled up.  But in that case, exactly what is the substance that is replaced when transubstantiation occurs?  Neither the substance of the bread nor that of the wine can be what is replaced, because on this view they just aren’t true substances in the first place. 

Should we say that it is each particle that makes up the aggregate that is transubstantiated (just as Catholic theology allows that many hosts at a time may be consecrated at Mass)?   But there are several problems with that suggestion.  The first is that it is hard to know how to give a principled answer to the question what the boundaries are between those particles that make up the aggregate and those that are not part of it – and thus between those particles that are transubstantiated, and those that are not.  The reason is that the boundaries of an aggregate are much less well defined than those of a substance.  Is a stone that is two millimeters away from a pile of stones itself part of the pile or not?  And is a particle that falls from the host part of that (purported) aggregate of particles or not? 

If we think of the host on the model of an Aristotelian substance, then we can say that a fallen particle is part of the host, like a body part that has been severed, as it were.  But, again, if instead we think in terms of the model of a pile of stones or some other aggregate, the answer isn’t as clear.

A second problem is that in Catholic theology, not any old matter can be used when consecrating the Eucharist.  It has to be bread and wine, specifically.  But on the interpretation under consideration, according to which bread and wine are not true substances, it is really the particles (either atoms or corpuscles) that are being consecrated.  And the atoms or corpuscles that make up bread and wine are essentially the same as those that make up everything else (just as the stones that make up a pile can be essentially of the same type as those that are used instead to make up a wall).  In that case, though, it would be hard to see why there is anything special about bread and wine.  Why couldn’t any old physical thing be consecrated, if every physical thing is essentially just the same kind of stuff in relatively superficial differences of configuration?

A third problem is that canon law says that a Catholic ought to receive communion at most only once (or in some special circumstances, perhaps twice) a day.  But on the interpretation under consideration, one would in effect be consuming millions of consecrated hosts insofar as each of the millions of particles that make up what common sense regards as a single host was being independently transubstantiated.

Perhaps such problems could be solved, though I am doubtful.  Anyway, the issue illustrates the unexpected implications that philosophical assumptions can have for theology.  (And thus the caution that any Catholic ought to exercise before embracing philosophical novelties.  The Scholastics knew what they were doing.)

77 comments:

  1. It seems as if material cohesion defines what a things is. Is a wall a thing or many things? The glue that holds things together also separates. What level of cohesion, and what kind, makes non-organic things things at all?

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  2. Ed,
    Am I correct in saying that before the rediscovery of Aristotle in the middle ages that the Western Church did not believe in hylemorphism? If they were more neo-Platonic in philosophy, does that philosophical system easily allow for transubstantiation?
    I am asking because I don't know; not because I want to start a dispute on transubstantiation.

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    1. People may correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the Neo-Platonic view affirmed the reality of everyday objects. The main difference is that the forms of everyday objects were not immanent to those objects. The matter participated in the form, but it did not have the form of its own accord (leaving aside considerations of divine causality for now). That view is much more workable than the mechanical world view. I assume a Neo-Platonist would say that the bread and wine retain their accidents, but now participate in a new extrinsic form, Jesus Christ. Of course there could be problems with such a view, but it is better.

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    2. From the Catholic Encyclopedia, it seems that Augustine's Platonism prevented him from accepting the doctrine of transubstantiation, so that may answer my question. Also from the Catholic Encyclopedia, the doctrine of transubstantiation requires that the accidents of bread be miraculously preserved when the substance of bread has ceased to exist, i.e. transubstantiation is not naturally possible on an A-T metaphysics, only supernaturally possible. Might there be supernaturally other examples of objects where the substance is of an entirely different nature than the accidents?

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    3. Before any of these philosophical man-made explanations came to be the Church believed there was a "change" and bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Our Lord by His words and the action of the Holy Spirit.
      All this trying to explain the ineffable is foreign to most laity and causes confusion. Christ is present for us in the Holy Gifts and this is indescribable...no matter what human constructs we use. Waste less time explaining and more time adoring and receiving for strength to evangelize. Get out of your high thinking and serve Christ through building the Kingdom.

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    4. @Khouri: There are blogs for that. This wouldn't be one of them.

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  3. I think an important case study for this could be the entire Protestant movement and its rejection of both Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy and transubstantiation. Once you reject the notions of substantial form and substantial change, and you do not have any commitment to authority, it is too easy to reject the Real Presence. The fact that the Catholic Church has stayed true to its teaching after 500 years of “Enlightenment” philosophy is a testament to its guidance by the Holy Spirit (in my view). Of course the Orthodox and Coptic churches stayed true as well, but I would argue that they were not fighting in the trenches of the Enlightenment, so that may makes it a little less impressive.

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  4. A question about pantheism:

    To say that the essence of creatures is God is classical pantheism, which is pantheism.

    But is it also equally wrong to identify the EXISTENCE of creatures with God who is existence itself, and to thus say that God is formally that by which things are good? Aquinas himself denies this onto-theism by affirming that the goodness of creatures is not the goodness of God, and that created goodness isnt akin to a cup of ocean water removed from its whole ocean source.

    I wonder what consequences this would have on the doctrine of transubstantiation: If created goods are good by God, and created acts of existence are like cups of existence removed from the ocean of existence, then transubstantiation would be incoherent - the goodness of creatures already is the goodness of God in a finite mode, so the act of existence of anything is Gods being, and everything already is a mode of God. To say something becomes the incarnated substance of God is to say the Eucharist becomes the goodness and existence of all finite things.

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    1. I'm not sure we need to identify the existence of creatures with God. Creatures may participate in God's unlimited act of existing, but I don't see why that means that our existence must be numerically identical to God's existence...

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    2. @Paradoxo,

      What exactly does it mean to participate in God? Is it like a cup of ocean water taken from the ocean, where the water in the cup is truly identical to the ocean, but not the whole ocean?

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    3. @Paradoxo,


      Quote: "but I don't see why that means that our existence must be numerically identical to God's existence."


      To clarify, if God is existence itself, and creatures have existence, it means creatures have God.

      The finite act of existence creatures have is essentially the Unlimited Act of God in a finite mode or container, like the ocean cup analogy.

      In that case, the essence and existence distinction might as well be renamed the essence and God distinction.

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    4. Here's one source that might help you with participation. When a creature participates in being, it is not analogous to having a cup of water from the ocean, which seems ground your argument when you say, "if God is existence itself, and creatures have existence, it means creatures have God." The problem with your analogy is that the water in each cup is not numerically distinct from the water of the ocean. In contrast, when creatures participate in being, they have their numerically distinct act of being, which is a limited expression of God's own uncreated existence.

      I hope that's a clear explanation (or at least that the link I offered helps!); my brain's been exploding with (often rather questionable) ideas the past few weeks, and I've been trying to sort them out. It's not fun, considering the other things I've been wanting to write about.

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    5. @Paradoxo,

      In other words, God is not the formal cause of our existence, correct?

      To clarify, here are two links from James Chastek at Just Thomism:

      https://thomism.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/perseity-principle-of-systematic-investigation/

      https://thomism.wordpress.com/2019/08/17/divine-simplicity-2-translating-analytic-philosophy-into-scholasticism/


      So God is not a type 3 cause of our existence and goodness - we do not exist by the Existence Itself, and our existence is not just Existence Itself as this would be the ocean cup analogy?

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    6. I just finished reading Chastek's posts on the subject. Maybe my reading on Thomistic thought is too far removed, or I'm just too frazzled, but the problem you have seems to be something like this:
      1. If God's existence is necessary, per se, and ontologically first, then it is that by which we exist.
      2. If God's existence is that by which we exist, then our existence cannot be numerically distinct from His.
      3. So, if God's existence is necessary, per se, and ontologically first, then our existence cannot be numerically distinct from His.

      And if that's correct, then I just don't see anything that justifies premise (2), which is far from evident to me.
      Maybe it's better to move on to a related question. Now, Chastek contends that we avoid pantheism because God's existence is transcendental rather than categorical. Since you're raising the question of pantheism, you must not consider that a good defeater. Perhaps explaining why not will help me with this.

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    7. @Paradoxo,


      Your re-stating of my argument is close enough.

      I would maybe reach for rejecting premise 1. Aquinas himself considers the question whether or not we are good by the Divine Goodness, and rejects the idea our goodness is just the Divine Goodness in us: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm#article4


      The reason why I don't consider Chastek's response a good defeater is because his argument is essentially saying that creation is good without being what is good alone. And so the goodness of creation cannot be the goodness of God full stop. I grant that.

      But my argument isn't that "birthdays are God", rather that the goodness of birthdays is the Goodness of God in a finite mode. It's not the whole goodness of God, but like a cup of ocean water from the whole ocean, it is still the ocean, even if it isn't the whole ocean.

      And one of the absurd consequence of that is that, whenever we enjoy some created good, we are actually enjoying God - or rather a finite mode of God. Just as when we see the whiteness of snow we are seeing something that reflects all wavelengths of light.

      I would also therefore argue that premise 1 simply implies premise 2 - if God is that by which we exist, then our existence is God's existence in a finite mode. That is just what God's existence being our own existence means - We have no being outside the Divine Being.

      In other words, if we identify God with Existence, then it seems that a simple change of where we consider existence entails that our existence is God, and that when we say essences have existence we are saying essences have God.

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  5. Is stone a substance? I always think of it as an aggregate.

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    1. I admit I'm unclear about that as well. "Substance" and "Nature" and "Essence" are three terms thrown about by Aristotelian-Thomist philosophers, and I'd really like someone to clearly define them, distinguish them, and provide examples. I've heard the term "Essential Form,"
      also, and I'm not sure how that differs from "Form."

      Take a statue of George Washington carved out of granite. The granite is made of feldspar, quartz, mica, and a few other things. The feldspar, quartz, etc. are in turn made of silicon, potassium, aluminum, iron, sodium, calcium, and oxygen. The silicon, potassium, etc. are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons, neutrons, and electrons are made of quarks. The quarks are made of who-knows-what; maybe base matter?

      I'm unclear about which of those things, at various levels, have "natures"; which are "substances," which have "essences," etc.

      I've had "nature" vs. "person" described to me as "what-it-is" vs. "who-it-is," so I imagine that it's the nature of the statue to be a statue. Is it still the nature of the iron in the stature to be iron? Of the quarks to be quarks? Which of those are substances?

      The terms seem to overlap, and it's frustrating.

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    2. Your finding that they seem to overlap is quite right, and shows that you are probably understanding better than you think. 'Nature', 'essence', and 'quiddity' are terms describing the same thing, just emphasizing different aspects of it. 'Quiddity' emphasizes that it is about what it is; the quiddity is the essence insofar as it can be defined. 'Essence' emphasizes that it is in some way related to being as an act. 'Nature', depending on how the term is used, emphasizes either its being knowable or (more properly) its ability to act a certain way, in which case 'nature' is the essence insofar as it is expressed in a certain kind of activity.

      A substance is what is primarily and simply said to be. Every substance has a nature/essence/quiddity, although nonsubstances can also have nature/essence/quiddity. The substances with which we usually deal are composite, and have matter and form; in those substances, the form determines what the nature/essence/quiddity is.

      Aristotelians generally disagree about whether composite substances can in some sense have many forms; the (controversial) Thomistic position is that every composite substance has only one form, the most complete one, and that this is what makes it a substance. But, again, with Aristotelian classification while complete substances are obviously substance in the most proper sense, we can also have 'incomplete substances'. You are a substance; your hand is an incomplete substance. In the most proper sense, you are the substance, but your hand falls under the category of substance in a derivative way, as an incomplete part of its substance. Likewise, materials, while not the substance, are incomplete parts of it, and so are in the category of substance. In your statue example, the statue is the complete substance; the iron, considered on its own, is material for the statue and thus incomplete substance, as are the subatomic particles. Each has a nature or essence, because each is what it is.

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  6. I don't think it matters to debate how close God is to man philosophically like that. Man can never be God and God can know what it means to be human, but can never experience it in it's divinity (strange). Everyone knows what a cup is. Trying to put numbers to things is what is causing the debate on these issues. Buddhists ignore those debates. They already saw what happens to a chariot, but let me do it with a car. Take the wheels away and let's give it to a culture that doesn't know what cars are. They can use it for their music room. Is the car incomplete? No, because the wheels come off. Solidity is what determines what something is. On the Eucharist, take the smallest piece of consecrated bread possible. "Where" are Jesus's legs in this piece of matter? That's my question.

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    1. Jesus in this case is very similar to a type of property that philosophers often use that is in every part of the object in it's entirety. Think of the color red you take a chip off a brick and it's still red, both chip and brick. In a similar way Jesus is in both host and crumb. Note: not saying Jesus is a property but looking at the deeper structure of what it means for Jesus to be the Eucharist.

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    2. The problem is when you say that Jesus is in every part wholly of the smallest unit of bread possible. At that point he would be something other than bread

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    3. No only insofar as it is the substance bread

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    4. That would still have Jesus bilocating an infinite number of times within the bread, since matter is infinitely divisible (uncoutably infinite)

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    5. Oddly, I don't have any problem with that part. For me it's the issue of time.

      In the Eucharist, Jesus is present in an unusual mode. (I think we all -- at least, all believing Catholics and Orthodox -- agree about that.)

      One thing that's peculiar about His real presence is that He is not present "by extension." Every particle of the consecrated host that's sufficiently large to have the accidents of bread contains the whole Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Thus every particle is a suitable object of adoration.

      Fair enough, but bodies don't just have extension in space; they also have extension in duration. My body came into existence in the late 20th century; it will (apart from the Second Advent) go out of existence sometime before the early 22nd century. Just as my body is different on the right side than on the left, my body was different in the 1990's than it will be in the 2020's.

      Now Thomas Aquinas says that the Christ present in the Eucharist is the Whole Christ, but specifically that it is the resurrected and glorified Christ. He even speculates about what would have happened had anyone celebrated Mass on Holy Saturday, while Jesus' body was dead in the tomb, and says that whoever received that consecrated host would receive Body, (some) Blood, and Divinity, but not Soul, because Christ's soul was separated from His body (that being the definition of "being dead").

      Now if time and space are two different kinds of extension, but still both count as "extension," and if the consecrated Eucharist really is the whole Christ, but not present by extension, then shouldn't it follow that each particle is His Whole Body both spatially and temporally? (In which case, a consecration on Holy Saturday, or any other time, produce Christ's body in a way which mysteriously included His dead body, His living pre-resurrection body, and His living glorified body?)

      Something tells me that, no, it's just His glorified body, because only His glorified body is able to "be present" without extension: That this is a power of a glorified body.

      If we could arrive at the correct answers to describe all of that, we might just understand the resurrection better. It might help us to understand how Christ and Mary (and Elijah and Enoch and probably Moses) are able to have their bodies "with" them "in" Heaven in spite of Heaven not being a place in the physical universe with localizable extension and coordinates. It might also help us to grasp the flow of time in Heaven as perceived by the saints.

      Wild stuff.

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    6. How could Jesus have communion before his resurrection?

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  7. Hi Ed,

    I have to say that I agree with Red. Living things are genuine entities, but surely a stone is nothing more than an aggregate. Consider a sedimentary rock, such as sandstone, which is formed out of sand over millions of years. At what point does the sand, transformed by heat and pressure, become a new substance: sandstone? There's no good answer to that question. No-one would consider a pile of sand to be a single substance; and I would argue that neither should we consider a piece of sandstone to be one.

    What about bread, then? Once again: if you think it is a substance, then at what point does a mixture of flour, yeast, salt and water become a substance? There has to be an instant in time when this happens, but there appears to be no non-arbitrary point at which we can draw the line. The only sense in which we can call bread a substance is an anthropological one: bread is a food, and it becomes one when it is deemed ready to eat (i.e. when it is taken out of the oven). But the idea that human fiat alone might alter the metaphysical status of an agglomeration of molecules, changing it into a single substance, is surely preposterous.

    With wine, the metaphysical problems are even greater, as the wine in the chalice is continuously evaporating. Now consider a chalice of wine that is left in the hot sun. At some point, the amount of wine remaining in the chalice will be so minuscule that no-one would call it wine any more - but at what point? The only answer we can give is: when we would not bother drinking it. But a wino would have a different cut-off point from a connoisseur. Who's right?

    So, how would an atomist or corpuscularian handle the dogma of transubstantiation? There appear to be two solutions. First, one could hold that after the consecration, it is Jesus Himself Who performs the actions formerly ascribed to bread and wine (e.g. reflecting light, electrostatically repelling objects that come into contact with it, etc.) That would also mean that Jesus has to create new substances to support the accidents for each of the molecules evaporating from the consecrated wine (or more correctly, Blood of Christ). On this view, atoms and indeed substances, which cease to exist at the consecration.

    The other solution is that "bread" and "wine" are substances in a purely anthropological sense, which means that we define what counts as bread and wine. However, when Christ becomes present at the consecration, they are no longer mere foods, but nourishment for our souls: "The flesh is nourished on the Body of Christ, that the soul may be fattened of God" (Tertullian). In that sense, we can say that they are no longer bread and wine. However, on this view, the underlying atoms continue to act and react as they always did: these micro-level chemical substances are still present, even after the consecration. Hence there is no need to say that Christ creates new substances to support the accidents of the ethanol molecules which evaporate from the consecrated wine (or Blood of Christ).

    Solution one is doctrinally sound, but appears to keep Christ very busy making new substances; while solution two is one that a Lutheran might happily agree with: it's transubstantiation only in a watered-down sense.

    Is there a solution three? If there is, I would love to hear about it. One thing I do know: we can't sweep this discussion under the rug any more. My two cents.

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    1. It has to do with the formal cause of the object. Once it achieves a form as it's formal cause it becomes one substance as it is matter composed with one form. So as soon as sandstone achieves the form of sandstone it's formal cause causes it to be one substance.

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    2. Vincent, your difficulties are real and reasonable. However, there is reason to feel that even while we have trouble articulating the full answer to these, there are answers to them.

      For instance, you bring up the difficulty of at what point does the mixture of flour, water, sugar, salt, etc become bread? At what instant? In reality, the very same problem attends with an ordinary living thing, an organism, when it takes in nutrition: when a wolf kills the rabbit and eats it, the wolf's stomach breaks down the fibers of rabbit, and the wolf's intestines pass some of the material through from the interior of the intestine into the blood stream of the wolf, and eventually some of those molecules get absorbed into cells, and then get attached to other things to become cell structures: at what instant does the stuff of the rabbit "become" stuff of the wolf? We are completely confident that it DOES, but we are not at all sure that it happens here rather than there in the process.

      Actually, one of the critical points of Aristotelian change theory is that for most things, change occurs during an interval, and not at an instant. It is easiest to see for accidental change: the apple starts out green, and ends up red, and in between it is some green and some red. It "becomes red" through the period from July to September, not at an instant. We can probably say something similar about the rabbit's matter (as a whole) becoming wolf, but that probably means shifting attention to individual bits as digested, and yet shifting attention even to the size of molecules still leaves open the question: is it a wolf molecule when first entering the stomach, or entering the intestine, or entering the blood stream, or entering into a cell, or ...? And can we prove that?

      The fact of the matter is that in common sense terms we tend to call a thing a substance when it exhibits activities and properties distinct to its type and not merely as a collection of underlying bits and averaging out their activities and properties. For instance, when we mix 8 oz of water at 20 degrees with 8 ounces of milk at 40 degrees, the resulting body has a temperature of 30 degrees, that simply averages out the temperatures of the two parts mixed. If ALL of the activities and properties of the combined thing are simply the averages of the underlying parts, there is little reason to call the combination a substance. But bread exhibits activities or properties that are quite unlike flour, and water, and sugar, and yeast in themselves: none of these are soft, yet bread is soft.

      There is much to be done in explaining clearly how to know substances from mere aggregates, but there is reason to think it can be accomplised. However, one caution: as we descend down the ladder of beings to lesser, we should expect more and more difficulty in being able to be clear and determinate, precisely because there is less BEING, less actuality to them, and having less actuality means being less intelligible. It is hard to know atoms and protons and electrons ( and really hard to know quarks) because they have so little of being (of themselves) to know. We should expect to find difficulty in making them fully understood as being.

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  8. Solution three could be Descartes position that the bread and wine after consecration are illusions.

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    1. I'm pretty sure that would hold on an Aristotelian view as well. Accidents have no ontology apart from substance.

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    2. Although I think it's impossible for a Cartesian to hold the one substance idea and to maintain that only bread and wine are transubstantiated. Everything would be transubstantiated by virtue of it's being the same substance as bread and wine.

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    3. While perception is quite important for Descartes's view, I'm not sure 'illusions' is the correct term. While Descartes shifts his view a bit over time, one consistent element of his account is that the boundary or surface of the elements remains constant in some way; and, of course, we only ever sense boundaries or surfaces, so on his view what is sensed in the consecrated host is the same thing as what is sensed in the unconsecrated host. If you want to call the former illusion, you have to call the latter illusion, as well; but that doesn't make much sense.

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  9. I think a more flexible notion of substance is at work in transubstantiation than the strict Aristotelian definition. A substance understood as such is what makes the thing exist or rather it is the entire form and matter composite. And thus we have an inconvenient consequence that God holds the accidents of the Eucharist in being, or that they become accidents of christ. A more considered definition might take into account the etymology of the word substance in philosophical usage, among the presocratics, in their search for the basic elements of the world, as the thatness or spiritual predicating hierarch or element of the thing. This meaning that the bread and the wine retain their form as they lose their thatness (The form is accidental to their thatness on this view). So, it is not a miracle that they are still in their form; and rather the miracle is Christ inhabiting their form in his very substance or what he is.

    Another inconvenient consequence for a Aristotelian view of substance is that the bread and the wine are perfect illusions, unless they are accidents of Christ, as they have no being. And this leads us down a Parmenidean rabbit hole. Whereas my view avoids that view by allowing the bread and the wine to latch onto the deficient ontology of form.

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  10. I've always thought Jesus was behind the bread, when I would receive as a kid. Like the top might be the "reality" of his head and the middle the "reality" of his stomach. I still think that's the best conception

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  11. Mechanism, scientism, and Evangelical Protestantism are all representations of reality from a right-wing authoritarian frame. It is the type of metaphysics Adolf Hitler, Robert E. Lee, and Pharaoh of the Exodus subconsciously held on to. This is not ad hominem because personality type is your first teacher of your underlying metaphysics, and so it is logically relevant to the conclusion I am about to make. Evangelical Protestantism and its reductionist reframing of the eucharist as just a symbol, their evil and merciless doctrine that praying for the holy souls is sinful (contradicting human nature to natually continue fellowship after death) and the later mechanism mutually interact with each other by virtue of being the sibling fruits of the same personality type.

    But right-wing authoritarianism, because it is an evil type, is inherently self-eviscerating. Meanwhile Aristotle's personality type (and probably Dr. Feser's) is ENTJ. Because ENTJ and all the NT types are good, any representation begotten by an ENTJ will last forever and can never, ever be proven false.

    Edward Feser's blog is basically a mission statement about how right-wing authoritarianism is profoundly retarded .

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    1. Whatever drugs you are taking: Please share them with me. I want to experience such profundity as well.

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    2. I want to experience such profundity as well.

      Thank you for passive-aggressively calling me a retard. But I'm going to assume anyway that you're openminded enough to seriously inquire on types & metaphysics.

      Have you ever wondered why there are nine or so major interpretations of quantum mechanics? Or why there are nine or so major interpretations of statistics & probability (frequentism, Bayesian, and others...)? Or why there are nine or so major interpretations of political ideologies? Or why there are nine or so major interpretations of economics?

      What if I told you that metaphysics can be broadly divided into nine types, and that out of these nine types only three of them (INTP, INTJ+ENTP, ENTJ) are capable of being true while the rest of them are solipsistic and are never capable of being true?

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    3. What personality type are you? It must be a special one since other people - like Hitler and Lee - are prisoners of their personalities without knowing it. You, on the other hand, can apparently transcend personality types to the point of being able describe, classify, and understand them better than the personalities themselves. What is this personality type that transcends personality types?

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    4. @David T. I honestly don't know my type. For what it's worth, the anime character I bear the greatest resemblance to is Izuku Midoriya from My Hero Academia.

      All of the evil types are capable of repentance. Even psychopaths.

      And you really shouldn't be offended at all that I said Hitler was a retard. O_o

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    5. Maybe we can figure out your type. Or at least narrow it down.

      You aren't trapped in a right-wing authoritarian frame, right? So we can eliminate that one. I suspect you must be one of INTJ, INTJ+ENTP, or ENTJ, or at least think you are, since it sounds like you believe you are speaking the truth and those are the only ones allowed to have a positive relationship with the truth. But then, don't people with the authoritarian personality also think they are speaking the truth when they are really only unknowing victims of their personality? Let's put that aside for now.

      Which of INTJ, etc. do you think you might be?

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    6. What happens if we think Myers & Briggs's so-called "personality types" are bunk? Or, maybe, about 2/3 bunk? Worth just about as much as the Briggs-Stratton approach?

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  12. Spinoza was a spooky ass clown. He was so creepy it's insane. He looked like he ate someone's brother in a storm drain.

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  13. A different, but similar question: Could one explain transubstantiation in terms of an idealist theory?

    I would propose the following idealist theory: multiple distinct minds exist, those minds have experiences (qualia), physical objects are patterns which exist in the experiences of minds. If two people look at the same tree, that individual tree is a pattern in the experiences of those minds – in fact, a pattern shared between them, since it exists in both their experiences, albeit, not in quite the same way (their individual experiences of the tree are always going to be slightly different, even if they both look at the same tree at the same time). The pattern of that particular tree participates in a broader pattern, that of trees-in-general.

    So, how to explain transubstantiation in such a theory? Well, here is a suggestion: embodiment involves two different experiences – the experience of another's mind being communicated through means of their body, and the experience of one's own mind being embodied in a particular body occupying a particular spatiotemporal location. We might call the former outward embodiment, and the later inward embodiment. So, transubstantiation could be understood as saying, that at the moment of consecration, an experience of embodiment begins with respect to the-bread-and-the-wine as body of the mind which is Jesus Christ. I think, inward embodiment makes more sense here than outer embodiment; we do not experience the mind which is Jesus Christ through the Eucharist as such. So, under inward embodiment, at the moment of consecration, the mind which is Jesus Christ then experiences the bread and wine as that in which he is embodied. Transubstantiation does not alter our own experiences (hence the absence of outward embodiment), but it does alter the experiences of Jesus Christ – who at that moment experiences being embodied at that particular place and time in that particular bread-and-wine. The pattern of that particular bread-and-wine remains the pattern of bread-and-wine in our experiences, but at that moment Christ gains the experience of embodiment in that particular bread-and-wine. (This explains why only bread and wine can be consecrated – unlike us mere mortals, who have no choice over where and how we are embodied, the glorious Risen Christ has such a choice; and he refuses to be embodied except in bread and wine consecrated by one to whom he has granted, through the apostolic succession, the power to do so.)

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  14. Question: Can anyone provide a philosophical reason why impanation and consubstantiation should be rejected? Or, a theological reason which goes beyond an argument from authority (including the authority of Popes and ecumenical councils)?

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    1. Re: Impanation. I don't have a philosophical reason, since I suck at metaphysical and philosophical abstraction. Let me try a theological one:
      Just like Incarnation suggest that God became fully man,( i.e. all the limitations of the corporal body, like weakness, wearing, pain, tempations, culminating in the passion.)

      Impanation will suggest that God became or becomes fully bread, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as bread has to animating principle (although it is a product of processing of something that does). Bread does not need redeeming, is not made in the Image of God, in short the theory makes absolutely no sense.

      But this is just speculation on my part, I'm sure people here can proffer a more cogent explanation.

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    2. Another reason to reject impanation, though more probabilistic than deductive, is that it is completely unnecessary and impractical.

      God became Incarnate for our sake, and eating His body in the Eucharist via transubstantiation is meant to signify a living present link to Him. To say God becomes bread is to say He becomes Incarnate all over again.

      Yet if God incarnating as man is the most reasonable and important Incarnation, it is more reasonable to suggest the Eucharist is a link to that first and original Incarnation, rather than another Incarnation itself.

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  15. The Lonely ProfessorOctober 11, 2019 at 7:33 AM

    I disagree that Aristotelianism completely agrees with the common sense notion of things, or that transubstantiation is completely without difficulty under the Aristotelian framework (which is not to say it doesn't have serious problems as well under other frameworks such as mechanism).

    There are at least three areas where the A/T concept diverges from common sense notions.

    1) Common sense tells us that things which are parts of wholes, such as bodily organs in living beings, exist really and not just "virtually" as A/T would have it. It is absurd to think that blood only exists "virtually" in a body, but once it exits the body (through a cut, say) it somehow attains "real" existence.

    2) Common sense tells us that things like automobiles and airplanes and houses and shoes are distinct essences in their own right and not mere "artifacts" merely because they were made by humans.

    3) Common sense tells us that chemical reactions don't occur because the result of the reaction is "virtually" present in each of the reactants individually like a heart is "virtually" present in a living being, or that the result of the reaction exists in potency in each of the reactants individually. Common sense tells us that the result of the reaction exists in potency only when all of the reactants are present (the actual reaction being what reduces potency to act).

    And, regarding transubstantiation, A/T posits the absurd notion that the accidents exist without a subject to inhere in. How, then, can one actually say that "the consecrated Host is on the altar" since it is by the accidents (e.g. visual appearance) that we say this but the accidents are completely disassociated from the subject? Or when one says "this is the Body of Christ" what actually is the "this" that is referred to and recognized by the accidents?

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    1. Surely Aristotelianism is about privileged ontologies and not a dichotomy between what exists and what does not. I find it incredibly easy to swallow that virtually means minutely less existent. As for your last comment I posted an interpretation of substance earlier in the thread that allows for the bread and the wine to be forms instead of accidents and therefore not necessarily adhering in the bread in the wine but accidentally, as it were, adhering in Jesus, without strictly and essentially being accidents of Jesus.

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    2. Many good points, Lonely Professor. Well said.

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  16. Tell us more about resurrected bodies. Some Catholics speculate that we will have food to enjoy in heaven, and some say even sex to enjoy. Is it impossible to have sex as a resurrected body, or at least as while it sees God?

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    1. Just educated speculation, since "Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known," : We will have bodies capable of sexual pleasure, just as we will have bodies capable of eating and drinking (because Christ after the Resurrection showed us he could eat and drink). But there will be no sexual intercourse, because Christ says "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." Likewise, Christ himself, and the Apostles and their successors the bishops, did not contract marriage and did not have sexual relations in this life, in part because their lives are meant to point us toward the life hereafter.

      C.S. Lewis speculated that our state in the Resurrection will hold for the consciousness some sort of heightened "pleasure" or satisfaction of the senses that both fulfills them and yet surpasses their ordinary fulfillment, in a manner we can't really grasp because we have no idea of, say, a pleasure or satisfaction regarding tastes that is so fulfilling it leaves nothing more to be desired as taste. (In our experience, one good taste is incompatible with certain other good tastes, so they can only be enjoyed serially, one after the other.)

      We also cannot imagine experience where on the one hand we are "caught up" in an eternal moment through the direct vision of God Himself, and yet we remain having bodies and having sensitive faculties that involve time as a necessary medium of action.

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  17. If the resurrected body is the human body *even more itself*, than maybe Islam is correct on that question. If the resurrected body is an elevated version, maybe not. I also want to know about Gregory of Palamas and his view that God can physically manifest his nature in light. Is this light like the resurrected bodies?

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  18. In John 6:51 a subtle change is made to the “I am the bread” metaphor by linking the object “bread” directly to a participial phrase “to live”. This implies that it is the bread that lives. In the previous expression (John 6:35) the reference appeared to be to the bread that gives life (see also John 6:33), but now the fact that the bread itself lives takes the imagery even further.The bread gives life, because it is itself living. The bread will remain with the people forever, not only by giving them life, but also by living with them (John 6:27). This is further elaborated by adding that this living bread came from heaven. This expression confirms that the true bread from heaven is among the people here and now.

    In this way Jesus is systematically confirmed in the manna tradition as the one who will satisfy the spiritual needs of people since he not only comes from God to give life (John 6:33), but is also the living one himself (John 6:51). The imagery therefore refers not only to the ability to sustain life (John 6:33), but also to “produce” it (John 6:51).

    The second crucial element of the imagery is how one gets this life. Obviously it comes by eating the bread (John 6:50, 51: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever”). The personification of Jesus as the bread is firmly established in John 6:50-51 which states that the bread should be “eaten”. Bread that is not eaten cannot satisfy hunger. Jesus as the bread of life should also be eaten (see John 6:50, 51, 53, 56, 57, 58).

    The metaphor of “eating” is used because “bread” (food) is used in a metaphorical sense. Together these words form part of the bread imagery and semantically belong together. However, the way in which Jesus is “eaten” is not the same as the way in which ordinary bread is eaten. Jesus’s remark in John 6:35 makes this metaphor explicit: He who comes to Jesus and believes will not hunger or thirst again. “Eating the bread of life” means “believing in Jesus. By doing this, a person’s spiritual hunger will be satisfied. Metaphorically, eating can be substituted by believing (John 6:40, 47). As eating presupposes contact between the bread and
    the eater thereof, faith results in the relationship between Jesus and the believer. It involves “understanding who Jesus is and accepting his claims”.

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  19. In summary, John 6 is a metaphor and makes no illusions to the Real Presence.

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  20. John 6 is very clear and therefore both Transubstantiation, A-T, and the Catholic Church are incorrect in explaining what happens with the Eucharist. A wrong metaphysics led to a wrong church and finally to a counterfeit Christianity.

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  21. In my opinion the major difficulty of Transubstantiation is not the mechanistic or modern physicalist worldview. It is a difficulty in the traditional thomistic analysis and interpretation.

    In fact, what the author of this article says, i.e. that "the idea, of course, is that in the Eucharist, while the accidents of bread and wine remain, the substance of bread and wine are miraculously replaced with that of Christ", is not correct. St. Thomas vehemently rejects the idea that the substance of the body of Christ becomes the substantial subject of the of the accidents of bread after the change.

    There are two very important things which have to be affirmed according to the doctrine of St. Thomas: (1) The substance of the bread is changed into the substance of Christ's body, and, (2) after this change the accidents of the bread remain in existence by the sole power of God without any supporting subject. (Of course, the other accidents inhere in the quantity, but that's nothing new, since this is always the case in a material substance, where the other accidents inhere in the substance by first inhering in the quantity. The essential point is simply that this quantity and the accidents inhering in it don't have a substantial subject of inherence anymore.)

    The decisive question is now: How is the substance of Christ's body related to this bundle of accidents, in order to ensure that, if a person receives these accidents in holy communion, he receives Christ (or Christ's body)?

    The stunning answer is that there seems to be no such relation. For, as I said, St. Thomas clearly rejects the possibility that the body of Christ could ever become the supporting subject of these accidents. The Church followed him in this. And thus the logical conclusion seems to be that the sacramental body of Christ and the bundle of bread accidents after the change are two mutually separated realities which have nothing to do with each other. On the one hand, there's a bundle of accidents without a substantial subject, and on the other hand there's the body of Christ which is substantially "present" without having any real connection to these accidents.

    While the substantial change at first sight would surely guarantee the substantial presence of Christ's body "under" the accidents of the bread, this presence is very difficult to maintain because the presumed normal meaning of the terminus "under" has been emptied by St. Thomas' theory, which doesn't permit the substance of Christ to be really present "under" the accidents in the only sensible way "under" can be understood in this context, i.e. as the supporting substantial subject, in a similar manner as the substance of bread was present "under" the accidents before the consecration. As a philosopher I'm not theologian enough to know exactly whether this difficulty only effects Aquinas' theory, or whether it is an unresolved difficulty in the Church's doctrine on the Eucharist. But, in any case, anyone can see this is a formidable difficulty.

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    1. In fact, what the author of this article says, i.e. that "the idea, of course, is that in the Eucharist, while the accidents of bread and wine remain, the substance of bread and wine are miraculously replaced with that of Christ", is not correct. St. Thomas vehemently rejects the idea that the substance of the body of Christ becomes the substantial subject of the of the accidents of bread after the change.

      Ronald, have a little charity of interpretation, here. Feser does not say that the substance of Christ takes on the accidents of the bread and wine. He merely says that the accidents "remain". That is manifestly the case, and Catholic teaching agrees that God causes the accidents to remain. Not "remain in" something.

      It is, of course, a mystery how accidents can remain without inhering in a subject. It is certainly beyond natural causality.

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    2. Tony, My comment was not meant to be uncharitable. I greatly admire Feser's articles. I simply intended to make the point that the substance of Christ doesn't replace the substance of bread. It is true that the accidents remaining without inhering in a substance is a difficulty. However, the difficulty I raised in my comment was another one, to wit that after the change there is no relation between the Body of Christ and the remaining accidents of bread. The Body of Christ and these accidents are two separate and disconnected realities.

      I'm commenting as a philosopher, not as a theologian.

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    3. OK. Let me ask you for a clarification, then: When the priest takes the host as Communion, the priest places the host in his mouth. It is by moving the host into a new place, and then by changing the host via chewing and swallowing: these are the meaning of "eating." And so before he consumes the host, Jesus is sacramentally present at the place of the paten on which the host rests, and then Jesus is sacramentally present in the place of the priest's mouth. Does Jesus's place change without regard to the change of place of the accidents, or (in some sense) in virtue of the change of place of the accidents?

      I have always been confused by the Church's teaching that Christ does not take on the accidents, and the coordinate teaching about the accident of quantity being as a kind of substrate to the other accidents of the bread: We say that Jesus "is in" a place, that is the very same place as the bread was when it was bread. If Jesus is "in" the place, but not "in" that place in any relation to to the accident of the bread (when it was bread), in what SENSE is He "in" the very same place?

      I had thought possibly that what the Church meant by Jesus not having the accidents of the bread is that Jesus doesn't have the OTHER accidents, but (obviously) the accidents of place (i.e. quantity, extension) apply because otherwise the priest could not MOVE His place by moving the host's extendedness. And we could not consume the Body of Christ by chewing and swallowing, without our motions of chewing and swallowing being actions that bear on the extended aspect of the host also bearing on the Body of Christ.

      I am not trying to suggest a position contrary to the Church's teaching, I am merely trying to understand it.

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    4. I think clearly the strict Aristotelian still faces the question as to how the accidents exist on their own without a subject to adhere in.

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  22. Is it against natural law for Jesus to eat communion, or did he receive at the Last Supper? What does that mean for him to eat himself?

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    1. It belongs to the natural law of sacrifice for the priest to eat the portion allotted to him. Christ in this case is both the sacrifice and the priest. So he fulfilled both roles.

      I suspect that there is nothing untoward on account of him eating himself, because in the sacrament He is present sacramentally. This difference is what makes it so that we are not guilty of cannibalism: Christ appears under the species of a different thing - food.

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    2. Your just playing metaphysical word games. The reality is there is that the Real Presence is erroneous doctrine of the Catholic Church.

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  23. I think Thomists have a false idea of eternity. I've been listening avidly to chants from different religions and becoming fascinated with God. I think three persons were in some indeterminate reality in-between necessity and contingency. They won an infinite test and become necessary, became the eternal Forms, and became God as Trinity. We can never see behind God, so Aquinas is right in what we see as the contingent world. The existence of God can't be proven, but if he is there I think its more like Greek mythology than Aristotle's idol of a God. Why must we be tested but not God? A/T see God as an object instead of with personality. That makes no sense. The hymn to Apollo of youtube is interesting. I want to know more about Aquinas's argument that there must be three persons only within God

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  24. I might consider being a pagan, but not a Christian. The cousin sacrament of the Eucharest, Confession, is the height of evil, the evil of Christianity. To change evil to good purely from without is as evil as changing good to evil. Only a person can change his soul. Not a priest. A priest cannot make you a good person

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  25. Catholicism, ironically, is a type of paganism. You can call it sacramental, but the reality is they think they eat someone. A whole person with one gulp! I am not making fun of it, or saying it's unnatural. But it's not Jewish. It comes from Egypt. Catholic apologist say Jesus would not have let his followers be confused in John 6. But Jesus didn't explain HOW they would eat him, and Jesus could have explained the Eucharest then. John 6 is about how close God wants to be to us. So much so that it's like eating him and becoming one. There is no evidence for the Eucharest in the Bible. It's all Catholic interpretation. The ancient Egyptians had a sacrament where they ate their god through food. But Confession is basically Calvinistic, where God changes you without your will being perfectly pure.

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    1. Catholicism is a syncretic religion. It mixes Christianity with paganism. Cardinal Newman said the same. What Catholics fail to realize is that when the Jews practiced syncretism they were judged, their temple was destroyed twice and their nation taken away by civilizations more wicked then themselves. A similar fate will await the syncretic Catholic on the day of judgment. Christ says he is returning for a church without spot or wrinkle. Catholics and employ cognitive dissonance with abandon and ignore the doctrinal, pedophile, homosexual, and other clerical scandals of the church. Yet, God is keeping score, and few Catholics will survive the refining fires.

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  26. Feser writes:

    "Everything in the physical world would be transubstantiated." Love it! Namaste!

    "Absolutely every physical thing would have to [be] treated with the same reverence that the Eucharist is, because every physical thing would be the Eucharist!" The horror! Green ecology! No more war!

    "[I]t is hard to know how to give a principled answer to the question what the boundaries are between those particles that make up the aggregate and those that are not part of it – and thus between those particles that are transubstantiated, and those that are not." All is one!

    Where do I sign up for this very trippy, Lotus-eater, George Harrison alternative to the narrow cranny, exclusion religion inhabited by Aristotelian hylemorphism?

    In other words, the problem with hylemorphism is that it tries to isolate a substance from the rest of the world around it--which is fine in terms of aspect seeing, and can be done nominally by definition--but in terms of providing the whole story, it's objectively wrong. It's incomplete. It's why scientists have so little pragmatic use for it. We can identify bread from wine via hylemorphic common sense--and we can call them separate "substances" with essences and accidents associated with them--but we also have to acknowledge that they are inseparable from the larger ecosystem and cosmic "blob" of matter and energy that is the universe. ("Blob" is Feser's word for characterizing Spinoza's substance-mode position--which is also Einstein's.)

    We also have to acknowledge the atomic theory--that the microscopic parts where boundaries lie are indeterminate.

    In other words, all three theses--hylemmorphism, the Spinoza blob, and atomism--are ways of aspect seeing the whole. They are hands on the elephant.

    But hylemorphic transubstantiation seeks to suppress attention to the other "hands" (the Spinoza blob and the atomist aspects of existence). In reality, hylemorphism is just one of three broad ways to talk about the world. It is a common sense, phenomenological, human, subjective point-of-view.

    But if you're looking closely, Christ turning into the substance of bread and wine is always already leaking out into the world blob of metasystems and microsystems, and the outgoing tide cannot be regulated, only ignored or downplayed.

    By contrast, science doesn't look away. It gazes heavy into those two big eyes of macro and micro existence that hylemorphism does not emphasize.

    Science goes macro (toward Spinoza's blob) and micro (toward atomism) because these have enormous explanatory value after we have established, phenomenologically, that we're looking at is the "substance" of dog, which includes a tongue, four legs, and a furry tail, etc. Once we say that, the relation of the dog to the macro and the micro then establishes its fuller, "cosmic address."

    So there's a trinity for you: hylemorphism, the blob, and the atomic. Perhaps think Blake on receiving the host? "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as is, Infinite."

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  27. The Aristotelian notion of substance as understood and explained by Aquinas remains a valid point of reference which ultimately came to us by the work of divine providence.

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  28. Hi, so I have question about something Professor Feser addresses in the opening. He mentions the hylemorphic conception of nature versus the mechanistic view of nature. How the hylemorphic conception sees the tree and the stone and the dog as distinct substances but the atomist view sees them as aggregates of atoms or as part of one larger substance ala Spinoza. My question is does this entail then that hylomorphism rejects modern findings that suggest all matter is possibly all connected and just energy moving at different speeds? 'Cause it does seem that arguably matter is interrelated, or is this a misconception of the Aristotelian conception of what a substance? I'm sorry if this sounds sophomoric, I just want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding anything

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    1. Hey I'm sorry, looking back I may have worded this combatively which is not my intention. I'm just a novice trying to make sure I understand accurately what these ideas are about, I'm not trying to make some rhetorical point especially since I don't know enough about the subject

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  29. Tony asks of an ingested rabbit: "is it a wolf molecule when first entering the stomach, or entering the intestine, or entering the blood stream, or entering into a cell, or ...?" A chemist can only shake her head. There are no "wolf molecules" any more than there is "Marxist science." There is only science, and there are only molecules. You're mixing one language game--the phenomenological, common sense language game of hylemorphism--into a more precise language game (the one applied by chemists to the microscopic).

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