Gnostic Doctrine

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Gnostics and Transubstantiation

Gnostics and Transubstantiation

What is Transubstantiation?

Regarding transubstantiation, The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica (9th Ed.) states: “The Church of Rome teaches that the whole substance of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is converted by consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ, in such a manner that Christ in His entirety, including his human soul and His divine nature, is contained in the elements; and that with such a thorough transmutation that not only is the whole Christ contained in the wine as well as the bread, but with the same completeness in each particle of the bread, and in each drop of the wine.” The Council of Lateran of 1215 pronounced accursed any who would in any way doubt transubstantiation.

The Catholic Church glories in the mystery of transubstantiation, describing the elements in the moment of consecration as being "switched aside with the speed of a lightening flash, and its place is taken by what looks like a line of fire--a single thread of communication, reaching up, without division or alteration, to the Lord Christ Himself." This is ironic, since the formulation of the doctrine of transubstantiation is traditionally attributed to St. John and St. Ignatious for the sole purpose of keeping the idea of the union of God's spirit with flesh in Jesus before the minds (and eyes) of the early Christians in order to battle the heretical dualisms of the Doceticism.

Transubstantiation is completely unbiblical, being a doctrine that grew out of the Docetic controversies of the mid second century and gradually developing to full flower in the 4th century. Those who believed in Doceticism claimed that Jesus did not have literal flesh and blood, it only appeared that way. The early post-apostolic Christians countered that Jesus indeed had ordinary human flesh and blood and they began to emphasize this in the Lord's Supper.

Note not all Gnostics believed in Doceticism see the post  Non-Docetic Teachings in the Nag Hammadi Library

Some Gnostics sects refused to break bread altogether: 

Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 110): “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1).

Are there some Gnostic who reject the doctrine of Transubstantiation?

Yes in the early Church, before 200AD, both Gnostics and the church took the same symbolic view of the bread and juice. But those Gnostics who did partake of the Table of the Lord, were openly criticized by the church as being inconsistent.

"How can they (Gnostics) be consistent with, themselves when they say the bread for which they give thanks is the body of their Lord and the cup his blood, if they do not say he is the Son of the Creator of the world? ... Let them either change their views or avoid offering the bread and wine. But our view is in harmony with the eucharist, and the eucharist confirms our view". (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.xviii.4, 5)

Irenaeus refutes the Gnostics on the basis that the Lord would not use "evil material things" like bread and juice in the Lord's Supper. Had Irenaeus argued that the bread and juice Transubstantiated (changed) into something different from what they appear, the Gnostics would have agreed, saying this change was essential because Jesus did not have physical flesh either!

"Irenaeus has the realist terminology but not the realist thought. There is no conversion of the elements. Indeed, if there were any change in the substance of the elements, his argument that our bodies-in reality, not in appearance-are raised would be subverted." (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 114)

A generation after Irenaeus, Tertullian (160–225) used the same arguments against the Gnostic heretic Marcion. However, Tertullian provided more information into how the eucharistic elements ought to be understood. Tertullian wrote:

“Having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, Jesus made it His own body, by saying, ‘This is My body,’ that is, the symbol of My body. There could not have been a symbol, however, unless there was first a true body. An empty thing or phantom is incapable of a symbol. He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new covenant to be sealed ‘in His blood,’ affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body that is not a body of flesh” (Against Marcion, 4.40).

From this it may be inferred that the Valentinians celebrated the Eucharist with bread and a cup. This conclusion is confirmed by the Gospel of Philip and the Eucharistic prayers in NHC XI, 43–44. The Gospel of Philip in particular shows that Valentinians could speak without difficulty about partaking of the flesh and the blood of the Savior in the Eucharist, because they gave a symbolic meaning to these words: thus, for instance, the “flesh” is the Logos and the “blood” is the Holy Spirit.

But what is this, too, which will inherit? It is that which belongs to Jesus and his blood. Because of this he said "He who shall not eat my flesh and drink my blood has not life in him" (Jn 6:53). What is it? His flesh is the word, and his blood is the Holy Spirit. He who has received these has food and he has drink and clothing. (The Gospel of Philip)

What is the Blood of Christ? The Gospel of Philip

When they had said these things in the prayer, they embraced each other and they went to eat their holy food, which has no blood in it. (The Prayer of Thanksgiving, The Nag Hammadi Library)

The Didache, written in the late-first or early-second century, referred to the elements of the Lord’s table as “spiritual food and drink” (The Didache, chapter 10). The long passage detailing the Lord's Table in this early Christian document gives no hint of transubstantiation whatsoever.

We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant.

The Cathars are another famous sect in history that denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The term “transubstantiation” was used against the Cathars at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. It was at this council that the teaching of the Cathars was formally condemned.

The Cathars also refused the sacrament of the eucharist saying that it could not possibly be the body of Christ.

The following is a quote taken from the Inquisitor Bernard Gui's experiences with the Cathar practices and beliefs:

Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this. They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it

The doctrine of transubstantiation, first formally declared at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, looks suspiciously like a way of contradicting Cathar teaching on the impossibility of combining earthly and spiritual elements

Cathar teachings shared by the Waldensians became defining features of Protestant belief. Many of these teachings follow from the rejection of Roman Catholic "tradition" in favour of scripture. Protestants, like Cathars, rejected the medieval Roman doctrine of transubstantiation and infant baptism.

"They spared their branches," says Gibbon, "over the face of Europe." United in common hatred of idolatry and Rome; they were connected by an ecclesiastical organization of over-seers and presbyteries, usually styled elders and pastors. The French called them "Bulgarians" by way of reproach, meaning thereby "unnatural sinners". Their catholic enemies also falsely styled them Manichaeans, and charged them with contempt of the Old Testament, and the denial of the body of Christ, either on the cross or in the bread and wine. They repudiated the catholic dogmas connected with the cross and eucharist; but they took both bread and wine, discerning by "the testimony of the anointed Jesus which they held," the representation therein of his broken body and blood, shed for remission of the sins of the many (Matt. 26:28). "A confession of simple worship and blameless manners," says Gibbon, "is extorted from their enemies; and so high was their standard of perfection, that the increasing congregations were divided into two classes of disciples, of those, who practised, and those who aspired. It was in the country of the Albigeois, in the southern provinces of France,

The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was formally propounded in 1215 based on contemporary philosophical notions that were later discredited. The Cathar practise of blessing bread before meals by contrast is identical to the practice of the earliest Christians at communal meals called agapes (abandoned by mainstream churches in the second or third centuries when their own agapes degenerated into disreputable occasions)

The Lord's Supper

Matthew 26:27  And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.

Luke 22:20  And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, [even] that which is poured out for you.

God's covenant with mankind, through His perfect expression, Christ Jesus. This contract was completed through Jesus Christ's breaking the bread and blessing the cup. The bread symbolizes the flesh or body that is spiritual knowlege, or the wisdom. The wine symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, or spiritual life .

By mentally eating the flesh 
and spiritually drinking the blood of Jesus Christ we install within our consciousness the eternal truth of the Gospel and drink of the waters of eternal life.

bread of life--The word of Truth that imparts new vitality to mind and body. "Thou shalt eat bread at my table continually" (2 Sam. 9:7).

blood of Christ--The life contained in God's Word

Who are the Quartodecimans?