If indeed transubstantiation occurs, and the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, why does John of Damascus1 (as an example) refer to the Eucharist as «ἀναίμακτον θυσίαν», "a bloodless sacrifice" (or "unbloody sacrifice")?

1 John of Damascus: On the Immaculate Body which We Partake Of (Περὶ τοῦ ἀχράντου σώματος, οὗ μεταλαμβάνομεν), Sec. I.

Compare the footnote on this page:

1988 unbloody Priesthood, ἀναίμακτον ἱερωσύνην, i.e. “sacerdotium,” not“sacrificium.” This, not θυσίαν, is supported by the Codd. The Eucharist is often called by the Fathers “the unbloody sacrifice” (e.g. Chrysost. in Ps. xcv., citing Malachi), and the Priesthood which offers it can be called “unbloody” too. Cf. Greg. Naz. in Poem. xi. 1—

῏Ω θυσίας πέμποντες ἀναιμάκτους ἱερῆες.

While these terms assert the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, might they not at the same time supply an argument against the Roman view of Transubstantiation, which teaches that the actual blood of Christ is received, and makes it still a bloody sacrifice?

  • 1
    "unbloody sacrifice" is commonly used language in the Roman Catholic Church. No time to answer at the moment, but a good answer may need to unpack the distinction between the act of sacrifice (manifestly unbloody) and the Victim being sacrificed (Who is either wholly present or not present at all).
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 20:52
  • I see. Thanks. The footnote also metions "unbloody priesthood." Now if we have an unbloody sacrifical action, but a bloody sacrifical victim (Christ), how then is the priesthood called "unbloody"? Is the priesthood not present during the actual transubstantiation? (I know you don't have time to answer. Just some thoughts of my own.)
    – user900
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 20:53
  • I think it just means the priesthood that offers an unbloody sacrifice. As a Catholic I wouldn't really be comfortable with the language of a "bloody sacrificial victim". We say that Christ's blood is present in the Eucharist because the entire Christ is present, and, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "if any two things be really united, then wherever the one is really, there must the other also be".
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


On the contrary, St John of Damascus himself says:

since it is man's custom to eat and to drink water and wine, He connected His divinity with these and made them His body and blood in order that we may rise to what is supernatural through what is familiar and natural. The body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into God's body and blood. [...] This surely is that pure and bloodless sacrifice which the Lord through the prophet said is offered to Him from the rising to the setting of the sun.

So his words can't be used to "supply an argument" against Transubstantiation. John couldn't be more clear in his confession that the wine becomes blood. We should guess that he means something else. And he does.

When Jesus said the Last Supper He wasn't "bloody", even though He had blood inside of Him. But on the Cross, He was bloody. Because we all bloodied Him. The chalice contains His Blood, but Catholics don't call it bloody. The chalice contains Jesus: His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. And Jesus is not bloody in the chalice.

The Catholic priest, in persona Christi, isn't offering up the sacrifice in that way. We stopped offering sacrifices in that way a long time ago, and Hebrews explains why. If a person wanted to make a bloody sacrifice, he would kill an animal, let the blood pour out, and then sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat while asking God for forgiveness. We confess that we don't do that anymore by calling the Eucharist an unbloody sacrifice. Because:

  1. Jesus, the Blessed Eucharist, the Bread of Life, isn't bleeding
  2. The people doing the offering aren't spilling blood in atonement

Exactly the same sacrifice, exactly the same Jesus, but the offering of that same eternal sacrifice doesn't involve the spilling of blood and death. "Unbloody".

  • So, the wine turned into a real blood but this real blood is not in any way 'bloody'?
    – R. Brown
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 12:05

I would answer thus.

First one must understand what is meant by this philosophic concept. Transubstantiation for a Catholic is from the philosophic concept of substance and accidents which could perhaps be phrased reality and appearance. The substance is the reality of the thing, in this case bread or wine and the accidents is what it appears to be. During the consecration, each element (bread and wine) are changed in substance while the accidents remain the same so, for example, the wine is changed into the blood of our Lord really and truly in the sacrament while still looking, smelling and tasting like wine.

Then to the meaning of "bloodless sacrifice."

First, I would say that if one offers bread and wine as the sacrifice and transubstantiation takes place, in the material or physical sense (accidents), this by definition would be a bloodless sacrifice because the elements used are bread and wine, not the literal body from which we get its blood.

Secondly, I would ask you to consider St. Paul's words.

and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 1 Cor 11:24

The word translated above in the RSV as remembrance is from the Greek ἀνάμνησις, anamnēsis which means to remember and make it present now (Strong's). The same word is used in v25 concerning the blood. This is St. Paul's theological explanation for what happened in the upper room and what is imitated in each Mass.

With this as a background, when this saint and the Church refers to the bloodless sacrifice, it means Christ is not dying again, but his once for all sacrifice on the cross is presented again in a bloodless manner using the elements of bread and wine, which, through transubstantiation, is really and truly Christ's body and blood in their reality, but not physically so the accidents do not give evidence of what has happened to the substance.

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