I'm curious how a Roman Catholic Christian would defend the practice of transubstantiation in light of Acts 15:20 which states that Christians are "to abstain...from blood" (τοῦ ἀπέχεσθαι ἀπό...τοῦ αἵματος ).

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

(Not that I need to post this disclaimer, but I do believe in transubstantiation.)

  • Transubstantiation is a complex issue. Blood = life (Deut 12: 23). Yeast in wine = yeast to make bread = life - this is one of the symbols (highly practical!) at Pesach. I'm sure you can work this out for yourself and then rephrase the question. – gideon marx Dec 23 '14 at 19:27
  • @gideonmarx Can you source your statement that yeast = life? – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Oct 16 '15 at 19:32

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.

The question equates the changed wine with the substance & accidents of blood which is not the case here. The blood referred to here is both blood in accidents and substance. While the Greek αἷμα can refer to literal blood or those things that refer to blood such as the blood of grapes (eSword G129, Thayers & Strong's), one must take this commentary reference into account:

20. (in part)... The four classes (also v28; 21:25) seem to be four of the things proscribed by Lev 17-18 for aliens residing in Israel: meat offered to idols, the eating of blood and of strangled animals (not ritually slaughtered) and intercourse with close kin (see Lev 17:8-9, 10-12, 15 [Exod 22:31]; 18:6-18). 21. Supporting the four clauses (gar) is their recognition factor, based on the universal Torah instruction. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, pg 752

This reference to Leviticus is not a sacramental but a literal reference, hence requiring the blood (αἷμα) referred to in the passage to be meant literally as blood and not in some other way, hence there is no contradiction as it might appear on the surface.

This is a good article from the old Catholic Encyclopedia that discusses transubstantiation http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm#section3.

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    "The question equates the changed wine with the substance & accidents of blood which is not the case here. The blood referred to here is both blood in accidents and substance." Why would the accidents matter at all? – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Jan 22 '15 at 19:08
  • Precisely. The Church's explanation of the change in the Eucharistic species is a completely different matter than the one pointed to in Acts 15:20. For that reason, the question reveals a misunderstanding of the Catholic teaching by using the philosophic term transubstantiation. That being true, the best answer a Catholic can give is to explain the difference between Acts 15:20 and the Catholic teaching concerning the change in the Eucharistic bread and wine, really and substantially, into the Body and Blood of Christ. – Dcn. Andy Feb 8 '15 at 18:44
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    But transubstantiation is (among other things) the belief that the sacramental wine becomes the blood of Christ, so that it literally is blood. To say "Acts 15:20 refers to blood that looks like blood, but in the Eucharist we partake of blood that looks like wine" just seems ridiculous. It's not really a difference. (I'm using "looks like" as a shorthand for what "accidents" entails.) I think this would more sense: "Acts 15:20 is about animal blood, which the Jews were commanded to abstain from in Leviticus, but in the Eucharist we partake of Christ's blood, which he commanded us to do." – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Feb 9 '15 at 15:25
  • No, that is not true with regard to the philosophic concept of transubstantiation which is the reason I make the distinctions in my answer. What it does claim is the reality of the thing (the substance) is changed, but the appearance and physical properties of the thing remain as they were. So in the case of the bread and wine, the substance of the bread and wine are changed, but the accidents - appearance, smell, physicality - remain the same. – Dcn. Andy Feb 10 '15 at 3:49
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    "No, that is not true." What's not true? Your comment is consistent with the one by me that precedes it. – MR. TOODLE-OO'D Feb 10 '15 at 3:51

Read just about any commentary and it will tell you that the restrictions in Acts 15 are 1) temporary (for the church at that time), and 2) based on the prohibitions in Leviticus 17 and 18. They are meant for allowing the Jews and Gentiles of the first-century church to integrate so that they could be united. Protestants and Catholics are usually agreed on these points.

The prohibition in Leviticus 17 is dietary and refers to the blood of animals. Ordinarily one eats only plants and animals as part of their diet. But sacramentally we partake of Christ's body and blood. This is no more a violation of the prohibition against blood of animals than it is a violation of the prohibition against cannibalism. Jesus commanded us to partake of his body and blood. It scandalized the people, but he insisted.

So with all that being said, I don't think it makes sense to point to the fact that Acts 15 is about blood that has the accidents of blood when the blood in the Eucharist has the accidents of wine. Blood is blood. The whole point of the doctrine of transubstantiation is that, despite the look, taste, etc. it is blood. Therefore I think the actual distinction, from a Catholic perspective, is between animal blood (with a basis in the Jewish law) and Christ's blood (which he commanded us to partake).

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  • That's a second way to answer the question. Yet the Church's explanation of the change in the bread and wine is not literal, so the very teaching of the Church on the subject explains the question is incorrect in its presumption that the change is physical or literal. – Dcn. Andy Mar 4 '15 at 2:20

The eucharistic blood does not run afoul of Acts 15:20 for the same reason that the eucharistic body is not cannibalism, even though it is the eating of the body of Christ. There are two answers to this question here, but I don't like either one.

Transubstantiation is a metaphysical reality, not a physical reality. If you know about metaphysics, then the substance changes, but the accidents don't. If you're not into metaphysics, then it's not the appearance of the bread and wine that changes, but the significance of the elements.

We're not eating a human body that we've just killed and boiled in a pot. We're eating the second person of the living deity that has just entered into bread and wine, ordinary-looking food, so that He might enter us and commune with us. In the same way, the second person of that very same deity once entered into a physical human body and lived a life on earth and died a horrible death, but then rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. His sacrifice, once and for all, saves us and we participate in that sacrifice by taking communion.

By analogy, in the Old Testament the Jews had a communion sacrifice in which a lamb was killed, part was burned on the altar, and the rest was consumed by the family. The significance here was that God was sharing a meal with the family. The mutton was no longer ordinary meat, but had been made holy by the sacrifice. God was present because He resided in the temple, and because He was invited to the family's meal by the sacrifice.

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