One of John Calvin's arguments against transubstantiation and consubstantiation was that the body of Christ, as a human body, could not be in more than one place at a time. His view of the Eucharist was thus one of spiritual presence, not real presence as understood by Catholics.

Luther argued that Jesus's body could be in multiple places at one time, thanks to its divine properties, and that this allowed for consubstantiation. This, as I understand it, is known as Luther's doctrine of ubiquity. As a Calvinist with relatively little exposure to Catholicism, I assumed that Catholicism took the same approach on this issue, as transubstantiation seems to similarly require a doctrine justifying the idea that Jesus's physical body can be in multiple places at once.

But Ludwig Ott opposes my assumption in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:

[Luther] explained the possibility of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ by the aid of the untenable Ubiquity Doctrine, according to which the human nature of Christ by virtue of the Hypostatic Union, has a real share in the properties of the Deity, and thereby also in the omnipresence of God. [372, emphasis added]

So, I'm wondering—how do Catholics view the distinction between Luther's doctrine of ubiquity and whatever solution Catholicism uses that allows Jesus's physical body to be present in more than one place at one time? What makes Luther's view "untenable" in their eyes?

(Apologies if the question is crude; I'm no expert on transubstantiation. If those answering keep that in mind, I'd be grateful!)


4 Answers 4


From what you've quoted of Ott, it sounds like this "Ubiquity* Doctrine" holds that Christ's human nature is His divine nature. This is the heresy of monophysitism,** which says that Christ only has one nature, not both human and divine natures.

*(ubi- = Latin for "where" or "in what place")
**(mono- = one; phys- = nature)

It is not necessary, for explaining how Christ can be substantially present under the Eucharistic species in multiple locations around the world, to think that Christ's human and divine natures are the same. In fact, even some saints have bilocated, and they certainly are not God.

To understand this, we need to first understand the distinction between

  1. substance
  2. accidents ("properties").

The substance of something is its essence, the answer to the question "What/who is it?" Accidents ("properties") inhere in a substance; they are not essential to it, but they cannot exist without it.* For example, my substance is myself, what makes me to be what I am (my particular body and soul). My hair, for example, is an accident, a quality of myself; I am still myself regardless whether I have hair or not, if it is long or short, etc. Another accident of myself is my location. I am still the same substance regardless where I am; viz., it's not essential to myself to be located in a particular place. My size is another accident of myself; I have always been myself even when I was as small as a fetus in my mother's womb or as large as a grown adult.

*(except in transubstantiation, where God miraculously maintains the existence of the accidents of bread and wine without their inhering in the substance of bread and wine, which is replaced by the substance of Christ Himself; cf. the Catechism of the Council of Trent, ch. The Holy Eucharist, § "Three Mysteries Of The Eucharist")

With this understanding, you can follow St. Thomas Aquinas's reasoning when he answers the question "Whether the whole Christ is contained under this sacrament?," Summa Theologica III q. 76 a. 1 ad 3:
Some terminology he uses:
"dimensive quantity" = e.g., length, breadth, width;
"by way of substance" (per modum substantiae) = "substantially";
the adverb "locally" (localiter) = "place-ly" or "in the manner of a place (locus)"

As has been already stated (Question [75], Article 5*), after the consecration of the bread into the body of Christ, or of the wine into His blood, the accidents of both [the bread & wine] remain. From which it is evident that the dimensions of the bread or wine are not changed into the dimensions of the body of Christ, but substance into substance. And so the substance of Christ's body or blood is under this sacrament by the power of the sacrament, but not the dimensions of Christ's body or blood. Hence it is clear that the body of Christ is in this sacrament, and not by way of quantity. But the proper totality of substance is contained indifferently in a small or large quantity; as the whole nature of air in a great or small amount of air, and the whole nature of a man in a big or small individual. Wherefore, after the consecration, the whole substance of Christ's body and blood is contained in this sacrament, just as the whole substance of the bread and wine was contained there before the consecration.

*"Whether the accidents of the bread and wine remain in this sacrament after the change [effected by consecration]?"

Finally, we can understand his answer to what appears to be your question: "Whether Christ's body is in this sacrament as in a place?," in Summa Theologica III q. 76 a. 5 c.:

As stated above [what I quoted above], Christ's body is in this sacrament not after the proper manner of dimensive quantity, but rather after the manner of substance. But every body occupying a place is in the place according to the manner of dimensive quantity, namely, inasmuch as it is commensurate with the place according to its dimensive quantity. Hence it remains that Christ's body is not in this sacrament as in a place, but after the manner of substance, that is to say, in that way in which substance is contained by dimensions; because the substance of Christ's body succeeds the substance of bread in this sacrament: hence as the substance of bread was not locally under its dimensions, but after the manner of substance, so neither is the substance of Christ's body. Nevertheless the substance of Christ's body is not the subject of those dimensions, as was the substance of the bread: and therefore the substance of the bread was there locally by reason of its dimensions, because it was compared with that place through the medium of its own dimensions; but the substance of Christ's body is compared with that place through the medium of foreign dimensions, so that, on the contrary, the proper dimensions of Christ's body are compared with that place through the medium of substance; which is contrary to the notion of a located body.

Hence in no way is Christ's body locally in this sacrament.

The reason this may seem obscure is because the question of place or location* is an immensely deep physics concept, like time or infinity. See Catholic physicist and historian of physics Pierre Duhem's magisterial, 10 volume work in the history of medieval physics:

Partially translated in:

The medieval physicists' penetrating disputations on place, in part to understand transubstantiation more deeply, laid the foundations for modern physics, as I discuss on History of Science SE.

*(In Latin there are several words for these related concepts: ubi, locus, positio, situs, etc.)

  • I disagree with your bracketed addition in the first quote, "the accidents of both [Christ and the bread/wine]"; as far as I can see, "both" refers to the bread and the wine. These are the things whose accidents remain. The accidents of Christ are quite different, presumably including, for example, an appearance more glorious than what the apostles saw at the transfiguration. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 22:09
  • Thanks! This is certainly helpful in addressing how Catholics avoid having to say that Jesus's body is in multiple places at once. I'm not sure, however, that your criticism of Luther's view is fair; from what I understand it is more that his human body gains special divine abilities via the hypostatic union. Perhaps you are right and this is how Ott and others would dismiss it, but based on what you've written I still wonder. Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 22:26
  • 1
    @AndreasBlass You're right. I've corrected it. thanks "The accidents of Christ are quite different" indeed from those of the bread and wine.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 22:46
  • @AndreasBlass "The accidents of Christ" inhere in the substance of Christ. St. Thomas, answering "Whether the whole dimensive quantity of Christ's body is in this sacrament?," writes: "the substance of Christ's body is not really deprived of its dimensive quantity [size] and its other accidents, hence it comes that by reason of real concomitance [realis concomitantiae] the whole dimensive quantity of Christ's body and all its other accidents are in this sacrament."
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 22:46
  • 1
    @Nathaniel It's hard to understand how part of Christ's human nature could share in a divine attribute like omnipresence, in exactly the same way God is omnipresent, without His entire human nature being God.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 22:55

The ubiquity doctrine is problematic to Catholics in that it does not acknowledge a "real" (substantial) change.

Second, Lutherans reject Rome's identification of the bread and wine as the corporal body and blood of the Lord. At the Lord's Table, the bread remains bread; the wine remains wine. Luther, however, argued that there was a communication of divine attributes to the human nature of the incarnate Christ. The attribute that interests us here is omnipresence. Because the Lord's body is omnipresent, Luther argues, Christ is physically present "in, with, and under" the bread and wine. The Lutheran doctrine is commonly called "consubstantiation." (See Westminster Confession of Faith 29.7)

This is mostly consistent with the answer given here:

Consubstantiation (also called impanation) says that, after consecration, bread remains and Christ becomes present within, among, or "along-side" the bread.

There's an inconsistency between these two interpretations in whether Christ becomes present or is always present with the bread and wine. The general philosophical understanding of omnipresence would suggest the latter.

In either case, the bread and wine remain substantially present in Luther's doctrines. In Catholic doctrine, they are no longer bread and wine substantially, only accidentally (in appearance).

  • Nice answer, and now my angel needs new ballet shoes for her next dance upon the head of a pin. 8^D Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 18:58

Why Calvin Errs

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Jesus' miraculously makes enough food for everyone, from a limited amount.

The simple answer is the miracle Jesus performed prior to instituting the Eucharist: the miracle of superabundance.

Jesus can take normal bread and normal fish (which are both examples of matter, body, flesh) of a limited amount and measure, and make it as abundant as necessary (being a miracle):

Matthew 14:15-21

And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now past: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals. But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat. They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes. He said to them: Bring them hither to me. And when he had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and broke, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments. And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.

We thus read that Christ does the same when instituting the Eucharist:

Matthew 26:26 et seq.

And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. ...

Thus, there is no Biblical argument against Christ being able to make His Body superabundant as well. In fact, I think it's quite obvious the connection made here between these two miracles.

Why Luther Errs

Luther is making an argument which implies monophysitism: 'Christ's two natures are actual one new nature:' mixing the attributes of both beyond what is true of the Hypostatic Union (which is a way of saying His two natures are distinct, but not separate; united in the one Person of the Word).

In addition, the subject of the miracle need not be divine (for example, the loaves and fishes).

The Catholic Answer

One is wise to consult the great St. Thomas Aquinas for questions such as these. As written in another answer here, St. Thomas explains that transubstantiation means that 'Christ's Body' is that which the substance of the bread and the wine is made, by a miracle of God. Not that His Body is specifically 'torn' off Him and placed at the Eucharist. It's simply that the Divine Word says, through the priest, "This is My Body" (Mt 26:26) "and it [becomes] so" (Gen 1:7; 1 Cor 10:16)—the bread becomes Christ's Body and Blood with the exception that it's appearance, or outward, tangible aspect (called accidents), is not changed into that of Christ's Body and Blood.


What is wrong with Luther's doctrine of ubiquity is that it flatly contradicts the Christological definition of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon:

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – Latin: in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the peculiar property (ἰδιότητος) of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (πρόσωπον - Prósopon) and one Subsistence (ὑπὸστασιν - Hypostasis),

The body of Jesus, in both its mortal and its glorified state, is a true material body and not a spirit, as Jesus Himself remarked after his resurrection:

"See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." (Lk 24:39)

A peculiar property of material bodies like a piece of bread or the body of a human being is that only one such body can be at a given time in a given extension of space. If in a given extension of space there is a piece of bread, the body of a human being cannot be at the same time in that same extension of space. This is true whether said body is in a mortal or in a glorified state, or whether said body belongs to a human person or to a divine Person Who assumed a human nature, because "the distinction of natures" is "by no means taken away by the (hypostatic) union, but rather the peculiar property (ἰδιότητος) of each nature" is "preserved".

Therefore, divine power can make a human body (not just the body of Jesus) to be in several places at the same time, but it cannot make a human body, if the peculiar property of its nature is to be preserved, to be at the same time in the same extension of space as a piece of bread or whatever other material body. Just as divine power cannot make anything intrinsically self-contradictory, like a square circle.

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