I present first these three following ideas:

Transubstantiation (Latin: transubstantiatio; Greek: μετουσίωσις metousiosis) is, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, "the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of the Blood of Christ. Source

Cannibalism is the act of consuming another individual of the same species as food. Cannibalism is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species. Human cannibalism is well documented, both in ancient and in recent times. Source

And, to my understanding Jesus is a human being; at any rate, most (all?) Trinitarians teach that Jesus is fully human (and simultaneously fully God, but it's the human part that matters here). This includes Catholics.

Does Transubstantiation mean that Christians are cannibalizing Jesus? Further, what are the general views which the bible advocates for Christians in regards to cannibalism?

  • 2
    Why are you combining a Catholic doctrine and Oneness Pentecostal doctrine in this way?
    – eques
    Jun 14, 2021 at 18:01
  • I'm a bit confused, I didn't know of the distinction. Let me look it up.
    – user54218
    Jun 14, 2021 at 18:06
  • 1
    @eques, the doctrine of Christ as "both fully God and fully Man" is pretty common, possibly held by all that would consider themselves Trinitarians. At least, it is Catholic as well as Pentecostal (and Orthodox, and Lutheran, and...).
    – Matthew
    Jun 14, 2021 at 18:13
  • @Matthew I'm aware. My point becomes unclear what OP expects an answer for if denominations are conflated.
    – eques
    Jun 14, 2021 at 18:47
  • @eques, my comment was addressed as much to the OP, but there are no @-mentions for that. I was just saying that the OP wasn't really mixing doctrines. OTOH, yeah, it could have been worded better.
    – Matthew
    Jun 14, 2021 at 18:59

3 Answers 3


I will answer the question in 2 parts:

Transubstantiation and Consuming Christ

Although Trinitarian Christians believe that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, only Catholicism teaches the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Other denominations that believe in the Real Presence of Christ do not believe in a change of substance during the Sacrament of Eucharist. Therefore, Cannibalism becomes an issue only in Catholicism (and possibly Eastern Orthodox).

This is a common question and has been answered in Catholic websites such as at the Catholic Answers website (Are Catholics Cannibals? ) and The Catholic Thing website (The Eucharist & Cannibalism). If we understand the doctrine of Transubstantiation correctly, we will see that

Though Christ is substantially present—body, blood, soul and divinity—in the Eucharist, the accidents of bread and wine remain. Here it is important to define terms. When the Church teaches the bread and wine at Mass are transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, we have to understand what this means. The word, transubstantiation, literally means “transformation of the substance.” “Substance” refers to that which makes a thing essentially what it is. Thus, “substance” and “essence” are synonyms. For example, man is essentially comprised of body, soul, intellect, and will. If you remove any one of these, he is no longer a human person. The accidents or accidentals would be things like hair color, eye color, size, weight, etc. One can change any of these and there would be no change in the essence or substance of the person.

In the Eucharist, after the priest consecrates the bread and wine and they are, in fact, transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, our Lord is then entirely present. Neither bread nor wine remains. However, the accidents of bread and wine (size, weight, taste, texture) do remain. Hence, the essential reason why Catholics are not guilty of cannibalism is the fact that we do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. We receive him in the form of bread and wine. The two are qualitatively different.

For lengthier explanation, see the EWTN website article On Transubstantiation by Fr. Edward McNamara, LC.

Several points of differences (freely quoted from the above 2 articles):

  • Cannibals eat what is dead. By contrast, Christ is alive.
  • In cannibalism, one only consumes a body, not a person (a corpse is no longer a person). In the Eucharist we consume the entire person of Jesus Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity.
  • What is consumed is the glorified body of Jesus Christ, a spiritual "super body" (glorified flesh), unlike in cannibalism where one can only eat an earthly body.
  • The Eucharist is not diminished (i.e. more communicants does not mean "less Christ" left).
  • Christ is innocent, unlike many cannibalistic victim who is usually perceived as guilty of a crime against society.
  • The whole point of Eucharist is to partake Christ's divine nature and to be united to Christ's immortal soul. But in Cannibalism, the victim is not divine, and although in some cannibalistic practice the victim was still alive (in the hope of taking their "life force"), the victim would die in the act of eating.
  • etc.

From the above differences, it's clear that Eucharist can only be practiced with the person of Jesus Christ, because only the body of Jesus Christ meets all the requirements listed above, i.e. Jesus Christ is the only person on earth that has a glorified body and who has a divine nature. Therefore, in Catholicism there has never been (or ever will be) a practice of consuming humans other than Christ.

Human cannibalism and the Biblical / Christian view

I will now consider whether the Bible prohibits human cannibalism in regards to persons that are not Christ. Also see list of incidents of cannibalism.

In general, the gotquestions.org website article What does the Bible say about cannibalism? says that:

In summary, while Scripture gives no explicit command against cannibalism, from the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27) God made it clear that mankind is unique and distinct from the animal kingdom. Mankind, created in God’s image, has a value and honor above that of animals. The Old Testament closely associates cannibalism with the final stages of judgment from God, thus marking it as a loathsome and evil practice.

Let's now consider specific cases (including materials from the above articles):

  • Homicidal cannibalism: Since it involves murder, it's obviously wrong.
  • Ritualistic cannibalism: Taking life force of a guilty victim (prisoner of war, etc.). Even consuming blood of a prescribed sacrifice is prohibited (since the blood belongs to the LORD), so we can safely say that with human it's prohibited.
  • Eat flesh of dead family members to allow the spirits to live on: Obviously wrong, since the Bible teaches that the human spirit does not remain in the body.
  • Consumption of human organs for medical purpose: what if the person already died and has given permission? The Bible is silent, but Christian groups have denounced this (see the 2012 Smithsonian Magazine article The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine).
  • Eat human remains for survival (in desperation for a calamity sent by God): Biblical reference is to actual event during the 6th century BC Babylonian siege of the city of Jerusalem (Jer 19:9, Lam 4:10), fulfilling God's curse for breaking the covenant (Lev 26:29, Deut 28:53-57). This is a result of God's punishment. If there are situations like this today, it's a sign of a curse.
  • Survival while being rescued from an accident (not a punishment from God): such as the famous Donner Party or Andes plane crash incidents. The Bible is silent on this. Probably permissible from Catholic point of view.
  • "Probably permissible from Catholic point of view.". In Judaism, cannibalism is of course not acceptable (human meat isn't kosher), but under circumstances where it would directly save a life, it is acceptable. (Assuming one doesn't kill in order to obtain the body, or one isn't being forced by threat of death to commit an explicitly anti-Jewish act.) Jun 14, 2021 at 20:54

The underlying cause of misunderstanding in this question is the use of the word "substance".

In the quoted Church writing, it has the original old meaning, not the meaning we normally attach to it today.

1a: essential nature : ESSENCE
b: a fundamental or characteristic part or quality

3a: physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence

Substance: Definition of Substance by Merriam-Webster

The connection with physical material, which is now the much more common usage, didn't arise in English until recently. In modern common English, "essence" would be a far better word to use, indicating the essential nature of an object. What we commonly think of as "substance" is unchanged by transubstantiation.

Using the modern sense of "substance", the substances that the bread and wine are made of do not change.

The bread and wine physically remain bread and wine even after consumption. People with gluten sensitivity will still be affected by it.

The process of transubstantiation is more along the lines of how a living tree is changed into a piece of lumber and then into a chair.

The physical "substance" (in the modern sense) always remains wood, but the "essence" (they way the object is regarded) changes.

As for cannibalism, a simple analogy would be to compare telling a child not to climb trees, but then letting them climb playground equipment that is made of wood. That the physical material is the same in both cases is accidental, while the inherent danger of a tree and the relative safety of the playground equipment is essential.

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    I don't think your answer rightly describes Transubstantiation in the Catholic sense. See this article. In this instance, substance and essence is synonymous. Substance is changed (to body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ), but accident (bread & wine properties) remained. Jun 14, 2021 at 20:31
  • @GratefulDisciple, my point is that substance is synonymous with essence, not with physical material. The essence changes, the accident doesn't. Jun 14, 2021 at 20:43
  • @GratefulDisciple, maybe I'm missing something obviously wrong in my answer (It wouldn't be the first time.), but as far as I know, what you are saying is the same as what I think I said. Jun 14, 2021 at 21:03
  • Re-reading your answer, I see now what you mean; I was thrown off by the different terminology. What you call essence (the one which changes in transubstantiation) is traditionally called substance. What you call substance (which doesn't change in transubstantiation) is traditionally called accident. Jun 15, 2021 at 7:29
  • @GratefulDisciple, right. My point was that most people aren't aware of those meanings, and the quotation "substance of bread into the substance of the Body" would be interpreted by most people today as an actual physical change of the physical material. For instance, googling simply "substance" displays MW's definition: "1 : physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence the substance of nerve tissue. 2 : matter of particular or definite chemical constitution.". That is how most people would (incorrectly) interpret the quotation in the question. Jun 15, 2021 at 13:04

What is Christianity's views on cannibalism?

I am going to divide this question into two parts. The first will deal with eating the Eucharist within a Catholic viewpoint. The second part will deal with true cannibalism.

A Catholic viewpoint on consuming the Sacred Host is not considered cannibalism. Can not tell you how many times someone has accused us as doing this very thing, because of our belief in the real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacred Host!

Perhaps the most disconcerting Catholic doctrine is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Many people today have the same reaction as those disciples who heard Jesus preach it for the first time in Capernaum and were scandalized, “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (Jn. 6:61). John says that after, many of His disciples stopped following Him altogether.

What is obviously so “hard” about this saying is that it suggests cannibalism. If Catholics believe the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ, then they believe they are eating human flesh and drinking human blood. The Romans accused Christians of cannibalism and that the charge has been made against Catholics in various ways ever since.

But while Holy Communion does involve eating human flesh and blood, it is not true that it is cannibalistic. How so?

The Eucharist is life. Cannibals eat what is dead. The Aztecs, the most notorious cannibalistic society in history, ate the beating hearts of victims, but they were still eating something doomed to die, and in the act of eating, it did die. By contrast, Christ, is alive. He rose on the third day, and is present in the Eucharist as fully alive (indeed, He is Life itself). Our reception of the Eucharist doesn’t destroy or change that in any way.

The Eucharist is the whole body and blood of Jesus Christ. Cannibals only take a part of their victims. But even the smallest particle of the Eucharist contains the entire body and blood of Christ. The familiar characteristics of space and matter don’t apply: consuming a larger Host does not mean you get more of Christ’s body and blood, nor does consuming a small Host mean you get less. Even receiving from the Precious Cup is unnecessary: by “concomitance,” when a communicant receives the Host, he also receives the Precious Blood.

The Eucharist is the glorified body of Jesus Christ. Concomitance is possible because Christ’s living and eternal body is forever reunited with His blood; hence, receiving the former entails receiving the latter. Christ’s risen body is not a resuscitated corpse like that of Lazarus, but an utterly transformed “spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:44) far different from the spatio-temporal “body of our lowness.” (Phil. 3:21) Therefore, when a Catholic receives the Eucharist, he is receiving not just flesh but glorified flesh, a resurrected and transfigured “super body” that foreshadows the new reality of a new Heaven and a new earth. Cannibalistic practices don’t do that.

The Eucharist contains the soul of Jesus Christ. Some cannibalistic societies eat the flesh or drink the blood of fallen warriors in the hopes of taking on their “life force” or their courage, or of destroying their spirit altogether. Yet precisely because the risen Jesus is alive, His immortal soul is united to His body and blood, and inseparable from them in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist contains the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ is true God and true man, His divinity and His humanity are also inseparable. Consequently, in partaking of the human “aspects” of Christ (His body, blood, and soul), we also partake of His divine nature. This stands in sharp contrast to cannibals such as the Binderwurs of central India, whose flesh-eating religious rituals tried to bring them closer to the gods, but made them sink lower than most beasts.

Putting all these elements together, we arrive at the Catholic formula: “The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Eucharist is not diminished. If Christ is entirely present in even the tiniest part of the Host, then it follows that the living body and blood of Christ are not diminished by the act of receiving Holy Communion (more communicants does not mean “less Christ” left, and so on).

The Eucharist consumes us. When you eat food, it becomes a part of you. With the Eucharist, however, the opposite happens. We become a part of it, that is, in Holy Communion, we are made a part of the mystical body of Christ. In our Lord’s words, those who eat His flesh and drink His blood abide in Him (Jn. 6.40).

The Eucharist is nonviolent. Catholics understand the Mass as the non-bloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross. Christ, whose innocent blood was unjustly shed 2,000 years ago, is made available for His disciples under the appearance of bread and wine, but in a peaceful, nonviolent way. Cannibalism is inherently violent and usually predicated on the assumption that the victim is guilty of a crime against a society (usually they are prisoners of war).

All of this suggests that what happens at the Lord’s table is fundamentally different than what happens in the dark rites of a depraved tribe. Indeed, from a metaphysical perspective, we can consider all cannibalistic customs (as opposed to those induced by derangement or starvation) as a perverse and even demonic mimicry of our Holy Communion with the risen Lord.

Most anthropologists believe that cannibalism is intrinsically religious in nature. Just as all pagan blood-sacrifices were distorted knock-offs of the one true Sacrifice of Calvary (even if they took place before the Crucifixion), so too all ritual acts of cannibalism are a distorted attempt to replace the Bread of Life with the mammon of one’s own iniquity.

The disciples scandalized by Jesus’ hard saying were right to be horrified by cannibalism but wrong to identify it with what they were hearing. The Eucharist is not another form of cannibalism. On the contrary, it is a holy union with Life itself, which all cannibal acts blindly seek but never obtain.

In this respect Holy Communion is actually the supreme instance of anti-cannibalism, an exposé of all evil impostors for what they are. Jesus made the difference clear enough when He referred to Himself as the “Living Bread” (Jn. 6:41). - The Eucharist & Cannibalism

We must remember that when we consume the Eucharist, we nourish ourselves with the entire body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are present in each and every consecrated Host.

The accidentals however remain unchanged: bread and water. The sacred species, thus are no longer bread and water! This referred to as transubstantiation according to Catholicism.

Now for the second part.

As far as real cannibalism is concerned, Christians in general would consider true and actual cannibalism to immoral.

Common Christian decency considers real life cannibalism to be against the human decency of the human body!

However eating of a human body in a case of necessity may be considered permissible. This would be considered as an exemption to the rule.

The following article will explain this situation:

Two spokesmen for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said yesterday that the survivors of a plane crash in the Chilean Andes two months ago “acted justifiably” when they ate parts of bodies of dead companions to keep from starving to death.

Msgr. Austin Vaughan and the Rev. William Smith, pro fessors of theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, declared in a statement issued in response to inquiries: “A person is permitted to eat dead human flesh if there is no feasi ble alternative for survival.”

Twenty‐nine persons died in the Oct. 13 crash of an Uru guayan Air Force plane or later in an avalanche. The 16 sur vivors, all Roman Catholics, spent 69 days staving off death from starvation and below‐zero temperatures. To stay alive they ate parts of the bodies of the dead.

A young man who survive! Jikened the cannibalism, to “a heart transplant,” observing that the heart of a dead person may be taken to keep another alive.

The comparison was termed “not unreasonable” by the two Catholic theologians. They said that there was a “serious obli gation” to show respect for the dead and that eating human flesh would be a breach of this obligation “in almost all cases.”

Cannibalism would be justifiable, they held, if there were no alternative. - Two Catholic Aides Defend Cannibalism In Chilean Air Crash