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The question of “are Catholics cannibals due to their view on transubstantiation” question cropped up quite some time ago. The top answer on this question makes a distinction between substance and accidents.

In other words, if the wine becomes the Blood of Christ, why isn't there hemoglobin in it?

Aristotelian philosophy made a distinction between what (in modern philosophical jargon) is called "substance" (from Latin substantia, the essence or nature of something) and "accident" (from Latin accidens, something that happens to be true of an entity). Aristotle of course used Greek, but Aquinas used the Latin. The substance of something is what makes it what it is: I am a human being because I am human "in substance"; that is, because I have "humanness". I look the way I do as a human because I have particular accidents—my eyes are a given color, my hair and skin, I'm a given height. Any of those things could change, or could have been different; that would change what I looked like, but not what I am (i.e. human).

The Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is that during the Eucharistic celebration, the substance of the bread and wine—what they truly are—is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. But their accidents—what they look and act like physically—remain the same.

So I have a question. I’ve seen many cases of Eucharistic miracles, that is, where traces of real blood are found in the consumed Eucharist. Many people claim this as evidence of transubstantiation.

But how does this fit with the substance vs accidents view? Because wouldn’t a Eucharistic miracle be a change in accident, not substance? Beyond that, do proponents of Eucharistic miracles think this happens all the time, or is it a rare occurrence? And if it is a rare occurrence, are these cases cannibalism?

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  • Your description of Eucharistic miracles in terms of "traces of real blood are found" is inaccurate. The consecration converts wine into real blood in every mass, not just the few called Eucharistic miracles. What is special about those few is that some of the accidents of blood are also found. Jun 14 at 0:10
  • @AndreasBlass that’s why I asked in my question for clarification. Do you not understand my question?
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 14 at 0:41
  • "I’ve seen many cases of Eucharistic miracles, that is, where traces of real blood are found in the consumed Eucharist.". You've actually seen this happen, or you have seen reports of this happening? And either way, if it is consumed, how can it be found? Jun 14 at 0:52
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    @one there are thousands of reported Eucharistic miracles involving liquified blood, the consecrated Host becoming scientifically verified heart tissue - things that should blow everyone's mind, if it weren't so easy to dismiss. An exhibit of Eucharistic miracles passed through a local parish a few years ago, I was absolutely stunned by how many there were and how different they all were.
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 14 at 13:03
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    @PeterTurner There have been many such miracles in recent years, far more recent than Lanciano! For example Legnica in 2013, Guerrero in 2006, Sokolka in 2008, and more than one I believe in Argentina. Eucharistic miracles, along with the Incorruptibles, are some of the miracles that you can go and look at with your own eyes, and IMHO should astonish anyone.
    – workerjoe
    Jun 14 at 18:33

2 Answers 2

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St. Thomas Aquinas discusses Eucharistic miracles in Summa Theologica III q. 76 a. 8 "Whether Christ's body is truly there when flesh or a child appears miraculously in this sacrament?"; in Eucharistic miracles (co.),

while the dimensions [of the Host or Blood] remain the same as before, there is a miraculous change wrought in the other accidents, such as shape, color, and the rest, so that flesh, or blood, or a child, is seen.

Accidents inhere in a subject; but with transubstantiation, after consecration, God holds the accidents of bread and wine in existence despite their not inhering in a subject, which is now Christ's Body, Blood, soul, and divinity; this is one of the three mysteries of transubstantiation. In Eucharistic miracles, the accidents are those of flesh and blood.

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  • Should one consider the accidents Christ's Flesh and Blood or just human flesh and blood? (I can ask another question if that's needed, but I think you could just edit that in there if it's answerable)
    – Peter Turner
    Jun 14 at 12:56
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    @PeterTurner The substance is Christ's Flesh and Blood. The accidents that appear as human flesh are not Christ's glorified Flesh and Blood. {St. Thomas writes in the aforementioned article (co.): "Christ's body under its proper species can be seen only in one place [heaven], wherein it is definitively contained. Hence since it is seen in its proper species, and is adored in heaven, it is not seen under its proper species in this sacrament."}
    – Geremia
    Jun 14 at 17:17
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How can Catholics who adhere to Eucharistic Miracles claim the distinction between substance and accidents?

The accidentals and their appearance as such remain accidentals until fully they are digested and no longer exist!

The Early Church was often persecuted and one of the top three things pagans accused believers of was, that is right cannibalism.

It is not a topic new for the Church to deal with. We can learn from the Christian apologists Justin Martyr and Athenagoras that the three main accusations levied against Christians were atheism, incest, and cannibalism.

It is a historical fact that in the Church’s early years, Christians were persecuted vigorously by the Roman Empire. In justifying this persecution, the Romans made all sorts of charges against the Christian community. We learn from the second-century Christian apologists Justin Martyr and Athenagoras that the three main accusations levied against Christians were atheism, incest, and cannibalism. The charge of atheism came from their refusal to worship the Roman pantheon of “gods” (for more on this, see Justin Martyr’s First Apology [Chapter 5 & 6]). We also know the charge of incest originated from the Christian concept of being united as “one family in Christ”, which meant husbands and wives would refer to each other as “brothers and sisters in Christ.” To an outsider, this could easily come off the wrong way. The third charge, that of cannibalism, was particularly fascinating to me as I was learning about the early Church. Why were they accused of cannibalism? And on what grounds? Over time, it became abundantly clear to me that they were accused of cannibalism because of their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; their belief that they actually ate the flesh of Christ and drank His Blood. - Why Were the Early Christians Accused of Cannibalism?

The question at hand (How can Catholics who adhere to Eucharistic Miracles claim the distinction between substance and accidents?) is very good. It leads us into, not only of trying to explain the accidentals and substance of the Eucharist, but also requires us to dive into the mysteries of the sacrament with new eyes.

Let us continually recall what the Jews in John 6:52, who said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Miriam-Webster defines cannibalism as:

  1. The usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being.

  2. The eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.

Cannibalism implies here the actual chewing, swallowing, and metabolizing of flesh and blood either after or during the killing of a human being; at least, if we stick to definition #1.

Catholics do not do any of this in the Eucharist. 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.

To dive a bit deeper into this, I would suggest there are at least six reasons why the Eucharist and cannibalism are qualitatively, or essentially, different things.

  1. In cannibalism, the person consumed is, generally speaking, killed. Jesus is not killed. We receive him in his resurrected body and we do not affect him in the least. In fact, he is not changed in the slightest. He changes us! This is far from cannibalism.

  2. In cannibalism, only part of the victim is consumed. One does not eat the bones, sinews, etc. In the Eucharist, we consume every bit of the Lord, eyes, hair, blood, bones, etc. But again, I emphasize that we do so under the appearances of bread and wine. This is essentially different than cannibalism, which leads to our next point:

  3. In cannibalism, the accidents of blood and flesh are consumed. One must tear flesh, drink blood, etc. In the Eucharist, we only consume the accidents of bread and wine. This is not cannibalism.

  4. In cannibalism, one only consumes a body, not a person. The person and the soul of the victim would have departed. In the Eucharist, we consume the entire person of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. One cannot separate Christ’s body from his Divine Person. Thus, this is a spiritual communion as well as a physical consuming. We become one with Christ on a mystical level in this sacrament. This is far from cannibalism.

  5. In cannibalism, one only receives temporal nourishment that is fleeting. In the Eucharist, we receive the divine life of God through faith and receiving our Lord well-disposed, i.e. we receive everlasting life (cf. John 6:52-55). This is essentially different than cannibalism.

  6. In cannibalism, once one eats the flesh of the victim, it is gone forever. In the Eucharist, we can consume him every day and, as mentioned in #1, we do not change him one bit. He remains the same. - Are Catholics Cannibals?

Thus, the argument that the Eucharist is cannibalism does not hold weight.

In regards to Eucharist miracles, they for a large part change the accidentals into real human flesh and blood. These do not make the Mysteries of the Eucharist cannibalism as they are Divinely done to strengthen our faith and awareness as to what the Eucharist truly is substance of the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the accidentals of bread and wine. Give us our daily bread has an Divine call to some who go to daily mass!

The term transubstantiation seems to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours (about 1079) and was more theologically clarified by St. Thomas Aquinas in his writings.

Christ's presence for the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.4 In the 13th session of 11 October 1551, it promulgated the following conciliar decree:

"if anyone says that the substance of bread and wine remains in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist together with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and denies that wonderful and extraordinary change of the whole substance of the wine into His blood, while only the species of bread and wine remain, a change which the Catholic Church has most fittingly called transubstantiation, let him be anathema." (Session 13, can.2)". - Real Presence

I have never heard of any Catholic who has eaten of a Eucharist Miracle were the accidentals according to these believers became real human flesh and/or blood. That line has never been crossed, so true cannibalism as we understand it has never happened!

Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena

Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena, 1263

The following articles may be of interest to some:

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  • * However, the accidents of bread and wine (size, weight, taste, texture) do remain.* so to clarify, is it blood? Like if we were to cut open the stomach of a the average mass goer this Sunday and look inside, would we see blood that had been consumed? Or would it still look like bread? I’m very sorry, this is a little confusing to me and I want to make sure I have it right.
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 14 at 14:48
  • @LukeHill The accidentals remain until fully digested!
    – Ken Graham
    Jun 14 at 14:59
  • but is appearance an accidental?
    – Luke Hill
    Jun 14 at 15:15

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