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Theodoret Did Not Deny Transubstantiation

Posted by Tony Listi on February 13, 2013

Some Protestants claim that the early Church father Theodoret denied transubstantiation, citing the following excerpt:

“The mystical emblems of the body and blood of Christ continue in their original essence and form, they are visible and tangible as they were before [the consecration]; but the contemplation of the spirit and of  faith sees in them that which they have become, and they are adored also as that which they are to believers.”  (Theodoret, Dialogue ii, Opera ed. Hal. tom. iv p. 126).

Did Theodoret deny transubstantiation? No. Let’s look at this quote in its proper context (emphases mine):

Theodoret/Orthodoxus— I will however endeavour to point out to you several instances of substances which are mixed without being confounded, and remain unimpaired….

Orthodoxus— Tell me now; the mystic symbols which are offered to God by them who perform priestly rites, of what are they symbols?

Eranistes.— Of the body and blood of the Lord.

Orth.— Of the real body or not?

Eran.— The real.

Orth.— Good. For there must be the archetype of the image. So painters imitate nature and paint the images of visible objects.

Eran.— True.

Orth.— If, then, the divine mysteries are antitypes of the real body, therefore even now the body of the Lord is a body, not changed into nature of Godhead, but filled with divine glory.

Eran.— You have opportunely introduced the subject of the divine mysteries for from it I shall be able to show you the change of the Lord’s body into another nature. Answer now to my questions.

Orth.— I will answer.

Eran.— What do you call the gift which is offered before the priestly invocation?

Orth.— It were wrong to say openly; perhaps some uninitiated are present.

Eran.— Let your answer be put enigmatically.

Orth.— Food of grain of such a sort.

Eran.— And how name we the other symbol?

Orth.— This name too is common, signifying species of drink.

Eran.— And after the consecration how do you name these?

Orth.— Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.

Eran.— And do you believe that you partake of Christ’s body and blood?

Orth.— I do.

Eran.— As, then, the symbols of the Lord’s body and blood are one thing before the priestly invocation, and after the invocation are changed and become another thing; so the Lord’s body after the assumption is changed into the divine substance.

Orth.— You are caught in the net you have woven yourself. For even after the consecration the mystic symbols are not deprived of their own nature; they remain in their former substance figure and form; they are visible and tangible as they were before. But they are regarded as what they have become, and believed so to be, and are worshipped as being what they are believed to be. Compare then the image with the archetype, and you will see the likeness, for the type must be like the reality. For that body preserves its former form, figure, and limitation and in a word the substance of the body; but after the resurrection it has become immortal and superior to corruption; it has become worthy of a seat on the right hand; it is adored by every creature as being called the natural body of the Lord.

Theodoret is not even discussing the Eucharist itself specifically but rather only analogously to the human body of Christ. He is debating a heretic who believes that the risen Jesus was/is no longer human and thus had/has no human body.

If Theodoret does not believe in transubstantiation, then why does he say that the Eucharistic elements “are worshipped (Greek word proskuvnei’n, according to Protestant scholar Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3, 501-502)”? Compare the Greek word with how it is used in the Bible

Theodoret also uses the language of being, not mere representation: “But they are regarded as what they have become, and believed so to be, and are worshipped as being what they are believed to be.” Yes, earlier on in the dialogue Theodoret refers to the Eucharist as “mystic symbols,” but symbols in the Greek Eastern theology can communicate the real presence of God (cf. icons in the Eastern churches). The Eucharist is a unique mystic symbol in that it embodies or is the Body and Blood of Christ, not merely an abstract representation of it.

Theodoret explains what he means by substance. He uses other words like “figure” and “form” and “visible” and “tangible.” These terms are exactly how a Catholic would refer to the bread and wine after the consecration: the bread and wine are visible and tangible forms of the reality of Jesus Christ’s body and blood.

And why does Theodoret refuse to “say openly” the name of “the gift which is offered before the priestly invocation”? For fear that “some uninitiated are present.” Seems Theodoret is afraid to say “bread” and “wine.” Why? Seems he believes that the “uninitiated” will be led astray by the use of those words. Seems very Catholic to me.

Even the heretics of this time did not deny transubstantiation but wished to use it to promote their Christological heresies.


12 Responses to “Theodoret Did Not Deny Transubstantiation”

  1. Phil said

    Thier is nothing in the Bible to say the bread and wine change after being eaten or drunk.We are to do this to remind us of his spelt blood and his life that was given up for our sins.

    • Tony Listi said

      There is a change after the words of consecration by the priest, not “after being eaten or drunk.” After the words of consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus.

      Read your Bible more carefully:

      “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” -1 Cor 11:29
      “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” -1 Cor 11:27

      “‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh….’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed…’ After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 67 Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?'” -John 6:51, 53-55, 66-67

      “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you….’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” -Lk 22:19-20

      • Sorry but your interpretation of 1Cor 11:27 is way off ,what Jesus meant was comunion was to be take seriously and with a clean heart. Other wise you are dishonouring what Christ did on the cross it was not to be taken lightly. In John and luke Christ is talking to them about spiritual food not earthly food that is of this world, Christ was talking in parables, by calling himself the bread of life he was saying in essence if you dont just listen to me but you welcome me into your life and you live according to my will you will never thirst or hunger again spiritualy. Comunion was meant to help us remember Christ and what he did for us by bleeding and dieing in great pain in obediance to his/ our Father and because as he said “while we were still sinners Christ died for us and rose again ” . After this he visited the diciples once more he said I must go to the father so that I might send you a comforter, the holy spirit wil come and and teach you of all the things I have said to you. The bible talks of the Holy Spirit comeing down and filling us with himself it s not telling us he is in us it is telling us the Holy Spirit wants us to learn from him and desire to live according to his will not ours.
        My God say to you what my hman mind cant.

      • Tony Listi said

        That’s Paul, not Jesus specifically, talking in his letter to the Corinthian Christians,

        No, your interpretations are way off. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to “discern the body” of Jesus in the bread and wine when they eat and drink or else risk judgment. Jesus explicitly says that “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh,” and then He gives the apostles bread that He says is His body. Why do you reject what the Bible says?

        “spiritual food not earthly food that is of this world”
        After the consecration by the priest, the bread and wine are no longer earthly food of this world. The Body and Blood of Jesus IS spiritual food: “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

        “Christ was talking in parables, by calling himself the bread of life”
        No, Jesus was not telling a parable. A parable is a story with a spiritual meaning. Jesus is talking about Himself and emphasizes the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” His hearers take His words literally, and yet Jesus does not correct their interpretation but reemphasizes the literal meaning and they reject Him.
        In the Greek, John/Jesus switches terms for “eat.” At first the word is “phago,” (used nine times in Jn 6:23-53) a generic term for eat used throughout the New Testament. But in Jn 6:54-58, the word used (four times) is more graphic and particular: “trogo,” which literally means “gnaws” or “chews.” Trogo occurs only here and in Mt 24:38 and Jn 13:18. The literal meaning is unmistakable.

        Moreover, the history of early Christianity through the writings of the early Church fathers demonstrate that the earliest Christians took these passages literally. For example, Ignatius of Antioch (50 – c. 110 AD): “They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2; Lightfoot / Harmer / Holmes, 110)

      • Phil said

        It is a parable,and all the words are of Christ wether its john speaking or Christ .The words used must be put in a spiritual context.Think of it whats the point in eating the flesh of Christ. Sombody believing this dose not make it true. My bible version the New International version calls this a parable.Proper interpretation is a must and I dont believe you have it. I have no desire to continue this conversation, we are definately at a impase.
        Thanks and take care.

      • Tony Listi said

        No, it’s not a parable. It’s not a fictional story used to convey a spiritual truth; it’s Jesus talking to His disciples, the multitudes who followed Him for a time. It doesn’t even resemble the actual parables that Jesus tells. Name another parable where Jesus talks about Himself in the first person “I am.” Was Jesus just speaking figuratively when He said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” too? The people who created the inferior NIV translation have no authority; just because they want to call it a parable doesn’t make it so.

        “whats the point in eating the flesh of Christ”
        Uh, ETERNAL LIFE. That’s the point of eating His flesh, as Jesus says: “…if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever…. he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

        Proper interpretation is a must and you clearly don’t have it. I am appealing to the actual text and the interpretation of the earliest Christians like Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus writing soon after the deaths of Peter and Paul.

      • Phil said

        Jesus was using earthly words to describe a spiritual truth.Calling the new international version infeariour shows that you are not a person I wish to discuss this with anymore. Thats a shame at first you seemed intelligent now your showing your imaturity.
        By the way the error was mine not the NIV.
        The bread of life is a parable John 6:51.

      • Tony Listi said

        Ask other serious Protestants; they will tell you the NIV is an inferior translation. Not just my opinion. The KJV and RSV are much better. I don’t see how that’s a sign of “imaturity.” I think you’re just attacking me personally now.

        How do you know your interpretation is right? Do you know it contradicts the early historical practice of Christians?

      • Phil said

        What early church are you talking about and 90% of the churches I know dont believe that Christ is saying we must eat his body and drink his blood .the NIV is better than the versions you mentioned,only the New American standerd is conciderd the closets to the original manuscripts.I am not attacking you I am calling it as it is. Most if not all christions

      • Tony Listi said

        Are you unaware that we have the writings of early Christian leaders who came immediately after the Twelve apostles? Are you unware of who Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, etc. are?

        Last time I checked, Christianity was not a democracy but a monarchy ruled by Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how many “Christians” believe something; it matters what Jesus Christ taught His apostles and what they taught and passed on to others. But even so, are you not aware that there are more Catholics worldwide than Protestants?

        The NIV is not close to the original manuscripts. Neither is the NAS.

      • Phil said

        You couldnt be more wrong if you tried.By the way you started the numbers game . Whats this about Catholics. Is this an Im Catholic and your not discussion what are you three.Christ is my savior and he must be the center of our life not the church we belong to.He is my life and his word is so very important to me ,so you can stop your version bashing Im not intested in continuing .
        Have a great life ,bye

      • Tony Listi said

        How exactly did I start the numbers game? Please quote me doing so, if you can. You are the one who said: “90% of the churches” and “Most if not all christions.” I was merely responding to that.

        No, this is a discussion about the truth of Scripture and how we can know which interpretations are true and which are not. You apparently think you can do a headcount of who believes what to determine true interpretations. I believe we can know by looking at the text rationally and by looking at the historical beliefs and practices of the earliest Christian leaders after the Twelve Apostles.

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