- Aquinas on Transubstantiation: The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist by Reinhard Hütter
The aim of this “small book” by Reinhard Hütter is to offer an answer to the “widespread, albeit mainly soft, agnosticism” regarding “this most central mystery” (2) of the Catholic faith. The root causes for this agnosticism lie, according to Hütter, in the uncertainty regarding the fundamentals of Catholic theology (Scripture, Fathers, dogma, Magisterium) as well as in mistrust about the intellect’s ability to contemplate, with the light of faith, the revealed mysteries. If this insight is correct, and I think it is, it indeed offers an intrinsic reason to return to St. Thomas (Ite ad Thomam) in order to find an “integral unity of the positive and the speculative components of sacred theology” (5). Central to such a unity is a robust, realist metaphysics able to receive natural and supernatural reality.
The book contains five chapters, dealing with (1) the scriptural foundations of the mystery of the Eucharist, (2) the Magisterium, (3) the Eucharistic conversion, (4) Christ’s passion and its extension by way of sacramental signification, and (5) friendship with Christ through the Eucharist. All this is supplemented with four appendices dealing with historical and systematical objections, followed by some twenty-five pages of often extensive endnotes (81–116). As a whole, the book can be read as detailed analysis of and commentary on questions 75–77 of the Tertia pars.
Sacra doctrina is founded upon the act of faith resting on divine authority and embracing the truth as proposed in sacred Scripture. Only after “being taught by divine revelation” (STh I, q. 1, a. 1)—not by human conjectures on cultural, societal, psychological, and other determining conditions—only after having listened to God through revelation, is one then able to do theology. In the first chapter, Hütter brilliantly connects these insights from the opening question of the Summa with question 75, article 1 of the Tertia pars, where St. Thomas begins his argument for the Real Presence by considering first the salvific significance of that presence. This comparative analysis reveals that “sacra doctrina is first and foremost the act of faith adhering to the first truth (God) in the concrete instance of its self-communication as apostolically mediated and interpreted by the doctrina Ecclesiae” (14–15). This is the foundation for Hütter’s dismissal of modern quests for the historical words of Jesus during the Last Supper (13). While I agree on this specific point, it would be unfair to both St. Thomas and Hütter if this dismissal leads to the suggestion that St. Thomas or medieval biblical exegesis in general is not aware of or does not engage in textual criticism. His biblical commentaries contain numerous instances of such an engagement.
The second chapter discusses recent magisterial texts, in particular Paul VI’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei (1965) and John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) and their continuity with Trent. Of central importance here is Hütter’s argument that these magisterial texts presuppose a [End Page 651] “prephilosophical apprehension of reality” (24) and in particular a “common knowledge of substance” (25).
This brings us to the pièce de résistance of the book, chapter 3 on “Eucharistic Conversion and the Categories ‘Substance’ and ‘Quantity.’” In less than thirty pages (27–56) Hütter fully displays his well-known ability to provide a careful reading of St. Thomas’s text in light of modern and contemporary objections. He first defends the naturalness of the subsistence of contingent substances and their accidents. Next, he discusses the question of whether bread is a natural substance and provides the insightful analogy of cloning to argue that an artificial thing in which human intervention is not essential but merely conducive for its existence is a natural substance. The real distinction between substance and the first accident of quantity provides the argument for the...