Of God and His Creatures

Read 1 Cor. xiii, 8-12, and thereupon the following from some unpublished Dialogues of the Dead.

Spirit of Aristotle: "Thomas, your explanations are harder to accept than the doctrine which you undertook to explain."

Spirit of Aquinas: "My dear sir, take all this explanation as child's play on my part: for, as Paul says, when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but now I am become a man, and see face to face, I have put away the things of a child."

Surely we may call the things of a child all mere human speculations on a mystery so incomprehensible as the Holy Eucharist. I have nothing to say against the wisdom of the school, but it does not make transubstantiation one whit clearer to me. I remain in Cardinal Newman's frame of mind, when he wrote:

"I cannot tell how it is, but I say: Why should it not be? What's to hinder it? What do I know of substance or matter? Just as much as the greatest philosophers, and that is nothing at all . . . . The Catholic doctrine leaves phenomena alone. It does not say that the phenomena go: on the contrary, it says that they remain: nor does it say that the same phenomena are in several places at once. It deals with what no one on earth knows anything about, the material substances themselves" (Apologia, p. 239, ed. 1895).

The Cardinal in this passage writes in the easy epistolary style which he often affects, not in the solemn and strict phraseology of a legal document, civil or ecclesiastical. Newman knew, as well as any man, that substance is the reality that underlies appearances, the objective unity of those appearances, the noumenon, or thing in itself. We know that, and we say that; and, thanks to that modicum of knowledge, transubstantiation is not to us a vox nihili: but how much more do we know? and how far does that slight concept of substance carry towards a comprehensive understanding of transubstantiation ?

Of God and His Creatures: 4.67