Saturday, January 20, 2024

Burthogge on Transubstantiation

 Richard Burthogge, from his Organum Vetus et Novum (published in 1648):

32. The Lights of Faith and Nature, of Revelation and Reason, though they be not the same, yet are not contrary; I mean, that what is shewn or seen to be true in one Light, can never be shewn or seen to be false in the other: What is Apprehended by Sense rightly circumstanced and condition'd, to be This or to be That, or else by Reason rightly acting to be so, or so, it is never contradicted by Revelation. Things are nothing to a man but as they stand in his Analogie: for him to believe against his Faculties, is to believe a Contradiction. If in the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the Elements first and last are Bread and Wine to Sense, and to Reason judging according to Sense, I cannot hold my self obliged by (any) Revelation to believe them Flesh and Blood, but in a Notion consistent with the judgment Sense and Reason make of them; that is, not flesh and blood substantially, but sacramentally; not flesh and blood really, but only by signification. Else Truth might be Incongruity, Inconsistency. Transubstantiation is to me a Mystery; I am so far from making truth of it, that I cannot make any sense of it; I might as well believe that two and two make not four, or three and three six, as that it is not Bread, or Wine, which to my Eye, my Taste, my Touch, in a word, which being an Object of Sense, to all Examinations of my Sense is so. What is against Sense, is against Knowledge.
What is notable about this is that it anticipates, and very likely is the original source, for Tillotson's much more famous version of this argument, first published in 1684:

1. Whether any Man have, or ever had, greater Evidence of the Truth of any Divine Revelation than every Man hath of the Falshood of Transubstantiation? Infidelity were hardly possible to Men if all Men had the same Evidence for the Christian Religion which they have against Transubstantiation; that is, the clear and irresistible Evidence of Sense. He that can once be brought to contradict or deny his Senses, is at an end of Certainty; for what can a Man be certain of, if he be not certain of what he sees? In some Circumstances our Senses may deceive us, but no Faculty deceives us so little and so seldom: And when our Senses do deceive us even that Error is not to be corrected without the help of our Senses.
This argument had significamt influence on Protestant apologetics and polemics, but even more significantly was explicitly adapted by Hume in his argument against all miracles, and therefore received some wide philosophical discussion in that context. It's worth noting that Tillotson's version is slightly more cautious than Burthogge's, because Tillotson allows for the fact that "our Senses may deceive us". (Burthogge holds that there can be nothing more fundamental than sensation, which is the foundation of all of our notions; he has a fairly expansive view of how we can go beyond what we sense, but he thinks everything has to bottom out in what we sense.)