Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tillotson against Transubstantiation

A passage, of considerable importance for the history of philosophy, from John Tillotson's A Discourse against Transubstantiation (1684):

Besides the infinite Scandal of this Doctrine upon the accounts I have mentioned, the monstrous absurdities of it make it insupportable to any Religion. I am very well assured of the Grounds of Religion in general, and of the Christian Religion in particular; and yet I cannot see that the Foundations of any revealed Religion, are strong enough to bear the weight of so many and so great Absurdities as this Doctrine of Transubstantiation would load it withal. And to make this evident, I shall not insist upon those gross Contradictions, of the same Body being in so many several Places at once; or our Saviour's giving away himself with his own Hand to every one fo his Disciples, and yet still keeping himself to himself; and a thousand more of the like Nature: but to shew the Absurdity of this Doctrine I shall only ask these Questions.

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.

2. Supposing this Doctrine had been delivered in Scripture in the very same Words that is decreed by the Council of Trent, by what clearer Evidence or stronger Argument could any Man prove to me that such Words were in the Bible, than I can prove to him that Bread and Wine after Consecration are Bread and Wine still? He could but appeal to my Eyes to prove such Words to be in the Bible, and with the same Reason and Justice might I appeal to several of his Senses to prove to him that the Bread and Wine after Consecration are Bread and Wine still.

3. Whether it be reasonable to imagine, that God should make that a part of the Christian Religion which shakes the main external Evidence and Confirmation of the Whole? I mean the Miracles which were wrought by our Saviour and his Apostles, the assurance whereof did at first depend upon the Certainty of Sense. For if the Senses of those who say they saw them were deceived, then there might be no Miracles wrought; and consequently it may justly be doubted whether that kind of Confirmation which God hath given to the Christian Religion would be strong enough to prove it, supposing Transubstantiation to be a part of it: Because every Man hath as great Evidence that Transubstantiation is false, as he hat that the Christian Religion is true. Suppose then Transubstantiation to be part of the Christian Doctrine, it must have the same Confirmation with the whole, and that is Miracles: But of all Doctrines of the World, it is peculiarly incapable of being proved by a Miracle. For if a Miracle were wrought for the Proof of it, the very same Assurance which any Man hath of the Truth of the Miracle, he hath of the Falshood of the Doctrine, that is the clear Evidence of his Senses. For that there is a Miracle wrought to prove that what he sees in the Sacrament is not Bread but the Body of Christ, there is only the Evidence of Sense; and there is the very same Evidence to prove, that what he sees in the Sacramentis not the Body of Christ but Bread. So that there would arise a new Controversy, whether a Man could rather believe his Senses giving Testimony against the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, or bearing Witness to a Miracle wrought to confirm that Doctrine; there being the very same Evidence against the Truth of the Doctrine, which there is for the Truth of the Miracle: And then the Argument for Transubstantiation, and the Objection against it, could just balance one another; and consequently Transubstantiation is not to be proved by a Miracle, because that would be, to prove to a Man by something that he sees, that he doth not see what he sees. And if there were not other Evidence that Transubstantiation is no part of the Christian Doctrine, it would be sufficient, that what proves the one, does as much overthrow the other; and that Miracles, which are certainly the best and highest external Proof of Christianity, are the worst Proof in the World of Transubstantiation, unless a Man can renounce his Senses at the same imte that he relies upon them. For a Man cannot believe a Miracle without relying upon Sense, nor Transubstantiation without renouncing it. So that never were any two things so ill coupled together as the Doctrine of Christianity and that of Transubstantiation, because they draw several ways, and are ready to strangle one another: For the main Evidence of the Christian Doctrine, which is Miracles, is resolved into the certainty of Sense, but this Evidence is clear and point blank against Transubstantiation.

(This is actually from the new edition of 1797; as far as I know there were no major changes to the above passage, but I haven't had a chance to determine this certainly.) Tillotson's discourse was circulated as a religious tract in the 19th century by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and the above argument is still occasionally to be found in anti-Catholic circles.

Pop-quiz: What is the significance of the above passage to the history of philosophy?

1 comment:

  1. Jenniffer Millacan4:03 PM

    attached for printing.


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