Descartes and tradition: the miracle of the Eucharist

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Virginia Tech


Descartes and the followers of his new mechanistic physics were subject to condemnation as a result of a reaction against his philosophy on the basis that it could not adequately explain the miracle of the Eucharist. Descartes, however, firmly believed that he could give an explanation of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist which was not only consistent with his physics and metaphysics, but which was also consistent with the orthodoxy demanded by the Church. His explanation exploited the ambiguity of the language adopted by the Council of Trent, yet rejected the Aristotelian philosophy traditionally relied upon to explain the miracle. Descartes' explanation of transubstantiation remained provocative to his scholastic contemporaries not because it was internally inconsistent, but rather because Descartes attempted to overthrow the whole of traditional philosophy. Descartes' confidence in his own explanation of the sacred rite ultimately obscured the long and troubled history of the issue from him, leading him to believe that he could win converts to his philosophy by publishing his own theory of the Eucharist. Consequent to this excursion into theology, Descartes' philosophy came under fire and was condemned in part because it could not give a traditional explanation of the Eucharist.



cartesianism, transubstantiation, scholasticism