Eucharist wafer desecration

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  • also known as: host desecration

Eucharist wafer desecration is the mis-handling of the Eucharist wafer, an edible wafer used in the Catholic ceremony of communion.

One school of thought, whose adherents include the Catholic Church and some of its members, considers almost any action other than eating the wafer before returning to one's seat to be "desecration", and the removal of the wafer from church before eating it as tantamount to "kidnapping" or "abduction". This school views transubstantiation, i.e. the part of the ceremony in which the wafer is said to be transformed into the "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity" of Jesus Christ, as being literally true – i.e. the wafer is actually in some way physically transformed into a piece of the flesh of a semi-mythical being.

Another school of thought, whose adherents include most atheists and many Catholics, sees transubstantiation as entirely symbolic and metaphorical, and failure to stick to the communion "script" as being a transgression roughly equivalent to impoliteness.

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The dogma of literal transubstantiation was set into writing at the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, although the belief can be traced back to the 1st Century AD in the Didache and other writings by early Christians. According to this dogma, the "substances" of the offerings (the wafer - aka "bread" - and wine) are transformed, while the "appearance" of bread and wine remain.


"Substance" in this usage apparently refers to the philosophical ideas of Aristotle and Plato, in that the "substance" of an object is somehow distinct from the object's observable properties. For example, a chair is still substantially a chair whether it is blue or pink, big or small (the "accidents"). The doctrine stretches this usage to the point of distortion by claiming that the "substance" of an object can be changed without changing any of its observable properties, which is not true for the chair example (one can pretty easily tell whether a chair is still a chair by observing shape and mechanical characteristics, i.e. whether it satisfies the definition of the word).

In the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the "substance" is changed (the wafer becomes God), but the accidents remain (the physical properties of the wafer, including subatomic particles). By this subtle abuse of language and ontology, it is possible to claim that a completely undetectable yet meaningful change has taken place.

This language abuse is arguably a sort of religious newspeak, i.e. redefining a word so as to make it more difficult to disagree with official doctrine. By redefining "substance" to refer to something which cannot be sensed or detected in any way, an unnecessary communicative barrier is put in the way of any disagreement.

Accusations against Jews

  • 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin: first recorded accusation. All the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot, subsequently called Judenberg.
  • 1290 in Paris; event was commemorated in the Church of the Rue des Billettes and in a local confraternity
  • 1294 at Laa, Austria
  • 1298 at Röttingen (near Würzburg) and at Korneuburg (near Vienna)
  • 1299 at Ratisbon
  • 1306 at St. Pölten
  • 1325 at Cracow
  • 1330 at Güstrow
  • 1337 at Deggendorf: led to a series of massacres across the region; still celebrated locally as "Deggendorf Gnad"
  • 1338 at Pulkau
  • 1370 in Brussels: Jews of the city were exterminated
  • 1388 at Prague
  • 1399 at Posen
  • 1401 at Glogau
  • 1410 at Segovia: alleged host desecration was said to have brought about an earthquake; the local synagogue was confiscated, leading Jews were executed, and the event continues to be celebrated as a local feast of Corpus Christi.
  • 1420 at Ems
  • 1453 at Breslau
  • 1478 at Passau
  • 1492 at Sternberg, in Mecklenburg-Schwerin
  • 1510 at Knoblauch: 38 Jews were executed and more expelled from Brandenburg
  • 1514 at Mittelberg, in Alsace
  • 1558 at Sochaczew (Poland)

The last Jew burned for stealing a host died in 1631, according to Jacques Basnage, quoting from Manasseh b. Israel, Casimir IV of Poland (1447).

"The accusation of host desecration gradually ceased after the Reformation when first Martin Luther in 1523 and then Sigismund August of Poland in 1558 were among those who repudiated the accusation. However, sporadic instances of host desecration libel occurred even in the 18th and 19th century. In 1761 in Nancy, several Jews from Alsace were executed on a charge of host desecration. The last recorded accusation was brought up in Bislad, Romania, in 1836." [W]

Presumably this refers to official accusations of desecration only. In the case of the 2008 sacred wafer scandal, death threats were sent both to Webster Cook (the student who was apprehended while trying to show the Eucharist to a companion before eating it) and PZ Myers, who threatened to obtain additional hosts and desecrate them and later did so. After actually performing the desecration, the Catholic League (discussion) and other supporters of the Catholic Church intensified their public outrage (including, in the latter case, many ad hominem attacks and threats) against Myers and efforts to have Myers fired on grounds of violating his college's Code on the grounds of religious intolerance. See 2008 sacred wafer scandal for further discussion.

There was no official word from the Catholic Church, however (even after PZ offered to return the wafer if they would repudiate the words and actions of the Catholic League), leading to the obvious conclusion that they tolerate this behavior because it serves their purposes without making them answerable for it.



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