John Buridan on the Eucharist. With a Translation of his Questions on Aristotle's 'Metaphysics' 4.6

In Gyula Klima (ed.), The Metaphysics and Theology of the Eucharist. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 297–319 (forthcoming)
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It may come as a surprise to readers familiar with the life and work of the Arts Master that he discusses the Eucharist at all. As he likes to remind us, theological topics are generally out of his wheelhouse. Even so, in his Questions on the “Metaphysics” of Aristotle (QM) 4.6, Buridan takes the sacrament of the Eucharist as a key data point in his discussion of Aristotle’s Categories. In the Eucharist, the accidents of the bread and wine—their color, texture, and so on—remain intact, but the underlying substance is transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. Accordingly, God can preserve accidents independent of their underlying substance. Therefore, for our part we can use accidental terms, like whiteness, without connoting any substances, like communion bread. Moreover, it follows that, contrary to Aristotle, substance and the accidental categories are not the most general genera. Instead, being (ens) is, as Buridan concludes. Here, I trace Buridan’s thought on the metaphysical and semantic matters of substance in light of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is for him not only a theological truth, but a metaphysical and semantic datum as well. I conclude by asking why Buridan did not take any and all questions about the Eucharist to be out of his ken. What does this tell us about his attitude toward theology? This paper also includes, as an appendix, the first ever English translation of the question under discussion (QM 4.6): “Does the term being (ens) signify substances and accidents by one single concept or notion?”

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Boaz Faraday Schuman
University of Copenhagen


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