Roman Catholics maintain that during the consumption of the Holy Eucharist, the bread and wine literally transform into the body and blood of Christ. This belief, known as transubstantiation, differs from Protestant views concerning the Eucharist. Many Protestants believe that the bread and wine are “united” with Christ’s body and blood, while other sects view “the Lord’s Supper” as simply a memorial of Christ’s last meal with his disciples, concluding that no changes occur in the bread or wine that they drink. Both sects view the Eucharist as an extremely holy and sacred rite, which is why the issue has been historically controversial.
In 1681, Parliament was very concerned with the possibility of a Catholic king rising to power, since Charles had no legitimate heirs, and his brother James II was a Catholic. John Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel” comments on the Popish Plot and the Monmouth rebellion, placing all blame on the Earl of Shaftesbury (he was suspected of inciting the rebellion). In the poem, Dryden satirizes Catholic practices, including transubstantiation. Dryden’s portrayal of the Catholics throughout “Absalom and Achipotphel” can be attributed to his loyalty to Charles II, his poet laureate role, and his conservative Tory beliefs.
Dryden, "Absalom and Achitophel" Lines 120-121
“The Egyptian rites the Jebusites embraced,/ Where gods were recommended by their taste./ Such savory deities must needs be good,/ As served at once for worship and for food,” writes Dryden. The “Egyptians” represent the French (staunch Catholics) and the Jebusites represent the English Catholics.
Line 107 "For 'twas their duty, all the learned think,/ To espouse his cause by whom they eat and drink." Here, Dryden references the doctrine again. This clearly separates the Protestants and Catholics into warring sects, espousing the two separate causes.
Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" also references the doctrine. In the fourth chapter of Part 1, the Lilliputs (who represent the English) and the Blefuscus (the French) are immersed in a war concerning which is the proper way to "break eggs." When it becomes against the law to break your egg on the larger end, rebels find refuge in Blefuscu. The pun on "breaking egg" with the phrase commonly associated with the Eucharist, "breaking bread," clearly reveals the satire's subject. Swift's satire makes fun of the trivial issues that divide the sects.
Alyssa Linn, 1B