His-2-Reap — Controversy in Middle Ages over ‘real presence’

CREDIT: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Just discovered for the first time over on Alive! the origins of the word ‘transubstantiation’.

Controversy in Middle Ages over ‘real presence’

By Bro. Stephen Brackett

During the Middle Ages a major controversy about the Blessed Eucharist was stirred up by a French priest called Berengarius. Eventually it led to a big development in Eucharistic devotion, including adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Born at Tours in 999, Berengarius studied theology in Chartres and in 1029 took charge of the theology school in his home city of Tours.

Soon his reputation for learning was spreading throughout France and attracting some of the best minds of the time to his school. But already his views were causing concern.

In a much earlier controversy, in the 830s, the monk Radbert Paschasius had maintained that at the consecration of the Mass the bread is converted into the real body of Christ and the wine into the real blood of Christ.

Another monk in the same abbey, Ratramnus, denied this, saying that Christ was present in a spiritual way in the Eucharist, but there was no conversion of the bread and wine.

Berengarius sided with Ratramnus,but his views were condemned as false and heretical at a council being held in Rome in 1050.

The condemnation was repeated at several local councils, such as Paris and Tours, in the coming years. In 1059 Berengarius retracted his views at a council in Rome and signed a profession of faith.

On his return home, however, he attacked the formula he had signed. At this point his supporters began to desert him.

It was in this controversy that the word ‘transubstantiation’ was first used to stress the true and full presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

It was a bid to make sure that the meaning of the Lord’s words when he said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” would not be watered down in any way.

Coined by the theologian Hildebert of Lavardin in 1079, transubstantiation meant that the whole substance of the bread and of the wine were changed into the body and blood of Christ.

The important theologians at the time were united in opposing the views of Berengarius, but the controversy continued for decades. Finally, in 1080, he was reconciled with the Church.

Pope Gregory VII gave instructions that no penalty should be imposed on him nor that he should be called a heretic.

The turmoil and confusion he had caused, however, continued for many years to come and were recalled at the time of the Protestant reformation.

On the other hand, the dispute led to a more explicit presentation of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist and to new devotion.

In time, to protect Catholic faith in the Eucharist, the Church instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.

The custom of raising the host and the chalice after the consecration of the Mass was also introduced, allowing the faithful to profess their faith in the real presence of Christ.


5 thoughts on “His-2-Reap — Controversy in Middle Ages over ‘real presence’”

  1. Can you tell me how is one to know if a document is infallible? I know that seldom does the Popes pronouncements carry the weight of infallibility; but how do we know if something said or written is infallible. What words do we look for?

  2. “Real Presence” is a theological term, and not simply a philosophical definition. What does “real presence” imply? Since the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is linked to each and every instance of the validly consecrated Eucharist, it corresponds to the ubiquity of the Divine Presence. God is held to be present everywhere and always in all things and in all times. Human beings are considered to be really present “in the flesh,” rather than through some medium, like the phone – even if one can see the person to whom one is speaking. However, in the East God’s presence was also connected to the ikon, which is why a candle can be kept burning before a favored ikon.
    The Nicene and Chalcidonean definitions about Jesus’ divinity and two natures were made apart from any consideration of these developing practices. But the “lex orandi, lex credendi” maxim leads to an attempt to unite these once separate ideas.
    In an age of high realism people demanded that real presence must mean physically eating the Body of Christ, and led to assertions that there were times when this “reality” was made manifest through a particular occasion when a broken host bled onto the corporal.
    Reconciliation does not come about by mere canonical legislative authority, but by bringing the various strata of Tradition into some acceptable union that does justice to what the deeper faith of the orignal believers was aiming at achieving. A pope can use his authority to demand a limited acceptance of disputed areas, but the deeper work of achieving that inner union within the Tradition may never see any historical resolution.

    1. Editor: Let’s simplify.

      Created Soul to the “Real Presence”: “Are you God?”
      “Real Presence” to the Created Soul: “I AM with you.”

      Theology begins:

      …and all flesh shall know, that I am the Lord that save thee, and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.

      Philosophy ends:

      “This is my body.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”

      Thanks for the comment.

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