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§ 126. The Theory of Paschasius Radbertus.


Paschasius Radbertus (from 800 to about 865), a learned, devout and superstitious monk, and afterwards abbot of Corbie or Corvey in France704704    Corbie, Corvey, Corbeia (also called Corbeia aurea or vetus), was a famous Benedictine Convent in the diocese of Amiens, founded by King Clotar and his mother Rathilde in 664, in honor of Peter and Paul and the Protomartyr Stephen. It boasted of many distinguished men, as St. Ansgarius (the Apostle of the Danes), Radbert, Ratramnus, Druthmar. New Corbie (Nova Corbeia) was a colony of the former, founded in 822, near Höxter on the Weser in Germany, and became the centre for the christianization of the Saxons. Gallia Christiana, X., Wiegand, Gesch. v. Corvey, Höxter, 1819; Klippel, Corvey, in Herzog2III. 365-370. is the first who clearly taught the doctrine of transubstantiation as then believed by many, and afterwards adopted by the Roman Catholic church. He wrote a book “on the Body and Blood of the Lord,” composed for his disciple Placidus of New Corbie in the year 831, and afterwards reedited it in a more popular form, and dedicated it to the Emperor Charles the Bald, as a Christmas gift (844). He did not employ the term transubstantiation, which came not into use till two centuries later; but he taught the thing, namely, that “the substance of bread and wine is effectually changed (efficaciter interius commutatur) into the flesh and blood of Christ,” so that after the priestly consecration there is “nothing else in the eucharist but the flesh and blood of Christ,” although “the figure of bread and wine remain” to the senses of sight, touch, and taste. The change is brought about by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, who created the body of Christ in the womb of the Virgin without cohabitation, and who by the same almighty power creates from day to day, wherever the mass is celebrated, the same body and blood out of the substance of bread and wine. He emphasizes the identity of the eucharistic body with the body which was born of the Virgin, suffered on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven; yet on the other hand he represents the sacramental eating and drinking as a spiritual process by faith.705705    He denies the grossly Capernaitic conception (”Christum vorari fas dentibus non est“) and the conversion of the body and blood of Christ into our flesh and blood. He confines the spiritual fruition to believers (”iste eucharistiae cibus non nisi filiorum Dei est“). The unworthy communicants, whom he compares to Judas, receive the sacramental “mystery” to their judgment, but not the “virtue of the mystery” to their benefit. He seems not to have clearly seen that his premises lead to the inevitable conclusion that all communicants alike receive the same substance of the body and blood of Christ, though with opposite effects. But Dr. Ebrard is certainly wrong when he claims Radbert rather for the Augustinian view, and denies that he was the author of the theory of transubstantiation. See his Dogma v. heil. Abendmahl I. 406, and his Christl. Kirchen- und Dogmengesch. II. 27 and 33. He therefore combines the sensuous and spiritual conceptions.706706    See Steitz on Radbert, and also Reuter (I. 43), who says: ”Die Radbertische Doctrin war das synkretistische Gebilde, in welchem die spiritualistische Lehre Augustin’s mit der uralten Anschauung von der realen Gegenwart des Leibes und dei Blutes Christi, aber in Analogie mit dem religiösen Materialismus der Periode combinirt wurde; die gegnerische Theorie der Protest gegen das Becht dieser Combination. He assumes that the soul of the believer communes with Christ, and that his body receives an imperishable principle of life which culminates at last in the resurrection. He thus understood, like several of the ancient fathers, the words of our Saviour: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54).

He supports his doctrine by the words of institution in their literal sense, and by the sixth chapter of John. He appealed also to marvellous stories of the visible appearances of the body and blood of Christ for the removal of doubts or the satisfaction of the pious desire of saints. The bread on the altar, he reports, was often seen in the shape of a lamb or a little child, and when the priest stretched out his hand to break the bread, an angel descended from heaven with a knife, slaughtered the lamb or the child, and let his blood run into a cup!707707    See several such examples in ch. 14 (Opera, ed. Migne, col. 1316 sqq. ).

Such stories were readily believed by the people, and helped to strengthen the doctrine of transubstantiation; as the stories of the appearances of departed souls from purgatory confirmed the belief in purgatory.

The book of Radbert created a great sensation in the West, which was not yet prepared to accept the doctrine of transubstantiation without a vigorous struggle. Radbert himself admits that some of his contemporaries believed only in a spiritual communion of the soul with Christ, and substituted the mere virtue of his body and blood for the real body and blood, i.e., as he thinks, the figure for the verity, the shadow for the substance.708708    He clearly contrasts the two theories, probably with reference to Ratramnus, in his comments on the words of institution, Matt. 26:26 (Expos. in Matt., ed. Migne, col. 890 sq.): “Neque itaque dixit cum fregit et dedit eis panem, ’hoc est, vel in hoc mysterio est virtus vel figura corporis mei,’ sed ait non ficte, ’Hoc est corpus meum.’ Ubi Lucas addidit, ’Quod pro vobis tradetur,’ vel sicut alii codices habent, ’datur.’ Sed et Joannes ex persona Domini, ’Panis,’ inquit, ’quem ego dabo caro mea est, non alia quam, pro mundi vita’ (Joan. VI. 52). Ac deinde, ’Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit sanguinem meum, in me manet et ego in illo’ (ver. 57). Unde miror quid velint uno quidam dicere, non in re esse veritatem carnis Christi vel sanguinis; sed in sacramento virtutem carnis et non carnem, virtutem sanguinis et non sanquinem; figuram et non veritatem, umbram et non corpus, cum hic species accipit veritatem et figuram, veterum hostiarum corpus. Unde veritas cum porrigeret discipulis panem, ’Hoc est corpus meum,’ et non aliud quam, ’quod pro vobis tradetur;’ et cum calicem, ’Hic est calix Novi Testamenti, qui pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.’ Necdum itaque erat fusus, et tamen ipse porrigetur in calice sanguis, qui fundendus erat. Erat quidem jam in calice, qui adhuc tamen fundendus erat in pretium; et ideo ipse idemque sanguis jam erat in calice. qui et in corpore sicut et corpus vel caro in pane. Erat autem integer Christus et corpus Christi coram oculis omnium positum; necnon et sanguis in corpore, sicut et adhuc hodie integerrimum est et manet, qui vere dabatur eis ad comedendum, et ad bidendum, in remissionem peccatorum, quam in Christo.”

His opponents appealed chiefly to St. Augustin, who made a distinction between the historical and the eucharistic body of Christ, and between a false material and a true spiritual fruition of his body and blood. In a letter to the monk Frudegard, who quoted several passages of Augustin, Radbert tried to explain them in his sense. For no divine of the Latin church dared openly to contradict the authority of the great African teacher.



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