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§ 129. Berengar’s Theory of the Lord’s Supper.


The chief source is Berengar’s second book against Lanfranc, already quoted. His first book is lost with the exception of a few fragments in Lanfranc’s reply.


Berengar attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, and used against it nearly every argument: it is not only above reason, but against reason and against the testimony of the senses; it involves a contradiction between subject and predicate, and between substance and its qualities, which are inseparable; it is inconsistent with the fact of Christ’s ascension and presence in heaven; it virtually assumes either a multiplication or an omnipresence of his body, which contradicts the necessary limitations of corporeality.739739    “Quod diversis in locis eodem momento sensualiter adsit corpus, corpus non esse constabit.” De S. Coena, p. 199. There can be only one body of Christ, and only one sacrifice of Christ. The stories of the appearances of blood on the altar, be treated with scorn, from which some of his enemies inferred that he denied all miracles. He called the doctrine of transubstantiation an absurdity (ineptio) and an insane folly of the populace (vecordia vulgi).

To this notion of a corporeal or material presence on the altar, he opposed the idea of a spiritual or dynamic presence and participation. His positive view agrees essentially with that of Ratramnus; but he went beyond him, as Calvin went beyond Zwingli. He endeavors to save the spiritual reality without the carnal form. He distinguishes, with St. Augustin and Ratramnus, between the historical and the eucharistic body of Christ, and between the visible symbol or sacramentum and the thing symbolized or the res sacramenti. He maintains that we cannot literally eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, but that nevertheless we may have real spiritual Communion by faith with the flesh, that is, with the glorified humanity of Christ in heaven. His theory is substantially the same as that of Calvin.740740    Baur very clearly puts the case (II. 190): “Die Lehre Berengar’s schliesst sich ganz an die des Ratramnus an, ist aber zugleich eine Fortbildung derselben. Wie Ratramnus sich eigentlich nur in der Sphäre des Verhältnisses von Bild und Sache bewegt, so sucht dagegen Berengar zu zeigen, dass ungeachtet keine andere Ansicht vom Abendmahl möglich sei, als die symbolische, dem Abendmahldoch seine volle Realität bleibe, dass, wenn man auch im Abendmahl den Leib und das Blut Christi nicht wirklich geniesse, doch auch so eine reelle Verbindung mit den Fleisch oder der in den Himmel erhöchten Menschheit Christi stattfinde. Es ist im Allgemeinen zwischen Ratramnus und Berengar ein analoges Verhältniss wie später zwischen Zwingli und Calvin.” Comp. also the exposition of Neander, III. 521-526, and of Herzog, in his Kirchengesch. II. 112-114. The salient points are these:

1) The elements remain in substance as well as in appearance, after the consecration, although they acquire a new significance. Hence the predicate in the words of institution must be taken figuratively, as in many other passages, where Christ is called the lion, the lamb, the door, the vine, the corner-stone, the rock, etc.741741    De S. Coena, p. 83. B. lays down the hermeneutic principle: ”Ubicunque praedicatur non praedicabile, quia tropica locutio est, de non susceptibili, alter propositionis terminus tropice, alter proprie accipiatur.” Zwingli used the same and other examples of figurative speech in his controversy with Luther. He found the figure in the verb (esti=significat), OEcolampadius in the predicate (corpus=figura corporis). The discourse in the sixth chapter of John is likewise figurative, and does not refer to the sacrament at all, but to the believing reception of Christ’s death.742742    L.c., p. 165 and 236. He quotes Augustin in his favor, and refers to John 4:14 where Christ speaks of drinking the water of life and eating meat (4:32-34), in a spiritual sense.

2) Nevertheless bread and wine are not empty, symbols, but in some sense the body and blood of Christ which they represent. They are converted by being consecrated; for whatever is consecrated is lifted to a higher sphere and transformed. They do not lose their substance after consecration; but they lose their emptiness, and become efficacious to the believer. So water in baptism remains water, but becomes the vehicle of regeneration. Wherever the sacramentum is, there is also the res sacramenti.

3) Christ is spiritually present and is spiritually received by faith. Without faith we can have no real communion with him, nor share in his benefits. “The true body of Christ,” he says in a letter to Adelmann,” is placed on the altar, but spiritually to the inner man and to those only who are members of Christ, for spiritual manducation. This the fathers teach openly, and distinguish between the body and blood of Christ and the sacramental signs of the body and blood. The pious receive both, the sacramental sign (sacramentum) visibly, the sacramental substance (rem sacramenti) invisibly; while the ungodly receive only the sacramental sign to their own judgment.”

4) The communion in the Lord’s Supper is a communion with the whole undivided person of Christ, and not with flesh and blood as separate elements. As the whole body of Christ was sacrificed in death, so we receive the whole body in a spiritual manner; and as Christ’s body is now glorified in heaven, we must spiritually ascend to heaven.”743743    P. 157. The believer receives ”totam et integram Domini Dei sui carnem, non autem coelo devocatam, sed in coelo manentem,” and he ascends to heaven ”cordis ad videndum Deum mundati devotione spatiosissima.”

Here again is a strong point of contact with Calvin, who likewise taught such an elevation of the soul to heaven as a necessary condition of true communion with the life-giving power of Christ’s humanity. He meant, of course, no locomotion, but the sursum corda, which is necessary in every act of prayer. It is the Holy, Spirit who lifts us up to Christ on the wings of faith, and brings him down to us, and thus unites heaven and earth.

A view quite similar to that of Berengar seems to have obtained about that time in the Anglo-Saxon Church, if we are to judge from the Homilies of Aelfric, which enjoyed great authority and popularity.744744    Thus he says in the Homily on Easter day: “Great is the difference between the invisible might of the holy housel [sacrament] and the visible appearance of its own nature. By nature it is corruptible bread and corruptible wine, and is, by the power of the Divine word, truly Christ’s body and blood: not, however, bodily, but spiritually. Great is the difference between the body in which Christ suffered and the body which is hallowed for housel. ... In his ghostly body, which we call housel, there is nothing to be understood bodily, but all is to be understood spiritually.” The passage is quoted by J. C. Robertson from Thorpe’s edition of Aelfric, II. 271. Thorpe identifies the author of these Anglo-Saxon Homilies with Aelfric, Archbishop of York, who lived till the beginning of the Berengar controversy (d. 1051), but the identity is disputed. See Hardwick, p. 174, and L. Stephen’s “Dict. of Nat. Biogr.” I. 164 sqq.



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