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§ 115. The Eucharist.


The eucharist, called by the Schoolmen the crown of the sacraments and the sacrament of the altar, was pronounced both a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the elaboration of the doctrine, scholastic theology reached the highest point of its speculation. Albertus Magnus devoted to it a distinct treatise and Thomas Aquinas nearly four hundred columns of his Summa. In practice, the celebration of this sacrament became the chief religious function of the Church.16551655   Quasi omnis devotio in ecclesia est in ordine ad illud sacramentum. Duns Scotus as quoted by Seeberg, Dogmengesch., II. 113. The festival of Corpus Christi, commemorating it, was celebrated with great solemnity. The theory of the transmutation of the elements and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity were among the chief objects of the attacks of the Reformers.

The fullest and clearest presentation of the eucharist was made by Thomas Aquinas. He discussed it in every possible aspect. Where Scripture is silent and Augustine uncertain, the Schoolman’s speculative ability, though often put to a severe test, is never at a loss. The Church accepted the doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrificial meaning of the sacrament, and it fell to the Schoolmen to confirm these doctrines by all the metaphysical weapons at their command. And even where we are forced by the silence or clear meaning of Scripture to regard their discussion as a vain display of intellectual ingenuity, we may still recognize the solemn religious purpose by which they were moved. Who would venture to deny this who has read the devotional hymn of Thomas Aquinas which presents the outgoings of his soul to the sacrificial oblation of the altar?

Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium.

Sing my tongue the mystery telling.16561656    See Schaff’s Christ in Song, pp. 465 sqq. The verse, depicting the doctrine of transubstantiation, runs:—
   Verbum caro, panem verum verbo carnem efficit

   Fitque sanguis Christi merum; etsi sensus deficit

   Ad firmandum cor sincerum sola fides sufficit.


The culminating point in the history of the mediaeval doctrine of the eucharist was the dogmatic definition of transubstantiation by the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215. Thenceforth it was heresy to believe anything else. The definition ran that "the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood by divine power."16571657    Corpus et sanguis in sacramento altaris sub speciebus panis et vini veraciter continentur, transubstantiatis pane in corpore et vino in sanguinem potestate divina. simply formulated the prevailing belief.

The word "transubstantiation" is not used by Hugo of St. Victor and the earlier Schoolmen. They used "transition" and "conversion," the latter being the favorite term. The word "transubstantiation" seems to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours, d. 1134.16581658    Migne, 171. 776.16591659    See Schwane, p. 656.g the doctrine, are John 6 and the words of institution, "this is my body," in which the verb is taken in its literal sense. Rupert of Deutz is the only Schoolman of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries who dissented from it. He seems to have taught the theory of impanation.16601660    Schwane, p. 641, and Rocholl under Rupert in Herzog, XV. 229 sqq

Three names, applied to the eucharist, had special significance.16611661    Th. Aq., III. 73. 4, Migne, IV. 701; Bonaventura, Brev. VI. 9, Peltier’s ed., 322, eucharistiae dedit in sacrificium oblationis, et sacramentum communionis et viaticum refectionis. heavenly manna for pilgrims on their way to heaven. Thomas Aquinas also uses the term of John of Damascus, assumption, because the sacrament lifts us up into the Deity of Christ, and calls it hostia, or the host, because it contains Christ himself, who is the oblation of our salvation.16621662    Hostia salutaris. Eph. 5:2, is quoted where the word hostia is used in the Vulgate for Christ’s sacrifice.

The elements to be used are wheaten bread, either leavened or unleavened. Water is to be mixed with the wine as Christ probably mixed them, following the custom in Palestine. Water symbolizes the people, and the wine symbolizes Christ, and their combination the union of the people with Christ. The mixture likewise represents the scene of the passion. Thomas Aquinas also finds in the water flowing in the desert, 1 Cor. 10:4, a type of this custom. He relied much, as did Albertus Magnus16631663    De euchar. vol. XIII. 668. Th. Aquinas, III. 74. 1, Migne, IV. 705, speaks of the Cataphrygae and Pepuziani as mixing with the dough of the sacramental bread the blood of children gotten by pricking their bodies, and also of the Aquarii who, from considerations of temperance, used only water. Prov. 9:5, Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you. But the admixture of the two elements is not essential. The synods of Cologne, 1279, Lambeth, 1281, etc., prescribed two or three drops of water as sufficient.

At the moment of priestly consecration, the elements of bread and wine are converted into the very body and blood of Christ. The substance of the bread and wine disappears. The "accidents"—species sensibiles — remain, such as taste, color, dimensions, and weight. What becomes of the substance of the two elements? asks Peter the Lombard. There are three possible answers. First, the substance passes into the four original elements or into the body and blood of Christ. Second, it is annihilated. Third, it remains in part or in whole. Duns Scotus adopted the second explanation, the substance is annihilated.16641664    He defined transubstantiation as transitus totalis substantiae in substantiam. Seeberg, p. 378.he Lombard, Bonaventura, and Thomas Aquinas adopted the view that the substance is converted into the body and blood of Christ. Against the theory of annihilation Thomas used the illustration that it does not follow because air, from which fire is generated, is not here nor there, that it has been annihilated. The change on the altar is altogether supernatural. The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, per modum quantitatis, but in substance; not in its dimensions, but by a sacramental virtue, ex vi sacramenti, in a way peculiar to this sacrament. It is on the altar and is apprehended by faith only.16651665    Th. Aq., III. 75. 1, Migne, IV. 716, neque sensu, neque intellectu deprehendi potest sed sola fide. Bonaventura says, Brevil. VI 9, in specierum utraque continetur totaliter, non circumscriptibiliter, nec localiter sed sacramentaliter totus Christus.

Upon the basis of the separate existence of substance and "accidents" the Schoolmen proceeded to perfect their theory. What the substance of bread is, if it is not its nutritive power, and how it is possible to think of bread without those qualities which make it bread to us, the practical mind cannot understand. Scholastic dialectics professed to understand it, but the statements are nothing more than a fabric of mystifying terms and gratuitous assumptions. Wyclif thoroughly exposed the fallacious reasoning.

Thomas Aquinas went so far as to declare that, though the substance of bread and wine disappears, these elements continue to preserve the virtue of their substance.16661666    Quamvis non sint substantia, habent virtutem substantiae. Th. Aq., III. 77. 6, Migne, IV. 755.ovidential arrangement this was not so for three reasons: 1. It is not the custom for men to eat human flesh and drink human blood, and we would revolt from eating Christ’s blood and flesh under the form of bread and wine. 2. The sacrament would become a laughing stock to infidels if Christ were eaten in his own form. 3. Faith is called forth by the enveilment of the Lord within the forms of bread and wine. The body of Christ is not broken or divided by the teeth except in a sacramental way.16671667    Th. Aq., III. 77. 7, Migne, IV. 756; Bonaventura, Brevil., 322.aid this great Schoolman, is easier to understand than transubstantiation, for creation is out of nothing, but in the sacrament the substance of bread and wine disappear while the accidents remain.

A second statement elaborated by the Schoolmen is that the whole Christ is in the sacrament, divinity and humanity, —flesh, bones, nerves, and other constituents, —and yet the body of Christ is not there locally or in its dimensions.16681668    Non solum caro sed totum corpus Christi, scilicet ossa, nervi et alia hujusmodi. Th. Aq., 76. 1, Migne, IV. 732. He lays stress upon the word "body," which is made up of constituent parts, and the "flesh" of John 6:56, he explains as standing for the body. Following the Aristotelian distinction of substance and form, Thomas Aquinas, Migne, IV. 726, and the other Schoolmen (see Schwane, p. 648) declared that the form of the bread and wine is also changed into the body and blood of Christ. The words forma and species are distinguished. The species of bread and wine remain, the forma disappears. Duns Scotus devoted much space to proving that a substance may have a variety of forms.

This is the so-called doctrine of concomitance, elaborated by Alexander of Hales, Thomas Aquinas, and other Schoolmen with great subtilty. According to this doctrine the divinity of Christ and his body are never separated. Wherever the body is, there is also the divinity, whether it be in heaven or on the altar. The determination of this point was of importance because the words of institution mention only Christ’s body.

A third integral part of the scholastic treatment of the eucharist was the assertion that the whole Christ is in each of the elements,16691669    Sub utraque specie sacramenti totus est Christus. Th. Aq., 76. 2, Migne, 733. Sub utraque specie est unus Christus et totus et indivisus, scilicet corpus, et anima, et Deus. Bonaventura, Brevil. Vl. 9, Peltier’s ed., VII. 322.l justification for the withdrawal of the cup from the laity. Anselm had taken this view, that the entire Christ is in each element, but he was having no reference to the withdrawal of the cup.16701670    In acceptatione sanguinis totum Christum, Deum et hominem, et in acceptatione corporis similiter totum accipimus. Ep. 4:107, Migne, vol. 159 p. 255. Anselm was making a distinction between the body and spirit of Christ, the spirit being represented by the blood and wine, and the body by the bread and flesh.

Two serious questions grew out of this definition; namely, whether the elements which our Lord blessed on the night of his betrayal were his own body and blood and what it was the disciples ate when they partook of the eucharist during the time of our Lord’s burial. To the second question the reply was given that, if the disciples partook of the eucharist in that period, they partook of the real body. Here Duns Scotus brought to bear his theory that a thing may have a number of forms and that God can do what to us seems to be most unreasonable. As for the first question, Hugo of St. Victor shrank from discussing it on the sensible ground that such divine mysteries were to be venerated rather than discussed.16711671    Summa, II. VIII., Migne, 176. 462, ego in ejusmodi divina secreta magis venerenda quam discutienda cerneo.sciples. "He had them in His hands and in His mouth." This body, according to Thomas, was "immortal and not subject to pain."16721672    Summa, 81. 3, Migne, IV. 810-813. Anselm used the same words. Migne, 159. 255. Schwane agrees that this conception, that Christ ate His own body, was general among the Schoolmen, p. 645.16731673    Rex sedet in coena turba, cinctus duodena
   Se tenet in manibus et cibat ipse cibus.


The King, seated with the twelve at the table,

Holds Himself in His hands. He, the Food, feeds upon Himself.


This monstrous conception involved a further question. Did Judas partake of the true body and blood of the Lord? This the Schoolmen answered in the negative. The traitor took only natural and unblessed bread. Leaning upon St. Augustine, they make the assertion, upon a manipulation of Luke 22 and John 13 according to which Christ distributed the bread and the wine before Judas took the sop, that the sop, or immersed morsel, was delusive. Judas was deceived.16741674    So Hugo, II, 8. 4; the Lombard, XI. 8; Thomas Aquinas, 81. 2, Migne. pp. 811 sq. The delusion is called a fictio and also "Judas’communion." Synod of London, 1175. The argument is in clear contradiction to the meaning of the Gospel narratives on their face.

Another curious but far-reaching question occupied the minds of Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, and other Schoolmen. Does a mouse, in eating the consecrated host, actually partake of its consecrated substance? Thomas argued in this way: the body and blood of Christ would not be withdrawn, if the consecrated host should be cast into the mire, for God allowed Christ’s body even to be crucified. As for mice, they were not created to use the bread as a sacrament, and so they cannot eat Christ’s body after a sacramental manner, sacramentaliter, but only the accidents of the elements, per accidens, just as a man would eat who took the consecrated host but did not know it was consecrated.16751675    For this theological and metaphysical curiosity, see Th. Aq., 80. 3, Migne, 789, non tangit mus ipsum corpus Christi, secundum propriam speciem sed solum secundum species sacramentales … nec tamen animal brutum sacramentaliter corpus Christi manducat quia non est natum uti eo ut sacramento, unde non sacramentaliter sed per accidens corpus Christi manducat, etc. Alb. Magnus, In Sent., IV. 13. 38. Borgnet’s ed., XXIX. 397, Bonaventura, Sent., IV. 13. 2. 1, Peltier’s ed., V. 550.nd eat, God alone knows. Duns Scotus took up the similar question, what occurs to an ass drinking the water consecrated for baptism and sensibly called it a subtilitas asinina, an asinine refinement, for the virtue of ablution inhering in such water an ass could not drink.16761676    Seeberg, p. 360. the divine and human natures in Christ’s person. He died, 1306, while his case was being tried at Rome. Ockam tentatively developed the theory of impanation whereby Christ’s body and the bread are united in one substance, but he expressed his readiness to yield to the dogma of the Church.

The sacrificial aspect of the eucharist was no less fully developed. In Hugo of St. Victor we hear nothing of a repetition of the sacrifice on the cross. He speaks of the mass as being a transmission of our prayers, vows, and offerings—oblationes — to God.16771677    The priest being the mediator. Summa, Migne, 176. 472.crificial element. The eucharist is an unbloody but "real immolation" performed by the priest.

The altar represents the cross, the priest represents Christ in whose person and power he pronounces the words of consecration,16781678    Sacerdos gerit imaginem Christi, Th. Aq., III. 83. 1, Migne, IV. 830.s the passion on the cross. The priest’s chief function is to consecrate the body and blood of Christ.16791679    Th. Aq., Supplem. 37. 5, Migne, IV. 1062.

The sacrifice may be offered daily, just as we stand daily in need of the fruits of Christ’s death and as we pray for daily food. And because Christ was on the cross from nine till three o’clock, it is proper that it should be offered between those hours, at any rate during the daytime and not in the night, for Christ said, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work," John 9:4.

To the discussion of the twofold effect of the eucharist as a sacrament and as a sacrifice, the Schoolmen also give much attention. Like the other sacraments, the eucharist has the virtue of conferring grace of itself.16801680    Ex seipso virtutem habet gratiam conferendi. Th. Aq., III. 79. 1, Migne, IV. 774.so to persons who do not partake, living and dead.16811681    Th. Aq., 79. 7, Supplem. III. 71. 10, Migne, IV. 782, 1246 sq.; Al. Magnus, I. 4, extended the benefits of the mass also to the glorified pro salute vivorum, pro requie defunctorum, pro gloria beatorum.g taken to include parties not present in the benefits of the sacrifice on the altar.



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