« Prev The Theory of Ratramnus Next »

§ 127. The Theory of Ratramnus.

The chief opponent of transubstantiation was Ratramnus,709709    In the middle ages and during the Reformation he was known by a writing error under the name of Bertram. a contemporary monk at Corbie, and a man of considerable literary reputation. He was the first to give the symbolical theory a scientific expression. At the request of King Charles the Bald he wrote a eucharistic tract against Radbert, his superior, but did not name him.710710    De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, in Migne 121, col. 103-170, to which is added the Dissertation of Boileau, 171-222. The tract of Ratramnus, together with Bullinger’s tract on the same subject and the personal influence of Ridley, Peter Martyr, and Bucer, produced a change in Archbishop Cranmer, who was successively a believer in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and a symbolic presence. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, I. 601. He answered two questions, whether the consecrated elements are called body and blood of Christ after a sacramental manner (in mysterio), or in the literal sense; and whether the eucharistic body is identical with the historical body which died and rose again. He denied this identity which Radbert had strongly asserted; and herein lies the gist of the difference. He concluded that the elements remain in reality as well as for the sensual perception what they were before the consecration, and that they are the body and blood of Christ only in a spiritual sense to the faith of believers.711711    Cap. 88 (col. 164): ”Quapropter corpus et sanguis, quod in ecclesia geritur, differt ab illo corpore et sanquine, quod in Christi corpore per resurrectionem jam glorificatum cognoscitur. Et hoc corpus pignus est et species, illud vero ipsa veritas.”—“Videmus itaque multa differentia separari mysterium sanguinis et corporis Christi, quod nunc a fidelibus sumitur in ecclesia, et illud, quod natum est de Maria Virgine, quod passum, quod sepultum, quod resurrexit, quod ad caelos ascendit, quod ad dexteram Patris sedet.” Cap. 89, col. 165. He calls the consecrated bread and wine figures and pledges of the body and blood of Christ. They are visible tokens of the Lord’s death, that, remembering his passion, we may become partakers of its effect. He appealed to the discourse in the sixth chapter of John, as well as Radbert; but, like Augustin, his chief authority, he found the key to the whole chapter in John 6:63, which points from the letter to the spirit and from the carnal to the spiritual understanding.712712    Cap. 78-83 (col. 160-162). The souls of believers are nourished in the communion by the Word of God (the Logos), which dwells in the natural body of Christ, and which dwells after an invisible manner in the sacrament. Unbelievers cannot receive Christ, as they lack the spiritual organ. He refers to the analogy of baptism, which is justly called a fount of life. Viewed by the senses, it is simply a fluid element; but by the consecration of the priest the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit is added to it, so that what properly is corruptible water becomes figuratively or in mystery a healing virtue.713713    Cap. 17 and 18 (col. 135 sq. ): ”Consideremus sacri fontem baptismatis, qui fons vitae non immerito nuncupatur. … Si consideretur solummodo, quod corporeus aspicit sensus, elementum fluidum conspicitur … Sed accessit Sancti Spiritus per sacerdotis consecrationem virtus et efficax facta est non solum corpora, verum etiam animas diluere. … Igitur in proprietate humor corruptibilis, in mysterio vero virtus sanabilis.

It is consistent with this view that Ratramnus regarded the sacrifice of the mass not as an actual (though unbloody) repetition, but only as a commemorative celebration of Christ’s sacrifice whereby Christians are assured of their redemption. When we shall behold Christ face to face, we shall no longer need such instruments of remembrance.

John Scotus Erigena is also reported to have written a book against Radbert at the request of Charles the Bald. Hincmar of Rheims mentions among his errors this, that in the sacrament of the altar the true body and blood of Christ were not present, but only a memorial of them.714714    De Praed., c. 31. The report may have arisen from a confusion, since the tract of Ratramnus was at a later period ascribed to Scotus Erigena.715715    See Laufs, Ueber die für verloren gehaltene Schrift des Johannes Scotus Erigena von der Eucharistic, in the ’Studien und Kritiken” of Ullmann and Umbreit, 1828, p. 755 sqq. Laufs denies that Erigena wrote on the Eucharist. But he expresses his view incidentally in other writings from which it appears that he agreed with Ratramnus and regarded the eucharist only as a typical representation of a spiritual communion with Christ.716716    In his newly discovered Expositions on the Celestial, and on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of St. Dionysius, and the fragments of a Com. on St. John. See Op. ed. Floss in Migne, 122 (col. 126-356); Christlieb, Scotus Er., p. 68-81, and in Herzog2XIII. 790 sq., and Huber, Sc. Erig., p. 98 sqq. In his book De Divisione Naturae, he teaches a mystic ubiquity of Christ’s glorified humanity or its elevation above the limitations of space. Neander infers from this that he held the eucharistic bread and wine to be simply symbols of the deified, omnipresent humanity of Christ which communicates itself, in a real manner, to believing soul.717717    Dr. Baur is of the same opinion (Dogmengesch. II. 173): ”Scotus Erigena dachte sich(De Div. Nat. V. 38) eine Ubiquität der vergeistigten und vergöttlichten Natur, die die Annahme einer speciellen Gegenwart in den Elementen des Abendmahls nicht zuliess, sondern dieselben nur als Symbole zu nehmen gestattete. Brod und Wein konnten ihm daher nur als Symbolejener Ubiquität der verherrlichten menschlichen Natur gelten; er hat sich aber hierüber nicht näher erklärt.” At all events the hypothesis of ubiquity excludes a miraculous change of the elements, and gives the real presence a christo-pantheistic aspect. The Lutheran divines used this hypothesis in a modified form (multipresence, or multivolipresence, dependent on the will of Christ) as a dogmatic support for their doctrine of the real presence.

Among the divines of the Carolingian age who held the Augustinian view and rejected that of Radbert, as an error, were Rabanus Maurus, Walafrid Strabo, Christian Druthmar, and Florus Magister. They recognized only a dynamic and spiritual, not a visible and corporeal presence, of the body of Christ, in the sacrament.718718    “Corpus Christi esse non in specie visibili, sed in virtute spirituali,” etc. See Baur, II. 166, 172, and the notes in Gieseler, II. 80 and 82.

On the other hand, the theory of Radbert was accepted by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, Bishop Haimo of Halberstadt, and other leading ecclesiastics. It became more and more popular during the dark post-Carolingian period. Bishop Ratherius of Verona (about 950), who, however, repelled all curious questions about the mode of the change, and even the learned and liberal-minded Gerbert (afterwards Pope Sylvester II., from 999 to 1003), defended the miraculous transformation of the eucharistic elements by the priestly consecration. It is characteristic of the grossly sensuous character of the theology of the tenth century that the chief point of dispute was the revolting and indecent question whether the consecrated elements pass from the communicant in the ordinary way of nature. The opponents of transubstantiation affirmed this, the advocates indignantly denied it, and fastened upon the former the new heretical name of “Stercorianists.” Gerbert called stercorianism a diabolical blasphemy, and invented the theory that the eucharistic body and blood of Christ do not pass in noxios et superfluos humores, but are preserved in the flesh for the final resurrection.719719    De Corpore et Sanguini Domini, edited by Pez, in “Thes. nov. Anecd.” I., Pars II. 133 sqq.

Radbertus was canonized, and his memory, is celebrated since 1073, on the 26th of April in the diocese of Soissons.720720    See the Acta Sanct Bolland. ad 26 Apr., with the Vita of Pasch. Radb. by Sirmond, and the Martyrol. Bened. with the Vita by Ménard. The book of Ratramnus, under the supposed authorship of Scotus Erigena, was twice condemned in the Berengar controversy (1050 and 1059), and put in the Tridentine Index of prohibited books .721721    Notwithstanding this prohibition, Mabillon, Natalis Alexander, and Boileau have defended the catholic orthodoxy of Ratramnus, with the apologetic aim to wrest from the Protestants a weighty authority of the ninth century. See Gieseler II. 82, and J. G. Müller in Wetzer and Welte (first ed. ) VIII. 170 sq.


In connection with this subject is the subordinate controversy on the delicate question whether Christ, admitting his supernatural conception, was born in the natural way like other children, or miraculously (clauso utero). This question troubled the pious curiosity of some nuns of Vesona (?), and reached the convent of Corbie. Paschasius Radbertus, following the lead of St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, defended the theory that the holy Virgin remained virgo in partu and post partum, and used in proof some poetic passages on the hortus conclusus and fons signatus in Cant. 4:12, and the porta clausa Domini in Ezek. 44:2. The whole incarnation is supernatural, and as the conception so the birth of Christ was miraculous. He was not subject to the laws of nature, and entered the world “sine dolore et sine gemitu et sine ulla corruptione carnis.” See Radbert’s tract De Partu Virginis in his Opera, ed. Migne, col. 1365–1386.

Ratramnus, in his book De eo quod Christus ex Virgine natus est (in D’Achery, “Spicilegium,” I., and in Migne, Tom. 121, col. 82–102), likewise taught the perpetual virginity of Mary, but assumed that Christ came into the world in the natural way (“naturaliter per aulam virgineam” or “per virginalis januam vulvae”). The conception in utero implies the birth ex utero. But he does not controvert or name Radbert, and uses the same Scripture passages for his view. He refers also to the analogy of Christ’s passing through the closed doors on the day of the resurrection. He quotes from Augustin, Jerome, Pope Gregory, and Bede in support of his view. He opposes only the monstrous opinion that Christ broke from the womb through some unknown channel (“monstruose de secreto ventris incerto tramite luminis in auras exisse, quod non est nasci, sed erumpi.” Cap. 1, col. 83). Such an opinion, he thinks, leads to the docetic heresy, and to the conclusion that “nec vere natus Christus, nec vere genuit Maria.”

« Prev The Theory of Ratramnus Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection