First Eucharistic Controversy – RADBERTUS AND RATRAMNUS


The first Eucharistic controversy emerged from the Abbey at Corbie, headed by the Benedictine abbot Paschasius Radbertus (+ 859), who is honoured as a saint by the Church. In his writings De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, he taught a complete identity between the historical body of Christ, born of Mary, and the Eucharistic body of Christ, because that is the only body that can give salvation and that can be the Head of the Body of the redeemed which is the Church. However, this real body of Christ is present in the Eucharist in signs: it is eaten mystically and not in away that is perceptible to the senses. But the realism is strong in the thinking of Paschasius. When he explains how the body of the risen Christ could be present within a host, and even in so many hosts, he postulates a miraculous multiplication of the flesh of Christ analogous to the multiplication of the loaves as reported in the Gospels. He seems to say that the bread is replaced by the flesh of Christ; even though the appearance is that of bread, serving as a figura of the body of Christ. This is possible for him because of the work of the Holy Spirit, same way as His work of uniting the divine to human flesh in the incarnation.

The position of Paschasius seemed novel and exaggerated to Rabanus Maurus (+ 856), though he had no doubt about the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. But he questioned the simple identification of what was eaten in the Eucharist with historical body of Christ. He thought that this would suggest that Jesus Christ actually died each time the Eucharist was celebrated. Those who did not agree with Paschasius distinguished between the historical body of Christ, the ecclesial body of Christ and the Eucharistic body of Christ. These three were special and distinct, so one cannot be talked about the way one talked the other.

In the same abbey, the monk Ratramnus (+ 868) also wrote under the same title as that of Paschasius saying that bread and wine are not changed by the consecration and thus are only images. He takes the terminology of Augustine of veritas/figura (cf. FEF 1524) as referring to the way things are known rather than to what is known: veritas is what is attained in direct perception; what is known “in figura” is what is known through the symbolism of what is directly perceived. According to this terminology the veritas of the Eucharist is bread; the body of Christ is in the bread “in figura”, because it is perceived in by us through the symbolism of the bread. The body of Christ is in heaven. That body is present in the Eucharist, not “bodily” not in “veritate” but in “figura”. The “veritas” of the body of Christ is what was present on earth during his life, on the cross when he was dying, and is in heaven now after the resurrection. It is a body animated by physical, biological life. It is not that corporeal life that is communicated in the Eucharist, says Ratramnus, the eating of it is spiritual, and the life that it gives is spiritual. The body is received in image; in mystery; and in power. The Eucharistic body, like the ecclesial body, is indeed, identical with the body born of Mary, but not with the corporeal form that it took on earth and now takes in heaven.

Ratramnus was accused of denying the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He did not intend to deny a true presence of the Body of Jesus Christ, but only opposed a complete identification of the historical body with the Eucharistic Body; he was reaffirming the Augustinian tradition that body is present in the Eucharist not to the senses but to faith. The elements are perceived by the sense, but the reality of the body is received in faith. Thus, it was wrong to call the position of Ratramnus as “Symbolism”.

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