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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 125. The Two Theories of the Lord’s Supper.


The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper became the subject of two controversies in the Western church, especially in France. The first took place in the middle of the ninth century between Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus, the other in the middle of the eleventh century between Berengar and Lanfranc. In the second, Pope Hildebrand was implicated, as mediator between Berengar and the orthodox party.

In both cases the conflict was between a materialistic and a spiritualistic conception of the sacrament and its effect. The one was based on a literal, the other on a figurative interpretation of the words of institution, and of the mysterious discourse in the sixth chapter of St. John. The contending parties agreed in the belief that Christ is present in the eucharist as the bread of life to believers; but they differed widely in their conception of the mode of that presence: the one held that Christ was literally and corporeally present and communicated to all communicants through the mouth; the other, that he was spiritually present and spiritually communicated to believers through faith. The transubstantiationists (if we may coin this term) believed that the eucharistic body of Christ was identical with his historical body, and was miraculously created by the priestly consecration of the elements in every sacrifice of the mass; their opponents denied this identity, and regarded the eucharistic body as a symbolical exhibition of his real body once sacrificed on the cross and now glorified in heaven, yet present to the believer with its life-giving virtue and saving power.

We find both these views among the ancient fathers. The realistic and mystical view fell in more easily with the excessive supernaturalism and superstitious piety of the middle age, and triumphed at last both in the Greek and Latin churches; for there is no material difference between them on this dogma.702702    The Greek fathers do not, indeed, define the real presence as transubstantiatio or μετουσίωσις, but Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, and John of Damascus use similar terms which imply a miraculous change of the elements. The spiritual theory was backed by the all-powerful authority of St. Augustin in the West, and ably advocated by Ratramnus and Berengar, but had to give way to the prevailing belief in transubstantiation until, in the sixteenth century, the controversy was revived by the Reformers, and resulted in the establishment of three theories: 1) the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation, re-asserted by the Council of Trent; 2) the Lutheran theory of the real presence in the elements, retaining their substance;703703    The Lutheran theory, as formulated by the Formula of Concord, is usually and conveniently styled consubstantiation, in distinction from transubstantiation; but Lutheran divines disown the term, because they confine the real presence to the time and act of the sacramental fruition, and hence reject the adoration of the consecrated elements. and 3) the Reformed (Calvinistic) theory of a spiritual real or dynamic presence for believers. In the Roman church (and herein the Greek church fully agrees with her), the doctrine of transubstantiation is closely connected with the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, which forms the centre of worship.

It is humiliating to reflect that the, commemorative feast of Christ’s dying love, which should be the closest bond of union between believers, innocently gave rise to the most violent controversies. But the same was the case with the still more important doctrine of Christ’s Person. Fortunately, the spiritual benefit of the sacrament does not depend upon any particular human theory of the mode of Christ’s presence, who is ever ready to bless all who love him.



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