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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 173. St. Paschasius Radbertus.


I. Sanctus Paschasius Radbertus: Opera omnia, in Migne, Tom. CXX.

II. Besides the Prolegomena in Migne, see Melchior Hausher: Der heilige Paschasius Radbertus. Mainz 1862. Carl Rodenberg: Die Vita Walae als historische Quelle (Inaugural Dissertation). Göttingen 1877. Du Pin, VII. 69–73, 81. Ceillier, XII. 528–549. Hist. Lit. de la France, V. 287–314. Bähr, 233, 234, 462–471. Ebert, II. 230–244.


Radbertus, surnamed Paschasius,13431343    From Pascha, probably in allusion to big position in the Eucharistic controversy. the famous promulgator of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, was born of poor and unknown parents, about 790, in or near the city of Soissons in France. His mother died while he was a very little child, and as he was himself very sick he was “exposed” in the church of Soissons. The nuns of the Benedictine abbey of Our Lady in that place had compassion upon him and nursed him back to health.13441344    Their abbess was Theodrada. Mabillon, Annales, lib. 27 (vol. 2, p. 371). His education was conducted by the adjoining Benedictine monks of St. Peter, and he received the tonsure, yet for a time he led a secular life. His thirst for knowledge and his pious nature, however, induced him to take up again with the restraints of monasticism, and he entered (c. 812) the Benedictine monastery at Corbie, in Picardy, then under abbot Adalhard. There he applied himself diligently to study and to the cultivation of the monastic virtues, and so successfully that he soon won an enviable reputation for ascetic piety and learning. He was well read in classical literature, particularly familiar with Virgil, Horace and Terence, and equally well read in the Fathers. He knew Greek and perhaps a little Hebrew. His qualifications for the post of teacher of the monastery’s school were, therefore, for that day unusual, and he brought the school up to a high grade of proficiency. Among his famous pupils were Adalhard the Younger, St. Ansgar, Odo, bishop of Beauvais, and Warinus, abbot of New Corbie. He preached regularly and with great acceptance and was strict in the observance by himself and others, of the Benedictine rule.

In the year 822 he accompanied his abbot, Adalhard, and the abbot’s brother and successor, Wala, to Corbie in Saxony, in order to establish there the monastery which is generally known as New Corbie. In 826 Adalbard died, and Wala was elected his successor. With this election Radbertus probably had much to do; at all events, he was deputed by the community to secure from Louis the Pious the confirmation of their choice. This meeting with the emperor led to a friendship between them, and Louis on several occasions showed his appreciation of Radbertus. Thus in 831 he sent him to Saxony to consult with Ansgar about the latter’s northern mission, and several times asked his advice. Louis took the liveliest interest in Radbertus’s eucharistic views, and asked his ecclesiastics for their opinion.

In 844 Radbertus was elected abbot of his monastery. He was then, and always remained, a simple monk, for in his humility, and probably also because of his view of the Lord’s Supper, he refused to be ordained a priest. His name first appears as abbot in the Council of Paris, Feb. 14, 846. He was then able to carry through a measure which gave his monastery freedom to choose its abbot and to govern its own property.13451345    Privilegium monasterii Corbeiensis, in Migne, CXX. col. 27-32. Cf Hefele, IV. 119. These extra privileges are proofs that the favor shown toward him by Louis was continued by his sons. Radbertus was also present in the Council of Quiercy in 849, and joined in the condemnation of Gottschalk. Two years later (851) he resigned his abbotship. He had been reluctant to take the position, and had found it by no means pleasant. Its duties were so multiform and onerous that he had little or no time for study; besides, his strict discipline made his monks restive. But perhaps a principal reason for retiring was the fact that one of his monks, Ratramnus, had ventured to criticize, publicly and severely, his position upon the Eucharist; thus stirring up opposition to him in his own monastery.

Immediately upon his resignation, Radbertus went to the neighboring abbey of St. Riquier, but shortly returned to Corbie, and took the position of monk under the new abbot. His last days were probably his pleasantest. He devoted himself to the undisturbed study of his favorite books and to his beloved literary labors. On April 26, 865,13461346    This is the date given in the Necrology of Nevelon. See Mabillon, Annales, lib. XXXVI. (vol. III. p. 119). he breathed his last. He was buried in the Chapel of St. John. In the eleventh century miracles began to be wrought at his tomb. Accordingly he was canonized in 1073, and on July 12th of that year his remains were removed with great pomp to St. Peter’s Church at Corbie.

The fame of Paschasius Radbertus rests upon his treatise on The body and blood of the Lord,13471347    De corpore et sanguine Domini, in Migne, CXX. col. 1259-1350. which appeared in 831, and in an improved form in 844. His arguments in it and in the Epistle to Frudegard13481348    Epistola de corpore et sanguine Domini ad Frudegardum. Ibid. col. 1351-1366. on the same subject have already been handled at length in this volume.13491349    Pp. 543, 546 sqq. His treatise on The birth by the Virgin,13501350    De partu virginis, Migne, CXX. col. 1367-1386. i.e. whether Christ was born in the ordinary manner or not, has also been sufficiently noticed.13511351    Page 553.

Besides these Radbertus wrote, 1. An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew.13521352    Expositio in evangelium Matthaei, Migne, CXX. col. 31-994. He explained this Gospel in his sermons to the monks. At their request, he began to write out his lectures, and completed four of the twelve books before his election as abbot, but was then compelled to lay the work aside. The monks at St. Riquier’s requested its continuance, and it finally was finished. The special prefaces to each book are worth attentive reading for their information concerning the origin and progress of the commentary, and for the views they present upon Biblical study in general. As the prologue states, the principal sources are Jerome, Ambrose, Augustin, Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, and Bede.13531353    Ibid. col. 35. Of these, Jerome was most used. His excerpts are not always literal. He frequently alters and expands the expressions.13541354    Ibid. col. 394. Radbertus was particular to mark on the margin of his pages the names of the authors drawn upon, but in transcribing his marks have been obliterated. His interpretation is rather more literal than was customary, in his day, and he enlivens his pages with allusions to passing events, dwelling especially upon the disorders of the time, the wickedness of the clergy and monks, the abuses of the confessional, and the errors of the Adoptionists, Claudius of Turin and of Scotus Erigena. He also frequently quotes classic authors.13551355    Bähr, 465.

2. An Exposition of Psalm XLIV13561356    Expositio in Psalmum XLIV. Ibid. col. 993-1060. It was written for the nuns of Soissons, to whom he owed his life, and the dedication to them is an integral part of the first of its four books. It is allegorical and very diffuse, but edifying.

3. An Exposition of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.13571357    In Threnos sive Lamentationes Jeremiae. Ibid. col. 1059-1256. This was the fruit of his old age, and once more, as in his early manhood, he deplored the vices, both lay and clerical, which disgraced his times. His allusion to the Norman incursions in the neighborhood of Paris,13581358    Ibid. col. 1220. which took place in 857, proves that he must have written the work after that date. In his prologue, Radbertus states that he had never read a commentary on Lamentations written by a Latin author. Hence his information must have been derived from Greek sources, and he was unacquainted with the similar work by Rabanus Maurus. He distinguished a triple sense, a literal, spiritual, and a moral, and paid especial regard to types and prophecies, as he considered that there were prophecies in Lamentations which referred to his own day.

4. Faith, Hope and Love.13591359    De fide, spe et charitate. Migne, CXIX, col. 1387-1490. This work is preceded by an acrostic poem, the first letters of each line forming the name “Radbertus Levita.” Each of the three books is devoted to one of the Christian virtues. Radbertus wrote the treatise at the request of abbot Wala, for the instruction of the younger monks. The book on faith is remarkable for its statement that faith precedes knowledge, thus antedating the scholastics in their assertion, which is most pregnantly put in the famous expression of Anselm, Credo ut intelligam.13601360    Ebert, l.c. 235. The third book, On Love, is much later than the others on account of the author’s distractions.

5. Life of Adalhard,13611361    Vita Sancti Adalhardi, Migne. CXX. col. 1507-1556. Ebert, l.c. 236-244, gives a fulI account of Paschasius’ Lives of Adalhard and Wala. the first abbot of New Corbie. It is a panegyric rather than a strict biography, but contains much interesting and valuable information respecting the abbot and the founding of the German monastery of Corbie. The model for the work is the funeral oration of Ambrose upon Valentinian II. Its date is 826, the year of Adalhard’s death. It contains much edifying matter.

6. Life of Wala,13621362    Epitaphium Arsenii seu vita venerabilis Walae. Migne, CXX. col. 1559-1650. the brother of Adalhard at Old Corbie, and his successor. It is in the peculiar form of conversations. In the first book the interlocutors are Paschasius, as he calls himself, and four fellow Corbie monks—Adeodatus, Severus, Chremes, Allabicus; and in the second, Paschasius, Adeotatus and Theophrastus. These names are, like Asenius, as he calls Wala, manifestly pseudonyms. He borrowed the idea of such a dialogue from Sulpicius Severus, who used it in his life of St. Martin of Tours. The date of the book is 836, the year of Wala’s death.

7. The Passion of Rufinus and Valerius,13631363    De Passione SS. Rufini et Valeri. Ibid. col. 1489-1508. who were martyrs to the Christian faith, at or near Soissons, in the year 287. In this work he uses old materials, but weakens the interest of his subject by his frequent digressions and long paraphrases.



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