Vol. 4, Chapter XI (Cont’d) – The Berengar Controversy



While the doctrine of a corporeal presence and participation of Christ in the eucharist made steady progress in the public opinion of Western Christendom in close connection with the rising power of the priesthood, the doctrine of a spiritual presence and participation by faith was re-asserted by way of reaction in the middle of the eleventh century for a short period, but condemned by ecclesiastical authority. This condemnation decided the victory of transubstantiation.

Let us first review the external history of the controversy, which runs into the next period (till 1079).

Berengar (c. 1000-1088), a pupil of Fulbert of Chartres (d. 1029), was canon and director of the cathedral school in Tours, his native city, afterwards archdeacon of Angers, and highly esteemed as a man of rare learning and piety before his eucharistic views became known. He was an able dialectician and a popular teacher. He may be ranked among the forerunners of a Christian rationalism, who dared to criticize church authority and aimed to reconcile the claims of reason and faith. But he had not the courage of a martyr, and twice recanted from fear of death. Nor did he carry out his principle. He seems to have been in full accord with catholic orthodoxy except on the point of the sacrament. He was ascetic in his habits and shared the prevailing respect for monastic life, but saw clearly its danger. “The hermit,” he says with as much beauty as truth, in an Exhortatory Discourse to hermits who had asked his advice, “is alone in his cell, but sin loiters about the door with enticing words and seeks admittance. I am thy beloved — says she — whom thou didst court in the world. I was with thee at the table, slept with thee on thy couch; without me, thou didst nothing. How darest thou think of forsaking me? I have followed thy every step; and dost thou expect to hide away from me in thy cell? I was with thee in the world, when thou didst eat flesh and drink wine; and shall be with thee in the wilderness, where thou livest only on bread and water. Purple and silk are not the only colors seen in hell, — the monk’s cowl is also to be found there. Thou hermit hast something of mine. The nature of the flesh, which thou wearest about thee, is my sister, begotten with me, brought up with me. So long as the flesh is flesh, so long shall I be in thy flesh. Dost thou subdue thy flesh by abstinence? — thou becomest proud; and lo! sin is there. Art thou overcome by the flesh, and dost thou yield to lust? sin is there. Perhaps thou hast none of the mere human sins, I mean such as proceed from sense; beware then of devilish sins. Pride is a sin which belongs in common to evil spirits and to hermits.”

By continued biblical and patristic studies Berengar came between the years 1040 and 1045 to the conclusion that the eucharistic doctrine of Paschasius Radbertus was a vulgar superstition contrary to the Scriptures, to the fathers, and to reason. He divulged his view among his many pupils in France and Germany, and created a great sensation. Eusebius Bruno, bishop of Angers, to whose diocese he belonged, and Frollant, bishop of Senlis, took his part, but the majority was against him. Adelmann, his former fellow-student, then arch-deacon at Luettich (Liège), afterwards bishop of Bresci, remonstrated with him in two letters of warning (1046 and 1048).

The controversy was fairly opened by Berengar himself in a letter to Lanfranc of Bec, his former fellow-student (1049). He respectfully, yet in a tone of intellectual superiority, perhaps with some feeling of jealousy of the rising fame of Bec, expressed his surprise that Lanfranc, as he had been informed by Ingelram of Chartres, should agree with Paschasius Radbertus and condemn John Scotus (confounded with Ratramnus) as heretical; this showed an ignorance of Scripture and involved a condemnation of Ambrose (?), Jerome, and Augustin, not to speak of others. The letter was sent to Rome, where Lanfranc then sojourned, and caused, with his co-operation, the first condemnation of Berengar by a Roman Synod held under Pope Leo IX. in April, 1050, and attended mostly by Italian bishops. At the same time he was summoned before another Synod which was held at Vercelli in September of the same year; and as he did not appear, he was condemned a second time without a hearing, and the book of Ratramnus on the eucharist was burned. “If we are still in the figure,” asked one member indignantly (probably Peter Damiani), “when shall we have the thing?” A Synod of Paris in October, 1050 or 1051, is said to have confirmed this judgment and threatened Berengar and his friends with the severest punishment, even death; but it is uncertain whether such a Synod was held.

After a short interval of silence, he was tried before a Synod of Tours in 1054 under Leo IX., but escaped condemnation through the aid of Hildebrand who presided as papal representative, listened calmly to his arguments and was perfectly satisfied with his admission that the consecrated bread and wine are (in a spiritual sense) the body and blood of Christ. At the same time he was invited by Hildebrand to accompany him to Rome for a final settlement.

Confiding in this powerful advocate, Berengar appeared before a Lateran council held in 1059, under Nicolas II., but was bitterly disappointed. The assembled one hundred and thirteen bishops, whom he compares to “wild beasts,” would not listen to his notion of a spiritual communion, and insisted on a sensuous participation of the body and blood of Christ. The violent and bigoted Cardinal Humbert, in the name of the Synod, forced on him a formula of recantation which cuts off all spiritual interpretation and teaches a literal mastication of Christ’s body. Berengar was weak enough from fear of death to accept this confession on his knees, and to throw his books into the fire. “Human wickedness,” he says, “extorted from human weakness a different confession, but a change of conviction can be effected only by the agency of Almighty God.” He would rather trust to the mercy of God than the charity of his enemies, and found comfort in the pardon granted to Aaron and to St. Peter.

As soon as he returned to France, he defended his real conviction more boldly than ever. He spoke of Pope Leo IX. and Nicolas II. in language as severe as Luther used five centuries later. Lanfranc attacked him in his book on the eucharist, and Berengar replied very sharply in his chief work on the Lord’s Supper (between 1063 and 1069.) His friends gradually withdrew, and the wrath of his enemies grew so intense that he was nearly killed at a synod in Poitiers (1075 or 1076).

Hildebrand who in the mean time had ascended the papal throne as Gregory VlI., summoned Berengar once more to Rome in 1078, hoping to give him peace, as he had done at Tours in 1054. He made several attempts to protect him against the fanaticism of his enemies. But they demanded absolute recantation or death. A Lateran Council in February, 1079, required Berengar to sign a formula which affirmed the conversion of substance in terms that cut off all sophistical escape. He imprudently appealed to his private interviews with Gregory, but the pope could no longer protect him without risking his own reputation for orthodoxy, and ordered him to confess his error. Berengar submitted. “Confounded by the sudden madness of the pope,” he says, “and because God in punishment for my sins did not give me a steadfast heart, I threw myself on the ground and confessed with impious voice that I had erred, fearing the pope would instantly pronounce against me the sentence of excommunication, and that, as a necessary consequence, the populace would hurry me to the worst of deaths.” The pope, however, remained so far true to him that he gave him two letters of recommendation, one to the bishops of Tours and Angers, and one to all the faithful, in which he threatened all with the anathema who should do him any harm in person or estate, or call him a heretic.

Berengar returned to France with a desponding heart and gave up the hopeless contest. He was now an old man and spent the rest of his life in strict ascetic seclusion on the island of St. Côme (Cosmas) near Tours, where he died in peace 1088. Many believed that he did penance for his heresy, and his friends held an annual celebration of his memory on his grave. But what he really regretted was his cowardly treason to the truth as he held it. This is evident from the report of his trial at Rome which he drew up after his return. It concludes with a prayer to God for forgiveness, and to the Christian reader for the exercise of charity. “Pray for me that these tears may procure me the compassion of the Almighty.”

His doctrine was misrepresented by Lanfranc and the older historians, as denying the real presence. But since the discovery of the sources it is admitted also by Roman Catholics that, while he emphatically rejected transubstantiation, he held to a spiritual real presence and participation of Christ in the eucharist.

This explains also the conduct of Gregory VII., which is all the more remarkable, as he was in every other respect the most strenuous champion of the Roman church and the papal power. This great pope was more an ecclesiastic than a theologian. He was willing to allow a certain freedom on the mysterious mode of the eucharistic presence and the precise nature of the change in the elements, which at that time had not yet been authoritatively defined as a change of substance. He therefore protected Berengar, with diplomatic caution, as long and as far as he could without endangering his great reforms and incurring himself the suspicion of heresy. The latest known writing of Berengar is a letter on the death of Gregory (1085), in which he speaks of the pope with regard, expresses a conviction of his salvation, and excuses his conduct towards himself.

Berengar was a strange compound of moral courage and physical cowardice. Had he died a martyr, his doctrine would have gained strength; but by his repeated recantations he injured his own cause and promoted the victory of transubstantiation.


Notes. Hildebrand and Berengar

Sudendorf’s Berengarius Turonensis (1850) is, next to the discovery and publication of Berengar’s De Sacra Coena (1834), the most important contribution to the literature on this chapter. Dr. Sudendorf does not enter into the eucharistic controversy, and refers to the account of Staeudlin and Neander as sufficient; but he gives 1) a complete chronological list of the Berengar literature, including all the notices by friends and foes (p. 7-68); 2) an account of Gaufried Martell, Count of Anjou, stepfather of the then-ruling Empress Agnes of Germany, and the most zealous and powerful protector of Berengar (p. 69-87); and 3) twenty-two letters bearing on Berengar, with notes (p. 88-233). These letters were here published for the first time from manuscripts of the royal library at Hanover, contained in a folio volume entitled: “Codex epistolaris Imperatorum, Regum, Pontificum, Episcoporum.” They throw no new light on the eucharistic doctrine of Berengar; but three of them give us interesting information on his relation to Hildebrand.

1. A letter of Count Gaufried of Anjou (d. 1060) to Cardinal Hildebrand, written in March, 1059, shortly before the Lateran Synod (April, 1059), which condemned Berengar (p. 128 and 215). The Count calls here, with surprising boldness and confidence, on the mighty Cardinal to protect Berengar at the approaching Synod of Rome, under the impression that he thoroughly agreed with him, and had concealed his real opinion at Tours. He begins thus: “To the venerable son of the church of the Romans, H.[ildebrand]. Count Gauf. Bear thyself not unworthy of so great a mother. B.[erengar] has gone to Rome according to thy wishes and letters of invitation. Now is the time for thee to act with Christian magnanimity (nunc magnanimitate christiana tibi agendum est), lest Berengar have the same experience with thee as at Tours [1054], when thou camest to us as delegate of apostolic authority. He expected thy advent as that of an angel. Thou wast there to give life to souls that were dead, and to kill souls that should live …. Thou didst behave thyself like that person of whom it is written [Joh_19:38]: ‘He was himself a disciple of Jesus, but secretly from fear of the Jews.’ Thou resemblest him who said [Luk_23:22]: ‘I find no cause of death in him,’ but did not set him free because he feared Caesar. Thou hast even done less than Pilate, who called Jesus to him and was not ashamed to bear witness: I find no guilt in him … To thee applies the sentence of the gospel [Luk_9:26]: ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall I be ashamed before my heavenly Father.’ To thee applies the word of the Lord [Luk_11:52]: ‘Woe unto you, for ye took away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and hindered those that were entering.’… Now the opportune time has come. Thou hast Berengar present with the pope. If thou again keepest silence on the error of those fools, it is clear that thou formerly didst not from good reasons wait for the proper time, but from weakness and fear didst not dare to defend the cause of the innocent. Should it come to this, which God forbid, we would be wholly disappointed in our great hope placed on thee; but thou wouldst commit a monstrous injustice to thyself, yea even to God. By thee the Orient with all its perverseness would be introduced into the Occident; instead of illuminating our darkness, thou wouldest turn our light into darkness according to the best of thy ability. All those who excel in erudition and judge the case according to the Scriptures, bore testimony that Berengar has the right view according to the Scriptures …. That popular delusion [of transubstantiation] leads to pernicious heresy. The resurrection of the body, of which Paul says that the corruptible must put on the incorruptible, cannot stand, if we contend that the body of Christ is in a sensuous manner broken by the priest and torn with the teeth (sensualiter sacerdotum manibus frangi, dentibus atteri). Thou boastest of thy Rome that she was never conquered in faith and military glory. Thou wilt put to shame that glory, if, at this time when God has elevated thee above all others at the papal see, that false doctrine, that nursery of the most certain heresy, by thy dissimulation and silence should raise its head. Leave not thine honor to others, by retiring to the corner of disgraceful silence.”

2. A letter of Berengar to Pope Gregory VII. from the year 1077, in which he addresses him as “pater optime,” and assures him of his profound reverence and love (p. 182 and 230). He thanks him for a letter of protection he had written to his legate, Bishop Hugo of Die (afterwards Archbishop of Lyons), but begs him to excuse him for not attending a French council of his enemies, to which he had been summoned. He expresses the hope of a personal conference with the pope (opportunitatem vivendi praesentiam tuam et audiendi), and concludes with the request to continue his patronage. “Vel [i.e. Valeat] Christianitas tua, pater optime, longo parvitati meae tempore dignum sede apostolica patrocinium impensura.” The result of this correspondence is unknown. Berengar’s hope of seeing and hearing the pope was fulfilled in 1078, when he was summoned to the Council in Rome; but the result, as we have seen, was his condemnation by the Council with the pope’s consent.

3. A letter of Berengar to Archbishop Joscelin of Bordeaux, written in a charitable Christian spirit after May 25, 1085, when Gregory VII. died (p. 196 and 231). It begins thus: “The unexpected death of our G.[regory] causes me no little disturbance (G. nostri me non parum mors inopinato [a] perturbat).” The nostri sounds rather too familiar in view of Gregory’s conduct in 1079, but must be understood of the personal sympathy shown him before and after in the last commendatory letters. B. then goes on to express confidence in the pope’s salvation, and forgives him his defection, which he strangely compares with the separation of Barnabas from Paul. “Sed, quantum mihi videor novisse hominem, de salute hominis certum constat, quicquid illi prejudicent, qui, secundum dominicam sententiam [Mat_23:24], culicem culantes, camelum sorbent. In Christo lesu, inquit Apostolus [Gal_6:15], neque circumcisio est aliquid, neque preputium, sed nova creatura. Quod illum fuisse, quantum illum noveram, de misericordia presumo divina. Discessit a Paulo Barnabas [Act_15:39, Act_15:40], ut non cum illo secundum exteriorem commaneret hominem, nec minus tamen secundum interiorem hominem Barnabas in libro vitae permansit.” In remembrance of Gregory’s conduct in forcing him at the Roman Council in 1079 to swear to a formula against his conviction, he asserts that the power of the keys which Christ gave to Peter (Mat_16:19) is limited. The binding must not be arbitrary and unjust. The Lord speaks through the prophet to the priests (per prophetam ad prelatos): “I will curse your blessings (Mal_2:2: maledicam benedictionibus vestris).” From this it follows necessarily that He also blesses their curses (Ex quo necessarium constat, quod etiam benedicat maledictionibus talium). Hence the Psalmist says (Psa_109:28): “Let them curse, but bless thou.” The blessed Augustin, in his book on the Words of the Lord, says: “Justice solves the bonds of injustice;” and the blessed Gregory [I.] says [Homil. XXVI.]: “He forfeits the power to bind and to loose, who uses it not for the benefit of his subjects, but according to his arbitrary will (ipsa hac ligandi atque solvendi potestate se privat, qui hanc non pro subditorum moribus, sed pro suae voluntatis motibus exercet).” Berengar thus turns the first Gregory against the seventh Gregory.

Hildebrand’s real opinion on the eucharistic presence can only be inferred from his conduct during the controversy. He sincerely protected Berengar against violence and persecution even after his final condemnation; but the public opinion of the church in 1059 and again in 1079 expressed itself so strongly in favor of a substantial or essential change of the eucharistic elements, that he was forced to yield. Personally, he favored a certain freedom of opinion on the mode of the change, provided only the change itself was admitted, as was expressly done by Berengar. Only a few days before the Council of 1078 the pope sought the opinion of the Virgin Mary through an esteemed monk, and received as an answer that nothing more should be held or required on the reaI presence than what was found in the Holy Scriptures, namely, that the bread after consecration was the true body of Christ. So Berengar reports; see Mansi, XIX. 766; Gieseler, II. 172; Neander, III. 519. (The charge of Ebrard that the pope acted hypocritically and treacherously towards B., is contradicted by facts).

The same view of a change of the elements in a manner inexplicable and therefore indefinable, is expressed in a fragment of a commentary on Matthew by a certain “Magister Hildebrand,” published by Peter Allix (in Determinatio Ioannis praedicatoris de, modo existendi Corp. Christi in sacramento altaris. Lond., 1686). “In this fragment,” says Neander, III. 511, “after an investigation of the different ways in which the conversio of the bread into the body of Christ may be conceived, the conclusion is arrived at, that nothing can be decided with certainty on this point; that the conversio therefore is the only essential part of the doctrine, namely, that bread and wine become body and blood of Christ, and that with regard to the way in which that conversion takes place, men should not seek to inquire. This coincides with the view which evidently lies at the basis of the cardinal’s proceedings. But whether the author was this Hildebrand, must ever remain a very doubtful question, since it is not probable, that if a man whose life constitutes an epoch in history wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, it should have been so entirely forgotten.” Sudendorf, however (p. 186), ascribes the fragment to Pope Hildebrand.


129. Berengar’s Theory of the Lord’s Supper

The chief source is Berengar’s second book against Lanfranc, already quoted. His first book is lost with the exception of a few fragments in Lanfranc’s reply.

Berengar attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, and used against it nearly every argument: it is not only above reason, but against reason and against the testimony of the senses; it involves a contradiction between subject and predicate, and between substance and its qualities, which are inseparable; it is inconsistent with the fact of Christ’s ascension and presence in heaven; it virtually assumes either a multiplication or an omnipresence of his body, which contradicts the necessary limitations of corporeality. There can be only one body of Christ, and only one sacrifice of Christ. The stories of the appearances of blood on the altar, be treated with scorn, from which some of his enemies inferred that he denied all miracles. He called the doctrine of transubstantiation an absurdity (ineptio) and an insane folly of the populace (vecordia vulgi).

To this notion of a corporeal or material presence on the altar, he opposed the idea of a spiritual or dynamic presence and participation. His positive view agrees essentially with that of Ratramnus; but he went beyond him, as Calvin went beyond Zwingli. He endeavors to save the spiritual reality without the carnal form. He distinguishes, with St. Augustin and Ratramnus, between the historical and the eucharistic body of Christ, and between the visible symbol or sacramentum and the thing symbolized or the res sacramenti. He maintains that we cannot literally eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, but that nevertheless we may have real spiritual Communion by faith with the flesh, that is, with the glorified humanity of Christ in heaven. His theory is substantially the same as that of Calvin. The salient points are these:

1) The elements remain in substance as well as in appearance, after the consecration, although they acquire a new significance. Hence the predicate in the words of institution must be taken figuratively, as in many other passages, where Christ is called the lion, the lamb, the door, the vine, the corner-stone, the rock, etc. The discourse in the sixth chapter of John is likewise figurative, and does not refer to the sacrament at all, but to the believing reception of Christ’s death.

2) Nevertheless bread and wine are not empty, symbols, but in some sense the body and blood of Christ which they represent. They are converted by being consecrated; for whatever is consecrated is lifted to a higher sphere and transformed. They do not lose their substance after consecration; but they lose their emptiness, and become efficacious to the believer. So water in baptism remains water, but becomes the vehicle of regeneration. Wherever the sacramentum is, there is also the res sacramenti.

3) Christ is spiritually present and is spiritually received by faith. Without faith we can have no real communion with him, nor share in his benefits. “The true body of Christ,” he says in a letter to Adelmann, “is placed on the altar, but spiritually to the inner man and to those only who are members of Christ, for spiritual manducation. This the fathers teach openly, and distinguish between the body and blood of Christ and the sacramental signs of the body and blood. The pious receive both, the sacramental sign (sacramentum) visibly, the sacramental substance (rem sacramenti) invisibly; while the ungodly receive only the sacramental sign to their own judgment.”

4) The communion in the Lord’s Supper is a communion with the whole undivided person of Christ, and not with flesh and blood as separate elements. As the whole body of Christ was sacrificed in death, so we receive the whole body in a spiritual manner; and as Christ’s body is now glorified in heaven, we must spiritually ascend to heaven.

Here again is a strong point of contact with Calvin, who likewise taught such an elevation of the soul to heaven as a necessary condition of true communion with the life-giving power of Christ’s humanity. He meant, of course, no locomotion, but the sursum corda, which is necessary in every act of prayer. It is the Holy, Spirit who lifts us up to Christ on the wings of faith, and brings him down to us, and thus unites heaven and earth.

A view quite similar to that of Berengar seems to have obtained about that time in the Anglo-Saxon Church, if we are to judge from the Homilies of Aelfric, which enjoyed great authority and popularity.


130. Lanfranc and the Triumph of Transubstantiation

The chief opponent of Berengar was his former friend, Lanfranc, a native of Pavia (b. 1005), prior of the Convent of Bet in Normandy (1045), afterwards archbishop of Canterbury (1070-1089), and in both positions the predecessor of the more distinguished Anselm. He was, next to Berengar, the greatest dialectician of his age, but used dialectics only in support of church authority and tradition, and thus prepared the way for orthodox scholasticism. He assailed Berengar in a treatise of twenty-three chapters on the eucharist, written after 1063, in epistolary form, and advocated the doctrine of transubstantiation (without using the term) with its consequences. He describes the change as a miraculous and incomprehensible change of the substance of bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ. He also teaches (what Radbert had not done expressly) that even unworthy communicants (indigne sumentes) receive the same sacramental substance as believers, though with opposite effect.

Among the less distinguished writers on the Eucharist must be mentioned Adelmann, Durandus, and Guitmund, who defended the catholic doctrine against Berengar. Guitmund (a pupil of Lanfranc, and archbishop of Aversa in Apulia) reports that the Berengarians differed, some holding only a symbolical presence, others (with Berengar) a real, but latent presence, or a sort of impanation, but all denied a change of substance. This change he regards as the main thing which nourishes piety. “What can be more salutary,” he asks, “than such a faith? Purely receiving into itself the pure and simple Christ alone, in the consciousness of possessing so glorious a gift, it guards with the greater vigilance against sin; it glows with a more earnest longing after all righteousness; it strives every day to escape from the world … and to embrace in unclouded vision the fountain of life itself.”

From this time on, transubstantiation may be regarded as a dogma of the Latin church. It was defended by the orthodox schoolmen, and ecumenically sanctioned under Pope Innocent III. in 1215.

With the triumph of transubstantiation is closely connected the withdrawal of the communion cup from the laity, which gradually spread in the twelfth century, and the adoration of the presence of Christ in the consecrated elements, which dates from the eleventh century, was enjoined by Honorius III. in 1217, and gave rise to the Corpus Christi festival appointed by Urban IV., in 1264. The withdrawal of the cup had its origin partly in considerations of expediency, but chiefly in the superstitious solicitude to guard against profanation by spilling the blood of Christ. The schoolmen defended the practice by the doctrine that the whole Christ is present in either kind. It strengthened the power of the priesthood at the expense of the rights of the laity and in plain violation of the command of Christ: “Drink ye all of it” (Mat_26:27).

The doctrine of transubstantiation is the most characteristic tenet of the Catholic Church of the middle age, and its modern successor, the Roman Church. It reflects a magical supernaturalism which puts the severest tax upon the intellect, and requires it to contradict the unanimous testimony of our senses of sight, touch and taste. It furnishes the doctrinal basis for the daily sacrifice of the mass and the power of the priesthood with its awful claim to create and to offer the very body and blood of the Saviour of the world. For if the self-same body of Christ which suffered on the cross, is truly present and eaten in the eucharist, it must also be the self-same sacrifice of Calvary which is repeated in the mass; and a true sacrifice requires a true priest, who offers it on the altar. Priest, sacrifice, and altar form an inseparable trio; a literal conception of one requires a literal conception of the other two, and a spiritual conception of one necessarily leads to a spiritual conception of all.



A few additional remarks must conclude this subject, so that we need not return to it in the next volume.

1. The scholastic terms transsubstantiatio, transsubstantiare (in Greek μετουσίωσις, Engl. transubstantiation, Germ. Wesensverwandlung), signify a change of one substance into another, and were introduced in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The phrase substantialiter converti was used by the Roman Synod of 1079 (see p. 559). Transsubstantiatio occurs first in Peter Damiani (d. 1072) in his Expos. can. Missae (published by Angelo Mai in “Script. Vet. Nova Coll.” VI. 215), and then in the sermons of Hildebert, archbishop of Tours (d. 1134); the verb transsubstantiare first in Stephanus, Bishop of Autun (1113-1129), Tract. de Sacr. Altaris, c. 14 (“panem, quem accepi, in corpus meum transsubstantiavi”), and then officially in the fourth Lateran Council, 1215. See Gieseler, II. ii. 434 sq. (fourth Germ. ed.). Similar terms, as mutatio, transmutatio, transformatio, conversio, transitio, had been in use before. The corresponding Greek noun μετουσίωσις was formally accepted by the Oriental Church in the Orthodox Confession of Peter Mogilas, 1643, and later documents, yet with the remark that the word is not to be taken as a definition of the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. See Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, II. 382, 427, 431, 495, 497 sq. Similar expressions, such as μεταβολή, μεταβάλλειν, μεταποιεῖν, had been employed by the Greek fathers, especially by Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, and John of Damascus. The last is the chief authority quoted in the Russian Catechism (see Schaff, l.c. II. 498).

All these terms attempt to explain the inexplicable and to rationalize the irrational — the contradiction between substance and accidents, between reality and appearance. Transubstantiation is devotion turned into rhetoric, and rhetoric turned into irrational logic.

2. The doctrine of transubstantiation was first strongly expressed in the confessions of two Roman Synods of 1059 and 1079, which Berengar was forced to accept against his conscience; see p. 557 and 559. It was ecumenically sanctioned for the whole Latin church by the fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III., a.d. 1215, in the creed of the Synod, cap. 1: “Corpus et sanguis [Christi] in sacramento altaris sub speciebus panis et vini veraciter continentur, transsubstantiatis pane in corpus et vino in sanguinem, potestate divina, ut ad perficiendum mysterium unitatis accipiamus ipsi de suo, quod accepit ipse de nostro. Et hoc utique sacramentum nemo potest conficere, nisi sacerdos, qui fuerit rite ordinatus secundum claves Ecclesiae, quas ipse concessit Apostolis et eorum successoribus lesus Christus.”

The Council of Trent, in the thirteenth session, 1551, reaffirmed the doctrine against the Protestants in these words: “that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord (conversionem fieri totius substantiae panis in substantiam corporis Christi Domini), and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood; which conversion is by the holy Catholic Church suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.” The same synod sanctioned the adoration of the sacrament (i.e. Christ on the altar under the figure of the elements), and anathematizes those who deny this doctrine and practice. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, II. 130-139.

3. Thomas Aquinas, the prince of scholastic divines, has given the clearest poetic expression to the dogma of transubstantiation in the following stanzas of his famous hymn, “Lauda Sion Salvatorem,” for the Corpus Christi Festival:




“Dogma datur Christianis, Quod in carnem transit panis, Et vinum in sanguinem. Quod non capis, quod non Animosa firmat fides Praeter rerum ordinem. “Hear what holy Church maintaineth, That the bread its substance changeth Into Flesh, the wine to Blood. Doth it pass thy comprehending? Faith, the law of sight transcending, Leaps to things not understood.   

“Sub diversis speciebus, Signis tantum et non rebus, Latent res eximiae. Caro cibus, sanguis potus, Manet tamen Christus totus, Sub utraque specie. Here, in outward signs, are hidden Priceless things, to sense forbidden; Signs, not things, are all we see: Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine: Yet is Christ, in either sign, All entire, confess’d to be.   

“A sumente non concisus, Non confractus, non divisus, Integer accipitur. Sumit unus, sumunt mille, Quantum isti, tantum ille, Nec sumitus consumitur. They, too, who of Him partake, Sever not, nor rend, nor break, But entire, their Lord receive. Whether one or thousands eat, All receive the self-same meat, Nor the less for others leave.   

“Sumunt boni, sumunt mali, Sorte tamen inaequali Vitae vel interitus. Mors est malis, vita bonis: Vide, paris sumptionis Quam sit dispar exitus.” Both the wicked and the good Eat of this celestial Food; But with ends how opposite! Here ’tis life, and there ’tis death; The same yet issuing to each In a difference infinite.”  


See the Thes. Hymnol. of Daniel, II. 97-100, who calls St. Thomas “summus laudator venerabilis sacramenti,” and quotes the interesting, but opposite judgments of Möhler and Luther. The translation is by Edward Caswall (Hymns and Poems, 2nd ed., 1873, and previously in Lyra Catholica, Lond., 1849, p. 238). The translation of the last two stanzas is not as felicitous as that of the other two. The following version preserves the double rhyme of the original:




“Eaten, but without incision,” Broken, but without division, Each the whole of Christ receives: Thousands take what each is taking, Each one breaks what all are breaking, None a lessened body leaves.   

“Here alike the good and evil, High and low in social level, Take the Feast for woe or weal: Wonder! from the self-same eating, Good and bad their bliss are meeting Or their doom herein they seal.”  


4. The doctrine of transubstantiation has always been regarded by Protestants as one of the fundamental errors and grossest superstitions of Romanism. But we must not forget the underlying truth which gives tenacity to error. A doctrine cannot be wholly false, which has been believed for centuries not only by the Greek and Latin churches alike, but as regards the chief point, namely, the real presence of the very body and blood of Christ — also by the Lutheran and a considerable portion of the Anglican communions, and which still nourishes the piety of innumerable guests at the Lord’s table. The mysterious discourse of our Saviour in the synagogue of Capernaum after the miraculous feeding of the multitude, expresses the great truth which is materialized and carnalized in transubstantiation. Christ is in the deepest spiritual sense the bread of life from heaven which gives nourishment to believers, and in the holy communion we receive the actual benefit of his broken body and shed blood, which are truly present in their power; for his sacrifice, though offered but once, is of perpetual force to all who accept it in faith. The literal miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is spiritually carried on in the vital union of Christ and the believer, and culminates in the sacramental feast. Our Lord thus explains the symbolic significance of that miracle in the strongest language; but he expressly excludes the carnal, Capernaitic conception, and furnishes the key for the true understanding, in the sentence: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (Joh_6:63).