Vol. 4, Chapter XI – The Contending Theories on Predestination, and the Victory of Semi-Augustinianism


During the imprisonment of Gottschalk a lively controversy, was carried on concerning the point in dispute, which is very creditable to the learning of that age, but after all did not lead to a clear and satisfactory settlement. The main question was whether divine predestination or foreordination which all admitted as a necessary element of the Divine perfection, was absolute or relative; in other words, whether it embraced all men and all acts, good and bad, or only those who are saved, and such acts as God approves and rewards. This question necessarily involved also the problem of the freedom of the human will, and the extent of the plan of redemption. The absolute predestinarians denied, the relative predestinarians affirmed, the freedom of will and the universal import of Christ’s atoning death.

The doctrine of absolute predestination was defended, in substantial agreement with Gottschalk, though with more moderation and caution, by Prudentius, Bishop of Troyes, Ratramnus, monk of Corbie, Servatus Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières, and Remigius, Archbishop of Lyons, and confirmed by the Synod of Valence, 855, and also at Langres in 859.

The doctrine of free will and a conditional predestination was advocated, in opposition to Gottschalk, by Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mainz, Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, and Bishop Pardulus of Laon, and confirmed at a synod of Chiersy, 853, and in part again at Savonnières, near Toul, in 859.

A third theory was set forth by John Scotus Erigena, intended against Gottschalk, but was in fact still more against the orthodox view, and disowned by both parties.

I. The doctrine of an Absolute and Two-Fold Predestination.

Gottschalk professed to follow simply the great Augustin. This is true; but he gave undue disproportion to the tenet of predestination, and made it a fundamental theological principle, inseparable from the immutability of God; while with Augustin it was only a logical inference from his anthropological premises. He began where Augustin ended. To employ a later (Calvinistic) terminology, he was a supralapsarian rather than an infralapsarian. He held a two-fold predestination of the elect to salvation, and of the reprobate to perdition; not in the sense of two separate predestinations, but one predestination with two sides (gemina, i.e. bipartita), a positive side (election) and a negative side (reprobation). He could not conceive of the one without the other; but he did not teach a predestination of the sinner to sin, which would make God the author of sin. In this respect he was misrepresented by Rabanus Maurus. In his shorter Confession from his prison, he says: “I believe and confess that God foreknew and foreordained the holy angels and elect men to unmerited eternal life, but that he equally (pariter) foreordained the devil with his host and with all reprobate men, on account of their foreseen future evil deeds, by a just judgment, to merited eternal death.” He appeals to passages of the Scriptures, to Augustin, Fulgentius, and Isidor, who taught the very same thing except the pariter. In the larger Confession, which is in the form of a prayer, he substitutes for equally the milder term almost or nearly (propemodum), and denies that God predestinated the reprobates to sin. “Those, O God,” he says, “of whom thou didst foreknow that they would persist by their own misery in their damnable sins, thou didst, as a righteous judge, predestinate to perdition.” He spoke of two redemptions, one common to the elect and the reprobate, another proper and special for the elect only. In similar manner the Calvinists, in their controversy, with the Arminians, maintained that Christ died efficiently only for the elect, although sufficiently for all men.

His predestinarian friends brought out the difference in God’s relation to the good and the evil more clearly. Thus Ratramnus says that God was the author (auctor) as well as the ruler (ordinator) of good thoughts and deeds, but only the ruler, not the author, of the bad. He foreordained the punishment of sin, not sin itself (poenam, not peccatum). He directs the course of sin, and overrules it for good. He used the evil counsel of Judas as a means to bring about the crucifixion and through it the redemption. Lupus says that God foreknew and permitted Adam’s fall, and foreordained its consequences, but not the fall itself. Magister Florus also speaks of a praedestinatio gemina, yet with the emphatic distinction, that God predestinated the elect both to good works and to salvation, but the reprobate only to punishment, not to sin. He was at first ill-informed of the teaching of Gottschalk, as if he had denied the meritum damnationis. Remigius censured the “temerity” and “untimely loquacity” of Gottschalk, but defended him against the inhuman treatment, and approved of all his propositions except the unqualified denial of freedom to do good after the fall, unless he meant by it that no one could use his freedom without the grace of God. He subjected the four chapters of Hincmar to a severe criticism. On the question whether God will have all men to be saved without or with restriction, and whether Christ died for all men or only for the elect, he himself held the particularistic view, but was willing to allow freedom of opinion, since the church had not decided that question, and the Bible admitted of different interpretations.

The Synod of Valence, which met at the request of the Emperor Lothaire in 855, endorsed, in opposition to Hincmar and the four chapters of the Synod of Chiersy, the main positions of the Augustinian system as understood by Remigius, who presided. It affirms a two-fold predestination (“praedestinationem electorum ad vitam et praedestinationem impiorum ad mortem”), but with such qualifications and distinctions as seemed to be necessary to save the holiness of God and the moral responsibility of man. The Synod of Langres in the province of Lyons, convened by Charles the Bald in 859, repeated the doctrinal canons of Valence, but omitted the censure of the four chapters of Chiersy, which Charles the Bald had subscribed, and thus prepared the way for a compromise.

We may briefly state the system of the Augustinian school in the following propositions:

(1) All men are sinners, and justly condemned in consequence of Adam’s fall.

(2) Man in the natural state has no freedom of choice, but is a slave of sin. (This, however, was qualified by Remigius and the Synod of Valence in the direction of Semi-Pelagianism.)

(3) God out of free grace elected from eternity and unalterably a part of mankind to holiness and salvation, and is the author of all their good deeds; while he leaves the rest in his inscrutable counsel to their merited damnation.

(4) God has unalterably predestinated the impenitent and persistent sinner to everlasting punishment, but not to sin, which is the guilt of man and condemned by God.

(5) Christ died only for the elect.

Gottschalk is also charged by his opponents with slighting the church and the sacraments, and confining the effect of baptism and the eucharist to the elect. This would be consistent with his theory. He is said to have agreed with his friend Ratramnus in rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation. Augustin certainly did not teach transubstantiation, but he checked the logical tendency of Predestinarianism by the Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and of the visible historical church as the mediatrix of salvation.

II. The doctrine of a Conditional and Single Predestination.

Rabanus and Hincmar, who agreed in theology as well as in unchristian conduct towards Gottschalk, claimed to be Augustinians, but were at heart Semi-Pelagians, and struck a middle course, retaining the Augustinian premises, but avoiding the logical consequences. Foreknowledge (praescientia) is a necessary attribute of the omniscient mind of God, and differs from foreordination or predestination (praedestinatio), which is an attribute of his omnipotent will. The former may exist without the latter, but not the latter without the former. Foreknowledge is absolute, and embraces all things and all men, good and bad; foreordination is conditioned by foreknowledge, and refers only to what is good. God foreknew sin from eternity, but did not predestinate it; and so he foreknew the sinners, but did not predestinate them to sin or death; they are simply praesciti, not praedestinati. There is therefore no double predestination, but only one predestination which coincides with election to eternal life. The fall of Adam with its consequences falls under the idea of divine permission. God sincerely intends to save all men without distinction, and Christ shed his blood for all; if any are lost, they have to blame themselves.

Hincmar secured the confirmation of his views by the Synod of Chiersy, held in presence of the Emperor, Charles the Bald, 853, It adopted four propositions:

(1) God Almighty made man free from sin, endowed him with reason and the liberty of choice, and placed him in Paradise. Man, by the abuse of this liberty, sinned, and the whole race became a mass of perdition. Out of this massa perditionis God elected those whom he by grace predestinated unto life eternal; others he left by a just judgment in the mass of perdition, foreknowing that they would perish, but not foreordaining them to perdition, though he foreordained eternal punishment for them. This is Augustinian, but weakened in the last clause.

(2) We lost the freedom of will through the fall of the first man, and regained it again through Christ. This chapter, however, is so vaguely worded that it may be understood in a Semi-Pelagian as well as in an Augustinian sense.

(3) God Almighty would have all men without exception to be saved, although not all are actually saved. Salvation is a free gift of grace; perdition is the desert of those who persist in sin.

(4) Jesus Christ died for all men past, present and future, though not all are redeemed by the mystery of his passion, owing to their unbelief.

The last two propositions are not Augustinian, but catholic, and are the connecting link between the catholic orthodoxy and the Semi-Pelagian heresy.

Hincmar defended these propositions against the objections of Remigius and the Synod of Valence, in two books on Predestination and Free Will (between 856 and 863). The first is lost, the second is preserved. It is very prolix and repetitious, and marks no real progress. He made several historical blunders, and quoted freely from the pseudo-Augustinian Hypomnesticon, which he thought presented Augustin’s later and better views.

The two parties came to a sort of agreement at the National Synod of France held at Toucy, near Toul, in October, 860, in presence of the Emperor, Charles the Bald, King Lothaire II., and Charles of Provence, and the bishops of fourteen ecclesiastical provinces. Hincmar was the leading man, and composed the synodical letter. He still maintained his four propositions, but cleared himself of the suspicion of Semi-Pelagianism. The first part of the synodical letter, addressed to all the faithful, gives a summary of Christian doctrine, and asserts that nothing can happen in heaven and earth without the will or permission of God; that he would have all men to be saved and none lost; that he did not deprive man after the fall of free will, but heals and supports it by grace; that Christ died on the cross for all men; that in the end all the predestinated who are now scattered in the massa perditionis, will be gathered into the fulness of the eternal church in heaven.

Here ended the controversy. It was a defeat of predestinarianism in its rigorous form and a substantial victory of Semi-Augustinianism, which is almost identical with Semi-Pelagianism except that it gives greater prominence to divine grace.

Practically, even this difference disappeared. The medieval church needed the doctrine of free will and of universal call, as a basis for maintaining the moral responsibility, the guilt and merit of man, and as a support to the sacerdotal and sacramental mediation of salvation; while the strict predestinarian system, which unalterably determines the eternal fate of every soul by a pre-temporal or ante-mundane decree, seemed in its logical consequences to neutralize the appeal to the conscience of the sinner, to cut off the powerful inducement of merit and reward, to limit the efficacy of the sacraments to the elect, and to weaken the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

But while churchly and sacerdotal Semi-Augustinianism or covert Semi-Pelagianism triumphed in France, where Hincmar had the last word in the controversy, it was not ecumenically sanctioned. Pope Nicolas, who was dissatisfied with Hincmar on hierarchical grounds, had some sympathy with Gottschalk, and is reported to have approved the Augustinian canons of the Synods of Valence and Langres in regard to a “two-fold predestination” and the limitation of the atonement.

Thus the door was left open within the Catholic church itself for a revival of strict Augustinianism, and this took place on a grand scale in the sixteenth century.



The Gottschalk controversy was first made the subject of historical investigation and critical discussion in the seventeenth century, but was disturbed by the doctrinal antagonism between Jansenists (Jansen, Mauguin) and Jesuits (Sirmond, Cellot). The Calvinistic historians (Ussher, Hottinger) sided with Gottschalk and the Jansenists. The controversy has been more calmly and impartially considered by the Protestant historians of the nineteenth century, but with a slight difference as to the limits and the result of the controversy; some representing it merely as a conflict between a stricter and a milder type of Augustinianism (Neander, Kurtz), others as a conflict between Augustinianism and a revived and triumphant Semi-Pelagianism (Baur, Weizsäcker). The former view is more correct. Semi-Pelagianism was condemned by the Synod of Orange (Arausio), 529; again by the Synod of Valence in the same year, and by Pope Boniface II., 530, and has ever since figured in the Roman catalogue of heresies. The Catholic Church cannot sanction what she has once condemned.

Both parties in the contest of the ninth century (leaving the isolated Scotus Erigena out of view) appealed to Augustin as the highest patristic authority in the Latin church. Both agreed in the Augustinian anthropology and soteriology, i.e. in the doctrine of a universal fall in Adam, and a partial redemption through Christ; both maintained that some men are saved by free grace, that others are lost by their own guilt; and both confined the possibility of salvation to the present life and to the limits of the visible church (which leads logically to the horrible and incredible conclusion that the overwhelming majority of the human race, including all unbaptized infants, are eternally lost). But the Augustinian party went back to absolute predestination, as the ultima ratio of God’s difference of dealing with the saved and the lost, or the elect and the reprobate; while the Semi-Augustinian party sought the difference rather in the merits or demerits of men, and maintained along-side with a conditional predestination the universal benevolence of God and the universal offer of saving grace (which, however, is merely assumed, and not at all apparent in this present life). The Augustinian scheme is more theological and logical, the Semi-Augustinian more churchly and practical. Absolute predestinarianism starts from the almighty power of God, but is checked by the moral sense and kept within the limits of infralapsarianism, which exempts the holy God from any agency in the fall of the race, and fastens the guilt of sin upon man. Relative predestinarianism emphasizes the responsibility and salvability of all men, but recognizes also their perfect dependence upon divine grace for actual salvation. The solution of the problem must be found in the central idea of the holy love of God, which is the key-note of all his attributes and works.

The practical difference between the catholic Semi-Augustinianism and the heterodox Semi-Pelagianism is, as already remarked, very small. They are twin-sisters; they virtually ignore predestination, and lay the main stress on the efficacy of the sacramental system of the historical church, as the necessary agency for regeneration and salvation.

The Lutheran system, as developed in the Formula of Concord, is the evangelical counterpart of the Catholic Semi-Augustinianism. It retains also its sacramental feature (baptismal regeneration and the eucharistic presence), but cuts the root of human merit by the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Calvinism is a revival of Augustinianism, but without its sacramental and sacerdotal checks.

Arminianism, as developed in the Reformed church of Holland and among the Wesleyan Methodists, and held extensively in the Church of England, is an evangelical counterpart of Semi-Pelagianism, and differs from Lutheranism by teaching a conditional election and freedom of the will sufficient to accept as well as to reject the universal offer of saving grace.


123. The Doctrine of Scotus Erigena

A complete ed. of the works of Scotus Erigena by H. J. Floss, 1853, in Migne’s “P. L.,” Tom. 122. The book De Praedestinatione in col. 355-440. Comp. the monographs on S. E. by Hjort (1823), Staudenmaier (1834), Taillandier (1843), Christlieb (1860, and his art. in Herzog2 XIII. 788 sqq.), Hermens (1861), Huber (1861); the respective sections in Schroeckh, Neander, Baur (on the Trinity), Dorner (on Christology); and in the Histories of Philosophy by Ritter, Erdmann, and Ueberweg. Also Reuter: Gesch. der relig. Aufklaerung im Mittelalter (1875), I. 51-64 (a discussion of Erigena’s views on the relation of authority and reason).

At the request of Hincmar, who was very anxious to secure learned aid, but mistook his man, John Scotus Erigena wrote a book on Predestination (in 850), and dedicated it to Hincmar and his friend Pardulus, Bishop of Laon. This most remarkable of Scotch-Irishmen was a profound scholar and philosopher, but so far ahead of his age as to be a wonder and an enigma. He shone and disappeared like a brilliant meteor. We do not know whether he was murdered by his pupils in Malmsbury (if he ever was called to England), or died a natural death in France (which is more likely). He escaped the usual fate of heretics by the transcendental character of his speculations and by the protection of Charles the Bald, with whom he was on such familiar terms that he could answer his saucy question at the dinner-table: “What is the difference between a Scot and a sot?” with the quick-witted reply: “The table, your Majesty.” His system of thought was an anachronism, and too remote from the spirit of his times to be properly understood and appreciated. He was a Christian Neo-Platonist, a forerunner of Scholasticism and Mysticism and in some respects of Spinoza, Schleiermacher, and Hegel. With him church authority resolves itself into reason, theology into philosophy, and true philosophy is identical with true religion. Philosophy is, so to say, religion unveiled and raised from the cloudy region of popular belief to the clear ether of pure thought.

From this alpine region of speculation he viewed the problem of predestination and free will. He paid due attention to the Scriptures and the fathers. He often quotes St. Augustin, and calls him, notwithstanding his dissent, “the most acute inquirer and asserter of truth.” But where church authority contradicts reason, its language must be understood figuratively, and, if necessary, in the opposite sense. He charges Gottschalk with the heresy of denying both divine grace and human freedom, since he derived alike the crimes which lead to damnation, and the virtues which lead to eternal life, from a necessary and compulsory predestination. Strictly speaking, there is in God neither before nor after, neither past nor future; and hence neither fore-knowledge nor fore-ordination, except in an anthropopathic sense. He rejects a double predestination, because it would carry a contradiction into God. There is only one predestination, the predestination of the righteous, and this is identical with foreknowledge. For in God knowledge and will are inseparable, and constitute his very being. The distinction arises from the limitation of the human mind and from ignorance of Greek; for προοράω means both praevideo and praedestino. There is no such thing as predestination to sin and punishment; for sin is nothing real at all, but simply a negation, an abuse of free will; and punishment is simply the inner displeasure of the sinner at the failure of his bad aims. If several fathers call sinners praedestinati, they mean the reverse, as Christ called Judas amice instead of inimice, and as lucus is called a non lucendo. Sin lies outside of God, and does not exist for him at all; he does not even foreknow it, much less foreordain it; for knowing and being are identical with him. But God has ordered that sin punishes itself; he has established immutable laws, which the sinner cannot escape. Free will is the very essence of man, and was not lost by the fall; only the power and energy of will are impaired. But Erigena vindicates to man freedom in the same sense in which he vindicates it to God, and identifies it with moral necessity. His pantheistic principles lead him logically to universal restoration.

This appears more clearly from his remarkable work, De Divisione Naturae, where he develops his system. The leading idea is the initial and final harmony of God and the universe, as unfolding itself under four aspects: 1) Natura creatrix non creata, i.e. God as the creative and uncreated beginning of all that exists; 2) Natura creatrix creata, i.e. the ideal world or the divine prototypes of all things; 3) Natura creata non creans, i.e. the created, but uncreative world of time and sense, as the reflex and actualization of the ideal world; 4) Natura nec creata nec creans, i.e. God as the end of all creation, which, after the defeat of all opposition, must return to him in an ἀποκατάστασις τῶν πάντων. “The first and the last form,” he says, “are one, and can be understood only of God, who is the beginning and the end of all things.”

The tendency of this speculative and mystical pantheism of Erigena was checked by the practical influence of the Christian theism which entered into his education and personal experience, so that we may say with a historian who is always just and charitable: “We are unwilling to doubt, that he poured out many a devout and earnest prayer to a redeeming God for his inward illumination, and that he diligently sought for it in the sacred Scripture, though his conceptual apprehension of the divine Being seems to exclude such a relation of man to God, as prayer presupposes.”

Hincmar had reason to disown such a dangerous champion, and complained of the Scotch “porridge.” John Scotus was violently assailed by Archbishop Wenilo of Sens, who denounced nineteen propositions of his book (which consists of nineteen chapters) as heretical, and by Bishop Prudentius, who increased the number to seventy-seven. He was charged with Pelagianism and Origenism, and censured for substituting philosophy for theology, and sophistical subtleties for sound arguments from Scripture and tradition. Remigius thought him insane. Florus Magister likewise wrote against him, and rejected as blasphemous the doctrine that sin and evil were nonentities, and therefore could not be the subjects of divine foreknowledge and foreordination. The Synod of Valence (855) rejected his nineteen syllogisms as absurdities, and his whole book as a “commentum diaboli potius quam argumentum fidei.” His most important work, which gives his whole system, was also condemned by a provincial Synod of Sens, and afterwards by Pope Honorius III. in 1225, who characterized it as a book “teeming with the vermin of heretical depravity,” and ordered all copies to be burned. But, fortunately, a few copies survived for the study of later ages.


124. The Eucharistic Controversies. Literature

The general Lit. on the history of the doctrine of the Eucharist, see in vol. I., § 55, and II. § 69.

Add the following Roman Catholic works on the general Subject: Card. Jo. de Lugo (d. 1660): Tractatus de venerabili Eucharistiae Sacramento, in Migne’s “Cursus Theol. Completus,” XXIII. Card. Wiseman: Lectures on the Real Presence. Lond., 1836 and l842. Oswald: Die dogmat. Lehre von den heil. Sacramenten der katholischen Kirche. Münster, 3rd ed., 1870, vol. I. 375-427.

On the Protestant side: T. K. Meier: Versuch einer Gesch. der Transsubstantiationslehre. Heilbronn, 1832. Ebrard: Das Dogma v. heil. Abendmahl und seine Gesch. Frankf. a. M., 1845 and ‘46, 2 vols. Steitz: Arts. on Radbert, Ratramnus, and Transubstantiation in Herzog. Schaff: Transubstantiation in “Rel. Encycl.” III. 2385.

Special Lit. on the eucharistic controversies in the ninth and eleventh centuries.


I. Controversy Between Ratramnus and Paschasius Radbertus

(1) Paschasius Radbertus: Liber de Corpore et Sanguine Domini, dedicated to Marinus, abbot of New Corbie, 831, second ed., 844, presented to Charles the Bald; first genuine ed. by Nic. Mameranus, Colon. 1550; best ed. by Martene and Durand in “Veter. Script. et Monum. amplissima Collectio,” IX. 367. — Comm. in Matth. (Mat_26:26); Epistola ad Fridegardum, and treatise De Partu Virginis. See S. Pasch. Radb.: Opera omnia in Tom. 120 of Migne’s “Patrol. Lat.,” Par. 1852.

Haimo: Tract. de Corp. et Sang. Dom. (a fragment of a Com. on 1 Cor.), in D’Achery, “Spicil.” I. 42, and in Migne, “P. L.,” Tom. 118, col. 815-817. Hincmar: Ep. ad Carol. Calv. de cavendis vitiis et virtutibus exercendis, c. 9. In Migne, T. 125, col. 915 sqq.

(2) Ratramnus: De Corpore et Sanguine Domini liber ad Carolum Calvum Reg. Colon., 1532 (under the name of Bertram), often publ. by Reformed divines in the original and in translations (from 1532 to 1717 at Zürich, Geneva, London, Oxford, Amsterdam), and by Jac. Boileau, Par., 1712, with a vindication of the catholic orthodoxy of Ratramnus. See Ratramni Opera in Migne,” P. L.,” Tom. 121, col. 10-346.

Rabanus Maurus: Poenitentiale, cap. 33. Migne, “P. L.” Tom. 110, col. 492, 493. Walafrid Strabo: De Rebus Eccls., c. 16, 17. See extracts in Gieseler, II. 80-82.

(3) Discussions of historians: Natalis Alexander, H. Eccl. IX. and X., Dissert. X. and XIII. Neander, IV. 458-475, Germ. ed., or III. 495-501, Engl. transl., Bost. ed. Gieseler, II. 79-84, N. Y. ed. Baur: Vorlesungen über Dogmengesch. II. 161-175.


II. Controversy Between Berengar and Lanfranc

(1) LANFRANCUS: De Eucharistiae Sacramento contra Berengarium lib., Basil,. 1528, often publ., also in “Bibl. PP. Lugd.,” XVIII. 763, and in Migne,” Patrol. Lat.,” Tom. 150 (1854), col. 407-442.

(2) Berengarius: De Sacra Coena adv. Lanfrancum liber posterior, first publ. by A. F. & F. Th. Vischer. Berol., 1834 (from the MS. in Wolfenbüttel, now in Göttingen. Comp. Lessing: Berengarius Turon. oder Ankuendigung eines wichtigen Werkes desselben. Braunschweig, 1770). H. Sudendorf: Berengarius Turonensis oder eine Sammlung ihn betreffender Briefe. Hamburg and Gotha, 1850. Contains twenty-two new documents, and a full list of the older sources.

(3) Neander: III. 502-530 (E. Tr. Bost. ed.; or IV. 476-534 Germ. ed.). Gieseler: II. 163-173 (E. Tr. N. York ed.). Baur: II. 175-198. Hardwick: Middle Age, 169-173 (third ed. by Stubbs). Milman: III. 258 sqq. Robertson: II. 609 sqq. (small ed., IV. 351-367). Jacobi: Berengar, in Herzog2 II. 305-311. Reuter: Gesch. der relig. Aufklärung im Mittelalter (1875), I. 91 sqq. Hefele: IV. 740 sqq. (ed. 1879).


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. 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; 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.


126. The Theory of Paschasius Radbertus

Paschasius Radbertus (from 800 to about 865), a learned, devout and superstitious monk, and afterwards abbot of Corbie or Corvey in France is the first who clearly taught the doctrine of transubstantiation as then believed by many, and afterwards adopted by the Roman Catholic church. He wrote a book “on the Body and Blood of the Lord,” composed for his disciple Placidus of New Corbie in the year 831, and afterwards reedited it in a more popular form, and dedicated it to the Emperor Charles the Bald, as a Christmas gift (844). He did not employ the term transubstantiation, which came not into use till two centuries later; but he taught the thing, namely, that “the substance of bread and wine is effectually changed (efficaciter interius commutatur) into the flesh and blood of Christ,” so that after the priestly consecration there is “nothing else in the eucharist but the flesh and blood of Christ,” although “the figure of bread and wine remain” to the senses of sight, touch, and taste. The change is brought about by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, who created the body of Christ in the womb of the Virgin without cohabitation, and who by the same almighty power creates from day to day, wherever the mass is celebrated, the same body and blood out of the substance of bread and wine. He emphasizes the identity of the eucharistic body with the body which was born of the Virgin, suffered on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven; yet on the other hand he represents the sacramental eating and drinking as a spiritual process by faith. He therefore combines the sensuous and spiritual conceptions. He assumes that the soul of the believer communes with Christ, and that his body receives an imperishable principle of life which culminates at last in the resurrection. He thus understood, like several of the ancient fathers, the words of our Saviour: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Joh_6:54).

He supports his doctrine by the words of institution in their literal sense, and by the sixth chapter of John. He appealed also to marvellous stories of the visible appearances of the body and blood of Christ for the removal of doubts or the satisfaction of the pious desire of saints. The bread on the altar, he reports, was often seen in the shape of a lamb or a little child, and when the priest stretched out his hand to break the bread, an angel descended from heaven with a knife, slaughtered the lamb or the child, and let his blood run into a cup!

Such stories were readily believed by the people, and helped to strengthen the doctrine of transubstantiation; as the stories of the appearances of departed souls from purgatory confirmed the belief in purgatory.

The book of Radbert created a great sensation in the West, which was not yet prepared to accept the doctrine of transubstantiation without a vigorous struggle. Radbert himself admits that some of his contemporaries believed only in a spiritual communion of the soul with Christ, and substituted the mere virtue of his body and blood for the real body and blood, i.e., as he thinks, the figure for the verity, the shadow for the substance.

His opponents appealed chiefly to St. Augustin, who made a distinction between the historical and the eucharistic body of Christ, and between a false material and a true spiritual fruition of his body and blood. In a letter to the monk Frudegard, who quoted several passages of Augustin, Radbert tried to explain them in his sense. For no divine of the Latin church dared openly to contradict the authority of the great African teacher.


127. The Theory of Ratramnus

The chief opponent of transubstantiation was Ratramnus, 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. 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. 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 Joh_6:63, which points from the letter to the spirit and from the carnal to the spiritual understanding. 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.

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. The report may have arisen from a confusion, since the tract of Ratramnus was at a later period ascribed to Scotus Erigena. 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. 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. 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.

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.

Radbertus was canonized, and his memory, is celebrated since 1073, on the 26th of April in the diocese of Soissons. 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 .



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 Son_4:12, and the porta clausa Domini in Eze_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.”