The Eucharistic Controversies 1A.D. to 1215

A. Patristic views: Ambrose & Augustine.

  1. Ambrose.

Even though they agreed on many things they differed on this point. Ambrose view was that of “metabolic realism” Here the two key elements, the bread and the wine really change into the body and blood of Christ. It is not simply a symbol, it is not just me pretending that the bread and wine change, when the priest prays these actually do change. Change is in the elements. Thus “objective”.


Now Ambrose did not have a theory of metaphysics. Some one would ask, what if the bread fell off the table and a mouse ate it? Would the mouse eat the bread or the flesh of Christ? Ambrose would say flesh. Thus, the eucharist (the body) of Christ is treated with great care.


  1. Augustine

His view was one of “symbolic realism” He say the thing is to be distinguished from the sign. Thing: RES (radis) Latin root from which we get real, reality. SIGN, Augustine picks up from Platonism.


Thing::reality::Plato’s “ideal realm”

Sign::images::Plato’s “sensible realm”


Thus the bread and wine are only earthly signs. They point to the reality: body and blood.

Augustine does not believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood but that if one comes “with a mouth of faith” – if one comes to receive them with faith. They are a means of grace ( a means of help). Only faith receives the RES (the reality-the grace that is the body and body of Christ.)


Tertullian will say “that the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality”


Conclusions: Ambrose and Augustine are both realists…but they differ on the manductio infidelium. The eating of unbelievers. (don’t take this in a cannibalistic sense 😉 The unbeliever simply receives the bread and wine.

B. The 9th century: Radbetus and Ratramnus

Radbertus sounds like Ambrose, he says that the Bread and Wine are nothing but the bread and body of Christ-even though they look like bread and wine. Ratramnus takes up the Augustine position. He says that the bread and wine simply symbolize. Thus there is not a bodily change but a spiritual change.


Both R’s will say that in the act of partaking the historical Christ is present. Here Radbertus (Ambrose) wins against Augustine and Ratramnus view.

  1. Factors in the triumph of Radbertus
    1. The Eucharist is more than an icon.
    2. Changing conceptions of the Eucharist (Not a memorial meal (love feast) anymore as in early church centuries. It becomes more and more type of a sacrifice, thus more of a need for a priestly type of life.
    3. Tendency in popular piety for miracles, omnipotence and docetism

Here is Christ’s special or “celestial” flash.

    1. Metabolic realism’s appeal as “medicine”

C. Later medieval developments

1. Berengar of Tours (1059). He is a figure from the 11th century. He took up Augustine. He is opposed by Lanfranc the Archbishop of Canterbury

A Synod In Rome forces Berenger to recant. They show up with this synod that they believe they are literally eating the flesh of the Lord. That when the bread is torn we are tearing the flesh of the Lord.

2. Communion in one kind. (withholding the cup, refers to the nature)

The whole of Christ is in either the bread or wine. Why does this matter? The Mass was an awesome rite. Thus, people approached the mass with awe, you don’t mess around with holiness. Thus they were afraid they would spill the body of Christ. You could pick up the bread, if you dropped it, but the wine was withheld.

3. The theory of ex opera operato “validity”

Faith no longer seen as needed, (This is a move toward Ambrose and away from Augustine (who said that you must come with a mouth of faith). Thus the benefits are objective. Ex opera operato = from the work that was worked. Ex opera operantis = from the work of the worker. Augustine is confirmed and contradicted. Ordination objectively valid, Eucharist needed faith.

4. The IV Lateran (1215): transubstantiation. For a thousand yrs the church believed that there is some level of transformation with the Eucharist. They stumble into the theory of realism-the doctrine of transubstantiation which beats Augustine’s symbolism.


We get transubstantiation from church father 😉 Aristotle. (NOT A CHURCH FATHER) What a thing on substance and accidents. When we grow old, our substance stays the same…but our accidents change. In transubstantiation, accidences stay the same but the substance changes. The church draws on Platonic idea that some times our eyes deceive us. (The Reformers will obviously challenge this.)