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Eucharistic theology and witchcraft

21 July 2008

Elizaphanian has a good post on Western Eucharistic theology (and media ignorance of religion), in which he says

For the first thousand years or so of Christianity, the ‘corpus verum’, the body that could be touched and handled with reverence, referred to the church, ie the community of the baptised. So, your neighbour in the community was worthy of reverence and respect. Harming your neighbour, eg murder, wasn’t just immoral, it was blasphemy. Correlative with that, the ‘corpus mysticum’ – that which could only be perceived with the eyes of faith – was the host, that which was consumed in the context of Eucharistic worship. In the course of the twelfth century, in the Western church, these meanings were reversed, with awful consequences.

For an Orthodox comment on this, see Fr Alexander Schmemann, in For the life of the world:

The uniqueness of secularism, its difference from the great heresies of the patristic age, is that the latter were provoked by the encounter of Christianity with Hellenism, whereas the former is the result of a “breakdown” within Christianity itself, of its own deep metamorphosis… At the end of the twelfth century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements is “mystical” or “symbolic,” it is not real. The Lateran Council which condemned him — and here is for me the crux of the matter — simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not “mystical.” What is decisive here is precisely the disconnection and the opposition of the two terms verum and mystice, the acceptance, on both sides, that they are mutually exclusive. Western theology thus declared that that which is “mystical” or “symbolic” is not real, whereas that which is “real” is not symbolic. This was, in fact, the collapse of the fundamental Christian mysterion, the antinomical “holding together” of the reality of the symbol, and of the symbolism of reality. It was the collapse of the fundamental Christian understanding of creation in terms of its fundamental sacramentality. And since then, Christian thought, in Scholasticism and beyond it, never ceased to oppose these terms, to reject, implicitly or explicitly, the “symbolic realism” and the “realistic symbolism” of the Christian world view (Schmemann 1988:128)

And one more quote, this time from Charles Williams:

About 1040 Berengar of Tours, Archdeacon of Angers, was believed to have taught that the Body in the Mystery was not to be identified with that which was born of our Lady St Mary, and to have denied any ‘conversion’ of the elements. He was opposed by, Among others, Lanfranc, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury; who, in maintaining the reality of that conversion, declared that the many occasions on which the body of Christ had been miraculously seen in the Sacrament proved the reality of the presence. Durand, Abbot of Troarn, wrote that the Sacrament was ‘none other than the very flesh which the Virgin conceived of the Holy Ghost, and brought forth with the integrity of her spotless virginity unbroken, contrary indeed to the common course of human nature, but not contrary to the reality of the human body’. It is this sentence, and others like it which condition and characterize, as we shall see, the later usage of Galahad. The errors of Berengar were condemned at various councils — in 1050 at Brienne (convoked by William of Normandy, afterwards William I of England, and patron of Lanfranc), in 1059 in Rome, in 1063 at Rouen, and in 1078 and 1079 again in Rome under the presidency of Gregory VII. At all of these the doctrine of identification was asserted, and ‘the union of flesh and soul in the resurrection of Christ’. The phrase is ascribed to St Peter Damian (1007-1072). To him also is ascribed in the West the first use of the word transubstantiation (Lewis & Williams 1974:200).

All this points to a fundamental shift in Western Eucharistic theology in the 12th century (one of the unintended consequences of the Great Schism, perhaps), and which led to the popularity (and perhaps the emergence) of the legend of the Holy Grail in the West, which is dealt with by Charles Williams in his novel War in heaven. And, as Elizaphanian points out, it is paralleled by a similar shift in ecclesiology. It paved the way for the Inquisition and the Great European witch hunt.

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