Ninth-Century Debates: The Real Presence and Predestination

One of the most important French monastic schools of theology was founded in the seventh century at Corbie, in the northern region of Picardy. By the ninth century, the monastery of Corbie had become one of the most important centers of learning in the region, with a large library including many works of classical Latin literature. Several of the leading scholars and thinkers of the age were attracted to the monastery, including Paschasius Radbertus (died 865) and Ratramnus (died 868).

These two scholars found themselves at the center of a divisive debate over the nature of the real presence. Both wrote works with the same title, Concerning the Body and Blood of Christ, while developing diametrically opposed understandings of the real pres- ence. Radbertus, whose work was completed around 844, developed the idea that the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ in reality; Ratramnus, whose work was written shortly afterwards, defended the view that they were merely symbols of Christ’s body and blood. Although Radbertus found it somewhat difficult to provide a convincing explanation of precisely how ordinary bread was transformed into the body of Christ, he had no doubts about the physical reality and spiritual importance of the change.

Ratramnus was not convinced, and took a very different position. The difference between ordinary and consecrated bread lay in the way in which the believer perceived them. The consecrated bread remained bread; however, the believer was enabled to perceive a deeper spiritual meaning as a result of its consecration. The difference between ordinary and consecrated bread was thus subjective, rather than objective, lying within the believer, rather than within the bread itself.

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