Monday, July 22, 2013

"fantastical confections of architectural exuberance" ... book review of "Real Presence: Sacrament Houses and the Body of Christ, c. 1270-1600"

Edmund Bishop made an interesting comment that during the Middle Ages, “the Blessed Sacrament reserved was commonly treated with a kind of indifference which at present would be considered to be of the nature of ‘irreverence,’ I will not say indignity.” This is perhaps understandable: the Eucharist, and what we consider to be the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharistic species, could be somewhat taken for granted considering the established place of Eucharistic theology from the early patristic though the early medieval periods. For about a thousand years after the post-apostolic teachings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus,2 few seriously questioned that the Eucharist was the Body and Blood of Christ, as the Lord himself said. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem gives a typical, simple, and eloquent affirmation of this:
Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith. You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ.
Eucharistic Tower at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City, Utah
There was little formal or systematic theology behind such utterances, other than the real theology of taking the words of Christ at their face value. Only after that could they be considered as typology, anagogy, tropology, or allegory. In time, the conventional understanding was challenged, first by a ninth century monk named Rathramnus and later (more famously) in the eleventh century by Berengarius of Tours. In response, the Scholastics developed the Eucharistic theory of transubstantiation, with which they robustly defended the words of the Lord. That doctrine was formally articulated for the Latin Church by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD), and subsequently reaffirmed against the Protestants at the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century.

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