Rob Sturdy: Spiritual Presence in the Sacramental Theology of the Medieval Church

20 12 2011

This essay was for a course called “Pre-Reformation developments.”  The paper principally deals with the doctrine of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist during the Medieval period.  The strange language used towards the end of the paper is “middle English.”  It’s not quite as hard to read as it looks.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the grounds rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The extra-Calvinisticum as a formal Christology had many advocates long before its namesake John Calvin.  The affinity of patristic and even scholastic Christology with the extra-Calvinisticum has been demonstrated by many scholars and will be briefly reviewed in this paper.  Despite the presence of theextra-Calvinisiticum in the formal Christology of Calvin’s predecessors, it is noticeably lacking in the sacramental theology of many of Calvin’s more mainstream predecessors.  This does not mean, however, that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology is altogether absent.  This paper will demonstrate that the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology was present, albeit in a minority fashion, from the late 9th century up until the eve of the Reformation.  This will broaden the thesis that the extra-Calvinisticum should not only be regarded as a catholic doctrine in its formal Christology, but in its application to sacramental theology as well.

The extra-Calvinisticum as catholic doctrine

Before the issue of sacramental theology is tackled, a brief overview of the scholarly defense of the extra-Calvinisticum as a catholic doctrine will be reviewed.  The defense of this proposition can be mounted on two fronts, which will be briefly outlined.  First, those Reformers who demonstrate an extra-Calvinisticum in their theology do not see themselves in discontinuity with their predecessors, but rather in continuity.  For example, Calvin explicitly credits the scholastics with the extra-Calvinisticum in his “True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper,” when he writes

I employed the trite dictum of the schools, that Christ is whole everywhere, but not wholly, (totus ubique sed non totum;) in other words, in his entire person of Mediator he fills heaven and earth, though in his flesh he has chosen as the abode of his human nature, until he appear to judgment.[3]

Peter Martyr Vermigli sites exhaustively from the patristic theologians[4] and speaks approvingly of his scholastic predecessors in matters of Christology to support his understanding of the extra-Calvinisticum.[5] The English Reformers take great delight in resurrecting the 9th century monk “Bertram” (Ratramnus), who they see as a catholic source on Christological and sacramental matters.[6] All this goes to show that at least the Reformed theologians who championed the extra-Calvinisticum did not see themselves as innovators or as breaking with catholic tradition.

The second argument for seeing the extra-Calvinisticum as a catholic Christology normative in the life of the church comes from recent scholarship.  For example, Karl Barth points out “the Reformed theologians maintained this not as a theological innovation, but in continuation of all earlier Christology.”[7] On this point Barth assembles a formidable list of patristic theologians including Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and John of Damascus.  Unfortunately Barth’s only scholastic source is Thomas Aquinas.  However, more recently, David Willis has made considerable efforts to show the presence of the extra-Calvinisitcum in the Christology of the scholastic theologians.  He argues Calvin’s dependence upon Lombard, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Occam in his articulation of the extra-Calvinistiucm.[8] So too has Heiko Oberman sought to demonstrate the presence of the extra-Calvinisticum in the Christology of the scholastic theologians.  Oberman shows the extra-Calvinisticum as normative in the formal Christology of Duns Scotus[9], Occam and Gabriel Biel.[10]

Though the extraCalvinisticum has been convincingly argued by respected theologians to be present in the formal Christology of Calvin’s predecessors, it nevertheless is not present in the sacramental theology of Calvin’s predecessors.  The local presence of the body of Christ in heaven and the ubiquitous nature of the divinity of the Son of God is inconsistent with the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was adopted by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.  The Fourth Lateran Council held that the natures of bread and wine were substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ during the words of institution.  Thus the physical body of Christ was no longer spatially limited to heaven, but rather became potentially (with qualification) ubiquitous like the divinity.  Though this position was held by the majority of theologians from 1215 on, there nevertheless remained a strong critique of the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist based upon a Christology that one could describe as an extra-Calvinisticum.  This critique both preceded the Fourth Lateran Council and remained as a strong minority report up until the time of the Reformation.  In the remainder of this essay, we will explore the presence of the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology through two sources.  The first source is the 9th century monk from Corbie, Ratramnus.  He has been chosen because of the Reformers’ dependence upon him in their articulation of the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist as well as the fact that his critique predates transubstantiation as a formal doctrine in the life of the church.  Our second source comes from the writings of the Lollards from the late 14th and early 15thcenturies.  They have been chosen because they show the enduring nature of the critique against transubstantiation based on Christological principles that reflect theextraCalvinisticum.  The Lollard writings are important because of their role in the printing campaigns of Basel and London during the Eucharistic controversies of the Reformation.  These two sources will be examined over the following pages, with an emphasis on demonstrating those principles consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to sacramental theology.

Ratramnus and the extra-Calvinisticum

Even before the doctrine of transubstantiation became the official teaching of the church concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist it was anticipated and severely critiqued by the 9th century monk Ratramnus along exegetical and Christological lines.  And though the doctrine was lent legitimacy by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the doctrine nevertheless endured a sustained and formidable theological critique due to its perceived incompatibility with orthodox Christology.  Our interest in Ratramnus is twofold.  First, the application of his Christology to his sacramental theology both in Baptism and Eucharist anticipates the extra-Calvinisticum.[11] Indeed, as it will be argued, Ratramnus’ extra-Calvinisticum is so well developed that one wonders whether or not “anticipate” is the appropriate word.  All the features required for the extra-Calvinisticum are present in Ratramnus.  The second reason for our interest in Ratramnus of Corbie is the dependence of many of the Reformed theologians upon the monk’s little book De Corpore et Sanguine Domini.  For example, Peter Martyr Vermigli sites “Bertram” in support of the extra-Calvinisticum in his Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist.[12] Though Calvin never mentions Ratramnus explicitly, it is without doubt that he was exposed to the monk through Vermigli’s Oxford Treatise,which Cavin held in the highest possible regard.[13] Furthermore, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer all site Ratramnus in defense of their sacramental theology.  The English Reformers built a sacramental theology heavily dependent upon the extra-Calvinisticum.[14]

Ratramnus was head of the monastic school of Corbie in the 9th Century.  Though his writings became well known during the period of the Reformation and used to fuel the fire of the Eucharistic controversies, there is little evidence that either Ratramnus or his writings were particularly well known during the Carolingian period.[15] His contribution to Carolingian theology was twofold.  First, along with his constant partner in debate, Paschasius Radbertus, they were first among Western theologians to make a major contribution to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.[16] Second, Ratramnus was a notable contributor to the Eucharistic theology of the period.  The two contributions are interrelated and important in demonstrating the presence of the extra-Calvinisticumin Ratramnus’ theology.

In terms of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Ratramnus’ friendly rival, Radbertus, maintained that the absence of original sin from Mary prevented her from feeling either sorrow or pain during the birth of her son.  In fact, Radbertus explicitly denied that Mary had given birth according to the “common law of nature” but rather that her son had miraculously passed through the “closed doors of her womb.”  Radbertus argued that his opponents had forgotten that the “laws of God do not depend upon the nature of things, but the laws about the nature of things flow from the laws of God.”[17] In a mysterious way then, the laws governing the physicality of the flesh of Jesus and the womb of Mary would have had to have been temporarily overwhelmed to bring about the birth of Christ.  Because the full humanity of Jesus and its natural properties would have, according to Radbertus, necessarily been suspended, Ratramnus saw this line of argument as a threat to the true humanity of Christ, arguing that “by nature nothing is shameful,” and that what was unusual in the birth of Christ was his conception, not his birth.[18]

Very early on in his theological discourse Ratramnus shows a concern at preserving the full humanity of Christ by denying a miraculous element in his birth.  During his Eucharistic disputes with Radbertus, a concern for the integrity of the full humanity of Christ can be seen as a driving force behind much of his thinking.  Ratramnus’ most mature doctrine on the Eucharist and his fullest expression of the extra-Calvinisticum is to be found in his De Corpore et Sanguine Domini.  Ratramnus defends the full humanity of Christ in three ways.  His first defense is exegetical.  Ratramnus argues for a figurative reading of the institution accounts.  In terms of the extra-Calvinisticum this is nothing in and of itself, however Ratramnus selects passages from Paul demonstrating the pre-existence and “extra” life of the Son of God apart from the flesh of Jesus in order to show the sacramental life of Israel before the Son of God took on flesh.  As it will be shown, Ratramnus uses this to prove the necessity of the spiritual presence of Christ, which he later uses to argue for the physical body of Christ locally confined in heaven.  Ratramnus’ second defense rests upon distinguishing between the power of flesh and the power of the Spirit to accomplish certain ends.  His final defense rests upon concerns he has over the physicality of Jesus’ body, which leads him to contemplate the appearance of the host, the ubiquity of Christ’s flesh, and finally the cannibalistic nature of a real corporeal presence.  These arguments will be detailed in the following pages.

Ratramnus is not arguing between the positions of a real corporeal presence or memorialism.  Ratramnus is certain that Christ is present in the Eucharist; however, the means by which Christ is present is the question.  Ratramnus conceives of two possibilities to articulate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  These two possibilities are figurative or literal.  The literal  presence here meaning of the very same physical body of Jesus that was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, was dead and buried, and which rising again and ascending into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father.”[19]These categories are also applied to the reading of the scriptures.  That is, some scriptures are meant to be read literally and some figuratively.  For example, “when we say, Christ was born of the Virgin, suffered, was crucified, dead and buried…nothing is expressed under veils or figures,” but rather the scriptures are proclaiming the “truth of the reality.”[20] But there are other scriptures which indicate a figurative truth.  “For substantially, neither is the bread Christ, nor the vine Christ, nor the apostles branches.”[21]

Ratramnus argues for a figurative reading of the institution narratives and thus a figurative understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist based upon his understanding of how the relationship between signs and figures work.  “A day may be called what it is not truly, because it bears a resemblance to it by the revolution of time and an event may be said to be done on a particular day on account of the celebration of its sacrament, which thing indeed was not done on that day but long before.”[22]Christ was long before “once offered in his own proper nature.”  However, it can rightly be said “that Christ is immolated” in the Eucharist, not because his proper nature is being offered again, but because the Eucharist bears a certain “similitude of those things of which they are sacraments.”[23] Thus the offering of Christ according to his own proper nature has a power peculiar to itself and the sacrament a power peculiar to itself.  For Ratramnus, the sacraments act as a sort of catalyst bringing the faith of the believing soul to bear upon the actual event or thing which they signified.  Thus the bread and wine which are placed on the altar act as a “memorial of the Lord’s death, so that it may recal to present memory that which was done in the past, and that we may be reminded of his passion.”[24] However one must not jump to conclusions that Ratramnus is asserting a memorialistic view of the sacraments.  As has already been stated, memorialism is not an option that Ratramnus considers.  Christ is truly present.  It is the manner of his presence that Ratramnus concerns himself with.  In the act of remembering, Christ becomes present spiritually to the believer by faith and his divinity becomes “spiritual food and spiritual drink which spiritually feeds the soul and bestows on it the life of eternal happiness.”[25]

Ratramnus is clear that the sacramental elements alone, because of their physicality, cannot effect spiritual change in the life of the believer.  In terms of the Eucharist, Ratramnus argues that it is illogical to assume that the bread becomes a physical body namely because the human nature belongs to the realm of the material creation and is thus subject to corruption.  How then can something which is “subject to change and corruption” impart immortality?[26] Clearly it cannot.  Something must be at work in the sacrament beyond what is seen.  He goes on to argue that the physical elements of sacraments are not effectual in and of themselves.  Common to the property of water is that it “washes merely outwardly”[27] and corruptible bread can only “nourish a corruptible body.”[28] Rather than the elements affect something not common to their natures, the elements are meant to work naturally within the believer drawing the believer to spiritual truths.  The physical washing of water on the sullied body is meant to act as a catalyst of sorts, causing the believer to contemplate the true washing of the soul by the power of the divinity.[29] So too the physical eating of bread which physically and actually nourishes the body acts as a catalyst for the believer to contemplate a spiritual nourishment of the Divinity which leads to eternal life.[30] This is the figurative manner in which Christ is present by faith.  “There is therefore a life which doth not appear to the eyes of the body, but is perceived by the intuition of faith, which also is the living bread which descends from heaven, and of which it is truly said, whoever shall eat of this bread shall never die; and which is the body of the Lord.”[31]

Here Ratramnus comes closer to the extra-Calvinisticum.  For Ratramnus, the presence of Christ in the bread and wine is clearly a spiritual presence, whereby the Son of God by the power of his divinity descends from heaven to nourish the believer by faith.  As to the human nature of Christ, Ratramnus argues that “flesh in which Christ was crucified and buried is not a mystery,”[32] that is, that flesh in which Christ was crucified does not need faith to perceive it.  The human body of Jesus was crucified in history and could be looked at, touched, observed etc.

“But truly that body in which Christ suffered and rose again is his own proper body, taken of the body of the Virgin Mary, palpable and visible after his resurrection, even as he himself said to his disciples, ‘Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your heart.  Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see me, because a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.”[33]

Ratramnus contrasts the humanity of Jesus, which he describes as the “truth of nature” which is concrete and physical, with the sacrament which is mystery and spiritual.[34]Ratramnus applies the “truth of nature” quite rigidly to the risen Christ.  He cannot be corporeally present because “the body which he took of the Virgin Mary, which suffered, was buried, and rose again, was beyond doubt a true body, the same which remained visible and palpable.”[35] For one to measure the full weight of the emphasis on “visible and palpable,” one needs to remember Ratramnus’ distinction between mystery and nature.  For Ratramnus, the risen Christ remains “visible and palpable,” that is he remains the “truth of nature,” not a mystery to be perceived by faith.  The risen Christ remains “compacted by nerves and bones, and distinguished by various lineaments of the human body, animated by a rational soul.”[36] Because the human nature of Christ is true nature, and not a mystery, Ratramnus does not see the physical Body of Christ accomplishing anything that a normal human body could not accomplish.  Therefore, the Body of Christ because it is true nature cannot be ubiquitous.  Rather the Body of Christ, according to its true nature “is now sitting at the right hand of the Father.  How then is the Bread his Body and the Cup, or rather that which the cup contains his Blood?”[37] In Ratramnus’ rigid understanding of the true human nature of the risen Christ, to locate Christ both in heaven and in the elements is a spatial impossibility.  A normal human body cannot be in two places at once, neither then can the risen Body of Christ be in two places at once.  The divinity cannot overwhelm the humanity to bring this event about, for then the humanity would be diminished.  This is a consequence Ratramnus is keen to avoid.

The problem of ubiquity is not the only problem that Ratramnus finds when he considers the risen body of Christ as true nature as opposed to mystery.  Ratramnus writes “the things which are seen nourish a corruptible body, themselves corruptible; but the things which are believed nourish souls which shall live for ever, themselves immortal.”[38] If Christ is “true nature,” feasting on his physical body could not produce eternal life since things that are seen can only nourish a corruptible body.  That is, if the flesh of Christ were truly eaten it would be broken down, digested and expelled the same as bread.  It would therefore only be capable of nourishing the body.  The problem of the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist is thus magnified for Ratramnus.  If eating the true Body of Christ could not nourish the soul unto eternal life, then feasting upon his true, physical body is nothing short of crass cannibalism.  “For he does not say that his flesh which hung on the cross, should be cut up into small pieces and eaten by his disciples…for this were wickedness…if in the sense unbelievers understood it…His flesh should be eaten by his disciples.”[39]

To recapitulate then the main features of Ratramnus’ extra-Calvinisticum, he begins with a figurative understanding of the nature of the elements in the Eucharist.  The figurative nature of the sacrament brings the faith of the believer to bear upon the redemption of the cross, which makes Christ immediately present to the believer by virtue of the ubiquity of his divinity.  His flesh however is not present in the sacrament, as Ratramnus has a rigid view of the real physical limitations placed upon a true human body.  Ratramnus precedes therefore Calvin in his application of Chalcedonian Christology to the sacraments, and thus holds an extra-Calvinisticum that predates Calvin by 600 years.

The extra-Calvinisticum of the Lollards

Our second source for the extra-Calvinisticum as applied to the sacramental life of the church comes from the Lollards and certain writings attributed to John Wycliffe.  The writings are useful on two points.  First, it can be demonstrated that the concerns of the Lollards concerning the true humanity of Christ mimic those of the extra-Calvinisticumand those of Ratramnus.  However the Lollard writings are removed from Ratramnus by time, geography, and familiarity with academic theology.  There is no evidence that the Lollards were aware of Ratramnus, however it is not beyond the scope of reason that Wycliffe and his Oxford colleagues could have been familiar with the monk and simply refrained from naming him.  Equally possible however, is that concerns similar to theextra-Calvinisticum were swimming in the waters of English Christology and the doctrines were applied to the sacraments. Second, the writings that will be used, particularly Wycliffe’s Wycket, were employed as part of the printing campaign waged on the continent and in England.  Wycliffe’s Wycket was first published in Basel in 1525 and later in England by 1546, mirroring the Eucharistic controversies as they developed on the continent and in England respectively.  On a clerical or university level, association with Wycliffe was certainly to be avoided.  These concerns would have been absent on a popular level, however, and no doubt the Wycket was used as an effective educational and propaganda tool for the extra-Calvinisticum in the Eucharistic controversies of the Reformation.

The following section will focus on three texts.  Anchoring this discussion will beWycliffe’s Wycket, which is arguably the oldest text of the three, although there is no solid indication that the Wycket should be attributed to its namesake.  Nevertheless, there are good grounds for believing the work to be written shortly after Wycliffe’s death in 1384, placing it within a hundred years of our other selected texts.  The remaining texts are Lollard pieces from the mid 15th century.  One is an apologetic piece and the other a sermon.  These three texts will be used to demonstrate a strain of thought consistent with the application of the extra-Calvinisticum to the sacramental life of the church, with particular emphasis on preserving the true human nature of Christ.

The primary critique of the Wycket concerning the real, corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist is that the doctrine leads to idolatry.  The charge of idolatry towards the doctrine of transubstantiation is no simple idolatry, but rather it is comparable to the “abhomynacyon into desolacyon,”[40] of Daniel 9.27 and the sin of the golden calf at Sinai.[41] In fact, transubstantiation has led the church into “greater abhomynacyons” than those recorded in Daniel.  For by this doctrine the church itself leads people “awaye frome God and they be taughte to worshyp for God that thing that is not god nor sauiour of the world.”[42]

Much like Ratramnus, the Wycket defends the argument by distinguishing between the properties common to the divinity and properties common to the humanity.  Because the chief criticism of transubstantiation in the Wycket is idolatry, the argument begins by seeking to preserve those properties common to the divinity of Christ.  “God is father, God is sone, God is the holye Ghoste.  Vnmade is the father, vnmade is the sonne, & vnmade is the holy goste.”[43] Unlike Ratramnus and later the Reformed, the Wycketshows no real familiarity or dependence upon the Chalcedonian definition, but rather here is quoting from the Athanasian Creed of the late 5th or early 6th century.  A substantial property of the nature of divinity that the Wycket is eager to preserve is that divinity is “vnmade.”

The critique that the Wycket brings to bear upon transubstantiation is that it opens the possibility of the Son becoming a created thing, thus infringing upon a property substantial to his divinity.  “That thynge that is not God to daye shalbe God to morowe, yea and that thynge whyche is without spirite of lyfe, but growethe in the felde by kynde shalbe God an other tyme.”[44] The concern however, does not end there.  If indeed the Son becomes a created thing at the words of institution, then that person who spoke the words of institution could be understood to some extent to have gained mastery over the Son, thus infringing upon another property substantial to his divinity, that of omnipotence.  “And thou then that art an earthly man, by what reason mayst thou saye that thou makest thy maker.  Whether maye the made thynge say to the maker, why hast thou made me thus?  Or maye it turne agayne & make him that made it (God forbyde).”[45]

Not only does transubstantiation confuse or impose upon those properties common to the divinity, but the author of the Wycket understands transubstantiation to confuse and impose upon those properties common to the humanity of Christ.  In the Wycket, the human nature of Christ before his ascension is shown to be subject to all the elements of corruptibility (pain, hunger, tiredness, death etc.) that is common to our human nature.[46] His subjection to corruptibility is essential to the salvation of sinners.  “Here menee maye see by the wordes of Christie that it behoued that he dyed in the fleshe, and that in his deathe was made the frute of euerlastynge lyfe.”[47] The error of the doctrine of transubstantiation concerning the humanity of Christ is that though the human nature of Christ was once subject to corruptibility it is subject to corruptibility no longer.[48] This poses a particular challenge to the doctrine of transubstantiation, which regardless of what is being proclaimed about the nature of the elements, they are nevertheless subject to corruptibility.  How then can the nature of Christ, which has been clothed in immortality, then be subject to corruptibility?

Further challenges to the doctrine of transubstantiation have less to do with challenging inconsistencies with Christ’s ascended body as they do with concerns of properties which can be applied to human nature in general.  What can be generally said about each of these critiques, is that the Wyckett portrays the doctrine of Transubstantiation as taking the physical, concrete body of Jesus and turning it into something undefined and indeterminate.

The first critique leveled against transubstantiation as regards to the human nature of Christ in general is the problem of quantity.  “Yf the manhode of Christe were encreased euery daye by so muche as the breade and wyne draweth that ye ministren, he shoulde waxe more in one daye by carte lodes then he dyd in XXXII yeres when he was here in earth.”[49] The problem of quantity would have been no problem at all to the scholastic theologians, who along with Aristotle regarded the category of quantity as an accident rather than as a substance of human nature and thus non-essential.  The scholastics explained the problem away with various methods.  One such method, of which the author of the Wycket is aware was to describe the bread as a shattered mirror whereby one human face can see multiple reflections.[50] The author’s thoroughly realist approach to the doctrine of transubstantiation and the true humanity of Christ will allow no such approach.  He notes that the doctrine of transubstantiation does not allow for a representation, but the elements become the true body and blood of Christ.  Therefore the analogy implies something about the doctrine that the Fourth Lateran Council would not affirm.  Rather, if the doctrine of the Fourth Lateran Council is to be taken seriously and one is to see the face of Christ in the bread then it is as if Christ “must nedes haue two faces,” one on his ascended body and one in the bread.[51] The author’s incredulity at this assumption has to do with his thoroughly rigid approach to the ascended body of Christ and his commitment to his full and uncompromised humanity.

The second critique concerns the elements themselves.  With a realist perspective on what the Body of Christ actually is, the Wycket sees a stumbling block for the real corporeal presence of Christ in two elements.

But now I shall aske you a worde, answere ye me, whether is the body of the lorde made at once or at tyse, is bothe the fleshe and the bloode in the hoost of the breade or elles is the fleshe made at one tyme, and the bloode made at other tyme, that is to saye the wyne in the chalice?  yf thou wylt saye it is ful and hole the manhode of Christe in the hooste of breade, bothe fleshe & bloode skynne, here, and bones, then makest thou to worshyppe a false god in the chalice, wych is vnconiured when ye worshyp the breade, and yf ye say the fleshe is in the breade, and the blood in the wyne, then thou muste graunt, yf thy craft be true, as it is not in dede, that the manhode of christ is departed and that he is made two tymes: for first thou takest the hoost of breade other a pece of bread and make it as ye saye, and the innocent people worshyp yt.[52]

The above quote should demonstrate the rigidity with which the author of the Wycketregarded the human nature of Christ.  If the whole of the Body of Christ is contained in the bread, what then is the believer to make of the cup, which is said to be the blood?  Is both flesh and blood present in the bread, and only blood present in the cup?  The inference here is that in a true human body the blood and flesh cannot be separated one from the other.  How then can the blood in the chalice be separate from the body in the bread?

A third problem is what one might call a problem of perception.  The author of theWycket holds that a true human body, such as that of Christ’s risen body, should be perceived as a true human body.  The doctrine of transubstantiation however, forces the believer to comprehend bread as a human body.  The perceptual difficulty is that bread in no way resembles a true human body.  “Ye saye that there is lefte no breade, but it is the bodye of the lorde, but trulye there is nothynge bu an hepe of accidents as whytnes, ruggednes, roundness, sauery, touchynge and tastynge and suche other accidents.”[53] Again, the scholastics would have dodged this objection by claiming that Christ is substantially present, even though the accidents of bread would imply otherwise.  But one wonders if this is an objection so easily dodged.  According to the scholastic tradition, beginning with Scotus, affirmed by Occam and later Biel, the passive potential for assumption is substantial to human nature.[54] And while the potential is substantial to human nature, the actualization of this potential is not substantial.  To be assumed therefore would be analogous to an accident.  This substance/ accident relationship  permits Christ to be assumed without altering his substantial human nature.  The language of passive potential indicates that assumption would be anaccident of a human nature, were human nature to be assumed.  The argument, according to the scholastics, is that human nature was assumed by the Word, thus creating the hypostatic union between divine and human natures in the person of Christ.  The stumbling point in regards to transubstantiation, however, is that once the nature is assumed it becomes individuated, that is it becomes a unique person.  Its accidents, while not essential to the two natures, are nevertheless essential to its individuation.[55] To alter the accidents would be to alter what makes Christ unique as a human person and could potentially open the doorway to the divinity assuming all human persons (and their accidents) rather than simply the substantial human nature.  The Wycket by no means engages in such technical debate, nevertheless one wonders if the Wycket’s highly educated namesake would have been aware of the tension and passed it on to his lay followers.

The Wycket’s dual concern to preserve the properties of the divinity and humanity of Christ in the Eucharist respectively, lead the author of the Wycket and his Lollard descendants to articulate a doctrine strikingly similar to the extra-Calvinisticum. This is done in either one of two ways.  The first way is an explicit articulation of the local presence of the physical body of Christ limited to heaven, while a ubiquitous spiritual presence of the Word is present on earth.  In a Lollard apologetic text from the mid 15th century we read that “Cristis body and his blode, ƥe whiche Crist tok of ƥe virgin Mary, and ƥe which body diƺed vpon ƥe crosse and laye in ƥe sepulcre, and steie into heuen.”[56] The text firmly locates the physical body of Jesus as limited spatially to heaven; however, the text also goes on to affirm that because Christ is both “verre God and verre man,” though his humanity is confined to heaven he nevertheless can be present by virtue of his divinity.[57]

The second manner by which the Lollards affirm the extra-Calvinisticum is a rhetorical device whereby God becomes present, not literally but figuratively.

And ƥat ƥe sacrid breed is verily Goddis bodi, so it semeƥ ƥat he seiƥ ƥat ƥis dowue is ƥe Hooli Goost.  Bu tclerkis witen ƥat ƥer ben two manners of seyng:  ƥat ben personal seyng and habitudynel seyng.  Ƥis dowue myƺte not be God in his kynde, but bi sum habitude it signiyfieƥ God: and ƥus, bi autoritie of God, it is God.[58]

That is, the “dowue” (dove) is not properly the Holy Ghost, but rather the dove signifies the Holy Ghost. Likewise, the breed is not properly “Goddis bodi” but rather the breed signifies God’s body.  Therefore one ought not to look for God in corporeal manifestations, because he is not corporeally present either in the dove or in the bread.  Rather God is spiritually present by virtue of his divinity.  By God’s authority, the strength attributed to the sign is such that it brings about the presence of the thing signified, but spiritually only.  The similarity between the Lollards here and Calvin in the use of the rhetorical device is striking.  Calvin writes:

Surely God does not have blood, does not suffer, cannot be touched with hands.  But since Christ, who was true God and also true man, was crucified and shed his blood for us, the things that he carried out in his human nature are transferred improperly, although not without reason, to his divinity.. (Inst II.14.3).

Calvin scholar Paul Helm describes this rhetorical device as “rhetorical expressions whose economical form is warranted by the unity of Christ’s person.”[59] Therefore it is false to say that God “shed his blood” because blood, pain or suffering are not properties common to God.  However as a rhetorical device the unity of the person of the Mediator permits this language even though the nature of the divinity does not permit the verse to be literally true.


The presence of the extra-Calvinisticum in the formal Christology of the church from the Council of Chalcedon to the Reformation has been well documented.  However, as has been stated previously, the documentation of the extra-Calvinisticum in the sacramental life of the church has not been paid as much attention.  This paper has shown that preceding the formal adoption of transubstantiation in 1215 a strong articulation of theextra-Calvinisticum as applied to the Eucharist was constructed by Ratramnus, the 9thcentury monk.  Furthermore, this paper has also demonstrated that a Christological critique of transubstantiation, consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum, was carried out by the Lollard tradition right upon until the eve of the Reformation.  Thus one can state confidently that not only does the extra-Calvinisticum have forerunners in the formal Christology of the church, but there are strong grounds for asserting that the extra-Calvinisticum had forerunners in its application to the sacramental life of the church as well

Word count: 7,653


Primary Sources:

John Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion. Ed. J.T. Mcneill (Westminster John Knox Press, 1980)

John Calvin,  “The True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper” in Calvin’s Tracts and Letters Vol II edt. and translated by Henry Beveridge (Versa Press: East Peoria 2009)

Thomas Cranmer, “Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacrament” in Cranmer’s Works Edited for the Parker Society Vol I,edt. by Rev. John Edmund Cox (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1866)

Nicholas Ridley, “Brief Declaration or Treatise Against Transubstantiation” in The Works of Nicholas Ridley Edited for the parker Society edt. by Rev. Henry Christmas (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1863)

Peter Martyr Vermigli, Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist: 1549 trans. and.edt. by J.C. McLelland (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 2000)

Peter Martyr Vermigli, Dialogue on the Two Natures of Christ trans and edt. By John Patrick Donelly, S.J. (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 1995)

Ratramnus of Corbie, The Book of Bertram Monk of Corbie, A.D. 840, on The Body and Blood of the Lord (“De Corpore et Sanguine Domini” edt. and translated by W.F. Taylor (London: Simpkin Marshall & Co. 1880)

Wycliffe’s Wycket: Whych He Made in Kyng Rychards Days the Second (reprinted by Tho P. Pantin 1828)

Selections from English Wycliffite Writtings edt. by Anne Hudson (University of Toronto Press: Toronto 1997)

Secondary Sources:

Barth, K.  Church Dogmatics edt. by G. W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (T&T Clark: London 2009)

Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2005)

Helm, Paul. ‘Divine Accommodation’ in John Calvin’s Ideas (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Muller, Richard A.  The Unaccommodated Calvin:  Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (Oxford University Press:  Oxford, New York 2000)

Muller, Richard.  Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol I:  Prolegomena to Theology 2nd ed. (Baker Academic:  Grand Rapids 2006)

Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Beil and late medieval nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000)

Otten, W. “Carolingian Theology” in The Medieval Theologians edt. by G.R. Evans (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2001)

Pelikan, J. The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) (University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1978)

Willis, D. Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the so-called “extraCalvinisticum” in Calvin’s Theology (E.J. Brill: Leiden 1966)

[1] Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Beil and late medieval nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000) pg 265

[2] Perhaps the best illustration of this concept in Calvin’s Christology can be found in the Institutes: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then he was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body.  This is mere impudence!  For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein.  Here is something marvelous:  the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! (Inst II.13.4 Emphasis mine).

[3] Calvin’s “The True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper” in Calvin’s Tracts and Letters Vol II (Versa Press: East Peoria 2009) pg 515.

[4] Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist: 1549trans. and.edt. by J.C. McLelland (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 2000) pg 48-58.

[5] “The holy Scriptures never say that Christ’s body is everywhere, the Fathers certainly don’t affirm it, and the scholastics everywhere reject it.  Hence we are in no way at fault.” Peter Martyr Vermigli, Dialogue on the Two Natures of Christ trans and edt. By John Patrick Donelly, S.J. (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 1995) pg 13

[6] See Thomas Cranmer’s “Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacrament” inCranmer’s Works Edited for the Parker Society Vol I, and Nicholas Ridley’s “Brief Declaration or Treatise Against Transubstantiation” in The Works of Nicholas Ridley Edited for the parker Society.

[7] See Barth, K.  Church Dogmatics 1.2 pg 176-177.

[8] Willis, D. Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the so-called “extraCalvinisticum” in Calvin’s Theology (E.J. Brill: Leiden 1966) pg 26-42

[9] Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000) pg 253

[10] ibid pg 265

[11] See Otten, W. “Carolingian Theology” in The Medieval Theologians edt. by G.R. Evans (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2001) pg 76

[12]Peter Martyr quotes Ratramnus saying: “More recently, Bertram writes…”Here is surely a wonder, incomprehensible and matchless:  he had not yet assumed manhood, nor yet tasted death for the salvation of the world, nor yet redeemed us with his blood, but our fathers in the desert already ate his body and drank his blood by a spiritual food and invisible drink; as the apostle testifies saying ‘The same spiritual meat.” See Peter Martyr’s Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist: 1549 trans. and.edt. by J.C. McLelland (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 2000) pg 34

[13] “The whole was crowned by Peter Martyr, who has left nothing to be desired.” See Calvin’s “True Partaking” in Tracts and Letters vol II, pg 535

[14] For a fine example of this see Ridley’s “Disputation at Oxford” in The Works of Nicholas Ridley: Edited for the Parker Society pg 202

[15] Otten, W. “Carolingian Theology” in The Medieval Theologians pg 74

[16] Pelikan, J. The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) (University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1978) pg 72

[17] For an extended discussion see Pelikan, J.  The Growth of Medieval Theology pg 72-74

[18] ibid pg 73

[19] Ratramnus, The Book of Bertram Monk of Corbie, A.D. 840, on The Body and Blood of the Lord (“De Corpore et Sanguine Domini” edt. and translated by W.F. Taylor (London: Simpkin Marshall & Co. 1880) 4

[20] ibid 6

[21] ibid

[22] Ratramnus 25

[23] Ibid 25

[24] Ibid  66

[25] Ibid 67

[26] “For this which the body takes is corruptible, nor can it impart to the body that it should never die, since that which is liable to corruption cannot impart eternal existence.” Ratramnus 35

[27] Ibid 14

[28] Ibid 15

[29] Ibid 14

[30] Ibid 15

[31] ibid 36

[32] Ratramnus 39

[33] Ibid  58

[34] “That flesh in which Christ was crucified and buried is not a mystery, but the truth of nature.  But this flesh which now contains the similitude of that in a mystery is not flesh in nature (specie) but in sacrament.  In nature (specie), indeed, it is bread, but in sacrament it is the true body of Christ, even as He himself, the Lord Jesus proclaimed, ‘This is my body.” ibid 39

[35] ibid pg 42

[36] ibid pg 47

[37] Ratramnus 62

[38] ibid 15

[39] Ratramnus 22

[40] Wycliffe’s Wycket: Whych He Made in Kyng Rychards Days the Second (reprinted by Tho P. Pantin 1828) A5

[41] “therefore be ye conuerted frome the worste synne as it is written, when Moyses was in the hyll with God Exod. xx. the people made a calfe and worshypped it as God.  And God spake to Moyses go, for the people haue done the worste synne to make and worshyppe alien goddess.” Wycliffe’s Wycket B3

[42] Wycliffe’s Wycket A6

[43] ibid A8

[44] ibid B

[45] Wycliffe’s Wycket A8

[46] “We should beleue he wsa a very man in kynde as we be, as god in virtue, and that hys manhood was sustained in foode as ours be, for saynt Paule sayeth he was very man, and in habyte he was founde a man.” Wycliffe’s Wycket B7

[47] Ibid


[48] “Also he ascended vp to heauen, & that he wyl abyde there tyll he come to iudge the quycke & the deade?  and yf they saye that thye make Christes bodye as it was before he had suffered hys passion, then muste they nedes graunt that Christe is to dye yet? for by all holy scriptures he was promised to dye and that he gaue lordshyppe of euerlastynge lyfe.” Wycliffe’s Wycket A11

[49] Wycliffe’s Wycket B1

[50] The author of the Wycket demonstrates his familiarity with this analogy when he states: “For ye saye as a man maye take a glasse, and breake the glasse into many peces, and in euery pece properly thou mayste se thy face, & they face not parted.  So ye saye the lords bodye is in eache hoost eyther pece, and hys body not parted.” B5

[51] Wycliffe’s Wycket B5

[52] Wycliffe’s Wycket B3

[53] Wycliffe’s Wycket B

[54] Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2005) pg 300

[55] Cross 15

[56] Selections from English Wycliffite Writtings edt. by Anne Hudson (University of Toronto Press: Toronto 1997) pg 110

[57] Ibid 110-111

[58] Selections from English Wycliffite Writtings pg 114

[59] Paul Helm, ‘Divine Accommodation’ in John Calvin’s Ideas (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) pg 78



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: