A far as history can determine, the first person to write a book exclusively on the Eucharist was Paschasius Radbertus in 831. The book was called On the Body and Blood of the Lord. Although he did not use the term, he taught transubstantiation, the belief that the substance of the bread and wine really become Christ's body and blood by faith.
Paschasius took a literal as opposed to a figurative view of Christ's words, "This is my body broken for you." Very quickly he made his main point and hammered it home through many arguments. "Yet these [the bread and wine] must be believed to be fully, after the consecration, nothing but Christ's flesh and blood." In Paschasius' view, God miraculously creates the physical, historical body of Christ in the Eucharist anytime the loaf is consecrated. "That in truth the body and blood are created by the consecration, no one doubts who believes the divine words when the Truth says: 'For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink.'" If that is so, what does the unbeliever eat, who accepts the bread without faith? Since he does not discern Christ's body, says Paschasius (quoting the Apostle Paul), he eats judgment to himself.
Paschasius emphasized mystical union with Christ. Christ taught that, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." The Eucharist taken in a worthy spirit unites the believer with Christ.
Contemporaries criticized the abbot's view as too crude and materialistic. Most argued for a more symbolic interpretation of the body and blood. Paschasius defended his views in a famous letter. Being a well-read scholar, he was capable of putting up a stout defense. He attempted to show he was in agreement with the writings of the church fathers.
Berengar of Tours developed similar concepts in the eleventh century. The word "transubstantiation" was in widespread use in the West by the later part of the 12th century. Belief in transubstantiation was defined at the Lateran Council of 1215. Further formulation awaited Thomas Aquinas and his use of Aristotelian methods of argument in the 13th century. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) reaffirmed the doctrine. It was (and is) one of the main issues that separate Protestants and Catholics.
Paschasius' work might not have achieved the influence it did but for the fact it was circulated under the name of St. Augustine of Hippo. This gave it credibility for Augustine was well-known, whereas Paschasius was an obscure Benedictine monk. He must have had considerable ability, however, for although he was but a deacon, he was chosen abbot of Corbie. He sought to reform his abbey, but resigned in 851 when his changes were rejected. Active in church synods and as a writer, he lived for some years at St. Riquier after his resignation.
Paschasius died on this date April 26, 856 at Corbie to which he had returned a short time before.
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. Various Editions.
- Jameson, Anna. Legends of the Monastic Orders. London: Longman, Green and co., 1872. Source of the image.
- "Paschasius Radbertus, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
- Pohle, J. "Paschasius Radbertus, St." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
Last updated April, 2007.