12.09.18, Levy, Macy, and Van Ausdall, eds. A Companion to the Eucharist in the Middle Ages

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Thomas M. Izbicki

The Medieval Review 12.09.18

Levy, Ian Christopher, Gary Macy and Kristen Van Ausdall. A Companion to the Eucharist in the Middle Ages. Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Pp. xvii, 640. ISBN: 978-90-04-20141-5.

Reviewed by:
Thomas M. Izbicki

The Eucharist was the central sacrament of the Western Church in the Middle Ages. Baptism was the gateway to the other sacraments, but liturgical life focused on the Latin mass. The mass brought together clergy and laity, employing ritual words, music, art, artisan work, and architecture in rich combinations. Some Christians may have felt little when attending mass, but many seem were moved by the sight of the elevated host. Several aspects of these developments are discussed in this collection. The contributors focus mostly on theology, popular devotion, architecture, and art. Canon law receives attention, but mostly as it reflects theology. Only music does not get its due in a substantial collection of essays.

The collection is divided into four chronological sections: The Heritage of the Late Empire; The Early Middle Ages; The High Middle Ages; The Late Middle Ages. Little is said pointing toward the Reformation and Counter Reformation. The four sections are illustrated with a total of 90 figures in black and white. The volume concludes with a Glossary of Terms used in the late medieval theology of the Eucharist. The entire collection is indexed, and each contribution concludes with Suggestions for Further Reading.

The essays on The Heritage of the Late Empire represent a period with scattered sources that are not always clear about matters that became important in later periods. Lizette Larson-Miller examines the sparse evidence for liturgy in Late Antiquity, continuing into the period just before the Carolingian ascendancy. The West developed its own liturgies linked to the past but celebrated in Latin instead of Greek. The use of Latin emerged in Africa in the second century of the Common Era and came eventually to be common. There was not, however, a single stream of influence coming from Rome, as once was thought. Local practices emerged with North Africa, Rome, northern Italy (especially Milan), the British Isles, southern Gaul and Spain. Eventually liturgical books, like the sacramentary, antiphonary and lectionary, were created; the surviving copies show borrowings between localities. Our best evidence for practice comes from the instructions in surviving ordines used by the clergy. Larson- Miller provides outlines based on the available evidence for the mass as it was celebrated in Rome and Merovingian Gaul in the seventh century. These reconstructions show common elements together with regional differences.

Joseph Wawrykow provides the patristic background for medieval Eucharistic theology. The Fathers, especially Ambrose and Augustine, affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They offered their own interpretations, on which medieval theologians would build. Patristic ideas about the sacrament were the exegesis of Scripture, affirming the relationship of the Eucharist to Christ's Incarnation. The reception of communion was both individual and corporate, intended to build up the Church as a community of charity. Elizabeth Saxon's essay on art also is tied to exegesis. Much of the surviving art reflects scriptural texts like the Good Shepherd, the multiplication of the loaves, the Last Supper and the Passion. There are few scenes that might represent an agape, but the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek also received liturgical treatment. Much of the early art from the East did not survive the iconoclast movement of the eighth century, and the survival of art in the West was not uniform in time and place. Nonetheless, Saxon traces the development of Eucharistic motifs in the West from the third through the eighth centuries.

The section on the early Middle Ages begins in the Carolingian period. Michael S. Driscoll builds on the available evidence, written and physical. Driscoll provides both pictures and translations from the sources. He discusses the evidence from plans of churches, including the Plan of St. Gall, for ordained priests, including ordained monks, using many altars for masses and solemn processions. What one misses is speculation whether the mass in late Carolingian churches differed substantially from the Merovingian order of mass reconstructed by Larson-Miller.

Much of this lack is made up by the essay of Celia Chazelle. Chazelle reflects on the theology of Paschasius Radbertus, who emphasized the identity of the Eucharist with the body of Christ born of the Virgin Mary, together with alternative viewpoints. The actual liturgies, in so far as we can reconstruct them, remained diverse in details. The experience of the individual Christian attending mass is even harder to reconstruct, but we do know (thanks to this essay) that the Eucharist might be experienced outside the mass, including when nuns held their own communion services. We can also discern what the faithful were to be taught about the Real Presence and how that sense of divine presence might lead to the use of the sacrament in ways that shaded off into magic.

The increasing complexity of Carolingian sacramental theology found its expression in art, as Elizabeth Saxon shows. Carolingian and Ottonian art and architecture display more complex imagery than was found earlier. Reflecting the sacramental realism of Paschasius, these works are tied to depiction of the suffering Christ. Thus the Crucifixion can be seen just above the Last Supper, linking feast to sacrifice. Saxon contends that this art refuted Eucharistic heresy, especially when the Gregorian Reform's attack on simony raised doubts whether the actions of a simoniac priest really were valid.

The High Middle Ages saw the emergence of Scholasticism, with both theology and law taught at the new-born universities. Professors propagated the idea that there were seven sacraments. As the most important of these, the Eucharist received a good deal of attention. Transubstantiation eventually became the most common term used when explaining the Real Presence. What was meant by the term was not instantly clear, and discussions of how transubstantiation might occur became a matter for theologians to debate thereafter.

Edward Foley opens the section on the High Middle Ages with an examination of the continued diversity of liturgies in the West. Certain regional traditions, including the Ambrosian rite of Milan and the Mozarabic rite of the Iberian Peninsula, remained. Even where the Roman rite was employed there were regional differences. Edwards focuses on differences in the region of Paris. The Paris "use" differed from that of St.-Denis, the royal monastery only miles away from the cathedral of Notre Dame. Differences ranged from the congregation present, monastic and non-monastic, to the ranking of feasts, the music used and the vestments of the ministers. In places, Edward contrasts these local uses with the masses celebrated in Braga in Portugal and Milan. The essay includes parallel reconstructions of the Sunday masses celebrated on July 28, 1280 at Notre Dame and St.- Denis, comparing and contrasting form, type and style of liturgy.

Gary Macy expounds the Eucharistic theology of the time in its broadest outlines. The proper celebrant was in holy orders and living a life worthy of the priesthood. The Real Presence was affirmed in corporeal terms in opposition to the errors of men like Berengar of Tours, who emphasized Christ's spiritual presence. Most interesting is Macy's exposition of the proper reception of the Eucharist. Communion might be received sacramentally (the elements alone), spiritually (in faith and love) or both together, which was the ideal. Eventually spiritual reception by faith upon seeing the elevated host was accepted. Miracle stories were told by preachers ratifying the Real Presence, including seeing a child in the raised host.

Ian Levy documents the reception of the Real Presence by canonists, together with their exposition of the norms for celebrating mass. These instructions can be found as early as the tenth-century collection of Regino of PrĂ¼m, and they were taken up by Burchard of Worms in the next century. The Reformers Anselm of Lucca and Ivo of Chartres also were interested in the sacraments. These developments culminated in the twelfth century Decretum of Gratian, which was the first textbook of canon law in the universities. Canonists taught the Real Presence, and transubstantiation eventually became the norm. Ironically, the canonists thought transubstantiation was effected not by the transformation of the elements, but their annihilation and replacement with the body and blood of Christ. What one misses here is an examination of how this affirmation of transubstantiation filtered down to the local level via councils, synods and pastoral manuals.

These practical issues receive more attention in the essay by Miri Rubin on popular attitudes. Rubin looks at the "ritual package" of the mass. The sweet taste of communion was but one of the five senses engaged in the celebration of mass. The faithful were offered the wondrous presence of God in the form of bread, seen often and tasted at least once in a year at Easter. The sweetness of communion was reflected in the writings of mystics, and Eucharistic symbolism is found in many poems. The exempla used by preachers reminded the faithful that Christ was present and might even vindicate his presence against doubt and sacrilege through Eucharistic wonders. Communion also fit into the daily "routines of food and nurture" as the central meal offered to the faithful.

The Late Middle Ages continued developing art and architecture to highlight the Real Presence. Gerhard Lutz examines some of the physical evidence that remains after the Reformation and changes in Catholic practice obliterated much of it. The thirteenth century saw the authorization of the Feast of Corpus Christi, and it was reaffirmed in the fourteenth. The faithful could see the host carried through the streets in a monstrance. Pilgrims went to visit "wonder hosts" that bled when attacked. The greatest of these shrines, that at Wilsnack, survived doubts cast upon the authenticity of its relics. Lutz illustrates how the relic was present but seen only rarely, otherwise locked away. The chest used at Wilsnack survives, although the relics were destroyed. Kristen Van Ausdall offers an overview of late medieval art as it depicted the sacrament and related themes, including Mary's providing Eucharistic flesh for the Son. Van Ausdall also looks at a less usual relic, the corporal on which the host was said to have bled during the Miracle at Bolsena. The host supposedly bled in response to the doubts of a foreign priest who was celebrating mass. The reliquary in Orvieto cathedral has scenes illustrating the miracle, one of the masterpieces created to celebrate the sacrament in the late medieval period.

Stephen E. Lahey gives late medieval Eucharistic theology the complex treatment is deserves. Theologians argued over how transubstantiation could occur, disputing how Christ could be present, including how the elements could be changed. Even more challenging to them was explaining how the accidents could remain after the substance of each element, the bread and the wine, had been changed. Theology was complicated in that period, as earlier, by the belief that the blood was present with the body and the body with the blood as the resurrected, glorified Christ became present to the faithful, the doctrine of concomitance. Lahey shows how these disputes led Wyclif to reject transubstantiation. He briefly mentions the Lollards, who looked to Wyclif as an inspiration, the trial of John Hus for his defense of Wyclif and the Hussite revolution in Bohemia. More might have been done with the Utraquist theology of the more moderate Hussites, who demanded that the laity receive the consecrated wine together with the host. Nonetheless, Lahey reveals to us how complex any theology had to be to explain transubstantiation in the academic idiom of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries.

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Thomas M. Izbicki