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Who were Ratramnus and Radbertus?

Ratramnus and Radbertus

Ratramnus and Radbertus were two medieval monks whose writings led to the eleventh-century eucharistic controversy. Paschasius Radbertus was a French monk who became the abbot of the monastery at Corbie, France, in 844. He had written a book in 831 called Concerning Christ’s Body and Blood, which asserted that the elements taken during the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) are the same as the physical body of Christ as He appeared on earth. Radbertus later revised his book and presented it as a gift to King Charles II (Charles the Bald), the king of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. After reading the book, King Charles had questions about it and consulted another monk at Corbie named Ratramnus. The response of Ratramnus set the two monks at odds theologically and forever linked their names in reference to what would later be known as the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Radbertus maintained that Christ can be present in thousands of places at once through the sacraments because God “daily creates the flesh and blood of Christ by invisible power through the sanctification of his sacrament, though outwardly understood by neither sight nor taste” (Concerning Christ’s Body and Blood, III.4). Radbertus taught the bread and wine are not merely symbolic of Christ’s body and blood but are parts of the actual human body that housed the Son of God while on earth. Despite there being no biblical foundation for his claim, Radbertus declared that, upon consecration by a priest, the elements become “nothing but Christ’s flesh and blood” (I.2).

When Ratramnus considered the claims of Radbertus, he disagreed and responded with a book of his own: Concerning the Body and Blood of the Lord. In it, Ratramnus refuted the idea that the bread and wine become the actual, physical body and blood of Christ. Ratramnus maintained that the elements are, in fact, Christ’s spiritual body and blood—Christ is mystically present in the elements. The debate raged on, continuing beyond the lives of the two monks into the eleventh century and beyond.

Ratramnus’s view, as promulgated by Berengar of Tours, was rejected at the Council of Vercelli (1050), and Ratramnus’s book was ordered destroyed. Later, the Lateran Synod of 1059 condemned Ratramnus. Radbertus’s doctrine was formally introduced and accepted by the Catholic Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and transubstantiation became official Catholic dogma. Radbertus was even made a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Ratramnus’s views influenced some of the Reformers’ understanding of the Lord’s Supper, particularly the view that came to be known as consubstantiation. While Ratramnus’s views were far more biblical than Radbertus’s, his beliefs were still infused with metaphysical concepts not found in the Bible.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022