Beating up on Berengar

Berengar rejected transubstantion for a number of reasons and advocated a dynamic Presence. However, the church authorities forced him to recant. Had he had moral courage and stood against the intimidation of the Pope and all, the Church would have at least accepted that there is a legitimate alternative to transubstantion, along the lines that between Molinism and Thomism, the Church allows a Catholic to hold either position: a plurality of belief would be acceptable. One could argue that that should have been the outcome with Berengar, that Catholics should be allowed a range of beliefs on what happens in the Eucharist.

Anyway that somewhat sloppily summarizes Schaff’s shot at the supervisors of the Church, to attack with assonance. The charge then is twofold: one, that the alternative viewpoint was legitimate, and second that it was crushed in favor of transubstantiation in an unChristian manner. Intolerance and suppression, in other words, at play in an official capacity.

What is the Catholic response to this?

Berengar denied that Transubstantiation actually caused the wine and bread to change into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Instead he said they remained bread and wine, but were symbolic.

A symbolic Eucharist has never been an “acceptable alternate belief” in the Catholic Church. Transubstantiation is at the very core of Christian belief. Denial of this is a denial of the faith. However his challenge did lead the Church to better define this doctrine.

One response would to be to point out the fact that Mr, Schaff is engaging in a lot of speculation and what-ifs. His grossest error is starting with the premise that Berengar’s view was correct, or at least arguable. No such thing has been proven so it cannot be used as a premise for the whole argument.

Arguments with faulty premises don’t need to be defended against. “Prove your premise. Then we’ll talk.”

Actually, the biggest problem with the statement is that it takes for granted that the Church cannot define such a thing infallibly. Transubstantiation was defined by the Council of Trent, and so for anybody who recognizes Her ability to do this, there’s no issue at all here.

Now the time period that this statement discusses is one long past which one can seperate the Church’s teachings on infallibility from Her teachings on Transubstantiation. They all come in the “Catholic Church” package. When one is discussing the apostolic age, it is at least understandable for a person to treat the two issues seperately, because some people see the early Church as a bunch of independant Christians working out their beliefs, as opposed to a unified Church expressing the teachings of the apostles.

By the time of Berengar, there is no question of what the Catholic Church is - or at least what She claimed to be (for the sake of argument) if one does not accept Her as the true, visible body of Christ. The statement is addressing a Catholic issue - the Eucharist - coming from a Catholic man - Berengar - and handled by a Catholic Council - Trent. To treat the issues seperately makes absolutely no sense. We’re dealing with a period of time when all the parties involved were well aware of the concept that the Church had the power to settle the issue.

What does Schaff say regarding that big ol’ meanie named Athanasius, whose “attack with assonance” against Arius was just a power play regarding that which should have been seen as a “legitimate alternative” to the Nicene Creed? :rolleyes:

I’m betting Schaff sides with Athanasius on this one, seeing it instead as a courageous defense of true dogma. I suppose one man’s contention for the true faith can always be characterized as an “attack with assonance” depending upon their a priori worldview.

Nonetheless, the teaching Church does not invent her doctrines; she is a witness, a custodian, an interpreter, a transmitter. She can be called conservative, uncompromising. To those who would urge her to do otherwise, to be more in keeping with the changing mentalities of the times, she answers with the apostles, we cannot.

These are very good answers. Thank you.

Good point Dave, and I’m sure we could give additional examples.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit