Ratramnus on the Eucharist (V)

Concluding my translation series of Ratramnus of Corbie’s book on the Eucharist.  Outline here, introduction here, part one here, part two here.

Where will I go next?  Backward in time to Radbertus or forward to Berengar?  First a break for Lent while I work on other pieces, I think.

Without further ado: Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist (V)

Ratramnus on the Eucharist (IV)

Wherein Ratramnus concludes his arguments about the nature of the Eucharist.  For how we got to this point, see my previous posts here, here, and here.  Next post in the series here.

The main thing to comment on here, setting aside some of his really interesting claims about identity and difference, is the structure.  This section of the letter seems to have been rewritten at some point, or perhaps even reworked by a later author.  Why?

The formatting of the first section of the letter was very straightforward: terms, analysis, Scripture, Fathers, conclusion.  This latter section, however, does a few things differently.

First he begins with a lengthy presentation of St. Ambrose’s thoughts on the Eucharist.  With very little commentary added in his own words, this essentially amounts to a twenty-paragraph appeal to Patristic authority.  This is no big shock; perhaps Ratramnus felt he was on riskier ground here and wanted to give himself as much advance cover as possible for his views.

Second, and I think more interesting, Ratramnus embeds his subsequent analysis on identity and difference inside a surprising inclusio: the Eucharist is a two-fold figure of not only Christ, but also of His mystical body–us.  Between raising this in #73-75 and closing out with St. Augustine’s take on the same in #93-96, he lays out differences of attributes and definition in a way that doesn’t really depend on the Two-Fold Figure idea.  The opening of the inclusio is based on liturgical practice, but when he returns to liturgical texts inside his analysis he shows no notice or dependence on the earlier material.

Third, his use of Fulgentius in #90-92, while still pursuing the same kind of dichotomies as the earlier analysis, is far subtler an argument than anything used previously.  There are some new text markers in the last ten or so paragraphs as well, most notably referring to St. Augustine by the hitherto unseen Pater Augustinus.

Now I’m pretty skeptical of authorship claims based on text variation, but at the very least it should be well-noted how different “part two” of this letter is.  I’m open to any number of interpretations here, including the possibility that I’m over-pressing the claim or missed structure in “part one,” but one thing I know: I had a lot more outline-thinking to do for this part of the text!

Without further ado: Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist (IV)

Ratramnus on the Eucharist (III)

See my outline with introductory remarks here and the opening paragraphs with brief commentary here.  Next post in the series here.

Now we come to the first phase of the argument that Ratramnus wants to make: when Catholics consume the sacrament of the Eucharist, do they consume the body and blood of Christ in mystery or in truth?  He runs down a basic primer of Augustinian signification (which, sadly, I did not study at any length in my school years) before launching into an account of change and some Scripture commentary before finally covering his bases with some Patristic authorities.

By later standards of Lateran orthodoxy, to say nothing of Tridentine, and even by the laxer standards of 20th and 21st century Catholic theology, much of what Ratramnus writes in this book can only be described as heretical.  Some of it is highly dubious even in his own context, and I have no interest in playing the game of defending or rehabilitating the man or his work.  But it is interesting throughout, often thought-provoking, and in the end serves as an excellent set of objections for a quaestio format.  Indeed, that last is the thin justification I gave myself for this project–to prepare material for teaching the theology of the Eucharist to students at my school.

But if you prefer strict adherence to more recent Church teaching on the matter–and I don’t blame you if you do–then you might want to look away from some of what comes next.  There are some eyebrow-raisers!

Some of my grammar notes are still scattered throughout, and the entire work could use a good proof-read.  I’ve gone back over some of the rougher spots but surely there are many errors to be fixed.  A hobby for another day!

Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist (III)

Ratramnus on the Eucharist (II)

For my introduction to this little project, see here.  Next post in the series here.

The interesting thing about these opening lines, other than the statement of the two questions in #5, is the way in which Ratramnus frames his entire project.  In the opening paragraphs of his letter to Charles the Bald, Ratramnus sets up Charles as a New Constantine solving a new Arian controversy for the sake of both the spiritual and political realms. Is this flattery of the cleverest sort, addressed to the grandson of Charlemagne?  Or did Charles himself set the terms of the argument this way?  Or did Ratramnus’s entanglement in matters Greek influence him to see the situation this way?  In any case, it seems unlikely to have been the real theo-political situation, since no wide controversy seems to have erupted from the exchange and no councils took canonical action on the matter for generations.

Still, the theological claim is interesting: should St. Paul’s classic exhortation to unity of thought and confession (ut idem sapiant et idem dicant omnes) apply to this question about the Eucharist?  It seems unlikely at the time to have been much more than an academic battle over how to interpret St. Augustine and the other Fathers on the Eucharist, nor does there seem to have been much appetite within the Church to settle the matter definitively.  But in that sense Ratramnus was either ahead of his time or forced the issue himself, since indisputably this set of questions would soon come to be critical and would become a definitive chapter in the deposit of faith.

Grammatically there are a few frustrating points throughout the paragraphs but I’ve streamlined out all but one: the irritating relative pronoun in the second sentence.  The sentence as a whole is clear: What could be worthier than A and B, where A is to understand something (sapere) and B is to allow something (pati).  Each of A and B are further modified by their own relative clause whose antecedent “must” be found inside A and B respectively.  B’s relative clause is quite clear: the antecedent is the last phrase of B, the body of Christ, in which is found the “source and summit,” to steal a much later phrase, of the Christian life.  But now the irritating part: A’s relative clause “must” have some hidden masculine noun as its antecedent, and the only nouns in A are mysteriis (neuter plural) and the hidden noun modified by catholicae (feminine singular).

While it deeply offends my grammatical sense, and while I fear I must be overlooking some better solution in which illius is somehow a masculine form referring to Charles, I have judged that qui must in fact be quae and refer to the Church.  Checking a critical edition would help a lot there, but what can you do?  It’s just a hobby!

Enough of that problem.  Without further ado: Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist (II)

Ratramnus on the Eucharist

The blog has been long-quiet while I struggle to regain full use of my reasoning faculties blasted to rubble by the raising of my toddler son.  Rather than allow my writing to atrophy entirely, I set myself a hobby task: translate into English one of the famous texts on the Eucharist from Church history, that of Ratramnus of Corbie.

Ratramnus composed this work in the 9th century as a counterpoint to the position taken by his own abbot, Paschasius Radbertus.  The mind thrills to imagine the frosty relationship in the cloister after that became known!  While their “argument” does not seem to have created a major controversy in the 9th century, it signals the start of the generational haggling that culminates in the Fourth Lateran Council’s definition of transubstantiation in 1215. Continue reading Ratramnus on the Eucharist

RSB: Dinner

Rule of St. Benedict: How Should I Eat Dinner?

One of the interesting features about St. Benedict’s Rule is how it envisions the ritual of dinner.  After prayer, the monks eat in silence while one designated brother reads aloud through the entirety (or near entirety) of the meal.  As elsewhere in the Rule, St. Benedict takes the reading of the text very seriously: not just anyone can read, but only those well-suited to the task and always on some kind of schedule so as to avoid chaos.

If we contrast this with some earlier monastic practice, it becomes the more interesting.  Earliest monks observed complete silence at table, giving the meal an unearthly quality as a time of meditation or reflection, or merely as the avoidance of garrulous distraction.

St. Benedict’s most direct influence, the Rule of the Master, goes in the opposite direction.  That rule specifies that the table reading be from the Rule of the Master itself, as a kind of training.  The training goes a step further: the abbot will put his monks to the question on what they read, like a lunch-table seminar.

St. Benedict himself insists that there be reading and that there be no distractions, but that’s it.  Most feel safe in assuming that he means reading from Scripture, but centuries of practice have broadened the standard Benedictine table-reading to be anything thoughtful or edifying.

Kardong’s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, to which I have finally returned after a long pause, raises an interesting question which regrettably goes unanswered: what are the merits and demerits of having the communal meal in some kind of silence?  We tend to take for granted that conversation is a natural and healthy part of the meal.  Why do all the monastic legislators seem keen to change that?  Is that such a good idea?

I have two practical interests in this regard:

  1. How should I conduct the dinner table at home with my own children?
  2. How should a Benedictine school conduct the table at lunch with students?

Continue reading RSB: Dinner

A Benedictine Joke

How can you tell the difference between a Benedictine and a Dominican?  A Dominican thinks the Latin word conversatio means “conversation” [insert sarcastic guffaw].

In a Benedictine author like St. Anselm, if you see conversatio it should almost certainly be translated in light of the Benedictine promise of conversatio morum, or “daily conversion of one’s life.”  This is made a little trickier by the fact that St. Benedict’s use of the word would be something of an archaism by the time of St. Anselm, but we are going to trust his grounding in the Rule.

So when a Dominican author copies a Benedictine author’s use of conversatio, now how should we translate it?  The standard use of the word by the time of Aquinas is simply “conversation” as we would use the term.  See opening joke of this post: my English translation of St. Thomas’s prayer gives “discourse” where the saint has conversatio.  He’s only a Dominican, right?

But he is lifting directly from St. Anselm’s prayer, another way in which the Abbot of Bec exerted enormous influence over the scholastic era.  Here’s the side-by-side: Continue reading A Benedictine Joke

Rule of St. Benedict: Freedom

This is a copy of a short talk I gave to our student body two years ago.  Definitely needs some more work to tie it into the Rule but it was a fun one:

Benedictine Hallmark: Freedom

The Gospel is the greatest force of liberation in the world. The whole point of it is to make us free—free in a very specific sense. And the Rule of St. Benedict is a program for living out that gospel. Even though it doesn’t have a chapter specifically devoted to freedom, or even directly mention the word much, the Rule is a project of freedom.

But again, freedom in a very specific sense. Living the Rule doesn’t free me from paying my taxes or cleaning my gutters. It doesn’t free you from doing your homework, listening to your parents, or having to get a job. Barring an exceptional miracle, living the gospel won’t liberate any of us from the prison of a tyrant. It’s not that those freedoms are bad. They are just not our most pressing problem.

The ultimate slave master is myself, wounded by sin. The things I want are stopping me from wanting the things I want to want. Wounded by sin, I want bad things. I make myself the most important thing in the universe. It’s natural for me to love God more than myself, and it’s natural for me to love my neighbor as myself—but I don’t. I resist it because it feels like the inside of a cage. I can’t love my wife or my children as much as I should, can’t do my job with complete joy and confidence, can’t love and serve God with a whole and undivided heart. I know those things will make me happy and I can’t do them—I can’t even bring myself to WANT them properly. The effect of sin is to make me hate the things that will make me happy. It turns me into my own slave master, and into the worst kind of slave—the slave who doesn’t want to be free. The inside of the cage feels like the outside.

This is what Jesus Christ frees us from. This is why the Rule lays down 70+ chapters of rules on how to be free. Everything about the Rule is aimed at our freedom to serve God with an undivided heart:

  • Pray, often, ALWAYS.
  • Receive the sacraments. Only by supernatural might can we do this thing.
  • Live for others in obedience and humility.
  • Serve others, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.

All the hallmarks, obedience, hospitality, love, all the rest, free us. As we are transformed, slowly, almost monotonously, we get better. We stop feeling good things as bad things, or at least we oppose them a little less. The result is one of my favorite antiphons:

“Lightly I run in the way you have shown; for you have opened my heart to receive your law.”

All the runners in here, I hope, have had this experience of “running lightly.” It’s when you stop feeling the weight of your shoes, the drag of your clothes, the ground under your feet, even the resistance of your own body. You are just moving, as if a pure intelligence willing something to be so. Pure movement. It’s an incredible feeling. That’s what the life of grace—the life of the Gospel, of the Rule—is supposed to be like.

“Lightly I run in the way you have shown; for you have opened my heart to receive your law.”

Rule of St. Benedict: Obedience

This is a talk I gave at a faculty retreat a few years ago.  The anecdotes I used then are not written directly into the text and so there are some small gaps (you’ll see it most when you get to the Clue reference).  Like any good talk I went off-script a few times, and I have some notes to myself that are so terse I can’t understand them anymore, so what you read here is not quite coherent.  I should have taped myself!

Obedience. “I’m going to explain the Rule of St. Benedict in ten minutes.”

Obedience is a hard saying for us and it is very easy to find ourselves qualifying it, making clear all the things it definitely does not mean.  It’s true that this word means so many things, and it really does have its roots in “to listen” and it really doesn’t mean an abdication of moral responsibility.  But let’s not lose sight of the obvious sense. Continue reading Rule of St. Benedict: Obedience

St. Bernard: Beatitudes

Quite a while back I posted a few thoughts on the Beatitudes as taught by St. Augustine.  In fulfillment of my vague threat to post on the topic again, let’s look at how St. Bernard of Clairvaux interprets them in De Conversione.

Some Context

St. Bernard addressed On Conversion to a group of potential converts to religious life.  To understand how things unfold, it will help to keep two things in mind:

  1. St. Bernard is the Mellifluous Doctor, which means when his engine gets revved he really takes off.
  2. St. Bernard really hated the worldly corruption of the clergy he saw around him in 12th century France.

His vivid opening sequence flows from this: he personifies Reason and Will as locked in a struggle for control of the Self.   Continue reading St. Bernard: Beatitudes