From the writings of Saint Alphonsus Liguori.
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From “THE HISTORY OF HERESIES, AND THEIR REFUTATION”; OR, “THE TRIUMPH OF THE CHURCH.” TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN OF Saint ALPHONSUS LIGUORI, BY THE REV. JOHN T. MULLOCK, OF THE ORDER OF Saint FRANCIS, in 1847.
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REFUTATION OF THE HERESY OF BERENGARIUS AND THE PRETENDED ‘REFORMERS’, CONCERNING THE MOST HOLY SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST.
1. The truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the altar has been always established and universally embraced by the whole Church, as Saint Vincent of Lerins said, in 434 A.D. Mosheim, the Protestant Ecclesiastical Historian, asserts that in the 9th century, the exact nature of the faith of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist was not established, and that Pascasius Radbertus laid down in a book he wrote, two principal points concerning it; first, that after the consecration nothing remained of the substance of the bread and wine, and, secondly, that in the consecrated Host is the very body of Jesus Christ, which was born of Mary, died on the cross, and arose from the tomb, and this, Radbertus said, is "what the whole world believes and professes." This work was opposed by Retramn, and perhaps others, and hence Mosheim concludes that the dogma was not then established. In this, however, Mosheim is astray, for, as Selvaggi writes (note 79, volume 3), there was no controversy at all about the dogma, in which Retramn was agreed with Radbertus; Retramn only attacked some expressions in Radbertus’ work. Up to the ninth century, the Sacrament of the Eucharist never was impugned, till John Scotus Erigena, an Irishman, first published to the world the unheard-of heresy that the body and blood of Christ were not in reality in the Holy Eucharist, which, he said, was only a figure of Jesus Christ.
2. Berengarius, or Berenger, taught this same heresy in the year 1050, taking his opinions from the works of Scotus Erigena, and in the twelfth century, we find the heretics known as the Petrobrussians and Henricians, who said that the Eucharist was only a mere sign of the body and blood of our Lord. The Albigensian heretics held the same error in the thirteenth century, and finally, in the sixteenth century the modern Protestant Reformers all joined in attacking this Holy Sacrament. Zwingli and Karlstadt said that the Eucharist was a signification of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and Oecolampadius joined them afterwards, and Bucer, also, partially. Luther admitted the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but said that the substance of the bread remained there also. Calvin several times changed his opinion on the matter; he said, in order to deceive the Catholics, that the Eucharist was not a mere sign, or naked figure of Christ, but was filled with his Divine Virtue, and sometimes he even admitted that the very substance of the body of Christ was there, but his general opinion was that the presence of Christ was not real but figurative, by the power placed there by our Lord. Hence Bossuet says in his "Variations," Calvin never wished to admit that the sinner, in communicating receives the body of Christ, for then he should admit the Real Presence. The Council of Trent (Session 13, canon 1), teaches, "that Jesus Christ, God and man, is really, truly, and substantially contained under the appearance of those sensible things in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine."
3. Before we prove the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we must know that it is a true Sacrament, as the Council of Florence (1445) declares in its Decree or Instruction for the Armenians; and the Council of Trent (Session8, canon 1), in opposition to the Socinians, who say that it is not a Sacrament, but merely a remembrance of the death of our Saviour. It is, however, an article of Faith that the Eucharist is a true Sacrament; for, First, we have the sensible sign, the appearance of bread and wine. Secondly, there is the institution of Christ: "Do this in commemoration of me" (Luke, 22). Thirdly, there is the promise of Grace: "Who eats my flesh has eternal life." We now have to inquire what in the Eucharist constitutes a Sacrament. The Lutherans say that it is in the use, with all the actions that Christ did, at the last Supper, that the Sacrament consists, as Saint Matthew tells us: "Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples" (Matthew 26). The Calvinists, on the other hand, say that it is in the actual eating that the Sacrament consists. We Catholics believe: that the consecration is not the Sacrament, because that is a transitory action, and the Eucharist is a permanent Sacrament, as can be shown; nor the use or communion, for this regards the effect of the Sacrament, which is a. Sacrament before it is received at all; nor in the species alone, for these do not confer Grace; nor the body of Jesus Christ alone, because it is not there in a sensible manner; but the sacramental species, together with the body of Christ, form the Sacrament, inasmuch as they contain the body of our Lord.
4. We have already said that the Council of Trent (Session 13, canon 3) teaches that Jesus Christ is contained in the. sacramental species, truly, really, and substantially; truly, rejecting the figurative presence, for the figure is opposed to truth; really, rejecting the imaginary presence which Faith makes us aware of, as the Sacramentarians assert; and substantially, rejecting the doctrine of Calvin, who said that in the Eucharist it was not the body of Christ, but his virtue or power, that was present, by which he communicates himself to us; but in this he erred, for the whole substance of Jesus Christ is in the Eucharist. Hence, the Council of Trent (Canon 1), condemns those who assert that Christ is in the Sacrament as a sign, or figure, ‘signo, vel figura.’
I. OF THE REAL PRESENCE OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
5. The Real Presence is proved, first, by the words of Christ himself: "Take and eat, this is my body," words which are quoted by Saint Matthew (26:26); Saint Mark (14:22); Saint Luke (22:19); and Saint Paul (1 Corinth 11:24). It is a certain rule, says Saint Augustine, and is commonly followed by the Holy Fathers, to take the words of Scripture in their proper literal sense, unless some absurdity would result from doing so; for if it were allowed to explain every thing in a mystic sense, it would be impossible to prove any article of Faith from the Scripture, and it would only become the source of a thousand errors, as every one would give it whatever sense he pleased. Therefore, says the Council (Chapter 1), it is an enormous wickedness to distort the words of Christ by feigned figurative explanations, when three of the Evangelists and Saint Paul give them just as he expressed them. Who will dare to doubt that it is his body and blood, says Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Discourses, when Christ has said so? We put this question to the heretics: Could Jesus Christ turn the bread into his body or not? We believe not one of them will deny that he. could, for every Christian knows that God is all-powerful, "because no word shall be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). But they will answer, perhaps: We do not deny that he could, but perhaps he did not wish to do it. Did not wish to do it, perhaps? But tell me, if he did wish to do so, could he have possibly declared more clearly what his will was, than by saying: "This is my body”? When he was asked by Caiphas: "Are you the Christ the Son of the blessed God? And Jesus said to him: I am" (Mark, 14:61-62), we should say, according to their mode of explanation, that he spoke figuratively also. Besides, if you allow, with the Sacramentarians, that the words of Christ: "This is my body," are to be taken figuratively, why, then, do you object to the Socinians, who say that the words of Christ, quoted by Saint John (10:30): "I and the Father are one," ought to be taken not literally, but merely showing that between Christ and the Father there existed a moral union of the will, but not a union of substance, and, consequently denied his Divinity. We now pass on to the other proofs.
6. The Real Presence is proved, secondly, by that text of Saint John where Christ says: "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John, 6:52). Our adversaries explain away this text, by saying, that here our Redeemer does not in this chapter speak of the Eucharist, but of the Incarnation of the Word. We do not say that in the beginning of the chapter it is the Incarnation that is spoken of; but there cannot be the least doubt but that from the 52nd verse out it is the Eucharist, as even Calvin admits; and it was thus the Fathers and Councils always understood it, as the Council of Trent, which (Chapter 2, Session 13, and Chapter 1, Session 22) quotes several passages from that chapter to confirm the Real Presence; and the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 (Act. 6) quotes the 54th verse of the same chapter: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, (and so on)", to prove that the true body of Christ is offered up in the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is in this chapter, also, that our Saviour promises to give to the Faithful, at a future time, his own flesh as food: "The bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world" (verse 52), and here he sets totally aside the false explanation of the sectarians, who say that he only speaks of the spiritual eating by means of Faith, in believing the Incarnation of the Word; for if that was our Lord’s meaning, he would not say: "The bread which I will give," but "the bread which I have given," for the Word was already incarnate, and his disciples might then spiritually feed on Jesus Christ; therefore he said: "I will give," for he had not as yet instituted the Sacrament, but only promised to do so, and as Saint Thomas remarks, he says, "the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world;" he did not say, ‘it means my flesh’ (as the Zwinglians afterwards explained it), but ‘it is my flesh’, because it is truly the body of Christ which is received. Our Lord next says: "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John, 6:56); and, therefore, Saint Hilary says he leaves us no room to doubt of the truth of his body and blood. In fact, if the real body and blood of Christ were not in the Eucharist, this passage would be a downright falsehood. We should not forget, also, that the distinction between meat and drink can only be understood as referring to the eating of the true body, and drinking the true blood of Christ, and not of spiritual eating by faith, as the Reformers assert; for, as that is totally internal, the meat and the drink would be only one and the same thing, and not two distinct things.