Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Paschasius Radbertus

Theologian, born at Soissons, 786; died in the Monastery of Corbie, c.860 (the date 865 is improbable). As a child he was exposed, but was taken in and brought up by Benedictine Nuns at Soissons. He entered the Benedictine Order at Corbie under Abbot Adalard, and was for many years instructor of the young monks. In 822 he accompanied abbot Adalard into Saxony for the purpose of founding the monastery of New Corvey (Westphalia). He saw four abbots, namely Adalard, Wala, Heddo, and Isaac pass to their reward and on the death of abbot Isaac, Paschasius was made Abbot of Corbie, though only a deacon; through humility he refused to allow himself to be ordained priest. On the occasion of a disagreement he resigned his office after about seven years and was thus enabled to devote himself to study and literature.

He wrote a learned commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Commentarii in Matt. libri XII; an exposition of the 44th Psalm, Expos in Ps. 44 libri III, and a similar work on Lamentations, Expos. In Lament. Libri V; and a life of Abbot Adalard. His biography of the Abbot Wala is a work of greater usefulness as an historical source. He revised the Passio Rufini et Valerii. His earliest work in dogmatic theology was a treatise, De fide, spe et caritate; he next wrote two books De Partu Virginis, in which he defended the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Mother of God.

The most important of his works is De corpore et sanguine Domini, in Martene, Vet. scriptor. et monum. amplissima Collectio, written in 831 for his pupil Placidus Varinus, Abbot of New Corvey, and for the monks of that monastery, revised by the author and sent in 844 to Emperor Charles the Bald. The emperor commissioned the Benedictine Ratramnus of Corbie to refute certain questionable assertions of Paschasius, and when Rabanus Maurus joined in the discussion there occurred the first controversy on the Eucharist, which continued up to the tenth century and even later, for both the followers of Berengarius of Tours in the eleventh century and the Calvinists in the sixteenth century vigorously assailed the work, because they thought that they had found the real source of doctrinal innovations, especially in regard to the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation. His primary object herein was to give in accordance with the doctrine of the Fathers of the Church (e.g. Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom), the clearest and most comprehensible explanation of the Real Presence. In carrying out his plan he made the mistake of emphasizing the identity of the Eucharistic Body of Christ with His natural (historical) Body in such exaggerated terms that the difference between the two modes of existence was not sufficiently brought out.

In opposition to his assertion that the Eucharistic Body of Christ is “non alia plane caro, quam quae nata est de Maria et passa in cruce et resurrexit de sepulchro”, Ratramnus thought it necessary to insist that the Body of Christ in the sacred Host – notwithstanding its essential identity with the historical Body – is present by a spiritual mode of existence and consequently as an “invisible substance”, and hence that our eyes cannot immediately perceive the Body of Christ in the form of bread. It is difficult to admit that Paschasius really believed what is here inferred: his narration, however, of certain Eucharistic miracles may have given some foundation, for the suspicion that he inclined towards a grossly carnal, Capharnaite-like apprehension of the nature of the Eucharist. His opponents also reproached him with having, in direct contradiction to his fundamental viewpoint, simultaneously introduced the notions of a figura and a veritas, thus placing side by side without any reconciliation the symbolic and the realistic conceptions of the Eucharist. The accusation seems altogether unwarranted; for by figure he understood merely that which appears outwardly to the senses, and by veritas, that which Faith teaches us. At bottom his doctrine was as orthodox as that of his opponents. He defended himself with some skill against the attacks of his critics, especially in his Epistola ad Frudegardum. But a more thorough vindication of Saint Paschasius was made by Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II, who, in a work bearing the same title De corpore et sanguine Domini, contended that the doctrine of Saint Paschasius was correct in every particular. The scientific advantage which accrued to theology from this first controversy on the Eucharist is by no means unimportant. For, through the accurate distinction made between the Eucharistic Body of Christ and its exterior sensible appearances, the way was cleared for a deeper understanding of the Eucharistic species or accidents in distinction from, and in opposition to, the invisible body of Christ hidden under them. Hence also the difficult notion of Transubstantiation gained much in clearness, distinctness, and precision.

Saint Paschasius was first buried in the Church of Saint John at Corbie. When numerous miracles took place at his grave under Abbot Fulco, his remains were solemnly removed by order of the pope, 12 July 1073, and interred in the Church of Saint Peter, Corbie. His feast is on 26 April.

MLA Citation

  • J Pohle. “Saint Paschasius Radbertus”. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 1914. Saints.SQPN.com. 25 April 2012. Web. 22 December 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-saint-paschasius-radbertus/>