Ian Christopher Levy has produced an excellent study of Wyclif's Eucharistic theology and its correlation with his understanding of Scripture. The work has its genesis in a 1997 dissertation done at Marquette University but reflects the author's ongoing study of the English theologian's thought. In 2001, Levy's translation and abridgement of Wyclif's De Veritate Sacrae Scripturae, On the Truth of Holy Scripture, appeared in the Commentary Series of the Medieval Institute in Kalamazoo.
This work on Wyclif traces the evolution of his thought on the Eucharist and, in particular, details his growing dissatisfaction with "transubstantiation" as a key term for designating what happens to bread and wine in the context of the liturgical action which is the Eucharistic celebration. The major and latter part of Levy's book covers the gradual shifts in Wyclif's views of the Eucharist. Very little of Wyclif's writings are available in English translation, but Levy has heavily annotated this volume and provided abundant citations from the Latin writings of Wyclif and others to support the various points of the exposition.
At the outset of his study, Levy observes how contemporary scholars regard Wyclif not so much as a proto-Protestant reformer but as a medieval Catholic theologian who reacted conservatively to various scholastic trends in the fourteenth century. During that century, the great syntheses in theological thought brought forward in the thirteenth century came under critical review. The rise of nominalism as well as the use of various logical and grammatical methods shook the foundations of a previously established intellectual order. Wyclif took refuge in realism which he believed could return some stability to the world. Against the nominalists who saw genus and species as mere human products, Wyclif championed "real universals," those causal exemplars of concrete reality, existing eternally in the Word. To annihilate some particle of the universe was impossible because everything has roots in the divine essence.
One of Levy's main theses is that Wyclif's theology of the Eucharist must be approached in light of his understanding of the Scripture. For the Oxford don the Scriptures were Christ, or, to put it in Levy's terms, the Scriptures were a "who" and not a "what." Wyclif would also differentiate the written text of the Scriptures from the Eternal Scripture. The written Scriptures are the product of a union of the Eternal Word and the parchment. For Wyclif, then, the Scriptures have a personal dynamism which means that they are not static texts but a saving presence. Misunderstandings of the Scriptures spring from the sinfulness of the reader and not deficiencies in the text. To properly grasp the meaning of the Scriptures the reader must purify heart and soul. For Wyclif, the literal sense of the text is what is divinely intended to lead the reader to God. When it comes to Eucharistic theology, Wyclif claims to be able to correctly interpret the pertinent Scriptural texts which he thought others in his time misconstrued.
As Levy reviews the Wyclif corpus, he concludes that Wyclif always maintained that Christ was really present in the Eucharist but offered various explanations for this over the years. The central Scriptural text to be interpreted is "hoc est corpus meum." In later years Wyclif argues that the "hoc" refers to the bread both before and after the consecration. To maintain otherwise would be, according to Wyclif, to falsify the Scripture, to go against the authority of Christ. The bread remains and there is no substantial conversion of the elements of bread and wine. Levy presents the many facets of Wyclif's evolving position and the reactions that were generated. He also documents Wyclif's efforts to salvage the term "transubstantiation" by using it in a way quite at variance with its use from the mid-twelfth century up till his time. Wyclif objected to the traditional usage because of his position that substances could not be annihilated and accidents could not exist apart from their proper subject. Furthermore, to hold for transubstantiation in the traditional sense was to falsify Christ's words in the Scriptures which are the ultimate authority.
Levy's fascinating investigation is a masterful exploration not only of Eucharistic theology as it unfolded prior to and during the fourteenth century but also of the changing ways of approaching and understanding the Scriptures. Wyclif emerges as a man committed to the Word and to the tradition but who chose to interpret the Scriptures in a way at variance with the larger ecclesial community.