Ian Christopher LEVY. John Wyclif’s Theology of the Eucharist in its Medieval Context. Revised and Expanded Edition of Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, & the Parameters of Orthodoxy. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2014. pp. 419. $32.00. pb. ISBN 978-1-62600-704-8. Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211.
This book is a challenging, detailed, exhaustively researched examination of the development, censure, and eventual hereticization of Wyclif’s Eucharistic theology. Latin footnotes (bottom of nearly every page) usually take up one third to one half a page. The bibliographies, primary and secondary, are awesome and made me think that it must have been a dissertation, now significantly revised since the 2003 publication under the title given above. Unless, dear reader, you are already conversant with medieval theology, especially that of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus, their forerunners and 14th century followers, you will find this excellent study quite difficult. It could profitably be used in a graduate seminar, exemplifying a thorough, even-handed study of medieval Eucharistic theology.
Levy first describes late medieval academic life (Ch. 1) that includes sketches of Ambrose’s theology and then the 9th century theologies of the Corbie monks, Radbertus and Ratramnus. But the Confession of Berengarius (1059) gets more attention because its meaning and import are continually discussed by later theologians, including Wyclif. 12th century theological developments follow, including a discussion of the Eucharistic conundrum: quid sumit mus (what would a mouse eat if it gets hold of a consecrated host, bread or the body of Christ?). This chapter also discusses the Decretum (1140) of the canonist Gratian, the Decretals of 1234 and the establishment of the feast of Corpus Christi (1264). To this point, the central issue is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The “how” of that presence is supported by three theories of what happens to the bread, all of which are allowed: annihilation, remanence (consubstantiation), and transubstantiation. Gradually, the first two options lose ground and transubstantiation is favored by Innocent III and thereafter by the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscan John Duns Scotus. The underlying theology of each order is brought to bear in their arguments, but loyalty to transubstantiation only increases among their followers. Variations still arise, e.g., in the theology of John Quidort, OP and William of Ockham, OFM, whose preference for consubstantiation was pronounced “rash and dangerous” during the papal examination of Ockham at Avignon in 1325. The chapter closes with a brief discussion of popular piety that, stirred by the doctrine of real presence and fables preached from the pulpit, was given to stories of miraculous appearances of bloody flesh or other manifestations that was one of the motivations for Wyclif’s rejection of transubstantiation that, he thought, encouraged not just pious imaginings, but the sin of idolatry as well.
Within that chapter, Levy discusses Wyclif’s guiding concern: “intuiting the intention of the Divine Author, whether speaking directly in Holy Scripture, or through the decrees of the Church and the testimony of her saints.” (235) And, of course, with emphasis on the words of Christ: Hoc est corpus meum. Any interpretation must assure that it doesn’t betray Christ’s truthfulness. Assuming that Christ consecrated the first Eucharist at the Last Supper, the argument turns on the word “hoc,” “this”. Wyclif argued that if hoc refers to the bread that by Christ’s prior blessing is already his body, then Christ lies if the substance of the bread does not remain. From 1380 until his death in 1384, Wyclif argued that for a thousand years the church allowed for consubstantiation or remanence of the substance of the bread with the substance of Christ’s body. So why now insist on transubstantiation? But in fact, transubstantiation had come to be considered the best way to preserve real presence. Wyclif’s argument was not allowed; his theory was censured and condemned by Archbishop of Canterbury Courtnay in 1382. Wyclif retired from his post at Oxford to his parish of Lutterworth where he died two years later.
The Chapter 7 follows Wyclifites in Bohemia and in England. It seems that John Hus was not a Hussite. Ubiquitism and denial of transubstantiation were the work of Hus’s student Jakoubek of Stríbo. Meanwhile Wyclifites in England fared worse than their master as the hearings turned into heresy trials. Chapter 8 is really a brief conclusion. I learned much that I am glad to know from this learned book.