1902 Encyclopedia > Berengarius

(Berengar of Tours)
French theologian
(998-1088 AD)

BERENGARIUS, a celebrated mediaeval theologian, was born at Tours, 998 A.D. He was educated in the famous school of Fulbert of Chartres, and early acquired a great reputation for learning, ability, and piety. Appointed in 1031 superintendent of the cathedral school of his native city, he taught with such success as to attract pupils from all parts of France, and powerfully contributed to diffuse an interest in the study of logic and metaphysics, and to introduce that dialectic development of theology which is designated the scholastic. The earliest of his writings of which we have any record is an Exhortatory Discourse to the hermits of his district, written at their own request and for their spiritual edification. It shows a clear discernment of the dangers of the ascetic life, and a deep insight into the significance of the Augustinian doctrine of grace. About 1040 Berengar was made arch-deacon of Angers. It was shortly after this that rumours began to spread of his holding heretical views regarding the sacrament of the supper. He had submitted the doc-trine of transubstantiation (already generally received both by priests and people, although it had been first unequivo-cally taught and reduced to a regular theory by Paschasius Eadbert only in 831) to an independent examination, and had come to the conclusion that it was contrary to reason, unwarranted by Scripture, and inconsistent with the teach-ing of men like Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. He did not conceal this conviction from his scholars and friends, and through them the report spread widely that he denied the common doctrine respecting the Eucharist. His early friend and school companion, Adelmann, arch-deacon of Liege, wrote to him letters of expostulation on the subject of this report in 1046 and 1048; and a bishop, Hugo of Langres, wrote (about 1049) a refutation of the views which he had himself heard Berengar express in conversation. Berengar's belief was not shaken by their arguments and exhortations, and hearing that Lanfranc, the most celebrated theologian of that age, strongly approved the doctrine of Paschasius and condemned that of Eatramnus, he wrote to him a letter expressing his surprise, and urging him to reconsider the question. The letter arriving at Bee when Lanfranc was absent at Eome, was sent after him, but was opened before it reached him, and brought under the notice of Pope Leo IX. Because of it Berengar was condemned as a heretic, without being heard, by a synod at Rome and another at Vercelli, both held in 1050. His enemies in France cast him into prison; but the bishop of Angers and other powerful friends, of whom he had a considerable number, had sufficient influ-ence to procure his release. At the Council of Tours (1054) he found a protector in the Papal legate, the famous Hildebrand, who, satisfied himself with the fact that Berengar did not deny the real presence of Christ in the sacramental elements, succeeded in persuading the assembly to be content with a general confession from him that the bread and wine, after consecration, were the body and blood of the Lord, without requiring him to define how. Trusting in Hildebrand's support, and in the justice of his own cause, he presented himself at the Synod of Rome in 1059, but found himself surrounded by fierce and superstitious zealots, who forced him by the fear of death to signify his acceptance of the doctrine " that the bread and wine, after consecration, are not merely a sacra-ment, but the true body and the true blood of Christ, and that this body is touched and broken by the hands of the priests, and ground by the teeth of the faithful, not merely in a sacramental but in a real manner." He had no sooner done so than he bitterly repented his weakness ; and act-ing, as he himself says, on the principle that " to take an oath which never ought to have been taken is to estrange one's self from God, but to retract what one has wrong-fully sworn to, is to return back to God," when he got safe again into France he attacked the transubstantiation theory more vehemently than ever. He continued for about sixteen years to disseminate his views by writing and teaching, without being directly interfered with by either his civil or ecclesiastical superiors, greatly to the scandal of the multitude and of the zealots, in whose eyes Berengai was " idle apostolus Satanse," and the academy of Tours the " Babylon nostri temporis." An attempt was made at the Council of Poitiers in 1075 to allay the agitation caused by the controversy, but it failed, and Berengar narrowly escaped death in a tumult raised by fanatics. Hildebrand, now Gregory VII., next summoned him to Rome, and, in a synod held there in 1078, tried once more to obtain a declaration of his orthodoxy by means of a con-fession of faith drawn up in general terms ; but even this strong-minded and strong-willed Pontiff, although sincerely anxious to befriend the persecuted theologian, and fully alive to the monstrous character of the dogma of transubstantiation as propounded by Pope Nicholas II. and Cardinal Humbert at the synod held in 1059, was at length forced to yield to the demands of the multitude and its leaders; and in another synod at Rome (1079), finding that he was only endangering his own position and reputa-tion, he turned unexpectedly upon Berengar and com-manded him to confess that he had erred in not teaching a change as to substantial reality of the sacramental bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. " Then," says Berengar, " confounded by the sudden madness of the Pope, and because God in punishment for my sins did not give me a steadfast heart, I threw myself on the ground, and confessed with impious voice that I had erred, fearing the Pope would instantly pronounce against me the sentence of condemnation, and, as a necessary consequence, that the populace would hurry me to the worst of deaths." He was kindly dismissed by the Pope not long after, with a letter recommending him to the protection of the bishops of Tours and Angers, and another pronouncing anathema on all who should do him any injury or call him a heretic. He returned home overwhelmed with shame and bowed down with sorrow for having a second time been guilty of a great impiety. He immediately recalled his forced con-fession, and. besought all Christian men " to pray for him, so that his tears might secure the pity of the Almighty." He now saw, however, that the spirit of the age was against him, and hopelessly given over to the belief of what he had combated as a delusion. He withdrew, therefore, into solitude, and passed the rest of his life in retirement and prayer on the island of St Côme near Tours. He died there in 1088. In Tours his memory was held in great respect, and a yearly festival at his tomb long commemorated his saintly virtues.

Berengar left behind him a considerable number of followers. All those who in the Middle Ages denied the substantial presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist were commonly designated Berengarians. These so-called Berengarians differed, of course, in many respects from one another, even in regard to the nature of the supper. Berengar's own views on the subject may be thus summed up :—1. That bread and wine should become fleah and blood and yet not lose the properties of bread and wine was, he held, contradictory to reason, and there-fore irreconcilable with the truthfulness of God. A change which would leave behind the properties or predicates of bread and wine, yet take away their substances, the subjects of these predicates, seemed to him inherently incredible. In working out the proof of this position he showed very considerable dialectical skill. At the same time he em-ployed so many arguments, based on what is called nominalism, that his theory of the Eucharist has been described by M. de Remusat as " nominalism limited to a single question." 2. He admitted a change (conversio) of the bread and wine into the body of Christ, in the sense that to those who receive them they are transformed by grace into higher powers and influences—into the true, the intellectual, or spiritual body of Christ—so as to sustain and impart the life eternal. Christ does not descend from heaven to be portioned out by the hands of priests and received into the mouths of communicants, but the hearts of true believers ascend to Christ in heaven, receive into themselves his true and imperishable body, and partake thereof in a spiritual manner. The unbelieving receive the external sign or sacramentum ; but the believing receive in addition, truly although invisibly, the reality represented by the sign, the res sacramenti. Berengar draws his reasons for this view from Scripture. In confirmation of its correctness he adduces the testimonies of the earlier church teachers. 3. He rejected the notion that the sacra-ment of the altar was a constantly renewed sacrifice, and held it to be merely a commemoration of the one sacrifice of Christ. 4. He dwelt strongly on the importance of men looking away from the externals of the sacrament to the spirit of love and piety which they presuppose, and the divine power and grace, through the operation of which alone they can become channels of religious life. The transubstantiation doctrine seemed to him full of eviL from its tendency to lead men to overvalue what was sensuous and transitory in the sacrament, and to neglect what was spiritual and eternal. 5. He rejected with in-dignation the miraculous stories told to confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation. He saw in these legends unworthy inventions originated to awe and influence ignorant and superstitious minds. On this account he was falsely accused of denying miracles altogether. 6. Reason and Scripture seemed to him the only grounds on which a true doctrine of the Lord's supper could be rested. He had a confidence in reason very rare in the 11th century, but was no rationalist. He attached little importance to mere ecclesiastical tradition or authority, and none to the voice of majorities, even when sanctioned by the decree of a Pope. In this, as in other respects, he was a precursor of Protestantism. .

The opinions of Berengar are to be ascertained from the works written in refutation of them by Adelmann, Lanfranc, Guilmund, &c.; from the fragments of the De soar, coma adv. Lanfr. liber, edited by Stáudlin (1820-29); and from the Liber posterior, edited by A. F. and F. T. Vischer (1834). See also the Berengarius Turonensis of Lessing (1770), and especially of Sudendorf (1850); the Church Histories of Gieseler, ii. 396-411 (Eng. transí.), and Nean- der, vi. 221-260 (Eng. transí.); Prantl's Geschichte der Logue, ii. 70-75, and Hauréau's Histoire de la Philosophie Scolastique, i. 225- 238. (B. F.)

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