- The Status of Eucharistic Accidents "sine subiecto": An Historical Survey up to Thomas Aquinas and Selected Reactions by Jörgen Vijgen
The Eucharist is a particularly Christian phenomenon, one whose practice requires a high acceptance of Christologically revealed material. As such, the Eucharist is a locus for theological reflection, but seemingly not one that would garner the attention of philosophers. The latter would be attracted to what is most common in nature and human experience, eschewing the specifically religious and revealed. The unique methodological tolerance—or better, openness—of Christian philosophy, however, has historically been on display in the intense interest that the Eucharist has garnered among both [End Page 146] theologians and philosophers. The Eucharist is the highest sacrament, and its right understanding has demanded the highest of efforts from the two highest sciences.
Vijgen's monograph is the revision of a doctoral dissertation in philosophy defended at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the Angelicum). Secular philosophers and some heretical theologians treated in this book would claim that philosophical truth clashes with or contradicts one key aspect of orthodox Eucharistic belief and theology, namely, the twofold reality that the Eucharist is Christ and appears to be bread and wine. Vijgen's efforts illustrate how all the resources of theology and philosophy (and for this latter, both Christian and secular) have been brought to bear on this Eucharistic mystery and have enriched each other in a harmonious fashion.
After a short, mostly methodological introduction, the book's first part presents the philosophy of Aristotle on being, essence, substance, and accidents. While this "Aristotelian background" can be independently helpful to the modern reader, its importance for understanding Vijgen's presentation of the later Scholastic Eucharistic debates is muted by several factors. First, the reception of these texts (e.g., the Categories, the Posterior Analytics, the Metaphysics) occurred at different times in the Middle Ages as Latin translations became available. Second, medieval philosophers and theologians working on understanding the Eucharist's composition also drew upon other ancient thinkers (e.g., Boethius, St. Basil the Great). Third, even when the medievals were trying to be Aristotelian, they sometimes felt free to adapt Aristotle. Last, Vijgen often does not make clear how the Aristotelian data was appropriated or abandoned by specific Scholastic thinkers.
The remaining four parts of the book march chronologically through all major texts (and many minor ones) that deal with Eucharistic accidents, starting with Berengarius of Tours in the eleventh century and ending with John of Stergassen, O.P., in the fourteenth. To a certain extent, the medieval debate about Eucharistic accidents began with and resolved the controversies surrounding Ratramnus of Corbie (not discussed in the book, which deals with a later era) and especially Berengarius. "According to Berengarius it is a token of madness to hold what is unreasonable to hold, i.e., that something exists after it has undergone a change through destruction of the subject (bread), on the basis that another thing, which for the first time begins to exist (body of Christ) through generation of the subject, has accidents similar to the accidents of the thing that was destroyed through destruction of the subject" (33). Berengarius set some of the terms and themes of the debate: "accident," "subject," and the importance of noncontradiction. His language drew upon "Porphyry's Isagoge and Aristotle's Categories in Boethius' Latin translation" (ibid.). In contrast, the use of "substance" would occur after Berengarius (32 n. 9).
Several analogies for explaining the Eucharistic accidents were tried during the earlier centuries. Reference was made to the turning of Lot's wife into a [End Page 147] pillar of salt and Christ's changing of water into wine at Cana (e.g., 56). One analogy compared transubstantiation to the merely apparent, visual change of a stick's straightness when inserted into water (e.g., 55-58, 78). Questions were asked about what happens when the...