Pre-Schism West Against the Scholastic View of Eucharistic Consecration

During the Scholastic period in the Post-Schism West, the view that the Words / Narration of Institution alone were Consecratory became not just ‘normative’ but dogmatically defined by the Papists as their official doctrine. This view states that after the words “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” are said over bread and chalice respectively, the Change is effected in the Mystery.

However, there is legitimate evidence to point out that this view is a rather late one in the West, in relative terms.  It should be sufficient for a very short and brief article, to demonstrate that there did exist another view; particularly, one which attributed Consecratory power to the prayer “Supplices Te” in the ancient Roman Canon of the Mass which, if anything, is the closest equivalent to an explicit Epiclesis as it exists in the Anaphoras of Sts. Chrysostom and Basil.

First, let the context be provided.  In the Roman Canon of the Mass, the earliest complete version of which can be found in the late 7th century Bobbio Missal, after the Narration and Anamnesis, there follow two sections, “Supra Quae” and “Supplices Te”:

“Upon which do Thou vouchsafe to look with a favourable and gracious countenance, and to accept them as Thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gifts of Thine righteous servant Abel, the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham, and the holy sacrifice, the pure oblation, which Thine High Priest Melchisedech offered unto Thee.

“We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, command these gifts to be borne by the hands of Thine Holy Angel to Thine Altar on High, in the Presence of Thy Divine Majesty, that as many of us as shall by partaking of this Altar receive the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with all Heavenly Benediction and Grace, through the Same Christ Our Lord.”

It is with the second section we are concerned, which begins “We humbly beseech”; commonly referred to by its Latin incipit as “Supplices Te”.

In this regard, Paschasius Radberts [+865], the Abbot of Corbie, exhibits the view that it is more than the Words / Narration of Institution that are needed for the Consecration of the Mysteries of the Body and Blood.  Commenting in his work, “Concerning the Body and Blood of the Lord”, written as early as 831 AD, he states concerning the Supplices Te:

“Neither does he fear the Presence of the Divine Majesty, while he thinks there is nothing more than the things which are seen, nor does the wretched man realize that the Flesh of Christ is never rightly received save from His Hand and from the Heavenly Altar where Christ, ‘the High Priest of good things to come,’ intercedes for all.  Whence the priest when he begins to deliberate these things among other things says: ‘Command that these things be carried up by the hand of Thine Holy Angel unto Thine Heavenly Altar in the Sight of Thy Divine Majesty.’  And do you think, O man, to receive that from any other place than from that altar, where having been carried aloft it is consecrated?”

And, then a little further, Abbot Paschasius says:

“But perchance to this ‘blind reason’ says: ‘And how into Heaven before the Sight of the Divine Majesty is it so suddenly presented, since here, be it called bread or Flesh, it is all the time held visibly in the hand of the priest…?  Learn that God being Spirit is everywhere without limitation of place.  Understand that being spiritual these things are neither locally nor carnally carried on high before the Sight of the Divine Majesty….Do you think there is any other Altar where Christ the High Priest Intercedes than His Own Body by Which and in Which He Offers to God the Father the vows of the faithful and the faith of the believing?  And if that Heavenly Altar is believed Truly to be the Body of Christ, you will not think that you receive the Flesh and Blood of Christ from any other place than from His Very Body.”

Another contemporary writer in the early-mid 9th century in the West that seems to agree with Abbot Paschasius would be Florus Diaconus, Archdeacon of Lyon [+859].  In his commentary on the Canon of the Mass section “Supplices Te”, he states:

“These words of the Mystery are so profound, so wonderful, so amazing who is able to comprehend them?  Who can say anything fittingly?  Rather are they to be reverence and stood in aw of, than to be discussed.  Yet Blessed Gregory, a fit interpreter of so Great a Mystery, in a certain place says almost ineffably something about these words as of a thing ineffable. “For who of the faithful,” he says, “can have a doubt that at the very time of the Sacrifice, by the voice of the priest the heavens are opened, at That Mystery of Jesus Christ the Choirs of Angels are present, that things lowly are taken into fellowship with things most high, thing earthly are joined to things heavenly, and a union of things visible and invisible is brought about?….Therefore there takes place at this Prayer and Holy Offering of the Consecration something Incomprehensible and Ineffable, and much more wonderful than all these, that by angelic ministries and supplications as from off the Heavenly Altar in the Sight of the Divine Majesty, they are offered at that time of Offering, when Christ with His heavenly ministers around Him is believe to be Present that He may Consecrate the offered gifts.”

To this we can add the possibly late 8th century testimony of Deacon Alcuin of York [+804]; however, his “Concerning the Celebration of the Mass and Its Signification” is often listed as an uncertain work of Alcuin, and is placed by many scholars as a 10th century commentary.  If it is Alcuin’s, then is represents a confirmation of the above found in the late 700s; if it is not Alcuin’s, then it represents a continuation of the above interpretation into the 10th century West. The words used are nearly identical to those of Florus Diaconus; perhaps this is why they are attributed as being 10th century.  Or, perhaps, the Archdeacon of Lyon was himself simply using the words of the Deacon of York?

I have been unable to find an already existing English translation, and thus, have had to make mine [any mistakes are thusly mine]; commenting on the “Supplices Te”, the Commentator states:

“These words of the Mystery are so profound, who is able to comprehend?  Who can say anything worthily?  Rather are they to be reverenced, than discussed.  For Blessed Gregory, a fit interpreter of so Great a Sacrament, in a certain place, says almost Ineffably something about these things as concerning a matter Ineffable: ‘For who,’ he says, ‘of the faithful can doubt, that in the very hour of the Sacrifice, at the voice of the Priest, the Heavens be opened, and the Choirs of Angels are Present at That Mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly things joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible?” [Dialogues IV, 58]  The same same likeness in another place: ‘At the one same,’ he says, ‘time and moment, both into the highest it is carried up [by] the ministry of the Angels to be joined to the Body of Christ, and, before the eyes of the priest it is seen on the Altar.”

“Also, Blessed Augustine concerning the same Sublime Altar in the Sight of the Divine Majesty thus says: ‘For there is a certain Invisible Altar on High, which the unrighteous man approaches not.  To That Altar he alone draws nigh, who draws to this one without cause to fear.” [Exposition on the Psalms, Ps. 42, sec, 5]

“These words from the Fathers were found, lest there may be those who by carnal estimation believe their is a corporeal altar to be in the heavens; but we grasp and understand a Sublime Altar of God, rational and intellectual, to be unto the chosen and rational creatures, namely the angelic and human; for unto the Holy Angels, from which it was established, unto the Sublime Contemplation of God, and themselves mutually united through Christ, Who is the True and Sublime Altar of God, from Whom He accepts the Everlasting Sacrifice of praise and the Victim of jubilation; to Whose Unity is joined now through Faith, and in the future through the Sight of the Divine Contemplation the multitude of all the elect.  Therefore there takes place at this Prayer and Holy Offering of the Consecration something Incomprehensible and Ineffable, and much more Wonderful than all these, that by Angelic Ministries and Supplications as form off the Heavenly Altar in the Sight of the Divine Majesty they are Offered at that time of Offering when Christ with His Heavenly Ministers around Him is believed to be Present that He may Consecrated the Offered Gifts.  Wherefore Blessed Ambrose says: ‘For there is no doubt that an Angel to assist when Christ assists, when Christ is Sacrifice.” [Exposition on Luke, 1:11] Through these Mysteries the hearts of the faithful are filled with every heavenly benediction and grace, giving chastity to bodies, faith to minds, and purity to thoughts.”

There are two other sources known to this author from the early 9th century which can shed light on this matter.

Ordo Romanus IV, which describes in detail the rituals, gestures, prayers, etc, of the Roman Mass of the time, states concerning the “Supplices Te”:

“He [the Priest] inclines himself again before the Altar, saying: ‘We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God.”  He [the priest] then prays by himself what he wills.  Then, he says, ‘Command these…’ ”

Similarly, Amalarius of Metz [+850], in his “Eclogae De Officio Missae”] states:

“He inclines himself again before the Altar, saying: “We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God.”  He prays by himself what he wills.  Then, he says: ‘Command these…’ ”

There, of course, does exist a fragmentary Sermon attributed to St. Augustine entitled “On the Body of the Lord.”  It exists only in a very short reference in the Post-Schism 12th century writer Peter Lombard; it runs thus:

“Consider the name and note the truth.  For it is called ‘Missa’ in that the Heavenly Messenger comes to Consecrate the Life-Giving Body, according to the utterance of the Priest saying: ‘Almighty God, command that these things be carried up by the hands of Thine Holy Angel to Thine Heavenly Altar, etc.’  Therefore unless the Angel come, by no means can it be called ‘Missa’.  For if an heretic dared to undertake This Mystery, would God send His Angel from Heaven to Consecrate his oblation?’ [Libri Quattuor Sententiarum, Book IV, dist. xiii. 1]

Even past the Great Hildebrandian takeover, and the rise of Scholasticism, the old view of attributing Consecratory Power to “Supplices Te” was felt by some scattered writes in the West.  Thus, John Teutonicus, a 13th century writer who makes glosses on the “Decretum of Gratian” says the following:

” ‘Command,’ that is: ‘make’; ‘to be carried’, that is: ‘to be transubstantiated’.  Or: ‘to be carried,’ that is to be lifted upward, that is, to be converted.” [Decretum de consecratione, 2, 72, in Glossa ordinaria (Rome, 1572), 2:1813, cited by S. Salaville, SC4bis: 322]

Likewise, Durandus of Mende  in the 13th century, although having embraced the recent Scholastic view of the Narration / Words of Institution alone being Consecratory, is forced to state the other view:

“In a second manner also the words aforesaid can be expounded, thus: ‘Almighty God, command that these things,’ that is the bread and wine, understood, ‘to be translated’, that is transmuted, ‘to Thine Heavenly Altar,’ that is into the Body and Blood of Thy Son, above the choirs of angels to be exalted, because the Lord’s Body is called an Altar according to that saying: ‘An altar of earth shall ye make Me.’  ‘By the hand of Thine Holy Angel,’ that is by the ministry of the priest.”

It should also be noted that St. Nicholas Cabasilas in Section 39 of his “Commentary on the Divine Liturgy” affirms the view that the “Supplices Te”, is, in fact, the original place where the Consecration in the Roman Canon of the Mass took place.  I will quote his “Commentary” at the end of this article, since it goes at some length on this question, but, his testimony, mysterious and independently, it seems, of having any direct knowledge of writings of 8th, 9th, and 10th century Pre-Schism Latin writers, should tell us that St. Nicholas is not some Easterner intent upon imposing a foreign view upon the Roman Canon; rather, he being Orthodox looks upon things in the same spirit and ethos as the Pre-Schism Latin writers did, before the Hildebrandian Schism and Scholasticism strangled Orthodoxy to death in the West.

It was, thus, not at all out of place, that, in 1870, when the Holy Governing Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church gave its support to the Orthodox Western Rite, that they indicated that an explicit Epiclesis be placed in the Roman Canon between “Supplices Te rogamus Omnipotens Deus” and “Iube haec Perferri”, in this form:

“We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God: do Thou send Thine Holy Ghost upon us and upon these Thy gifts here presented: and make this bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ. Amen.  And that wine that is in this Chalice the Precious Blood of Thy Christ. Amen.  Transubstantiating them through Thine Holy Ghost. Amen. Amen. Amen. Command these gifts to be borne by the hands of Thine Holy Angel to Thine Altar on High, in the Presence of Thy Divine Majesty, that as many of us as shall by partaking of this Altar, receive the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with all Heavenly Benediction and Grace, through the Same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Indeed, those sitting on the Holy Governing Synod, far from being ignorant Easterners, with no knowledge of Pre-Schism Western praxis, seem to have, quite the opposite, a keen understanding of it.  Note how they had the explict Epiclesis placed between “Omnipotens Deus” and “Iube” [i.e. between “Almighty God” and “Command”].  They seem to have had direct knowledge of Ordo Romanus IV and Amalarius of Metz on this point, if not being aware of other medieval commentators; simply transforming a space for an ad libitum prayer into a space for an explicit prayer, and one needed in order to avoid issues on a point that had arisen as a controversy [after all, sections of the Roman Canon had been, according to the medieval Liber Pontificalis, to sections of the Canon in order to combat heresies before]. But, considering the high quality of Pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox scholarship, this is not at all surprising.

Therefore, it does seem evident to this author, and, undoubtedly others, that the Scholastic view is ultimately foreign to the Ancient and Pre-Schism West.  Indeed, the utter awe, reverence, and amazement with which Pre-Schism writers, like Abbot Paschasius of Corbie and Archdeacon Florus treat “Supplices Te” can only be likened with the awe, reverence, and amazement that most Orthodox priests today exhibit when they begin those great words to the Epiclesis: “Again we offer unto Thee this rational and bloodless service….”

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Of course, there is an extended section of St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ “Commentary on the Divine Liturgy”, where he is forced to respond to the Scholastic view of the Papists, who argue that only the words of institution are Consecratory.  St. Nicholas, being aware of the texts of the Roman Canon of the Mass, explains how the words of the Canon itself militate against the Papist view:

“This point has escaped them, no doubt because the Latins do not recite this prayer immediately after pronounce Christ’s words, and because they do not ask explicitly for consecration and transformation of the elements into the Body of the Lord, but use other terms, which, however, have exactly the same meaning.

“This is their prayer: ‘Command that these offerings be carried in the hands of Thine Holy Angels to Thine Altar on High.”  What do they mean when they say: ‘That these offerings may be carried up’?  Either they are asking for a local translation of the offerings, i.e. from the earth and lower regions to heaven, or they are asking that they be raised in dignity from a humble state to the highest of all.

“If the first of these is the case, we must ask of what benefit it is to us to pray that the holy mysteries may be taken away from us, since our prayers and our faith assure us and demand that they should not only be with us but remain with us, since it is in this that Christ’s remaining with us even to the end of the world consists.  And if they know it is Christ’s Body, how can they not believe that He is truly and mysterious both with us and in heaven, sitting at the Father’s right hand, in a manner known only to Himself?  How, on the one hand, shall that which is not yet the Body of Christ, which is truly heavenly, become heavenly?  Or how, on the other hand, could that which excels all authority, power, dominion, and supremacy be carried up by the hand of angels?

“Supposing, on the other hand, that the prayer of the Latins is asking that the offerings be raised in dignity and transformed into a higher reality, then they are guilty of a monstrous blasphemy if, considering that the Body of the Lord is already present, they nevertheless believe it can become something higher or holier.

“Thus it is clear that the Latins know perfectly well that the bread and wine are not yet consecrated: that is why they pray for the offerings as elements still in need of prayer.  They pray that these which are still here below may be carried on high, that, as offerings which have not yet been sanctified, they may be carried to the altar where they are to be immolated.  For this, they have need of the hand of an angel.  In the sense in which the great Dionysius speaks when he says that the first hierarchy, that of the angels, comes to the aid of the second and human hierarchy.

“This pray can have only one significant—it transforms the offerings into the Body and Blood of the Lord.  It is not to be imagined that the altar which it names lies in some place above the heavens set apart by God; to do this would be to associate ourselves with those who believe that the proper place of worship is in Jerusalem or on the mountain of Samaria.  But since, as St. Paul says, there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, in the Saviour alone is all that can confer upon us sanctification or have power of intercession.  And what are those things which have power of intercession and can confer sanctification?  The priest, the victim, the altar.  For as the Lord says, ‘The Altar that sanctifieth’–the altar consecrates the gift.

“…The priest then prays that the offerings may be carried up to the heavenly altar–in other words, that they may be consecrated and transformed into the heavenly Body of the Lord.  There is no question of a change of place, a passage from earth to heaven, since we see that the offerings remain among us, and that even after the prayer their appearances remain.

“Since the altar consecrates the gifts placed upon it, to pray that the gifts may be carried to the altar is to ask that they be consecrated.