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Advanced Historical Theology - The Dark Ages - by C. Matthew McMahon

Historical Theology Articles

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Part 13 – Advanced Historical Theology – The Dark Ages

After the death of Charles the Bald, the influence of the Carolingians rapidly declined. Monasteries tried to preserve the past while the Normans, Sarcens and Hungarians began to invade the empire. Popes were being created, or assassinated as needs be, and it was not until 962 A.D. that the House of Saxony with Otto, which would bring a measure of peace to the empire. Most of this time was more of a consolation than a true peace. And all of the successors to Otto’s empire (Otto III, Gerbert of Aurillac, Conrad II, Leo IX, etc.) did not steadily set up peace through the world. In spite of the darkness of this age, theological and literary activity did not entirely die out. Many monastic centers and cathedral schools continued to uphold the teachings they had been given, though original thought was clearly lacking. The most significant theological works of the day were the Treatise on the Body and Blood of the Lord by Gezo of Tortona, and the Treatise on the Antichrist by Adso of Luxeuil. Also notable is the Commentaries on Saint Paul by Atto of Verceil.

When the eleventh century began to emerge, certain flickers of hope also came to light. A scholar named Gerbert of Aurillac, under the title of Sylvester II, occupied the Roman See. His disciple, Fulbert of Chartres, was renown all over the empire for his writings on the relationship of faith and reason, and the nature of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Roman doctrine of transubstantiation would gain momentum from Fulbert’s idea that the infusion of righteousness from Christ is given at the sacrament.

Fulbert’s disciple, Berengar of Tours took a different turn than that of his teacher. He taught that the image of God in man was reason, and that using this reason (something every man should do) they should know full well that the bread and wine do not change, and that the claim that the body and blood of Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary is physically present on the altar is nonsense. Accidents cannot be separated from the substances in which they exist. Thus the bread and wine cannot simply look like bread and wine and be something “else.” Berengar also did not believe that the Eucharist was a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. He did believe that communion was efficacious, and that the elements became sacraments. Lafranc wrote against Berengar and contested that the body and blood of Christ were contained in the Eucharist. Berengar was condemned as a heretic and put to death for his views. Though the Eucharist controversy would not become official until 1251 A.D. as Roman dogma, the actual controversy over the issue took place at this time.

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