Henri de Lubac: Corpus Mysticum. The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages.

One of the joys of academic life is that one has the possibility to seek out and read ”root texts”, books that have had major influence on a particular discussion. Upon finding such a text (it is not always clear which texts have this function) one feels that one finally gets the fuller picture of a problem. It is very satisfying.

Corpus Mysticum is such a text, it has had treamendous influence on the today’s discussion of the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church, to a large degree through the way Michel de Certeau uses it in The Mystic Fable. Lubac’s book does not draw out the implications of this study himself, and that is probably the reason that it is so suggestive, it just opens up a different persepctive and allows the reader to explore.

That said, those that are looking for a systematic discussion might well be disappointed or confused by the text. This is in a sense a very technical study, de Lubac traces the changes in language used regarding the Eucharist and the Church through countless more or less well known theologians throughout the Middle Ages, and at times it can be difficult to keep in mind what is the point of this excercise.

But the main point is clear enough: due to the focus on the question if the Eucharist is to be understood as symbolical or as real presence, the earlier central emphasis of the Eucharist as that whichs ”makes the Church” is largely lost. The focus moves from talking about the Eucharist as an event, an action to focusing on the ontological status of the elements. de Lubac is very careful in descirbing this development as problematic, but the sense is clear enough. John Milbank spells out the consequences more clearly in Being Reconciled (Milbanks best work IMO) – a loss of the church as a clear body of people with particular characteristics, a more passive laity and a more powerful hierarchy, and a extremely misguided discussion about the Eucharist around the time of the reformation where all alternatives are essentially more or less bad ways of coping with this loss.

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