The Cathars and Transubstantiation

The Cathars are another famous sect in history that denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The Cathars were dualists as they believed in One god who was evil, and another that was good.  The movement was essentially a revived type of Gnosticism as physical matter was also deemed evil (Lecture Note).  They denied that Jesus ever had a human body, and as result they would deny that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ.  They denied all sacraments because of the physical properties contained within them. The Cathars thrived in Southern France between the 12th and 14th centuries.

 The church had to respond swiftly as Catharism was a growing movement.  The church used Aristotelian terms such as “substance” and “accidents” to describe the Eucharist.  The distinction between ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ gave the Church language to describe its belief that what looked like bread and wine were, in fact, the Body and Blood of Christ.  This language brought forth a term that we use still today.  The term “transubstantiation” was used against the Cathars at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. 

It was at this council that the teaching of the Cathars was formally condemned.  The terminology that was developed during the controversy with the Cathars changed the landscape of Catholic theology.  Transubstantiation may have been a new term to describe the miracle that happens on the altar, but it was by no means a new idea.  Transubstantiation was the term coined at the council, but not when the teaching started being taught.  The church has always taught that the Eucharist was the body and blood of the Lord.  Transubstantiation just gives the term to describe how it can be the body and blood of the lord and still look like bread and wine.

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Ratramnus and the First Eucharistic Controversy

From the time of the apostles until the 9th century the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was unchallenged.  It was accepted as fact, and the faithful never questioned it. Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus were the two central figures in this first eucharistic controversy.  St Paschasius was abbot of Corbie in the early 9th century, and he wrote extensively about the Eucharist in his work On the Body and Blood of the Lord .  He wrote that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ and that he dwells in us.  He dwells in us because we partake of him, and because of that we are one with Christ.  In writing to a monk under his tutelage he writes, “Christ however lives on account of the father, because he was born the only begotten one of the father, and we live on account of him, because we eat him”.  St. Paschasius came to this conclusion from sacred scripture and testimony of the Church Fathers (Catholic Encyclopedia).  This view would be challenges by a fellow monk by the name of Ratramnus.

Ratramnus was monk whose superior was St. Paschasius.  Ratramnus’s view on the Eucharist was quite different that his superior and is documented in his work also titled “On the Body and Blood of the Lord”.  He explained, as most Protestants do today, that in the body of Christ is received “in figure”.  It is not a physical manifestation but is a spiritual reality.  He denies the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and insists that Christ is present in faith.

In these two men we see a conflict of two worldviews.  In Ratramnus we see a separation from the sacramental worldview that had been firmly established.  We see the separation of physical and spiritual realities in which God has interacted with man since the beginning of creation.  This separation has a domino effect and centuries down the road would manifest itself in humanism and a materialist worldview, though that was not his intention.  In St. Paschasius we see that the physical contact with the risen Christ was part of what salvation was.  Through that physical contact of consuming him we came into union with the Holy one.  He is in us working to transform us and make us like him.


Works Cited

Pohle, Joseph. “St. Paschasius Radbertus.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 23 May 2018 <;.

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