Saturday, February 12, 2011

Abbot Baldwin of Ford on the Sacrament of the Altar

   Throughout the centuries much has been written about the Sacrament of the Altar.  Abbot Baldwin of Ford’s (d. 1191) De sacramento altaris (On the Sacrament of the Altar) is not an examination or defense of what one might call the mechanics of the Eucharist, but an investigation of its meaning in the Christian life.1 It is not that he was unaware of the various controversies surrounding the Eucharist, he simply chose to deal with the sacrament from a different perspective.  
   Writing within one hundred years of the death of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Baldwin chose to write about the connection between faith and reason with regard to the Eucharist.  The philosophers, he says, have sweated over such questions as forma and materia, species and substansia, striving to discover their origins, properties and powers, “and what may seem to them in accordance with the conjecture of human reason they will hold definite and certain.”2 He goes on to accuse them of being ignorant of the heavenly sacraments, ignorant of the wisdom of God 3 and elsewhere reproaches them for their proud and curious questioning. 4 God’s wisdom is not investigated by human subtlety, or by taking long voyages and going to remote places.  It is not to be found in Plato or the schools of the Academics or Stoics and does not lie in obscure writings and sayings. 5 It is not to be found by the eager use of human curiosity, 6 and compared with the simplicity of faith; the doctrines of the philosophers and the traditions of men are wholly incompatible.7 
    In his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II wrote about this very same issue.  To assist reason in its effort to understand the mystery, there are the signs which revelation itself presents.  These serve to lead the search for truth to new depths, enabling the mind in its autonomous exploration to penetrate within the mystery by use of reason’s own methods, of which it is rightly jealous.  Yet these signs also urge reason to look beyond their status as signs in order to grasp the deeper meaning which they bear. They contain a hidden truth to which the mind is drawn and which it cannot ignore without destroying the very signs which it is given.8 
    One may question, for example, why the synoptic Gospels present slightly different accounts of the Last Supper; however, it is important to keep in mind that pietas fidei (piety of faith) has no problem with such differences provided that we believe with any doubt the events and words set down.9   Baldwin goes on to speak of devout knowledge and devout ignorance (pia conscientia et pia ignorantia): with the former we accept what God has enjoined us to believe, and with the latter we do not question what should not be investigated.10 Reason should elaborate revealed truth, but if, for some reason, this rational elaboration—this ratio fidei—is beyond us, or if we cannot understand it when it is presented to us, then we must venerate humbly “with the fervor of devotion” what we are unable to understand.11 It is not necessary for all the faithful to be versed in allegorical language, according to Abbot Baldwin, or to be able to penetrate the depths of signs and sacraments.12 Such things are more necessary for the perfect, those who are charged with teaching and governing, for as Christ himself said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but for others, they are in parables” (Lk 8:10).13
    Abbot Baldwin’s faith is founded on Divine authority, on God, who is the Supreme Truth and Supreme Reason, and on what God has revealed, directly and immutably, in Holy Scripture.  Scripture is the word of God, revealed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and if the Scripture is true, then the witnesses are true—and the witnesses, we are told, are the just here on earth, the angels in heaven, and God the Trinity itself—the testimonies are true and the faith itself is true. 14
    According to Abbot Baldwin there are two types of knowledge: a true knowledge of this which we can comprehend and a truer knowledge of things which we cannot.  It is the latter cognitio which is scientia fidei, and the knowledge which comes through faith is the knowledge which brings salvation (scientia salutis).15 It is faith which illuminates the invisible and “if you do not believe you will not understand”. 16 Faith, as we are told by
William of St. Thierry (1085-1148), is not based on ratio or intellectus, but on authority—the authority of God himself17—and if we believe worthily about God and the things which pertain to God, which He himself has seen fit to reveal in the Holy Scriptures, then our faith should be a faith in the word of God.18 We must not think that this authoritative faith is no more than mere opinion. 
    This same truth is expressed by Pope John Paul II as well.  The truth, which God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, is not opposed to the truths which philosophy perceives.
On the contrary, the two modes of knowledge lead to truth in all its fullness. The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear.  Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history.  It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals Himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This unity of truth, natural and revealed, is embodied in a living and personal way in Christ, as the Apostle reminds us, “Truth is in Jesus” (cf. Eph. 4:21; 1 Cor 1:15-20).  He is the eternal Word in whom all things were created, and He is the incarnate Word who in his entire person reveals the Father (Jn. 1:14, 18).  What human reason seeks, “without knowing it” (Acts 17:23), can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in Him is “the full truth” (Jn. 1:14-16) of everything which was created in Him and through Him and which therefore in Him finds its fulfillment (Col. 1:17).19
    The central celebration of the Christian life, the Eucharist, is also the greatest test of faith.  “Faced with the power of this sacrament”, says Baldwin, “the mind is dulled, the eye of reason is darkened, and every sense of the body is blunted.” 20 It is in this arena in which faith and reason go together.  This they do that one might gouge out the other’s eye, and there is no end to the combat until one of them is blinded.  Human reason has its eye and so does faith, but the eye of reason is dim-sighted and often cannot see things which are visible and placed near it.  The eye of faith; however, is keen and with it the visible things of God are clearly seen.21
    One question which reason may pose is: Why is it that the body and blood of Christ remains concealed by the appearances of bread and wine?  In answer to this question,
Abbot Baldwin would state that Christ was hidden from the beginning in the bosom of the Father; afterwards, He was hidden in the form of a servant which He assumed; and now He is hidden in the sacrament which He instituted.  Faith finds Him hidden in the bosom of the Father; no less does faith find Him hidden in man; and it is faith which finds Him hidden in the sacrament.22 
   Why did Christ institute the Eucharist?  Not to unite Himself more closely to the individual, but to unite Himself more closely to the Church.  Where is Christ to be found? In unitate catholicae ecclesiae (in the unity of the Catholic Church)!  We assemble in Church causa unitate, for there is but one faith, one law of righteousness (which is the law of charity), one form of believing and loving, and one hope of eternal life common to
all the righteous.23 There is but one Christian family, says Arnold of Bonneval (d. 1156),
one house of the Church.24
   Charity lies at the heart of both communion and community, and the grace which flows
from the Eucharist is shared among all of us by the community of charity.25 The sacrifice of Christ is also the sacrifice of the mystical body of Christ—of the Church and its members—and for Baldwin of Ford the sacrifice of the altar is not something that happens just once every day26, but a continual sacrifice, for “the sacrifice we are now discussing is not only a sacrament which sanctifies us, but is contains within itself an example which we should imitate. It is a sacrament through the mystery of faith and an example of the way we should live.  As a sacrament [it brings about] the humbling of our will and the sacrament benefits those who imitate the example.  Those who do not imitate the example, the sacrament does not benefit.” 27
     What, then, did Christ do?  It is rather simple: He died.  He was obedient to death so should we not also be obedient unto death?   What is oboedientia usque ad mortem?  It is the cup of salvation, the cup of the passion of Christ, the perfection of the old law, the new wine which Christ will drink in His Father’s kingdom.28 Obedience to death should not be understood only as bodily death, but in a certain way of perfect mortification and chastisement of the body, and most especially of every perfect renunciation of self-will.  Anyone who strangles self-will puts himself to death. Whoever detaches himself from unlawful desires for the sake of God hates his own soul for the sake of God, and he loses it in this world; but by hating it and losing it, he preserves it unto eternal life.  Whoever sets aside self-will in joy of soul and sweetness of charity and, by a judicious choice, prefers his brother’s will, gives his soul for his brother. Obedience to death is in every kind of martyr, whether we are killed by the sword of the persecutor or by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  This is perfect obedience, which was not in the
Law, for the Law led no one to perfection.  This is the new wine which Jesus Christ drinks with His disciples. All who rejoice in this obedience are fellow drinkers with Jesus, and from His cup they drink spiced wine and the sweet juice of the pomegranate. [Sg. 8:2]. 29
   Abbot Baldwin also discusses the idea that the chalice of Christ can be understood in three ways: …either the very blood of Christ which is shed for us and which we drink at the altar; or the passion of Christ, which we are obliged to suffer with Him; or the imitation [imitatio] of the passion of Christ by which, in our small measure, we make a return and a thanksgiving to Him who suffered for us by suffering with Him. The spiritual drink [of 1 Cor 10:4], therefore, is drunk not only by those who drink the Lord’s blood when they drink it at the reception of the sacrament itself, but by all the righteous who, from the days of old, have had faith in the passion of Christ and have lived spiritually in the faith, mortifying their flesh with its vices and desires (Ga. 5:24) and displaying a likeness [similtudo] of the passion of Christ by the patient endurance of their tribulations.  For whoever does not suffer is not righteous.30   Faith, for Baldwin, is not simply a matter of belief, but of service.  The opening lines of the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict speak directly to Baldwin’s point:  Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts and incline the ear of your heart.  Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you have departed by the sloth of disobedience.  To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience. 31 Thus we see, once again the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life, for not only does it present us with an example we should imitate, but also communicates to us the grace which is so necessary for the fulfillment of that imitation. 32 
    It is this idea which stands behind the concept of the Eucharist as the viaticum: not in the sense of communion given to a person on the point of death, but as one’s “rations” or “provisions” for the whole pilgrimage through this world to heaven. Guerric of Igny (d.
1157) calls it our food for the journey to our heavenly Galilee33, and according to Arnold of Bonneval, a Christian finds no access to eternal life unless he is conducted there by this viaticum. 34 Christ, says Baldwin, has become the bread which strengthens the heart of man: Bread in the word of teaching, bread in the example of life, bread in every consolation of our misery, bread which sustains our life and comforts us in [our ] labors on the road [in labore viae] so that, in His strength, we may arrive at Horeb, the mountain of God. 35  
   De sacramento altaris is not just a treatise on a single sacrament, but a manual for Christian living.  Moreover, it is a manual of communal Christian living, whether that community is in a monastery or of the whole mystical body of Christ. Jean Leclercq (1911-1993) expressed the matter more precisely and accurately: The Holy Communion is not primarily an individual encounter between Jesus and the soul, the occasion for an affective colloquy or of sensed and experienced relations of a psychological order; it is a real participation in the life and work of the incarnate Word.36
   Abbot Baldwin’s focus is not based upon ecstatic raptures or the excessus of contemplation.  He does distinguish between the active life and the contemplative life, but his description of the latter is brief, and he makes it clear that, in his view, it belongs more to heaven than to earth.  Two ways are here [namely in Ex 16:28-30] suggested to us: the active way, in which we should now labor, and the contemplative, for which we should labor and in which we shall be occupied in the contemplation of God alone. 
Although the contemplative life is most especially [a matter] for the time to come, it is represented in this [present] time by the holy repose which is symbolized by the Sabbath.
Of this rest [vacatio] Moses adds, “Let each person stay with himself and let none go forth from his place on the seventh day” [Ex 17:29], as if to say, “Let each rest in his own house and not go forth to any work on the Sabbath day.”  By this we are taught that to remain with ourselves at the time of contemplation and not to go forth through unlawful desires, but to concentrate our whole attention in purity of heart so as to love and think of God alone. 37
    For Baldwin, our encounter with Christ in the sacrament of the altar is not an egocentric, ecstatic rapture (as could be found, for example, in the writings of Gertrude the Great [d. 1301]), but something much less individualistic and much more important:
The effect of this sacrament on us is that Christ lives in us and we in Him. Its effect in us is that, just as Christ died for us, so we too die for Christ.
   Abbot Baldwin was, of course, well aware of the earlier Eucharistic controversies, and there can be no doubt that he was equally aware of the important role played in these controversies by the listing of patristic authorities and reconciliation of their defenses. 37
He makes no attempt to enter this field.  He does indeed quote from the Church Fathers—he refers by name to Augustine, Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose, Origin, and pseudo-Dionysius38—but Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) was perfectly correct when he said that “among the defenders of the doctrine of the Real Presence in the twelfth century, Baldwin of Canterbury was outstanding for his recognition that the doctrine of the unique inspiration and supreme authority of Scripture was crucial to the orthodox doctrine of the Eucharist.” 39
    It is important to keep in mind the period of time and location where De sacramento
altaris was composed.  It was written sometime between 1169/1170 and 1180 when
Baldwin was a monk of the Cistercian monastery of Ford Abbey in Devonshire, England.
The year 1170 was one of great significance in the ecclesiastical history of England, for on December 29 in that year the quarrel between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket reached its apogee, and the archbishop was assassinated in the Canterbury Cathedral.  It is difficult to believe that Baldwin’s decision to enter the monastic life just at this time was mere coincidence. 40 The situation in England did not even begin to reach normalcy until about 1175.  It seems, therefore, that Baldwin’s treatise may be seen, in part, as a call for spiritual reform, for a return to the Gospel text, and is not to be associated with such other technical texts, but should be understood in conjunction with his other treatises.
    It is this sacrament which is the greatest test of faith, and as Baldwin has shown, we cannot have faith without love, nor love without obedience.  It follows, then, that the
Christian life is figured in and follows from the Eucharist, and it would be difficult, there, to spend too long in its discussion or to be too detailed in its examination.  If Baldwin’s own life did not always reflect these ideals, that is simply a consequence of human frailty, and if he was disillusioned by the conduct of armies in the Holy Land (where he served as chaplain to King Richard the Lionhearted), that, too, is hardly surprising. The order of grace was symbolized in the central sacrament of his faith: vita bona, mors pretiosa, vita beata, and if we may have doubts about as to his attainment of the first two, we may hope that in the third, the abbot and archbishop found all that he may have desired and expected. 41

                                                            End Notes

1)  Bell, David N. “Baldwin of Ford and the Sacrament of the Altar”, Erudition at God’s Service CS 98 (Kalamazoo: MI, Cistercian Publications, 1987), p. 217

2)  Baldwin of Ford De Sacramento Altaris (=Sa) 678D (206)

3)  Sa 679A (208)

4)  Sa 679A (210)            

5)  Baldwin of Ford De commendatione fides (=Cf) PL 204, 590D-91A

6)  Cf 591D

7)  CF 609A

8)  John Paul II Fides et Ratio (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1998), #13, p. 23

9)  Sa 669A-70A (172-74)  
10)  Sa 679D (210)

11)  Sa 736D-37A (440)

12)  Bell, p. 219

13)  Sa 712C-13B (346-48)

14)  Cf 621A                             
15)  Cf 583D-84C

16)  Sa 703B (300)

17)  William of St. Thierry De sacramento altaris, prol. PL 180: 345A

18)  Cf 575C

19)  John Paul II, #34, p. 47

20)  Baldwin of Ford Tractatus diversae (=Td) I 407B-C (35/44)

21)  Td I 407B-C (35/44)

22)  Td I 403B-404A (35/28)

23)  Sa 751B (498)

24)  Leclercq, Jean “Les meditations eucharistiques d’Arnauld  de Bonneval” RTAM 13
         (1946), p. 52

25)  Sa 760D-61A (536)

26)  Guignard, P. Monuments primitives de lat reigle Cistercienne (Dijon, 1878)
          pp. 156-57

27)  Td I 410C-D (35/60)

28)  Sa 676B-C (196-98)

29)  Sa 676C-77A (198-200)

30)  Sa 711A-12D (342-44)

31)  Doyle, Leonard (trans.) The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical
           Press, 2001), p. 13

32)  Bell, p. 229

32)  Guerric of Igny De resurrectione Domine, sermo I, 6: PL 175: 144B (SCh
            202:226; CF 32:85)

33)   Leclercq, p. 55 lines 57-59.

34)   Sa 657A (128)

35)   Sa 657A (131)

36)   Sa 757C-D (522)

37)   Pelikan, Jeroslav “The Problem of Patristic Consensus” pp. 216-29

38)   Bell, “Baldwin”, pp. 141-42

39)   Pelikan, p. 221

40)    Bell, Sacrament of the Altar, p. 229

41)   Bell, p. 235


       Baldwin of Ford De commendatione fides 

        Baldwin of Ford De Sacramento Altaris

        Baldwin of Ford Tractatus diversae

        Bell, David N. “Baldwin of Ford and the Sacrament of the Altar”, Erudition at God’s Service CS 98 (Kalamazoo: MI, Cistercian Publications, 1987)

        Doyle, Leonard (trans.) The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical
           Press, 2001)

        Guerric of Igny De resurrectione Domine, sermo I, 6: PL 175: 144B (SCh
            202:226; CF 32:85)

        Guignard, P. Monuments primitives de lat reigle Cistercienne (Dijon, 1878)

         John Paul II Fides et Ratio (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1998)

         Leclercq, Jean “Les meditations eucharistiques d’Arnauld  de Bonneval” RTAM 13

         Pelikan, Jeroslav “The Problem of Patristic Consensus” 

         William of St. Thierry De sacramento altaris, prol. PL 180: 345A

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