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Philosophical Thought

On certain philosophical-scholastic aspects of the doctrine of the Eucharist in the anonymous treatise on the Mass (manuscript München, BSB, Cgm 89)

Simonian Arina Vladimirovna

ORCID: 0000-0002-7478-4771

Postgraduate student, Junior Scientific Associate, the department of Western Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences

12/1 Goncharnaya Str., Moscow, 109240, Russian Federation








Abstract: The existing representation of juxtaposition of the religious literature of the late Middle Ages and contemporary to it university philosophy requires clarification. It is particularly difficult to draw this boundary in texts of the tradition of the so-called "German mysticism". This question is discussed on the basis of the German-language work “The Mystical Treatise on the Mass and Its Effects in the Loving Soul” (Mystischer Traktat über die Messe und ihre Wirkungen in der minnenden Seele). The treatise has survived in several manuscripts of the late Middle Ages, the earliest of which is the manuscript Cgm 89 (BSB, München, near 1375). The conducted historical-philosophical analysis of the selected passages of the anonymous treatise on the Mass indicates the presence of complex combination of stylistically diverse fragments consisting of rearrangement of topoi that belong to both scholastic and religious literature of the late Middle Ages. In enunciation of the doctrine of the Eucharist, the author of the treatise resorts to metaphorical language, description of personal experience of the church sacrament. At the same time, the text identifies the references to Aristotle's treatise "On the Soul" used by the author as the philosophical foundation to describe the process of connecting the soul to God. The conclusion is made that the anonymous treatise on the Mass testifies inappropriateness of rigid juxtaposition of the traditions of religious literature and scholastic philosophy, which still can be encountered in the overall description of the Medieval intellectual culture.


medieval philosophy, German mystics, spiritual literature, scholasticism, Christian mystics, treatise on the mass, Aristotle, soul, Tegernsee, Eucharist

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The widespread idea of the opposition of the tradition of spiritual literature of the XIII-XIV centuries to the contemporary "school philosophy", about the dissection of the intellectual space of medieval Europe into two opposing camps refined university rationalism and monastic theology, recognizing the path of truth comprehension exclusively by immersion in mystical experience, requires clarification and clarification. Such a sharp contrast, which has become a common place, leads to a distortion of the general historical and philosophical picture, creating an imaginary impression that the mystical spiritual tradition and scholasticism are two polar, or even mutually exclusive phenomena of medieval culture. Moreover, the tradition of spiritual literature appears not only as an intellectual movement opposed to scholasticism, but also as an exclusively side phenomenon, as a deviation from the general line of development of philosophical thought. The consequence of this methodological negligence is the statement about the absence in the tradition of spiritual literature, and in particular in mysticism, focused only on the phenomenological pole, of any intellectual foundation, its indifference to the problems inherent in "philosophical" thinking. Philosophy, within the framework of this paradigm, unlike mysticism, has a huge intellectual potential and mental sophistication. "Mysticism does not appeal to reason at all, since it deals with the phenomena of the sensory world" [2, p. 136]. At the same time, philosophy is evaluated "as a universal, all-encompassing consciousness", mysticism is often perceived "as a purely individual, albeit widespread experience" [2, p. 136].

In his "Preliminary Remarks on the History of Western European Mysticism", Kurt Roux focuses on the fact that scholastic philosophy and spiritual literature are not only somewhat dependent, but there is a serious methodological problem of identifying the exact boundary that would separate one phenomenon of the intellectual culture of the medieval West from another. This problem manifests itself most obviously when trying to separate "German mysticism" from "German scholasticism" [12, S. 13].

In this paper, using the example of an anonymous critically unpublished German-language treatise on the Mass, I want to draw attention to how in the spiritual and edifying writings of the late Middle Ages, philosophical and scholastic aspects and university terminology are intertwined with the imagery and metaphorical language characteristic of spiritual literature.

"A Mystical treatise on the Mass."

Along with the well-researched authors of the Western European Middle Ages, no less significant for understanding the intellectual atmosphere of the epoch are the works that make up the corpus of the anonymous heritage of late Medieval Germany. One of these texts turns out to be a compilation treatise from the manuscript Sdm 89 (ca.1375), known as the "Mystical Treatise on the Mass and its influences in the Loving Soul" (Mystischer Traktat ?ber die Messe und ihre Wirkungen in der minnenden Seele) [10][11]. Later lists of this work have reached the codes Sdm 851 ff. 27v-179r (1402) [9], Cgm 778, ff. 3r-32v (ca. 1400) [7], Cgm 839, ff.32v-116v (1427) [8], belonging to the monastery of Tegernsee [3], as well as in the collection Cgm 4373, ff.147r-202r (approx.1500) [6] [5] [13].

This treatise, which focuses on the discussion of the meaning of the sacrament of communion in the life of a Christian, is the first part of a two-part theoretical and practical work devoted to the interpretation of the Mass. The second part of the work, focused more on the presentation of the structure and meaning of the liturgical rite, as was established by K. Illing, is a free translation into Middle High German of Albert the Great's treatises "De mysterio missae" and "De corpore Domini" [4, S. 26-29].

In connection with the topic we are discussing, the "Mystical Treatise" is interesting because the metaphorical and elegant syllable in this work is adjacent to university terminology, lengthy ornate passages with a clear structure that splits the canvas of the text into sections, paragraphs, numbered lists of arguments characteristic of scholastic writings.

The key idea of the treatise is the direct union, or, more precisely, the reunion of the human soul with God, which, according to the author of the work, is possible only in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The treatise consists of several semantic blocks. In the text, we can conditionally distinguish an introduction in which the compiler, linking lines from Ecclesiastes (Ec. 1,7) and the first words of the Gospel of John (John 1:1), discusses the dispensation of the universe and the ontological role of Christ in it. This is followed by a section dedicated to the unity of the soul with the Trinity through the Eternal Word. Then the author proceeds to discuss the gifts that the soul finds in this union, here he describes the perfect souls the soul of Mary and the soul of Christ, as well as the gifts with which they are endowed. The culminating point of the treatise is the section allegorically representing the soul in the sacrament of communion, likened to a Wife clothed in the Sun (Rev. 12:1-2), on whose head is placed a crown of twelve stars, each of which shimmers with light pouring out from the heart of the Heavenly Father: "these twelve gifts are like twelve rays of eternal light [penetrating] into the soul, thanks to which the soul becomes noble in unity with the Eternal Word, which it finds in the sacrament [participles]. This is why he [John] says that the virgin whom he saw carried twelve stars above her head like a crown" (1). The first three stars of the luminous crown reflect the light of the Holy Trinity, the other nine reflect the light radiated by the angels of each individual step of the heavenly hierarchy from the flaming seraphim closest to God to angels assigned to the human soul and accompanying it on its earthly journey [10, S. 88-105].

The features peculiar to the "mystical" tradition are well illustrated by the passages in which the author describes the effect of the sacrament of communion on the eater of the Holy Gifts, transforming his soul and body, the "inner" and "outer" person. Thus, the author compares the soul united with God in the Eucharistic sacrament with a drop of water dissolving in noble wine, with iron melted in a flame, with a scarlet morning dawn pouring into a clear day. However, one of the most revealing is the passage in which the anonymous author describes special emotional experiences at the moment of union with Christ in the altar sacrament, which were experienced not only by great spiritual ascetics, but even by one of the brothers of his own order. The compiler writes:

[...] div geistlich auzspilnd fraude dez innern menschen in dem sacrament beravbet den auzzern menschen aller hofzvht vnd geberde vor den engeln cheisers tische da von die einen lachent von aller ir chraft von widerspil dez auzzern menschen gegen wunder dez innern menschen sam sant elspet tet. vnd ich ze inen zeiten selber sach einen bruder meines ordens so lange vnd so chreftichlich lachen. daz alle sin ader tobick wurden sam in einer svhte. vnd w?r ezze lange also beliben er w?r in dem lachen tot [10, S. 26-27].

[] This spiritual joy radiating outward from the inner man in the sacrament of communion so deprives the outer man of any noble upbringing and noble manners before the angels of the royal throne that some even burst out laughing with all their might because their outer man reflects the miracle [performed] with the inner man. This is exactly what happened to Saint Elizabeth. And once I myself saw a brother of my order who laughed so long and so hard that all his veins swelled as if with an illness, and if it lasted too long, he would have died of laughter."

At the same time, along with such descriptions, the text is replete with scholastic reflections. Thus, in the treatise there are references to Aristotle, namely to his statements in the treatise "On the Soul". The philosopher's quote is mentioned by the compiler of the "Mystical Treatise" as words of authority that support the reasoning that all creation comes from God and is essentially only a reflection of its creator. We are talking about a passage in which the compiler asserts "that the power of God is present in all things in three ways, since every thing is subject to His divine power" (2). The compiler reveals this thesis as follows:

Gegenwurtichlich wan alle creature sint im entgangen in dem spigel siner gotlichen naturen erchant [10, S. 48].

"[First] directly, for all creations proceed from him and are known in the mirror of his divine nature."

In this sentence, the expression "im spigel siner gotlichen naturen" attracts attention. The mirror of the divine nature here means Christ, in whom, as in a mirror, there are ideas arising in the divine Mind (3). As for the second part of the statement (ershant sint), in my opinion, it can be understood not only as "knowable", but also as "recognizable". That is, in the mirror of the divine nature, creations become recognizable as individual things, as opposed to their being in the first source (in the divine Mind), in which all things are one. That is, the nature of each individual creation reveals itself at the next "stage" of the act of creation, when ideas that have left the divine Mind are clothed in form. Thus, eternity and temporality meet in the mirror of the divine nature. In another section of the treatise, the author of the text places special emphasis on this. The compiler writes: "From the eternal beautiful world in the blissful mirror of the divine essence, he created this world, which is ours, in time" (4).

Further, continuing the idea of the direct relationship of God and the world created by him, the author of the treatise on the Mass uses the image of the mirror mentioned above in a very original way. The anonymous compiler suggests distinguishing two components in the mirror: the surface into which the external observer looks, and the mirror itself. Just as "if a mirror had an eye," he says, "it would first see itself" (5), and not what is seen by the eye of an observer located outside. Therefore, God, turning his gaze to the creation that reflects him, first of all loves and recognizes himself in it. In the text it sounds like this: "However, in the first manifestation (in den ersten vorwurffe) He knows and loves nothing but himself. It is just as if a mirror had an eye, then it would see first of all not a reflection in the surface of the mirror (auf dez spigels wesen), in which there is a reflected image that the eye can see" (6).

The author then proceeds to consider the second type of relationship that exists between God and creation. Every thing comes from God, therefore the essence of every creation is nothing but a reflection of the divine essence. He's writing: "On the other hand, all things have an essence from God, because the essence of all creatures is nothing but a reflection of the divine essence, to which all creatures strive, and thanks to which all their natural actions are performed [i.e., their actions by nature]" (7). It is this statement that the compiler accompanies With reference to Aristotle: "The venerable master Aristotle speaks about this in the second book "On the Soul"" (8). Here the anonymous author implies the philosopher's teaching about God as the target cause of the world and literally quotes the text of the treatise "On the Soul" II, 4: "After all, all beings strive for him, and it is [divine] the purpose of their natural actions" [1, 415b 3-4].

And finally, the third type of relationship is the expected climax, where the sacrament of the Mass is praised. In the third type of relationship, God not only affects the creation, but literally places himself in it, as a result of which the divinity (gottheit) present in the soul during the eating of the Holy Gifts turns out to be even nobler than in any other creations of heaven and earth: "However, in the sacrament of the Mass, divinity is even nobler than in the creations heaven and earth" (9).According to the author of the "Mystical Treatise", such contact of divinity and creation is possible only through Christ, who is essentially and by nature one with the whole Trinity, and through whom the triune God is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist:"For the divinity in the revealed Eucharistic bread is so wonderful in its essence that a brief natural moment is eternity in it, because the eternal son of God, who is personally present in him, is one essence, one nature, one Light, one bliss with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. And since by their nature they are not separated from each other, their receptacle [i.e., Holy Communion] is not separated from them either, for the Father, together with all divine natures, is present in the Word and in the revealed sacrament of the Eucharist" (10).

Another reference to the treatise "On the Soul" is found in the section devoted to the discussion of the difference between the "external" and "internal" person, which follows immediately after the description of the metaphorical transformation of the soul in the sacrament of communion. The compiler of the "Mystical Treatise" refers in one of the paragraphs to the discussion of the function and nature of the human mind. He's writing: [The mind] connects beautiful things with each other by the sweetness or joy of the senses, like [combining] honey with the tongue or light with the eyes, without becoming these things. But now the mind becomes more inwardly connected with the spiritual things that are its manifestations, since they comprehend its existence as it is (isticheit), and its essence (wesen). But the bodily senses do not comprehend the simple form of bodily things, just as the eye does not see the essence of a person, but only his color or outline, and the ear does not hear anything but sound" (11).

As follows from this passage, the sense organs perceive only accidental forms, while the mind, identifying with the object of its contemplation, sees directly the essence of things. "About this," as the compiler writes, "one mentor says in the book "On the Soul" in one gloss that the mind and the object of its contemplation are more united than the natural form and its matter. Therefore, unity is filled with joy, which is above all [bodily] feelings, in which the form of the divine essence is essentially and directly connected with the mind of the soul, as [this] says The Eternal Word in the Book of St. John, that in this union there is eternal life (Jn. 3, 15; 4, 14; 5, 24; 6, 68; 12, 50; 17, 2-3)" (12). Probably, the anonymous compiler refers in these lines to the statement of a certain commentator explaining the quote of Aristotle: "knowledge in action it is identical to its subject" [1, 431a], contained in Book III, Chapter 7 of the treatise "On the Soul". Intellectual comprehension surpasses sensory comprehension, including in the fact that in the process of cognition, the mind is directly connected with the subject of its thought. For this reason, supersensible unity (ob allen sinnen), that is, unity at the level of the intellect, is "filled with a special joy of bliss" (wvnnenchlich) because in the act of cognition the mind of the soul is directly united with the form of the divine essence (da gotliches wesens form der sel verstantnusse vereinet wirt weslich an mittel), that is, with the essence of God as an object of intellectual contemplation.

So, as it was shown, in the "Mystical Treatise" there is a complex combination of fragments heterogeneous in style, consisting of a recomposition of topos belonging to both scholasticism and spiritual literature of the Middle Ages. This in particular testifies to the incorrectness of the rigid opposition between the tradition of spiritual literature and school philosophy, which can still be found in general descriptions of medieval intellectual culture. Expounding the doctrine of the Eucharist, the compiler of the anonymous treatise uses not only abstract schemes and analytical concepts, but also resorts to the use of metaphorical language, descriptions of personal experience of the church sacrament. Thus, it is impossible to draw a line that would distinguish between scholastic motives and the artistic word in this work. Moreover, the discussion of the question of how exactly in the act of cognition the human mind is united with the highest object of thought, on what basis and to what extent creation can be united with God, is inextricably linked with the discussion of individual spiritual experience, how the innermost event of the life of the "inner" person manifests itself externally in actions, feelings, the emotions of a person "external".


1. [] zwelf gab mit dem si geedelt wirt in der gemeinschaft mit dem ewigen worte daz si enpfaht in dem sacramet sam zwelf avzplicke dez ewigen liehtes dez vater. in die sel davon spricht er daz div Jvnch Frowe die er sach truch zwelf sterne vf dem havbt ze einen chrantz [10, S. 88].

2. [...] got drierleie weise ist allen creaturen Mvgentich wan elliv dinch siner maht vnderdanich sint [10, S. 48].

3. See also: [10, S. 1-3].

4. avs der ewigen schonen werlt in dem wunnen spigel gotes wesvnge. hat er ensprenget disiv werlt div vnser ist in der zeit [10, S. 2-3].

5. sam ob der spigel ein aug het [10, S. 48].

6. aber in dem ersten vorwurffe erchennet er noch enminet niht mer denne sich selben sam ob der spigel ein aug het daz sehe dez ersten niht den spigel widerpogen auf dez spigels wesen in dem dez spigels scheinendes pil[d]e. daz aug s?h [10, S. 48].

7. ze dem andern male. weslich sint auch elliv dinch von got. wan alle creature wesen ist niht mer, denne widerplick gothliches wesens. dez alle creature gerent. vnd alle ir naturlichiv werch wurchent si [10, S. 48-49].

8. Darumbe spricht der hohe meister. aristotiles In dem andern puochen der sel [10, S. 49].

9. aber in dem sacrament der messe ist div gotheit noch edelicher denne in allen creaturen dez himels vnd der erden naturlich [10, S. 49].

10. [] wan div gotheit [wan div natur!] ist vnder dem scheine dez brote dez sacramentes weslich so wunchlich also ir selbez naturlich augenplick. sich ewichleich geschawet hat wan der ewige gotes sun der personlich da ist. mit dem vater eine wesen ein nature. ein lieht. ein salichait. vnd mit dem heiligen geiste. da von div nature also ir aller vngesundert ist. also ist vngesundert ir wonung wan der vater ist in dem worte mit aller gotlichen naturen. vnd dem scheine dez sacramentes [10, S. 49-50].

11. wan seiut [!] vereinvnge zimlicher dinge tuet svzzicheit oder wollust der sinne sam dez honiges mit der zvnge oder dez liehtez mit ovgen daz doch niht eigen ist nv wirt div verstantnvsse vil innerleich vereint geistlichen dingen. die ir vo[r]wvrf sint. wan si begreiffet ir isticheit vnd ir wesen. aber die sinne dez leibez begreiffent niht denne leiplicher dinge. anvaltigen form. sam daz ovge siht niht dez menschen wesen svnder sein varwe. oder sin gestalt daz ore niht denne den don [10, S. 108-109].

12. da von spricht der meister in der sel pueche in einer glose daz verstantnusse vnd sein eigen vorwurf sint mer eine. denne naturlich form vnd ir materie. da von ist| auch div einunge ob allen sinnen wunnenchlich da gotliches wesens form der sel verstantnusse vereinet wirt weslich an mittel alz daz ewig wort spricht in sant Johannes puche daz ander vereinvng ist daz ewig leben [10, S. 109].


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The reviewed article is an example of an exceptionally qualified historical and philosophical study, which analyzes one of the theological writings of a mystical orientation belonging to the culture of the late German Middle Ages. The main idea of the article is that the traditional idea of a "gap" between scholasticism, that is, philosophy taught in educational institutions, primarily in universities, and the broad spiritual tradition of the late Middle Ages, to which mystical theology belonged, is essentially erroneous. The author chooses one of the anonymous treatises to prove this position, since "the metaphorical and elegant style of the syllable in this work is adjacent to university terminology, lengthy ornate passages with a clear structure that splits the canvas of the text into sections, paragraphs, numbered lists of arguments characteristic of scholastic writings." The author demonstrates, in particular, the overlap of the studied text with Aristotle's "On the Soul", thereby confirming that the spiritual experience captured in the work did not reject "scholastic" scholarship. On the other hand, it can be said that any reader who came into contact with "university" medieval philosophy could testify that the proverbial "subtlety" of scholastic distinctions (of course, one immediately remembers the name under which Duns Scotus entered the history of culture) would have been impossible without mystical experiences that invariably nourished it and they revived; "scholastic" in the figurative meaning of this word refers exclusively to language, but not to thought in medieval philosophy. No wonder F.C. Copleston wittily remarked that medieval philosophers would feel very comfortable in modern English and American universities. It is difficult to say that the reviewed work may be of interest to a wide range of readers (due to the "intimacy" of the topic), but there is hardly any doubt that the article will find its reader. The critical remarks that could be made to the text of the article are of a recommendatory nature and relate mainly to several stylistically unsuccessful expressions. First of all, the expression "philosophical-scholastic" in both the title and the main text, in the reviewer's opinion, is redundant, it is enough to talk simply about "philosophical" aspects; it is clear that the author seeks to emphasize in this way, however, there is no need for clarification emphasizing the scholastic character of late medieval philosophy. Further, the phrase "imaginary impression" is unsuccessful, the impression as an impression is always real, adequate to the act of experiencing itself, we can simply say here "erroneous impression", "wrong opinion", etc. The expression "focused only on the phenomenological pole" also seems unsuccessful (it is necessary to explain to the reader the meaning of the statement or replace it with a simpler expression) in the case of the expression "using the example of an anonymous critically unpublished German-language treatise on the Mass", we could suggest the following revision: "on the example of an anonymous German-language treatise, the critical edition of which has not yet been completed." However, regardless of whether the author accepts these remarks or not, it is impossible to doubt the exceptionally high level of research that is reflected in this compact but extremely informative article. I recommend the reviewed article for publication in a scientific journal.
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