Ratramnus of Corbie

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Theologian; d. after 868. Ratramnus entered the Benedictine abbey of Corbie in Somme, France, about 825, and there became a priest and teacher. Little is known of his life. His writings reveal an independent mind, wide learning, and dialectical skill.

Ratramnus' best known work is on the Eucharist, De corpore et sanguine Domini (c. 850), requested by Charles the Bald, king of the West Franks. It was intended to rectify the tract by Ratramnus's former teacher and abbot, Paschasius Radbertus, whose doctrine Ratramnus found excessively realistic and not consonant with a more symbolic interpretation then in favor. Ratramnus stressed the figurative aspects of the Sacrament and the mysterious mode of Christ's Eucharistic presence, but denied the identity of His sacramental and historical body, as insisted upon by Paschasius. Neither a full treatment nor a devotional piece, the De corpore' s unconventional language and subtlety help to explain the conflicting judgments passed upon it. It was condemned as a supposed work of john scotus erigena at the Council of Vercelli (1050). Cited with favor by St. John Fisher in 1527, it was later used by some of the Protestant theologians as a precedent for their doctrine and was widely translated. Partly because of Protestant patronage, it was listed in the first Index of Prohibited Books in 1559 and retained until the 1900 edition. Catholic opinion remains divided, but recent studies have upheld its orthodoxy.

In his De praedestinatione (850), again at the instance of King Charles, Ratramnus opposed Archbishop Hincmar of Reims. Ratramnus set the mystery of predestination in the context of God's governance of the world (bk. 1), and defended the disputed "double predestination" of St. Augustine, i.e., the predestination of the gratuitously elect to salvation and of the culpably reprobate to their just punishment (bk. 2), although, Ratramnus points out, God is neither the author of their evil-doing nor is their perdition His will (Patrologia Latina 121:42).

His last and best dogmatic work, Contra Graecorum opposita, was one result of Nicholas I's letter in 867 urging the Frankish hierarchy to a united defense against the anti-Latin charges of the Byzantine court and the Patriarch Photius, then in conflict with the Roman See. Ratramnus pleaded for unity of faith as the one essential, and for a legitimate diversity of customs; he defended the double procession of the Holy Spirit from Father "and Son" (Filioque ) with impressive erudition (bks. 13), and defended Latin usages and the Roman primacy with some originality (bk. 4).

His De nativitate Christi, holding that the Blessed Virgin Mary's parturition was entirely natural, was opposed by Paschasius who defended the miraculous birth. Ratramnus wrote two tracts on the nature of the soul. In one he opposed the teaching of Marius Scotus on the universal soul.

Bibliography: Opera Omnia, Patrologia Latina. ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 121:11346, 115356; De Corpore et sanguine Domine, ed. j. n. bakhuizen van den brink (Amsterdam 1954); Eng. tr. in c. p. farrar and a. p. evans, Bibliography of English Translations from Medieval Sources (New York 1946) 326772; Letters, ed. e. l. dÜmmler, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae (Berlin 1826) ser. 18, 6:149158; Liber de anima ad Odonem Bellovacensem, ed. c. lambot (Namur 1952). j. fahey, The Eucharistic Teaching of Ratramn of Corbie (Mundelein, Ill. 1951). i. backes, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger (Freiburg 193038) 8:642643. j. geiselmann, Die Eucharistielehre der Vorscholastik (Paderborn 1926). h. peltier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 13.2: 178087.

[j. j. ryan]