Be sure to watch Mark Noll’s critique of Brad Gregory’s, The Unintended Reformation. (H/T to Millinerd and his review in FT.)

As Noll makes clear, the appropriate critique to Gregory’s book has not to do with Protestantism’s embrace of univocal metaphysics or about the unintended consequences of the Reformation era. Rather, Gregory misses the fact that the medieval ideal, running from the Cappodocians through Aquinas, was itself already comprised (anachronistically speaking) by the Roman Catholic Church. That is, it was Roman Catholicism’s embrace of univocal metaphysics and nominalist theology that bequeathed Luther. According to Noll, this form of late medieval theology, fully ensconced in the papacy, “cut the channels in which Protestantism would run.” All of this leads Noll to say that the book should have been titled, The Inconsistent Middle Ages, and The Unintended Reformation. Gregory noted that he agrees with this, though with some qualification.

What I found particularly interesting about Noll’s response, however, was the first part of his paper, where he offers a summary of Eucharistic theology in the High Middle Ages. Noll notes, in so many words, that the doctrine of Real Presence depends upon, or only makes sense within, a sacramental or non-univocal understanding of existence.

The tradition running from the Apostolic Fathers through Aquinas understood that Christ’s presence is instantiated in the mysterious efficacy of the Eucharist. Noll argues that in this sense, Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is the mysterious event of the transcendent and the immanent, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human. Yet this only coheres in a non-univocal metaphysical cosmos, whereby sacraments are not magic acts, but a natural consequence of the Incarnation and an “apocalypsed” universe.

And so I wonder: before speaking about the doctrine of Real Presence, doesn’t one first have to be convinced of the reality of a sacramental universe, and the attendant questions of the episcopacy?

Thankfully, Gregory’s book calls us back to these larger questions.

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