In his De doctrina christiana, Milton does not mince words about his loathing of the doctrine of transubstantiation: “The Papists hold that it is Christ’s actualflesh which is eaten by all in the Mass. But if this were so, even the most wicked of the communicants, not to mention the mice and worms which often eat the Eucharist, would attain eternal life by virtue of the heavenly bread.” Besides, such a corporeal understanding of the Mass brings down Christ’s holy body from its supreme exaltation at the right hand of God. “It drags it back to the earth, though it has suffered every pain and hardship already, to a state of humiliation even more wretched and degrading than before: To be broken once more and crushed and ground, even by the fangs of brutes. Then, when it has been driven through all the stomach’s filthy channels, it shoots it out – one shudders even to mention it – into the latrine.” His account is colorful, if conventional. And yet, Milton gives the communion prominence of place in Paradise Lost, embracing the image of transubstantiation with gusto, for he frames the central meal in the epic – the meal of which Adam and Raphael partake in the Garden – as a communion: So down they sat And to their viands fell, nor seemingly The angel, nor in mist, the common gloss Of theologians, but with keen dispatch Of real hunger, and concoctive heat To transubstantiate.
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