Raphael's The Disputation on the Holy Sacrament,

Sistine Chapel, Vatican City - 1509 - 1510



The fresco is built around the Monstrance containing the consecrated Host, located on the altar. Figures representing the Triumphant Church and the Militant Church are arranged in two semicircles, one above the other, and venerate the Host.  The revealed truth of the origin of all things, in other words the Trinity cannot be apprehended by intellect alone (philosophy), but is made manifest in the Eucharist.

God the Father, above, bathed in celestial glory, blesses the crowd of biblical and ecclesiastical figures from the top of the composition. Immediately below, the resurrected Christ (who is displaying His wounds) sits on a throne of clouds between the Blessed Virgin Mary (bowed in adoration) and St John the Baptist (who, points to Christ).  The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending in a nimbus of glory below Christ; and further below on the altar placed upon three steps at floor level the Eucharistic host in a monstrance.

Prophets and saints of the Old and New Testament are seated around this central group on a semicircular bank of clouds similar to that which constitutes the throne of Christ. They form a composed and silent crowd and, although they are painted with large fields of color, the figures are highly individuated.

  • The personages are (from left to right for the viewer). St Peter, Adam, St John the Evangelist, David, St Laurence, Judas Maccabees, St Stephen, Moses, St James the elder, Abraham, St Paul.

The altar is flanked by theologians who are debating Transubstantiation. Christ's body is represented in the Eucharist, which is discussed by representatives of the Church.  At the bottom of the picture space, inserted in a vast landscape dominated by the altar and the Eucharistic sacrifice, are saints, popes, bishops, priests and the mass of the faithful.

On the ground, at the sides of the altar on which the Most Holy Sacrament dominates, is the Militant Church. On the marble thrones closest to the altar sit four Fathers of the Latin Church: St Gregory the Great (a portrait of Julius II), St Jerome, St Ambrose and St Augustine.

They represent the Church which has acted, and which continues to act, in the world, and which contemplates the glory of the Trinity with the eyes of the mind.