Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Fathers on the Eucharist P. 2

In our first post[1] we surveyed some of the earliest Catholic Fathers on the meaning and understanding of the Eucharist in the early Church[2]. Thus, the earliest Regula Fidei on the Eucharist understood it as the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Tonight we will continue in the Patristic attestation and the understanding of the Eucharist in particular.

· St. Irenaeus writes in his great Adversus haereses on the literalness of the Body and Blood of Christ in the elements of the bread and wine even pointing out the change that occurs through the Eucharistic Prayer,

"For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation from God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection into eternity" (Ibid. 4, 18, 4).

And again,

"He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh in increased and supported" (Ibid. 5, 2, 2).

Tertullian could not be clearer when he refutes Marcion's misunderstanding of the Eucharist,

"Having taken bread and having distributed it to His disciples, He made it His own Body by saying, "This is My Body" - that is, the "figure of My Body." A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there was in truth a body...Marcion did not understand how ancient is that figure of the Body of Christ, who said Himself through Jermemias: "They have devised against Me, saying, 'Come, let us throw wood unto his bread'" - the cross, of course, upon His Body." (Adversus Marcionem. 4, 40, 3).

St. Cyprian is in agreement with the Catholic understanding,

"Also in the priest Melchisedech we see the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Lord prefigured...And who is more a priest of the Most High God than our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when He offered sacrifice to God the Father, offered the very same which Melchisedech had offered, namely bread and wine, which is in fact His Body and Blood." (Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Cecil. 63. 4).

So real is the presence of Christ in the elements that Origen warns,

"You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence." (In Exodum homiliae. 13, 3),

And in another place Origen states,

"Formerly, in an obscure way, there was mana for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the Flesh of the Word of God, as He Himself says; "My Flesh is truly food, and My Blood is truly drink (John 6:56)." (In Numeros homiliae. 7, 2).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem exclaims,

"Do not therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but - be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worth of the Body and Blood of Christ." (Catecheses. 22, 6).

Aphraates the Persian,

"But he ate of His own Body and drank of His own Blood, while He was pondering on the dead. With His own hands the Lord presented His own Body to be eaten, and before He was crucified He gave His blood as drink." (Demonstrationes. 12, 6).

St. Ephraim the Syrian,

"Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and he blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit...He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit. And extending His hand. He gave them the Bread which His right hand had made holy: "Take, all of you eat of this, which my Word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you; but take, eat this Bread, and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called my Body, that it is needed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands...But if any doubter eat of it, for him it will be only bread...if anyone despise it or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as a certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body." (Sermones. 4, 4).

One of the Cappadocian Fathers - St. Gregory of Nyssa states,

"Rightly, then do we believe that the bread consecrated by the word of God has been made over into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was, as to its potency bread; but it has been consecrated by the lodging there of the Word, who pitched His tent in the flesh. From the same cause, therefore, by which the bread that was made over into that Body is made to change into divine strength, a similar result now takes place...the bread, as the Apostle says, "is consecrated by God's word and by prayer" (1 Tim 4:5)." (Oratio catechetica magna. 37).

Epiphanius of Salamis records,

"We see that the Savior took something in His hands, as it is in the Gospel, when He was reclining at the supper; and He took this, and giving thanks, He said; "This is really Me."...and none disbelieves His word. For anyone who does not believe the truth in what He says is deprived of grace and of a Savior." (Ancoratus. 57).

Theodore of Mopsuestia,

"He did not say, "This is the symbol of My Body and My Blood," (Matt 26:26, 28) teaching us not to look upon the nature of what is set before us, but that it is transformed by means of the Eucharistic action into Flesh and Blood." (Commentarii in Matthaeum. ad loc).

St. Athanasius,

"So long as the prayres of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ...This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been set forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine - and thus is His Body confected." (Sermo ad nuper baptizatos).

St. Hilary of Poitiers,

"When we speak of the reality of Christ's nature being in us, we sould be speaking foolishly and impiously - had we not learned it from Him. For He Himself says: "My Flesh is truly Food, and my Blood is truly Drink. He that eats my Flesh and drinks My Blood will remain in Me and I in him." As to the reality of His Flesh and Blood, there is no room left for doubt." (De Trinitate. 8, 14).

Hence we see as the centuries pass the historical Christian understanding of the Eucharist remains like all other Catholic dogma, the same. These bishops and theologians stood fast in unison on the apostolic understanding of the Eucharist against the heretics and schismatics.


[End Notes.]

[2]. Including St. Justin Martyr, St. Ignatius and even a cry of anguish by Luther against those who reject a literal understanding of the Eucharist.


~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks so much for this post. Sometimes I almost want to bang my head against the wall because I never saw this when I was Protestant (from my own self-inflicted blindness) and that people I talk to now still don't see it and act like we suddenly made this up. Add to these Church Fathers the direct language of the Gospels and I Cor 11, and you have an argument that is flawless.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Well said Joseph. To follow up on this issue if you have not read James T O'Conners (The Hidden Mana: A Theology of the Eucharist) published by Ignatius Press you must do so at all costs. It is an excellent running commentary on the Fathers and the Eucharist in the history of Patristic theology.

George Weis said...

Hi Rick!

Been a while, and of course you are touching on a favorite subject. Can you help me out with St. Ephraim? Where does he get that lengthy statement on the last supper? Seems like there is more there than what we read in the gospel accounts.


George Weis said...


None of these seem to explicitly state the Aristotelian Transubstantiation, but only a "Real Presence" or am I just being a dunderhead?


R. E. Aguirre. said...


On St. Ephraim what he is doing is paraphrasing and expanding on Scripture something that is quite common in authors both ancient and modern.

On you're question about Transubstantiation, no, the earliest Fathers do not explicitly define it point by point. That was left for St. Aquinas to do. However, a doctrine does not have to be expressed fully point-by-point at a certain time in history to be true. Take for instance the dogma's of the Trinity or the Personhood of either Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Neither of these were given full doctrinal expression until later councils in the fourth or fifth centuries. Full expressions cannot be found in either Scripture or the earliest Fathers. Yet, subsequent Catholic councils gave them their full understanding.

Thus, many doctrines are found materialy in Scripture and the earliest Fathers but were not given full expositions until later Church Councils (largely in response to some heretical attack).

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply there. I have recently heard that one doesn't necessarily have to believe in the Aristotelian view point to be Catholic... but just acknowledging the "real presence". True or False? I think I am already at the point of believing in the real presence.

Got your e-mail... I will be responding momentarily.

Much love to you brother.


Anonymous said...


One other thing...

I understand that he is paraphrasing, but isn't he taking a very liberal approach to this? Putting additional words in Jesus mouth is a pretty big step to take isn't it? I would be fearful to do such a thing. Strikes me as badly as those who say "God told me..."
gives me the heebie jeebies! It is a very grande and dangerous thing to say... just the same as altering or adding to Christ own words.



R. E. Aguirre. said...


In response to you're first question, the doctrine of Transubstantiation as codified in the Councils is De Fidei, meaning you must believe it in order to be a Catholic. But you don't necessarily have to be Catholic to believe in the real presence in the Eucharist. Lutheran's and some Anglican's believe in the Lutheran con-substantiation (real presence along side the elements) in the Eucharist.

In regards to paraphrasing it is common practice by many scholars even today, - so I find nothing wrong with the Catholic Fathers being able to do it, as long as of course, it is in line with Christ's teaching.

Anonymous said...

Question for George.

How can you be sure that the author's of the books in the Bible did not add or subtract to and from Jesus's words in order to establish a peaceful "National and Global Religion". In other words how do you know for sure that the author's were not simply Peace advocates, but the real followers of Jesus.

George Weis said...


I am well aware of the other views of real presence held by Lutherans and Anglicans also the Spiritual presence the Presbies hold, but recently I heard from a learned Anglican, that as he understands it, one doesn't have to believe in Transubstantiation in Aristotelian terms, but only in the change (in some way). Bogus statement?


You sound like my in laws :D Well, I trust that God could keep His message to the world intact. That is a question that goes to the root of the faith. More than that, we have many copies of the text that date very close to the assumed dates of the original version (speaking of the N.T. of course). This provides us a way to submit the writings to various tests. Now, I await the comment that mentions that those who decided upon the canon were Catholic :)
Don't worry, I already know that info too!

Many blessings to both of you!


R. E. Aguirre. said...

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1376) quoting Trent states unmistakably that the change that occurs in the Eucharist (in the wider discussion of the Eucharist)the "the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation." That is what orthodox Catholics hold. Like I mentioned before, you can believe other views if you like, but the Catholic interpretation of the Eucharist is that which is pointed above.

Rene'e said...

I trust that God could keep His message to the world intact.

Then are you saying that God would keep His message intact through men. Because this is the reality of the Bible. These men claimed to be inspired by God. How can anyone prove this? How do we know for sure, 100%? As you said it comes from written text, which were written by men and not God.Some have accused others of changing the word of God. Why would God allow this? There have been those who have changed the word of God? Proof is in the various Bibles translations.Not all are the same.

What is comes down to is those who proclaim that the bible is the inspired word of God, are in fact are choosing to believe that truth based on the written words of men and their claims,along with their own blind faith. With no absolute proof otherwise. The only way someone could be absolutely sure would be if God himself appeared and spoke to the person and told him this were true. Otherwise, we have to trust the words and claims of men to be true.

Trusting men. That is what we as Christians are doing. Catholic's are not ashamed to acknowledge that point. Others are and try to hide behind words as "invisible","Faith" etc.

The truth is God is not a liar. Men can be if they choose. The Bible and any text pertaining to it were written by the hand of men.

You are trusting Men. Irregardless of admitting to it or not. We all are.