Refuted: The false doctrine of Catholic "transubstantiation" and Orthodox "Real Presence"

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The Lord's Supper: Transubstantiation, Real Presence
Refuted: The Catholic false doctrine of "transubstantiation".
Transubstantiation is a close cousin to Gnostic theology because both false doctrines claim that "things are not what they appear".

Click to ViewThe Bible Blueprint of the Lord's Supper (the Bible pattern)

Introduction:

The Catholic and Greek Orthodox false doctrine of "transubstantiation" teaches that the bread and juice undergo a change to become the literal body and blood of Christ.

A. Transubstantiation is a false doctrine for the following reasons:

  1. No Bible verse teaches transubstantiation. Supposed proof texts put forward by Roman Catholic and Orthodox advocates are most naturally seen as proving that the bread and juice were symbols of the body and blood. To see transubstantiation in these texts requires one to strain the text as much as our mind.
  2. Transubstantiation is a false doctrine because Jesus is not a liar: In Mt 26:29 after Jesus had said, "this is my blood" and prayed, he still referred to the contents as, "fruit of the vine". If transubstantiation of the juice into blood had occurred, as both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches say it was at this time, then Jesus would never have referred to it as "fruit of the vine' but rather "blood". This proves that when Jesus said "take eat & drink" he LITERALLY gave them bread and juice.
  3. In like manner, Paul also refers to the elements of the Lord's Supper as "eat this bread and drink the cup" in 1 Cor 11:26 after they should be transubstantiated. 1 Cor 11:26-27 proves transubstantiation wrong because Paul calls the loaf, "bread" after both Roman Catholics and Orthodox say the "change" was supposed to take place. Catholics make Paul a liar by calling the loaf "bread" rather than what Catholic false doctrine claims it was: Literal Flesh.
  4. In 1 Corinthians 11:25, Jesus said literally that the "cup was the covenant". So which is it? Is the it the juice that is the covenant or the juice that is the blood? Is it the cup that is the covenant or is the cup the blood?
  5. In 1 Cor 11:26-28, Paul instructs us to "drink the cup" instead of "drink the blood". The Holy Spirit would not use such a figure of speech as "synecdoche" (referring to a part for the whole) if such a literal transubstantiation was actually taking place. To use a symbol when such a literal change is taking place is unthinkable.
  6. Transubstantiation is a false doctrine because Jesus instituted Lord's Supper before his blood was shed and body broken! He spoke of His blood being shed, which was still yet future. This proves it was a symbol.
  7. The very record of historically, (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian and Hippolytus) which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches love to quote as authority, proves that before 200 AD, the church viewed the bread and juice as symbols. Conversely, the earliest historical hint of transubstantiation was in the 4th century.
  8. Obviously Jesus words, "this is my body" should be taken symbolically because it falls within a long list of symbolic statements Christ said: "I am the bread," (John 6:41), "I am the vine," (John 15:5), "I am the door," (John 10:7,9), "I am the good shepherd,"(John 10:11,12), "You are the world the salt, (Matthew 5:13), "You are the light of the world the salt, (Matthew 5:14)
  9. The apostasy of withholding the Cup: Roman Catholics, in the 1415 AD Council of Constance, decreed that the laity could no longer drink of the cup, but the bread alone. This is completely contrary to Scripture and the earliest church traditions. Jesus' own words are "drink from it, all of you" Matthew 26:26 and in Mark 14:22-23 it says "He gave it to them, and they all drank from it." The Greek Orthodox church does not withhold the juice.
  10. The Greek orthodox church violates the Bible pattern by using leavened bread, whereas Roman Catholics use unleavened bread, just as Jesus did, (Matthew 26:17) and the Bible records in 1 Cor 5:7-8. Both Roman Catholic and Greek orthodox churches violate the Bible pattern by using leavened wine, instead of unleavened grape juice.
  11. The Greek orthodox church violates the Bible pattern by using a "communion spoon" to dip into the cup to retrieve some wine-soaked bread. The Bible pattern for the Lord's Supper is that the bread and juice are not combined, but are two separate steps of "Holy communion".
  12. We wonder why Roman Catholics and Orthodox doubt God will grant his full grace and love in the symbolic elements of the bread and the juice? Why is it so hard for them to believe that He grants us the full grace of His Body and Blood via symbols? The water of baptism washes away sin: Acts 2:38; 22:16. You don't get your sins forgiven until you are immersed in water! Water is a symbol of the blood that literally removes sin. For Roman Catholics and Orthodox to believe in "real presence", is as logical as the idea that water of baptism turns into literal blood!

B. Catholics and Orthodox misrepresent history:

Transubstantiation is completely unbiblical, being a doctrine that grew out of the Gnostic controversies of the mid second century and gradually developing to full flower in the 4th century. The Gnostics claimed that Jesus did not have literal flesh and blood, it only appeared that way. The early post-apostolic Christians countered that Jesus indeed had ordinary human flesh and blood and they began to emphasize this in the Lord's Supper.

"The early centuries were not exercised with a "moment" of consecration, for they had not become concerned with a conversion in the elements." (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 114)

Orthodox writers misrepresent history, but correctly identify the Lord's Supper as a battle ground between Christians and Gnostics.

"In the early Church, the only people who denied that the Eucharist was truly the Body and Blood of Christ were those who also denied that the Word had truly become man." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 173)

The historically accurate way of saying this would be:

"In the early Church, before 200AD, both Gnostics and the church took the same symbolic view of the bread and juice. Some Gnostics refused to eat the Lord's Supper altogether. Transubstantiation was not an issue that was discussed. By the fourth century, the church drifted away from the original symbolic view of the Apostles and began to teach transubstantiation. Only in the fourth century, were Gnostics isolated in their symbolic view. But amazingly, they were the ones who maintained the Apostolic traditional view. It was the church that had changed her theology towards transubstantiation."

Some Gnostics groups refused to break bread altogether. The only churches today that do not break bread at all, like the Gnostics, are groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Salvation Army. But even still, the 2nd century Gnostics and the church both viewed the elements of the Lord's Supper as symbolic. Transubstantiation was never the issue at this time.

But those Gnostics who did partake of the Table of the Lord, were openly criticized by the church as being inconsistent.

"How can they (Gnostics) be consistent with, themselves when they say the bread for which they give thanks is the body of their Lord and the cup his blood, if they do not say he is the Son of the Creator of the world? ... Let them either change their views or avoid offering the bread and wine. But our view is in harmony with the eucharist, and the eucharist confirms our view". (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.xviii.4, 5)

Amazingly the language of the Gnostics was the same literalistic language used by the church:

"they say the bread for which they give thanks is the body of their Lord and the cup his blood". (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.xviii.4, 5)

In truth, however, this literalistic language was typical of how everyone talked on all sides of the debate before 200AD. But we want to note that the Orthodox statement is quite wrong when they say the Gnostics distinguished between transubstantiation and the symbolic view, for they in fact used the same identical literalistic language as the church. For Roman Catholic and Orthodox historians to be consistent, they would need to admit, that if the literalistic language of "this is my body" proves transubstantiation, then they are forced to admit that the Gnostics at the time of Irenaeus in 180 AD, also believed in transubstantiation. Of course the truth is that both the church and Gnostics taught the symbolic view, while employing the same literalistic language.

In fact, the logic employed by early church leaders like Irenaeus to defeat Gnosticism, were specifically based upon a symbolic, non-transubstantiation view of communion. In other words, Irenaeus' whole argument would have been defeated, if he believed in Transubstantiation. The very logic of Irenaeus' argument is that the Lord's supper is composed of natural elements of common juice and bread.

"He (the Gnostic) acknowledged the created cup with which he moistens our blood as his own blood, and he confirmed the created bread from which our bodies grow as his own body. Since therefore the cup that has been mixed and the bread that has been made, from which things the substance of our flesh grows and is sustained, receive the word of God and the eucharist becomes the body of Christ, how do they say that the flesh which is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord and is a member of him is incapable of receiving the gift of God which is eternal life?" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies V.ii.2, 3)

The Gnostics viewed everything physical as evil. Had Irenaeus argued that the natural elements of common juice and bread were transubstantiated into something different than what they appear, namely the body and blood of Christ, the Gnostics would have agreed completely, while maintaining their view that the body of Christ was not composed of natural elements, but only appeared to be. Had Irenaeus been arguing transubstantiation, the Gnostics would have countered, "We agree and it proves Jesus did not have literal flesh and blood. Just as you (Irenaeus) have argued that the bread and juice must be transubstantiated into something that is undetectable to our senses, we argue that the reason it is undetectable to our senses, is because the literal body and blood of Christ on the cross, like the bread and juice, were not what they appear!

"Irenaeus has the realist terminology but not the realist thought. There is no conversion of the elements. Indeed, if there were any change in the substance of the elements, his argument that our bodies -in reality, not in appearance- are raised would be subverted." (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 114)

So it was critical that Irenaeus specifically avoid the doctrine of transubstantiation in his recorded argument against the Gnostics.

The way the church refuted the Gnostics was based upon the symbolic view. As late as 200 AD, Tertullian bases the reality of Christ's body on the cross, upon the fact that the bread is symbolic:

"Taking bread and distributing it to his disciples he made it his own body by saying, "This is my body," that is a "figure of my body." On the other hand, there would not have been a figure unless there was a true body." (Tertullian, Against Marcion IV. 40)

This is the kind of historical information that Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches keep from their people. Both the early church and the Gnostics rejected transubstantiation and took the symbolic view.

C. Transubstantiation is unorthodox and violates Apostolic tradition:

Roman Catholics and Orthodox misrepresent the historical development of Transubstantiation, since its invention was no sooner than the third century. After all, Transubstantiation only became official Catholic doctrine in 1215 AD, with Pope Innocent III, in the Fourth Lateran Council. So before 200 AD, when writers said that the unleavened grape juice and bread were the body and blood of Christ, they were merely borrowing the words of Christ: "This is my body" etc. It is clear, however, that the church understood this in the symbolic sense, not in the later false doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Here are the historical records that are usually never quoted by Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers because they know it destroys their case.

1. Justin Martyr (150 AD):

Justin Martyr would reject transubstantiation because he referred to the unleavened bread as a "remembrance of His being made flesh", not that the bread was the literal body. He also referred to the unleavened juice as "in remembrance of His own blood" not that the juice was the literal blood of Christ:

"Now it is evident, that in this prophecy [Isa 33:13-19] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch 70)

2. Irenaeus (180 AD):

Irenaeus refutes the Gnostics on the basis that the Lord would not use "evil material things" like bread and juice in the Lord's Supper. Had Irenaeus argued that the bread and juice Transubstantiated (changed) into something different from what they appear, the Gnostics would have agreed, saying this change was essential because Jesus did not have physical flesh either!

"Irenaeus has the realist terminology but not the realist thought. There is no conversion of the elements. Indeed, if there were any change in the substance of the elements, his argument that our bodies-in reality, not in appearance-are raised would be subverted." (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 114)

3. Tertullian (200 AD):

Tertullian comes right out and states that the bread is a mere symbol of the body of Christ and specifically refutes the Gnostics on this basis:

"Taking bread and distributing it to his disciples he made it his own body by saying, "This is my body," that is a "figure of my body." On the other hand, there would not have been a figure unless there was a true body." (Tertullian, Against Marcion IV. 40)

4. Cyprian (200 AD):

Augustine as late at 400 AD, quotes Cyprian as saying that the juice is offered in remembrance as a type and foreshadow of the blood of Christ:

""Observe" he (Cyprian) says, in presenting the cup, to maintain the custom handed down to us from the Lord, and to do nothing that our Lord has not first done for us: so that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be mixed with wine. For, as Christ says, 'I am the true vine,' it follows that the blood of Christ is wine, not water; and the cup cannot appear to contain His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened, if the wine be absent; for by the wine is the blood of Christ typified, that blood which is foreshadowed and proclaimed in all the types and declarations of Scripture." (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, book 4, ch 21, quoting Cyprian)

The same situation prevails in the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian: ... both men when they speak with precision distinguish the symbol from what it represents. The bread was a "figure" of the body. But Tertullian turns the word figura against the Docetism of Marcion (IX.6). The language of symbolism does not help those who deny a real body to Jesus. The bread would not be a figure unless there was first a true body of which it was a figure. There is no shadow without a substance to cast the shadow. Similarly, for Cyprian, literal language about drinking Christ's blood is balanced by language of "remembrance" (X.5) and "representation" (IX.7). Both symbolism and realism are present in the thought of Cyprian and Tertullian. The symbolism concerns bread and wine as signs. (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 115)

4. Hippolytus (200 AD):

Hippolytus speaking of the Lord's Supper as an antitype based upon Prov 9:1:

"And she hath furnished her table: "that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honoured and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper. (Hippolytus, Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs 9:1)

For Hippolytus, too, the bread and wine are the antitypes or likenesses of the reality portrayed. His consecration prayer (VIII.5) contains both the words of institution and petition for the Holy Spirit. But there is no suggestion of a change in the elements. (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 115)

D. The Devil's Plan:

The devil wanted to get the church to go into apostasy. So he started with the Gnostics who argued Jesus only appeared to have literal flesh and blood, but in fact he did not. After 200 years of anti-Gnostic battling, the church, finally adopted a remarkably similar view! Transubstantiation teaches that, although the elements of the Lord's Supper appear to be literal grape juice and bread, they are not what they appear. They are in fact different than what the 5 human senses tell us they really are: the literal blood and flesh of Christ. Our senses are deceiving us!

At first (100-200 AD) the church merely began to emphasize to the Gnostics, that the symbols of the Lord's Supper were based upon a literal flesh of Christ. In time, however, between 225 and 300 AD, the church began to counter the Gnostic theology in a new way. Whereas before, they had argued that the symbols of the bread and juice must be based upon a literal body, they suddenly began to emphasizing the literalistic language Jesus: "this is my body" against the Gnostics. Although this new line of reasoning that began no sooner than 225 AD, was successful, it required an abandonment of the orthodox arguments used the century before, which were all directly based upon the symbolic view. But now the Devil had succeeded in getting the church to use one false doctrine (Transubstantiation) to defeat another: Gnosticism. Refuting one false doctrine with another is quite common in theological debates and the reader needs to be aware of this. For example, Seventh-day Adventists convert all kinds of Catholics to Saturday worship because Catholics mistakenly call Sunday the Sabbath. The Adventist correctly points out that the 7th day Sabbath is Saturday, but completely overlooks the fact that the Sabbath law itself was abolished. Thus Adventist false doctrine merely converts the Catholic from one false doctrine to another. In like manner, the church between 225 - 300 AD defeated the Gnostic false doctrine with the false doctrine of Transubstantiation.

E. Transubstantiation is a close cousin to Gnosticism:

While the Gnostics claimed the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ on the cross was different than what it appeared to be, so too the church began to claim that the bread and juice were not what they appeared to be. Transubstantiation, therefore, is a close cousin to Gnostic theology because both false doctrines claim that "things are not what they appear".

F. The case of transubstantiation proves that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches reliance on "church tradition" is invalid:

When the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach the false doctrine of transubstantiation, they are teaching something quite "unorthodox and uncatholic". Christ, the apostolic tradition and the early church up to 200 AD universally taught the symbolic view. But even if we accept their claim that transubstantiation is the view that church tradition verifies, we ask, "Then why do you disagree with each other?"

Remember, communion is a most basic and fundamental ordinance. In fact, since the earliest Christians gathered together for the express purpose of "breaking bread" (Acts 20:7) it obviously proves transubstantiation a non-biblical doctrine, because had it been taught by the apostles, the fourth century fight over the liturgy of the Lord's Supper would never have occurred.

"No consideration of the nature of consecration or the precise moment when it was effected appears in the early sources. In the fourth century, however, the idea of a conversion of the elements finds expression. When that occurred, it became important to define the moment of the change." (Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 107)

The western church (which later developed into the Roman Catholic church, headed out of Rome) believed the precise moment the unleavened juice and bread changed literally (transubstantiated) into the blood and body of Christ, was when the words "This is my body ... This is my blood" were spoken.

The eastern church (which later developed into the Orthodox church headed out of Constantinople) believed the precise moment the unleavened juice and bread changed literally (transubstantiated) into the blood and body of Christ, was in the prayer of thanksgiving.

Obviously then, "church tradition" does not lead to unity because the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are irrevocably and bitterly divided over the Eucharist. Using the scriptures alone is the only way to settle all doctrinal matters.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches are not in "communion" with each other because they have huge differences over the "Eucharist". Christians use this as proof that "church tradition" is an invalid way to determine truth because both claim their different practices are based upon a traditions that date back to the Apostles.

Only Christians use the correct "Liturgy" of the Lord's supper:

 

Christians using Sola Scriptura

Catholics using Tradition

Orthodox using Tradition

Transubstantiation?

No

Yes

Yes

When does the change take place from bread to body, from juice to blood?

-

When you say the words, "this is my body"

When you offer thanks in prayer.

Both the bread and juice offered?

Yes

No, cup withheld from laity.

Yes

Bread and juice combined?

No, two separate sequences, first the bread is offered, then the juice, following the Bible pattern

No, but for from 1200-1970 AD, only the priests drink the cup and the laymen were only permitted to have body. (One kind/species)

Yes, the bread is placed in the juice and is the juice soaked bread is given in one step on a communion spoon to laity.

Is Unleavened Bread used?

Yes

Yes

No, leavened bread

Is Unleavened grape juice used?

Yes

No, leavened juice

No, leavened juice

How often?

Every Sunday (Acts 20:7)

Every day. Most Catholics commune weekly.

Every week. Most Orthodox commune usually only four times a year during the four Lents. (Christmas, Easter, Peter and Paul, The virgin Mary)

Fasting requirement

None

Fast one hour prior

Complex calendar of fasting must be kept to partake weekly. Must fast the entire weeks of the four Lents.

Who is right?

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Click here to locate the nearest congregation of Christians who follow the Bible pattern.

Christians
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Roman Catholics

Greek Orthodox

 

Conclusion:

Transubstantiation is as much an assault against scripture and the earliest apostolic traditions of the church, as it is an assault on reality and common sense. It is not taught in scripture, the language of the church up to 200 AD unequivocally rejects transubstantiation. They not only taught the symbolic view, they defeated the Gnostics on the basis of the symbolic view. Transubstantiation is an assault on reality because "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck and tastes like a duck", it must be unleavened bread and grape juice! Transubstantiation also illustrates a classic case of failure of church tradition to be a standard bearer of doctrinal unity and divine truth. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are bitterly divided to this very day over the Eucharist, both claiming their own "church tradition" is the correct one. (My don't they sound rather Protestant they way each one says they have the right tradition!)

While Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches rely on "manmade tradition", Protestants rely upon their various human creeds. Of course true Christians rely upon what the Bible says alone, to the exclusion of all tradition and all human creeds. Sola Scriptura leads us to the symbolic view, which is in keeping with Christ and the earliest post-apostolic tradition.

Transubstantiation is a false doctrine because:

  1. Mt 26:28 proves transubstantiation wrong because Jesus calls the cup "fruit of the vine" after both Roman Catholics and Orthodox say the "change" was supposed to take place. Catholics make Jesus a liar by calling the cup "fruit of the vine" rather than what Catholic false doctrine claims it was: Literal Blood.
  2. 1 Cor 11:26-27 proves transubstantiation wrong because Paul calls the loaf, "bread" after both Roman Catholics and Orthodox say the "change" was supposed to take place. Catholics make Paul a liar by calling the loaf "bread" rather than what Catholic false doctrine claims it was: Literal Flesh.
  3. Tertullian clearly rejects the idea of "real presence" and had never heard of transubstantiation since he taught the true symbolic view of the bread and juice, just as Jesus and Paul taught!

By Steve Rudd

 

 

The following From: Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 107

The Language of the Real Presence About the Lord's Supper: "This is my body"

Some New Testament Texts: Mark 14:22 and parallels; John 6:35-65; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Timothy 4:4.

SOURCES

IGNATIUS: [The Docetists] avoid the eucharist and prayer because they do not confess the eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins and which the Father in his goodness resurrected. (Smyrnaeans 7)

1 will make plain to you the dispensation in the new man Jesus Christ, by his faith, his love, by his passion and resurrection. Especially will I do so if the Lord should show me that all of you, to a man, come together in the common assembly in grace from his name in one faith and in Jesus Christ, "who was of the family of David according to the flesh," son of man and son of God. The intention is that you obey the bishop and presbytery with undisturbed mind, breaking the one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote in order that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 20)

JUSTIN: And this food is called by us eucharist. It is not lawful for any other one to partake of it than the one who believes the things which have been taught by us to be true, and was washed with the washing for the remission of sins and for regeneration, and lives in the manner Christ taught. We receive these elements not as common bread and common drink. In the same manner as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the word of God and had flesh and blood for our salvation, even so we were taught that the food for which thanks have been given through the prayer of the word that is from him and from which our blood and flesh are nourished according to the bodily processes is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles in their memoirs, which are called Gospels, delivered what was commanded them, that Jesus took bread, gave thanks and said: "Do this for my memorial; this is my body." Likewise taking the cup

IX. and giving thanks, he said: "This is my blood." And he gave it to them alone. (Apology I, 66)

IRENAEUS: How can they (Gnostics) be consistent with, themselves when they say the bread for which they give thanks is the body of their Lord and the cup his blood, if they do not say he is the Son of the Creator of the world? . . . How can they say that the flesh which is nourished from the body of the Lord and from his flesh comes to corruption and does not partake of life? Let them either change their views or avoid offering the bread and wine. But our view is in harmony with the eucharist, and the eucharist confirms our view. We offer to God his own things, proclaiming rightly the communion and unity of flesh and spirit. For as bread from the earth when it receives the invocation of God is no longer common bread but the eucharist, consisting of two things-one earthly and one heavenly-so also our bodies when they partake of the eucharist are no longer corruptible but have the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (Against Heresies IV.xviii.4, 5)

But if the flesh is not saved, neither did the Lord redeem us with his blood nor is the cup of the eucharist a participation in his blood nor the bread which we break a participation in his body. . . . He acknowledged the created cup with which he moistens our blood as his own blood, and he confirmed the created bread from which our bodies grow as his own body. Since therefore the cup that has been mixed and the bread that has been made, from which things the substance of our flesh grows and is sustained, receive the word of God and the eucharist becomes the body of Christ, how do they say that the flesh which is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord and is a member of him is incapable of receiving the gift of God which is eternal life? (Against Heresies V.ii.2, 3)

TERTULLIAN: Taking bread and distributing it to his disciples he made it his own body by saying, "This is my body," that is a "figure of my body." On the other hand, there would not have been a figure unless there was a true body. (Against Marcion IV.40)

CYPRIAN: The cup which is offered in commemoration of him is offered mixed with wine. When Christ says, "I am the true vine," the blood of Christ is certainly not water but wine. Neither is it possible to see that his blood by which we are redeemed and made alive is in the cup when there is absent from the cup the wine by which the blood of Christ is shown forth. (Epistle 62 [631 :2)

CYRIL OF JERUSALEM: The bread and the wine of the eucharist before the holy invocation of the worshipful Trinity was simple bread and wine, but when the invocation is done, the bread becomes the body of Christ and wine the blood of Christ. (Lectures on the Mysteries i.7 [= Catechetical Lectures XIX:7] )

For in the type of the bread there is given to you the body, and in the type of the wine there is given to you the blood, in order that you may become by partaking of the body and blood of Christ the same body and blood with him. For even so we become bearers of Christ since his body and blood are distributed in our members. (Ibid. iv. 3 [=XXII:3] )

We beseech the loving God to send forth the Holy Spirit upon what is offered in order that he may make the bread the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ. For whatever the Holy Spirit touches he sanctifies and changes. (Ibid. v.7 [=XXIII:7] )

GREGORY OF NYSSA: He disseminates himself through that flesh whose substance comes from bread and wine in every one who believes in the economy of grace, blending himself with the bodies of believers, as if by this union with what is immortal, man too may become a partaker in incorruption. He gives these things by the power of the benediction through which he transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing. (Catechetical Oration 37)

AMBROSE: But this bread is bread before the words of the sacraments. When consecration has been added, from bread it becomes the body of Christ. Let us, therefore, prove this. How is it possible for that which is bread to be the body of Christ? By consecration. In whose words

then is the consecration? Those of the Lord Jesus. [The next chapter quotes the words of the last supper as repeated by the priest, and the explanation concludes:] Before the words of Christ the cup is full of wine and water. When the words of Christ have operated, then is made the blood which redeems the people. (On the Sacraments IV.iv.14-v.23)

DISCUSSION:

The questions raised in later ages, especially in the Reformation and post-Reformation controversies about the Lord's supper, were not raised in the earliest period. The dominant conceptions in regard to the Lord's supper were those noted in the last chapter-thanksgiving for God's gifts, the memorial action related to this, fellowship, and eschatological hopes. Other concepts, however, were also present which were to have a great development in the future. These ideas introduce us to the origins of Catholic sacramental theology. It is well to look at these in order to determine more clearly what these ideas meant at the beginning. That will be the task of this and the following chapter.

In discussing the language of the real presence in the early centuries, three aspects of the problem are to be kept in mind: #1: the identification of Christ with the elements of the Lord's supper, #2: the benefits conferred by communion, #3: and the consecration which effects the change in the elements. These aspects are distinct but in time merged in their significance.

#1: The basis for the identification

The basis for the identification of Christ with the elements was the words of institution by Jesus at the last supper, "This is my body," "This is my blood." A certain amount of the "realistic" language in the early church is simply the repetition of the New Testament language, with no reflection on its meaning. The main context, however, in which the close identity of the elements and the flesh and blood of Jesus is stressed is to be found in the opposition to heretical teaching. A major threat to early Christian beliefs came from Docetism. The word is derived from the Greek verb "to seem," "to appear." There were those who believed that Jesus did not have a real or true human body but that he only seemed or appeared to be a real man. He came in appearance, so there was not a true incarnation. This view was continued by the Gnostics of the second century, with whom it was linked with the belief that matter is essentially evil. Thus the divine Spirit, Christ, could not have been contaminated by an actual involvement in all that pertains to fleshly life. This is why Ignatius and Tertullian, for instance, use the word "flesh" and not "body" in talking about the elements of the Lord's supper. The "realism" of the early writers was an opposition to the Gnostic denial of the flesh. Orthodox writers affirmed that union of flesh with Spirit is possible. Of course, the use of actual material elements from the created world in the Lord's supper gave them a powerful argument against the heretical denial of the goodness of creation. It also gave them an argument for the real human nature of Jesus. He was true flesh and blood, since it was the material objects bread and wine which he had used to show forth the nature of his human body. This circumstance accounts for much of the literal language of early Christians about the Lord's supper.

The anti-heretical thrust of the language of the real presence makes it difficult to determine any metaphysical thought about the real presence. Indeed the case might be made that initially there was none. In Hebrew thought it is function that is important (word equals deed). In prophetic symbolism deeds and words stood for the reality they represented and had the power to effect that for which they stood.' If Jesus' actions at the last supper are interpreted in this frame of reference, then the elements had the power or function of the body and blood. On the other hand, in Greek philosophy substances are important. An important aspect of the development of Christian doctrine was the putting of Christian beliefs, which grew out of a primarily Hebraic-Jewish context, into the language of Greek philosophy.2

This process may be illustrated in the development of the Christological controversies of the ancient period. A similar development may be postulated in regard to the Lord's supper. Hellenistic Christianity defined the value of the Lord's supper in terms of a change in the elements, not just a change in their use or function.

#2: Benefits conferred:

As to the second aspect of this study, the benefits conferred by partaking of the elements, John 6 appears to have been the source. Immortality was thought to be conferred through partaking of the elements endowed with the life-giving power of the Savior. The ideas of the Synoptic institution narrative ("This is my body") and John ("He who eats this bread will live forever") are united in Irenaeus. Participation in the elements brings about union with Christ and his resurrection. The blessings of life and immortality are spiritually received through the power of Christ.

#3: The consecration which effects the change:

That which gave the special character to the elements, whether as "body and blood" or as vehicles of spiritual life, was the consecration. Prayer consecrated something to a special use, according to Jewish and early Christian thought. Prayer over the meal dedicated it to the use of the participants for their nourishment, in accordance with God's creative design. Similarly, prayer over the bread and wine dedicated the elements to their particular use as a memorial of Christ. They were no longer "common" bread and wine. They had become "holy" through the special association which now attached to them. No consideration of the nature of consecration or the precise moment when it was effected appears in the early sources. In the fourth century, however, the idea of a conversion of the elements finds expression. When that occurred, it became important to define the moment of the change. If one followed the "institution" narrative strand of thought, then it was natural to conclude that the repetition of the words of Jesus constituted the decisive moment. This was the emphasis in the West, as may be seen in Ambrose (IX. 12). If one thought in terms of the coming of the divine life as the important aspect, then it was natural to make the invocation of the Holy Spirit or the personal Word as the decisive moment when the divine power entered the elements. This was the line followed in the eastern churches and may be seen in Cyril of Jerusalem (IX.10). Both developments are late and the second-century texts can best be explained if the reader understands the prayer of thanksgiving as a whole rather than some particular part of it as constituting the "consecration" of the elements.

With this sketch of our understanding of the main ideas we may turn to look at some of the specific texts.

Ignatius clearly represents the anti-heretical thrust in his references to the Lord's supper . He indicates that some Docetists were so "spiritual" in their religion that they abstained from the church's services of prayer and eucharist so as to avoid the material elements (IX. 1). Ignatius repeatedly emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ, at once both God and man.3 The material elements indicate a real flesh, and their use is a defense against a Docetic view of Christ. The one assembly of the faithful was a safeguard against the divisive influences of the false teachers. Ignatius has a great deal to say about unity, the oneness of the Christian faith (VIll. 1).4 The "altar," or "place of sacrifice" for him is the church in assembly where the sacrifice of prayer is offered to Gods Selections VIII.1 and IX.1 demonstrate that Ignatius' organizational concern had to do with the unity of the church; the "one bishop" with the presbytery and deacons, like the one eucharist, was a center of loyalty, and this oneness may be stressed more in theory and polemic than was practiced in reality (see ch. XIV).

Ignatius also appears to give the first statement about the supernatural benefits to be found in the partaking of the eucharist in his phrase "the medicine of immortality" (IX.2). "Breaking one bread" is the "antidote that we should not die." Once more, the anti-heretical emphasis on unity is in the forefront. But Ignatius seems to give special powers to the bread itself. The material element was a means of spiritual blessing. Nevertheless, it has been argued that Ignatius is attributing the medicinal value not to the bread but to the "breaking of bread. "6 In other words, the gift of eternal life is found in the common assembly where one is united with Christ in the one faith. To partake of false teaching, in contrast, is to take deadly medicine.?

Justin's explanation of the eucharist (IX.3), which follows his account of the rite (VIIIA), has been a battleground, for every-one has read his opinion into Justin's words. This is possible, because, with some elaboration, Justin repeats the words of the Scriptures. The bread and wine are real material elements. Even after the prayer of consecration they are what nourish the body through the change which takes place in digestion. The interest in Justin's statement especially derives from the implication that some change takes place before this. The elements are not "common" food any more. This may not be significant, but Justin's further statement compares them to the incarnation. As Christ became flesh, so the bread and wine become flesh and blood. Does Justin mean a conversion has been effected? Or does he suggest, like Irenaeus after him (IX.4), that as the divine has become human, so the material now has a heavenly reality added to it? Or does he only stress the reality of the incarnation since we have to do with material reality? We prefer the last, because realist terminology in the second century is so often anti-Gnostic. The second alternative is possible, since on many points Irenaeus seems to be an elaboration of anticipations in Justin. The first we consider unlikely, at least as regards any extreme change in the nature of the elements. The true literalists in the second century were some fringe Gnostic groups who introduced ideas of magic. Elsewhere Justin is explicit that the bread and wine are a "memorial" of the body and blood.9 We would conclude that the only "change" is the change involved in the consecration of the elements as a memorial of the body and blood. That leads us to the next problematic feature of Justin's cryptic description- the prayer which effects the consecration.

The common term in the comparison between the incarnation and the consecration of bread and wine as the body and blood is the "word" (logos). Jesus Christ became flesh "through the word of God," and the "eucharistizing" takes place "through the prayer of the word that is from him." Almost every word in the Greek is ambiguous and even a literal English translation does not adequately suggest the options. The central issue is whether "word," if used with same meaning in both places, is the spoken word or the personal Word. The principal interpretations, based on later liturgical developments, have been that Justin refers either to the words spoken by Jesus at the institution or to an invocation of the heavenly Word. Either interpretation may be defended, but each is full of objections. If "word" in both places is the divine Logos, then there is support for the second interpretation of the preceding paragraph. But we look in vain for other examples of an invocation of the Logos in early literature and the construction is strained. If the parallel use of "word" is not to be stressed, and if "word" in the second part is the narrative of institution, there is agreement with the following quotation of these words. But is that properly a "prayer"? Perhaps it would be better to think of the "word" as an unspecified formula of prayer which Justin thought derived from Christ10 or the pattern of thanks-giving which Christ had set. Returning to the idea of a parallel usage of "word," we have the possibility that it is God's creative or declarative word, in which case the second clause is a prayer for God's word to be operative in making bread and wine equal the body and blood and so a "consecration by the word of God and prayer."

Irenaeus shows the change from the early Docetism combated by Ignatius to the later Gnosticism (IX.4, 5; X.4), for the issues now were not just the nature of Christ but also the nature of the material creation, the relation of Christ to the Creator, and the resurrection of the body. Irenaeus argues that the heretics must acknowledge that the earth is the Lord's or cease to employ those elements which they deny are his. Christ could not have acknowledged the bread and the mixed cup as his body and blood if he belonged to another Father." Since the material elements receive the divine potency of the body and blood, our flesh which is nourished with the eucharist does not go to corruption but partakes of life.

Irenaeus has the realist terminology but not the realist thought. There is no conversion of the elements. Indeed, if there were any change in the substance of the elements, his argument that our bodies-in reality, not in appearance-are raised would be subverted. The bread has the effect of the body; it is sanctified but is not changed materially. Although there is no change of the elements, they are made capable of something else. A heavenly reality is added to the earthly reality. The genuine writings of Irenaeus do not explain what this heavenly "thing" is, whether the Holy Spirit, 12 the literal body and blood (unlikely), or the heavenly Logos.

Irenaeus is the first to speak explicitly of a consecration- "when it receives the invocation of God." Irenaeus has been seen as referring to an invocation (epiclesis) for the Holy Spirit. His other references to the body and blood would indicate the use in his services of the words of institution, but that they were thought of as consecratory is not said. It is best to take his "invocation of God" as a general reference to the prayer of thanksgiving. Elsewhere he speaks of the "sanctifying" of the gifts through "giving thanks."13 The early centuries were not exercised with a "moment" of consecration, for they had not become concerned with a conversion in the elements. The prayer of thanksgiving effected the hallowing of the material for a spiritual purpose. 14

The Alexandrian writers Clement and Origen viewed the elements as a symbol, or an allegory. They preserved the distinction between the elements and' that which they symbolized. 15 The presence of Christ is a spiritual one, more real because spiritual in their view of things. Consecration gives to the elements the potency of the heavenly reality of which the material elements are a type. Here it is well to remember that in ancient thought a symbol partakes of the reality symbolized to a degree greater than is true in modern thought. Some symbols can be very meaningful to us-the wedding ring or the national flag. If we think of our emotional reaction to a desecration of such a symbol, we may get closer to the realm of ancient perceptions. At any rate, just the language of "symbolism" does not mean what we might think. Although there is a distinction between the symbol and the thing symbolized, the "reality" is in some sense "there." But neither does this agree with later Medieval views of a change into a real body and blood of Christ.

The same situation prevails in the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian. When they use the language of popular piety they call the elements the body and blood of Christ. Thus Tertullian can speak of the flesh that "feeds on the body and blood of Christ" that the soul might be nourished on its God. 16 He speaks of the pain felt when any bread or wine falls on the ground. 1 7 This is carried further by Cyprian who can pass on almost superstitious sounding stories about the results of profanation of the consecrated elements. 18 Yet both men when they speak with precision distinguish the symbol from what it represents. The bread was a "figure" of the body. But Tertullian turns the word figura against the Docetism of Marcion (IX.6). The language of symbolism does not help those who deny a real body to Jesus. The bread would not be a figure unless there was first a true body of which it was a figure. There is no shadow without a substance to cast the shadow. Similarly, for Cyprian, literal language about drinking Christ's blood is balanced by language of "remembrance" (X.5) and "representation" (IX.7). Both symbolism and realism are present in the thought of Cyprian and Tertullian. The symbolism concerns bread and wine as signs. The realism concerns the spiritual gift that the sign carries with it.19 For Hippolytus, too, the bread and wine are the antitypes or likenesses of the reality portrayed.20 His consecration prayer (VIII.5) contains both the words of institution and petition for the Holy Spirit. But there is no suggestion of a change in the elements.

Popular piety tended to make a straight identification of the elements with Christ. This simple, unreflective type of realism is seen in the inscription of Abercius, which speaks of receiving the fish, Christ, in the eucharist (XIII.11 and discussion there, especially note 33 and cf. Plate III).

In the fourth century the idea of a change in the elements themselves, and not just in their purpose (use) or power (effects), becomes explicit. There also appears the distinctive western and eastern explanations of what it is that accomplishes the change, whether the repetition of the words of institution or the invocation of the Holy Spirit.21 In general the East was more "mystical" and the West more "literal."

Cyril of Jerusalem (IX.9, 10) tries to explain what happens. The Holy Spirit, sent down upon the elements by God in response to the celebrant's prayer, not only sanctifies but also changes. One becomes united with Christ through the participation. The moment of the change is identified with the invocation (epiclesis). This may still refer to the prayer as a whole in our first selection but is a specific petition for the Holy Spirit in the third. Gregory of Nyssa (IX.11) had a more elaborate explanation: the food becomes the body of Christ (itself nourished with the same kind of food), and the physical body is absorbed in his Deity. So,. by taking of his body, one shares in Christ's immortality. By "body" it seems clear that he and Cyril are thinking of the glorified body and not just the crucified body. The novelty of Gregory's thought is in a measure indicated by the new terminology he employs. The gifts are "trans-elemented" into something else.

As Cyril and Gregory have followed the invocation and communion strand of thought, Ambrose (IX.12) picks up the institution and "giving of thanks" strand. But he is no less explicit in his realism about the body and blood. If the treatise On the Sacraments is genuine,22 Ambrose gave the first full and clear definitions to what became characteristic in the Latin church. It was climaxed in the definition of the dogma of transubstantiation. According to that dogma the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood while the accidental properties of taste and appearance remain those of bread and wine.

It seems there was a twofold line of development that went something like this. On one hand consideration of the benefits of partaking of the Lord's supper led to a consideration of the divine life received. The idea of the power in the elements led to a consideration of the invocation of the Holy Spirit as the means that brought about the spiritual blessings. On the other hand, the realist language in the anti-heretical polemic emphasized a literal identity of Christ with the elements. This centered attention on the words of institution and made them the central idea in effecting the presence of Christ. The introduction of the sacrificial idea produced the concept of the Mass. But the idea of sacrifice had to develop from the prayers to the elements to the Christ present in the elements. To that development we turn in the next chapter.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lampe, G.W.H. "The Eucharist in the Thought of the Early Church," Eucharistic Theology Then and Now. "Theological Collections," 9. London: S.P.C.K., 1968.

MacDonald, A. J., ed. The Evangelical Doctrine of Holy Communion. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1930.

NOTES

  1. For the acceptance of prophetic symbolism in the interpretation of the Christian sacraments cf. A. D. Nock, "Hellenistic Mysteries and Christian Sacraments," in Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1964), p. 125. Note H. Wheeler Robinson's phrase "representative realism" in his article "He-brew Sacrifice and Prophetic Symbolism," Journal of Theological Studies 43(1942), pp. 135, 137f.
  2. A thesis of Adolf Harnack's History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buch-anan (New York: Dover, 1961 reprint), pp. 41ff.
  3. For example 11.3; XIII.2; Smyrnaeans 1; Romans 3; Ephesians 19.
  4. Cf. also Magnesians 7; Ephesians 13.
  5. VIIIA; Ephesians 5 and see our next chapter.
  6. Graydon F. Snyder, "The Text and Syntax of Ignatius, Pros Ephe-sious 20:2c," Vigiliae Christianae 22 (1968), pp. 8-13, argues the case on textual, syntactical, and interpretive grounds. It may be added that this view fits better the context and Ignatius' stress on the assembly of the church against schismatic assemblies.
  7. Trall fans 6.
  8. The Gnostic Marcus managed to color the wine during his consecratory prayer to give the appearance of actual blood-Irenaeus, Against Heresies I.xiii.2. Clement of Alexandria, Excerpts from Theodotus 82 speaks of "bread . . . sanctified by the power of the name and not the same in appearance as when received, but transformed by power into spiritual power." Did the kind of realism represented by these Gnostics have something to do with the orthodox emphasis on spiritual benefits?

Early Christians Speak, Everett Ferguson, 1981, p 107

 

 

 

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