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Christ in the Flesh

-early Christians testify on the Eucharist

 

"For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."
John 6:55

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."
1 Corinthians 11:27-29 RSV

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
Acts 2:42 RSV

 

Introduction

Who cares about what the early Christians believed about "The Lord's Supper"? Their writings are not Scripture, and their beliefs are not true just because they are ancient, are they?

No, of course not. However, their ancient testimony establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that many prominent, early Christians firmly believed and taught that in the Eucharist we receive the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you believe what the early Christians believed? Read on, and judge for yourself!

 


 

 

St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (c. 35-107)

(Sentenced to die for his faith, Ignatius wrote seven epistles on his way to martyrdom in Rome. There he was devoured by wild animals in a public stadium.)

"...the eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness raised." Epistle to the Smyrneans, 6,2

"They (the Docetae) keep away from the Eucharist and from the prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sin..." ib. 7, 1

"I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life -which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God... And I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life." ANF 1.58

"Be ye resolved, to celebrate one Eucharist only; for there is only one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and only one chalice for unification with His blood." Letter to the Philadelphians, 4

"...so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ." Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter XX

 

St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)

(One of the greatest of early Christian apologists, Justin was arrested, ordered by the Roman government to make sacrifices, and upon his refusal was scourged and beheaded.)

"We receive this not as ordinary bread and ordinary drink; but as our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, was incarnated by the Word of God, and assumed flesh and blood for the sake of our salvation, so, as we have been taught, the food over which thanksgiving has been made (or which has been eucharistised) by the prayer of the Word which came from Him (by which food our blood and flesh are nourished by transmutation) is both flesh and blood of that same incarnate Jesus." Apologia prima pro Christianis, 66, 2

 

St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 130- c. 200)

(Appointed to replace the martyred bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus fearlessly defended the orthodox faith against Gnosticism and other heresies.)

"The bread over which thanksgiving is pronounced, is the body of the Lord and the chalice of His blood." Adversus omnes haereses, IV 18, 4

"How can they (the Gnostics) feel assured that bread over which thanksgiving has been made (i.e., the eucharistised bread) is the body of the Lord, and the chalice of His blood, if they do not declare Him the Son of the world's Creator?" ib. IV, 18, 5

Christ confessed "the chalice deriving from the creation to be His own blood with which he permeates our blood, and the bread deriving from the creation He declared to be His own body with which He strengthens our bodies." Our flesh is "nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and becomes His member" and is thus enabled "to accept the gift of God, in which consists eternal life." ib. V 2, 2-3

"For the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist -consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly. So also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity." ANF 1.486

"[The wine and bread] having received the Word of God, become the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ." ANF 1.528

 

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)

(Theologian, apologist, and second known head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.)

"To drink the blood of Jesus is to become partaker of the Lord's immortality... As wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man... And the mixture of both -of the water and of the Word- is called the Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace. Those who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul." ANF 2.242

 

Tertullian, presbyter (c. 160- c. 222)

(This convert produced many defenses of the faith before eventually embracing the heretical Montanist movement around 207.)

"He took bread, offered it to His disciples and made it into His body by saying: 'This is my body'" Adversus Marcionem, IV, 40

"The flesh is refreshed with the body and blood of Christ so that the soul also may be nourished by God." De resurrectione carnis, 8

 

St. Hippolytus, presbyter (c. 170-236)

(This great theologian and defender of the faith of the West was expelled from Rome during the persecution by Emperor Maximinus Thrax and died in exile. Many of his books have survived.)

"The Body of Christ is meant to be eaten, not to be treated with irreverence." Tradit. Apost.

 

Origen, presbyter (c. 185-254)

(This director of the Catechetical School of Alexandria was a widely renowned teacher and exegete of Scripture. During the Decian persecution he was imprisoned and tortured.)

"But we, who render thanks to the Creator of the Universe, eat of the breads offered with thanksgiving and prayer over the gifts which, through prayer, have become a certain sacred body, which sanctifies him who partakes of it with an understanding mind." Contra Celsum, VIII, 33

"I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. 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

"The Lord hates those who think that only one day is a festival of the Lord. Christians partake of the Lamb every day, that is, they daily receive the flesh of the Word of God." Quis Dives Salvetur, 23

 

St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died c. 258)

(This renowned teacher was martyred in Carthage during the persecution by Emperor Valerian.)

"Christ is our bread, we who touch His body... those who touch His body and receive the Eucharist according to the law of the community", according to John 6:51, have eternal life. De dominica orat. 18

"They drink the cup of Christ's blood daily, for the reason that they themselves also may be able to shed their blood for Christ." ANF 5.347

 

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (c. 260-340)

(This famous church historian and prolific writer attended the Council of Nicea and accepted its creed.)

"We are continually fed with the Saviour's body, we continually participate in the lamb's blood." De solemn pasch. 7

 

St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (296-373)

(A participant in the Council of Nicea, Athanasius suffered exile and persecution by adherents of Arianism as a consequence of his energetic opposition of this heresy.)

"You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine and placing them on a table. So long as the prayers 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." Sermo ad nuper baptizatos

 

St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church (c. 315-386)

(Because of his opposition to Arianism, this bishop spent sixteen years in exile at the hands of the Arians, including the Arian Emperor Valens.)

"Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and 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 faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ." Catacheses 22,6

"Once at Cana in Galilee by a mere nod He changed water into wine, and is it now incredible that He changes wine into blood?" Cat. Myst. 4, 2

"So that He might make the bread into the Body of Christ, and the wine into the blood of Christ..." Cat. Myst. 5, 7

 

St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, Doctor of the Church (c. 329-379)

(Basil is regarded the "Father of Eastern Monasticism". He was widely known as a learned, powerful, and fearless defender of the faith against Arianism and other heresies, even testifying boldly before the Arian emperor Valens.)

"It is commendable and most beneficial to communicate and partake of the body and blood of Christ every single day." Epistula, 93

 

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Doctor of the Church (c. 340-397)

(An vigorous opponent of paganism and Arianism, he also served as chaplain to the Emperor Theodosius I. In 390 he spoke out against the emperor, insisting he do public penance after the emperor had carried out a massacre in Thessalonika. The emperor complied.)

"Through the mystery of the sacred prayer they are transformed into flesh and blood." De fid. 4, 124

"You may perhaps say: 'My bread is ordinary.' But that bread is bread before the words of the sacraments; where the consecration has entered in, the bread becomes the flesh of Christ. And let us add this: How can what is bread be the Body of Christ? By the consecration. The consecration takes place by certain words, but whose words? Those of the Lord Jesus... Therefore it is the word of Christ that confects the sacrament." De sacramentis libri sex 4, 4, 14

"Christ is in this Sacrament, because It is the body of Christ" De Myst. 9, 58

 

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church (c. 347-407)

(Called Chrysostom -"golden-mouthed"- because of the power of his sermons, he was regarded as the foremost orator of the age. The Empress Euxodia viewed his sermons on Christian morality as personal attacks. Consequently he was banished and died as a result of his exile.)

"It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered." prod. Jud. 1:6

"Let us submit to God in all things and not contradict Him, even if what He says seems contrary to our reason and intellect; rather let His words prevail over our reason and intellect. Let us act in this way with regard to the (eucharistic) mysteries, looking not only at what falls under our senses but holding on to His words. For His word cannot lead us astray." In Matth. Homil. 82, 4

"This body he gave us to keep and eat, as a mark of his intense love." Commentary on Corinthians, 24, 4

 

Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428)

(This Bible exegete and prolific writer produced biblical commentaries that are highly regarded for their critical standards.)

"The Lord did not say: This is a symbol of My Body, and this is the symbol of My Blood but: This is My Body and My Blood. He teaches us not to look at the nature of those things which lie before us and are perceived by the senses, for by the prayer of thanksgiving and the words spoken over them, they have been changed in Flesh and Blood." In Matth. Comm., 26

"...when the priest declares them [i.e. the bread and wine] to be Christ's body and blood, he clearly reveals that they have become such by the descent of the Holy Spirit." Hom. cat. 16,12

 

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church (354-430)

(Foremost of the Fathers of the Western Church, Augustine was a powerful combatant against numerous heresies of his time: Donatism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Manichaeism. Augustine was an extremely prolific defender of the faith, writing more than 800 books, letters, and sermons.)

"Christ bore Himself in His hands, when He offered His body saying, 'this is my body.'" Sermo I, 10

"The bread which you see on the altar, sanctified by the Word of God, is Christ's body. That cup, or rather the contents of that cup, sanctified by the word of God, is Christ's blood. By these elements the Lord Christ willed to convey His body and His blood, which He shed for us." Sermo 227

"You know what you are eating and what you are drinking, or rather, Whom you are eating and Whom you are drinking." Sermo 9, 14

"It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat for our salvation." In Ps. 98, 9

 

St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church (d. 444)

(This prominent theologian was a strong opponent of the Nestorian heresy, and made important contributions to understanding the Trinity and the nature of Christ.)

"...that which seems to be bread, is not bread, though it tastes like it, but the Body of Christ, and that which seems to be wine, is not wine, though it too tastes as such, but the Blood of Christ... draw inner strength by receiving this bread as spiritual food and your soul will rejoice." Catacheses 22,9, Myst. 4

"Christ said indicating (the bread and wine): 'This is My Body,' and 'This is My Blood,' in order that you might not judge what you see to be a mere figure. The offerings, by the hidden power of God Almighty, are changed into Christ's Body and Blood, and by receiving these we come to share in the life-giving and sanctifying efficacy of Christ." In Matth., 26, 27

 


 

Acknowledgements

Biographical notes were adapted from the Encyclopedia of Catholic History, 1995, edited by Matthew Bunson, Our Sunday Visitor.

Patristic quotations are taken from:

Bercot, David W., ed. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. 1998, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Peabody, MA.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. Revised edition, 1978, Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA.

Ott, Dr. Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. 1974, Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, IL.

Keating, Karl. Catholicism and Fundamentalism. 1988, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA.

Hardon, John A. The Catholic Catechism. 1981, Doubleday, New York, NY.

Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Mysterium Fidei. 1965, St. Paul Books and Media, Boston, MA.

Simmons, E. R., The Fathers and Doctors of the Church. c. 1959, The Bruce Publishing Co, Milwaukee, WI.

Flannery, Austin, O.P., ed., Vatican Council II —The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition. 1992, Costello Publishing Company, Northoport, NY.

Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis. 1979, St. Paul Books and Media, Boston, MA.

 

Citations such as "ANF 9.687" are interpreted as: Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 9, page 687.

The texts of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (and the Post-Nicene Fathers) -a 38 volume set- are in the public domain and currently available at http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/info.html.

 

Detailed citations are available upon request.

Corrections and comments are appreciated.

 

Edited by John Robin
22 April 2003