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§ 69. The Doctrine of the Eucharist.


Literature. See the works quoted, vol. I. 472, by Waterland (Episc. d. 1740), Döllinger (R. Cath., 1826; since 1870 Old Cath.), Ebrard (Calvinistic, 1845), Nevin (Calvinistic, 1846), Kahnis (Luth. 1851, but changed his view in his Dogmatik), E. B. Pusey (high Anglic., 1855), Rückert (Rationalistic, 1856), Vogan (high Anglic., 1871), Harrison (Evang. Angl., 1871), Stanley (Broad Church Episc., 1881), Gude (Lutheran, 1887).

On the Eucharistic doctrine of Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, there are also special treatises by Thiersch (1841), Semisch (1842), Engelhardt (1842), Baur (1839 and 1857), Steitz (1864), and others.

Höfling: Die Lehre der ältesten Kirche vom Opfer im Leben und Cultus der Christen. Erlangen, 1851.

Dean Stanley: The Eucharistic Sacrifice. In "Christian Institutions" (N. Y. 1881) p. 73 sqq.


The doctrine concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not coming into special discussion, remained indefinite and obscure. The ancient church made more account of the worthy participation of the ordinance than of the logical apprehension of it. She looked upon it as the holiest mystery of the Christian worship, and accordingly celebrated it with the deepest devotion, without inquiring into the mode of Christ’s presence, nor into the relation of the sensible signs to his flesh and blood. It is unhistorical to carry any of the later theories back into this age; although it has been done frequently in the apologetic and polemic discussion of this subject.


1. The Eucharist as a Sacrament.


The Didache of the Apostles contains eucharistic prayers, but no theory of the eucharist. Ignatius speaks of this sacrament in two passages, only by way of allusion, but in very strong, mystical terms, calling it the flesh of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, and the consecrated bread a medicine of immortality and an antidote of spiritual death.412412    Ad Smyrn. c. 7; against the Docetists, who deny τὴν εὐχαριστίαν σάρκα εἶναι τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ̓Λ.Χρ., κ.τ.λ. and Ad Ephes. C. 20: Ὅς (sc. ἅρτος) ἔστιν φάρμακον ἀθανισίας , ἄντίδοτος τοῦ μὴ ἀποθανεῖν, ἀλλὰ ζῇν ἑν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῶ διὰ παντός . Both passages are wanting in the Syriac version. But the first is cited by Theodoret, Dial. III. p. 231, and must therefore have been known even in the Syrian church in his time.12 This view, closely connected with his high-churchly tendency in general, no doubt involves belief in the real presence, and ascribes to the holy Supper an effect on spirit and body at once, with reference to the future resurrection, but is still somewhat obscure, and rather an expression of elevated feeling than a logical definition.

The same may be said of Justin Martyr, when he compares the descent of Christ into the consecrated elements to his incarnation for our redemption. 413413    Apol. I. 66 (I. 182, third ed. of Otto). Here also occurs already the term μεταβολή, which some Roman controversialists use at once as an argument for transubstantiation. Justin says: Ἐξ ἧς (i.e.τροφῆς) αἷμα καὶ σάρκες κατὰ μεταβολὴν τρέφονται ἡμῶν, ex quo alimento sanguis et carnes nostae per mutationem aluntur. But according to the context, this denotes by no means a transmutation of the elements, but either the assimilation of them to the body of the receiver, or the operation of them upon the body, with reference to the future resurrection. Comp. John 6:54 sqq., and like passages in Ignatius and Irenaeus.13

Irenaeus says repeatedly, in combating the Gnostic Docetism,414414    Adv. haer. IV. 18, and passim.14 that bread and wine in the sacrament become, by the presence of the Word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the body and blood of Christ and that the receiving of there strengthens soul and body (the germ of the resurrection body) unto eternal life. Yet this would hardly warrant our ascribing either transubstantiation or consubstantiation to Irenaeus. For in another place he calls the bread and wine, after consecration, "antitypes," implying the continued distinction of their substance from the body and blood of Christ.415415    In the second of the Fragments discovered by Pfaff (Opp. Tren. ed Stieren, vol. I. p. 855), which Maffei and other Roman divines have unwarrantably declared spurious. It is there said that the Christians, after the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice, call upon the Holy Ghost, ὅπως ἀποφήνῃ τὴν θυσίαν ταύτην καὶ τὸν ἄρτον σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ τὸ ποτήριον τὸ αἷμα τοῦ Χρ., ἵνα οἰ μεταλαβόντες τοῦτων τῶν ἀντιτύπων, τῆς ἀφέσεως τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν καὶ ζωῆς αἰωνίου τύχωσιν.15 This expression in itself, indeed, might be understood as merely contrasting here the upper, as the substance, with the Old Testament passover, its type; as Peter calls baptism the antitype of the saving water of the flood.416416    1 Pet. 3:20, 21.16 But the connection, and the usus loquendi of the earlier Greek fathers, require us to take the term antitype, a the sense of type, or, more precisely, as the antithesis of archetype. The bread and wine represent and exhibit the body and blood of Christ as the archetype, and correspond to them, as a copy to the original. In exactly the same sense it is said in Heb. 9:24—comp. 8:5—that the earthly sanctuary is the antitype, that is the copy, of the heavenly archetype. Other Greek fathers also, down to the fifth century, and especially the author of the Apostolical Constitutions, call the consecrated elements "antitypes" (sometimes, like Theodoretus, "types") of the body and blood of Christ.417417    Const. Apost. l. V. c. 14 Τὰ ἀντίτυπα μυστήρια τοῦ τιμίου σώματος αὐτοῦ καὶ αἵματος. So VI. 30, and in a eucharistic prayer, VII. 25. Other passages of the Greek fathers see in Stieren, l.c. p. 884 sq. Comp. also Bleek’s learned remarks in his large Com. on Heb. 8:5, and 9:24.17

A different view, approaching nearer the Calvinistic or Reformed, we meet with among the African fathers. Tertullian makes the words of institution: Hoc est corpus meum, equivalent to: figura corporis mei, to prove, in opposition to Marcion’s docetism, the reality of the body of Jesus—a mere phantom being capable of no emblematic representation418418    Adv. Marc. IV. 40; and likewise III. 19. This interpretation is plainly very near that of Œcolampadius, who puts the figure in the predicate, and who attached no small weight to Tertullian’s authority. But the Zwinglian view, which puts the figure in theἐστι. instead of the predicate, appears also in Tertullian, Adv. Marc. I. 14, in the words: "Panem qui ipsum corpus suum repraesentat." The two interpretations are only grammatical modifications of the same symbolical theory.18 This involves, at all events, an essential distinction between the consecrated elements and the body and blood of Christ in the Supper. Yet Tertullian must not be understood as teaching a merely symbolical presence of Christ; for in other places he speaks, according to his general realistic turn, in almost materialistic language of an eating of the body of Christ, and extends the participation even to the body of the receiver.419419    De Resur. Carnis, c. 8."Caro corpore et sanguine Christi vescitur, ut et anima de Deo saginetur." De Pudic. c. 9, he refers the fatted calf, in the parable of the prodigal son, to the Lord’s Supper, and says: "Opimitate Dominici corporis vescitur, eucharistia scilicet."De Orat. c. 6: "Quod et corpus Christi in pane censetur," which should probably be translated: is to be understood by the bread (not contained in the bread).19 Cyprian likewise appears to favor a symbolical interpretation of the words of institution, yet not so clearly. The idea of the real presence would have much better suited his sacerdotal conception of the ministry. In the customary mixing of the wine with water he sees a type of the union of Christ with his church,420420    For this reason he considers the mixing essential. Epist. 63 (ed. Bal.) c. 13: "Si vinum tantum quis offerat, sanguis Christi incipit esse sine nobis; si vero aqua sit sola, plebs incipit esse sine Christo. Quando autem utrumque miscetur et adunatione confusa sibi invicem copitlatur, tunc sacramentum spirituale et cŒleste perficitur."20 and, on the authority of John 6:53, holds the communion of the Supper indispensable to salvation. The idea of a sacrifice comes out very boldly in Cyprian.

The Alexandrians are here, as usual, decidedly spiritualistic. Clement twice expressly calls the wine a symbol or an allegory of the blood of Christ, and says, that the communicant receives not the physical, but the spiritual blood, the life, of Christ; as, indeed, the blood is the life of the body. Origen distinguishes still more definitely the earthly elements from the heavenly bread of life, and makes it the whole design of the supper to feed the soul with the divine word.421421    Comment. ser. in Matt. c. 85 (III. 898): "Panis iste, quem Dem Verbum [Logos] corpus suum esse fatetur, verbum est nutritorium animarum, verbum de Deo Verbo procedens, et panis de pani cŒlesti ... Non enim panem illum visibilem, quem tenebat in manibus, corpus situm dicebat Deus Verbum, sed verbum, in cuius mysterio est panis ille frangendus." Then the same of the wine. Origen evidently goes no higher than the Zwinglian theory, while Clement approaches the Calvinistic view of a spiritual real fruition of Christ’s life in the Eucharist.21 Applying his unsound allegorical method here, he makes the bread represent the Old Testament, the wine the New, and the breaking of the bread the multiplication of the divine word! But these were rather private views for the initiated, and can hardly be taken as presenting the doctrine of the Alexandrian church.

We have, therefore, among the ante-Nicene fathers, three different views, an Oriental, a North-African, and an Alexandrian. The first view, that of Ignatius and Irenaeus, agrees most nearly with the mystical character of the celebration of the eucharist, and with the catholicizing features of the age.


2. The Eucharist as a Sacrifice.


This point is very important in relation to the doctrine, and still more important in relation to the cultus and life, of the ancient church. The Lord’s Supper was universally regarded not only as a sacrament, but also as a sacrifice,422422    Προσφορά, θυσία, oblatio, sacrificium.22 the true and eternal sacrifice of the new covenant, superseding all the provisional and typical sacrifices of the old; taking the place particularly of the passover, or the feast of the typical redemption from Egypt. This eucharistic sacrifice, however, the ante-Nicene fathers conceived not as an unbloody repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but simply as a commemoration and renewed appropriation of that atonement, and, above all, a thank-offering of the whole church for all the favors of God in creation and redemption. Hence the current name itself—eucharist; which denoted in the first place the prayer of thanksgiving, but afterwards the whole rite.423423    So among the Jews the cup of wine at the paschal supper was called "the cup of blessing,"ποτήριον ευλογίας =εὐχαριστίας , Comp. 1 Cor. 10:16.23

The consecrated elements were regarded in a twofold light, as representing at once the natural and the spiritual gifts of God, which culminated in the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Hence the eucharistic prayer, like that connected with the typical passover, related at the same time to creation and redemption, which were the more closely joined in the mind of the church for their dualistic separation by the Gnostics. The earthly gifts of bread and wine were taken as types and pledges of the heavenly gifts of the same God, who has both created and redeemed the world.

Upon this followed the idea of the self-sacrifice of the worshipper himself, the sacrifice of renewed self-consecration to Christ in return for his sacrifice on the cross, and also the sacrifice of charity to the poor. Down to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the eucharistic elements were presented as a thank-offering by the members of the congregation themselves, and the remnants went to the clergy and he poor. In these gifts the people yielded themselves as a priestly race and a living thank-offering to God, to whom they owed all the blessings alike of providence and of grace. In later times the priest alone offered the sacrifice. But even the Roman Missal retains a recollection of the ancient custom in the plural form, "We offer," and in the sentence: "All you, both brethren and sisters, pray that my sacrifice and your sacrifice, which is equally yours as well as mine, may be meat for the Lord."

This subjective offering of the whole congregation on the ground of the objective atoning sacrifice of Christ is the real centre of the ancient Christian worship, and particularly of the communion. It thus differed both from the later Catholic mass, which has changed the thank-offering into a sin-offering, the congregational offering into a priest offering; and from the common Protestant cultus, which, in opposition to the Roman mass, has almost entirely banished the idea of sacrifice from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except in the customary offerings for the poor.

The writers of the second century keep strictly within the limits of the notion of a congregational thank-offering. Thus Justin says expressly, prayers and thanksgivings alone are the true and acceptable sacrifices, which the Christians offer. Irenaeus has been brought as a witness for the Roman doctrine, only on the ground of a false reading.424424    Adv. Haer. IV. c. 18, §. 4: "Verbum [the Logos] quod offertur Deo;" instead of which should be read, according to other manuscripts: "Verbum per quod offertur,"—which suits the connexion much better. Comp. IV. 17, § 6: "Per Jes. Christum offert ecclesia." Stieren reads "Verbum quod," but refers it not to Christ, but to the word of the prayer. The passage is, at all events, too obscure and too isolated to build a dogma upon.24 The African fathers, in the third century, who elsewhere incline to the symbolical interpretation of the words of institution, are the first to approach on this point the later Roman Catholic idea of a sin-offering; especially Cyprian, the steadfast advocate of priesthood and of episcopal authority.425425    Epist. 63 ad Council. c. 14: "Si Jesus Christus, Dominus et Deus noster, ipse est summus sacerdos Dei Patris et sacrificium Patri seipsum primus obtulit et hoc fieri in sui commemorationem praecepit: utique ille sacerdos vice Christi vere fungitur, gui id, quod Christus fecit, imitatur et sacrificium verum et plenum tunc offert."25 The ideas of priesthood, sacrifice, and altar, are intimately connected, and a Judaizing or paganizing conception of one must extend to all.



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