Thursday, January 6, 2011

Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist (c. 200 - c. 300 A.D.)

A few weeks ago, I posted brief snippets of the writings of the earliest Church Fathers, from the time of the Apostles until 200 A.D., showing what they believed on the Eucharist.  Long story short, these men believed that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ, that this happened at the words of consecration, and that after this point, it ceased to be bread and wine.  Today, I'm (finally) including the writings of those writing from c. 200-300 A.D.


I. St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 A.D.)

Last time, I addressed Tertullian, who bridged the second and third century (c. 160 - c. 220). St. Clement is a contemporary of his (c. 150-215), so in both cases, we're right on the cusp between the 100s and the 200s. St. Clement's Paedagogus (meaning The Tutor or The Instructor) is from about 189-200 A.D., and his series of books called the Stromata (Miscellanies) were probably written shortly and after Paedagogus.  Origen is one of his students, and succeeds him as Bishop of Alexandria.  In his writings, which I've mentioned before, he shows a very Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

First, here's what Clement says on the Eucharist in Book IV, Chapter 25 of the Stromata:
This is in reality righteousness, not to desire other things, but to be entirely the consecrated temple of the Lord. Righteousness is peace of life and a well-conditioned state, to which the Lord dismissed her when He said, "Depart into peace." [Mark 5:34] For Salem is, by interpretation, peace; of which our Saviour is enrolled King, as Moses says, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who gave bread and wine, furnishing consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist. And Melchizedek is interpreted righteous king; and the name is a synonym for righteousness and peace.
If you're not familiar, a "type" is a prophetic prefigurement of something greater.  The Passover lamb is a type of the Lamb of God.  Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), is a type of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, and the true King of Peace (the Book of Hebrews draws the same connections in Hebrews 5:5-10, Heb. 6:20, and all of Hebrews 7). Likewise, the consecrated bread and wine offered by Melchizedek are a type of the Eucharist, as the Mass says.  That's easy to gloss over, but pay close attention.  What Melchizedek offered was a sacrifice, and he prefigures Christ, while the sacrifice prefigures the Eucharist.  So we can see from his parallel that as Melchizedek offered bread and wine as sacrifice, Christ offers the Eucharist as Sacrifice.

Even clearer is Book II, Chapter 2 of the Paedagogos, in which Clement says:
And the blood of the Lord is twofold. For there is the blood of His flesh, by which we are redeemed from corruption; and the spiritual, that by which we are anointed. And to drink the blood of Jesus, is to become partaker of the Lord’s immortality; the Spirit being the energetic principle of the Word, as blood is of flesh. 
Accordingly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine and water, nourishes to faith; while the other, the Spirit, conducts to immortality. And the mixture of both— of the water and of the Word— is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul. For the divine mixture, man, the Father's will has mystically compounded by the Spirit and the Word. For, in truth, the spirit is joined to the soul, which is inspired by it; and the flesh, by reason of which the Word became flesh, to the Word.
Starkly Catholic.  We drink the Blood of Jesus.  Immediately after this, lest there be any argument that Clement thought this was really just wine, Clement writes at great length against wine, saying, "I therefore admire those who have adopted an austere life, and who are fond of water, the medicine of temperance, and flee as far as possible from wine, shunning it as they would the danger of fire." He then lists off the dangers of wine, saying it's inappropriate for those undertaking "the divine studies," and it leads to drunkenness, lust, mistakes and irritations.

It's clear from the sheer contrast between the Eucharist, which he praises (and calls "the Blood of Jesus" and promises will lead us to eternal life if taken faithfully), and wine, which he calls us to flee from completely, that Clement doesn't think that the Eucharist is wine.  You can't abstain from wine and still receive the Eucharist, unless the Eucharist isn't wine.  And it isn't as though these are writings separated by time and place, that he had a change of heart.  This is a single chapter, and he connects the two thoughts with a "therefore."  He doesn't view this as a contradiction.

Finally, we also see Clement condemning as heretical those "employ bread and water in the oblation, not according to the canon of the Church. For there are those who celebrate the Eucharist with mere water." So here's what we know.  Clement viewed wine as bad, and encouraged Christians to flee from it completely.  But he also condemned as heretics those who attempted to consecrate water without wine at the Eucharist.  Rather, wine must be used in the Eucharist, because (a) the Church requires it, and (b) it becomes the Blood of Christ (i.e., no longer wine, and no longer something to flee from).  Finally, note that Clement calls the Eucharist an Oblation, that is, a Sacrifice to God.  This tells us all that we need to safely say that Clement held to the Catholic view of the Eucharist, and that he obviously didn't hold to any of the Protestant views.


II. St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 225 A.D.)

All we have of Hippolytus' work are fragments, usually Scriptural exegesis. But the bits we have include some really good stuff. For example, Proverbs 9:1-6 says,
Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”
Hippolytus saw in this a reference first to the Incarnation. The House that Wisdom built is Christ, as the Divine Logos became Flesh and Tabernacled amongst us (see John 1). But then he got to the section I've bolded, and explained:
And to those that want understanding she said"—that is, to those who have not yet obtained the power of the Holy Ghost—"Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you;" by which is meant, that He gave His divine flesh and honoured blood to us, to eat and to drink it for the remission of sins.
So not only does it show that Hippolytus believed in the Real Presence, but that the Eucharist saved -- and that this was a view supported by Scripture.


III. Origen (c. 230 A.D.)

In Contra Celsus, Origen [Clement's successor] responded to a heretic who advocates demonic superstition, claiming that, “We must either not live, and indeed not come into this life at all, or we must do so on condition that we give thanks and first-fruits and prayers to demons, who have been set over the things of this world: and that we must do as long as we live, that they may prove good and kind.” To this, Origen replied, “let Celsus, as one who knows not God, give thank-offerings to demons. But we give thanks to the Creator of all, and, along with thanksgiving and prayer for the blessings we have received, we also eat the bread presented to us; and this bread becomes by prayer a sacred body, which sanctifies those who sincerely partake of it.”  Obviously, the bread which becomes "by prayer, a Sacred Body" is the Eucharist. In presenting it as he does, he's making three points: (1) the Eucharist becomes the Body of Christ, (2) this occurs at the consecration, and (3) the Eucharist is a Sacrifice.  This last point is clear from the contrast that he draws between the sacrifice to the demons of Celsus, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christians.  St. Paul also draws this contrast, as Nick comments here, viewing 1 Cor 10:16-18 in light of Mal 1:6-8, 11-12.

Finally, it's clear from Origen's descriptions that both he and his readers view the Eucharist as sacred, and are concerned with the prospect of even a crumb falling on the floor. So when Origen attacks his readers for not spending enough time concerned with Scripture, he does so by contrasting it with their reverence for the Eucharist.  From his 13th homily on Exodus, available at p. 380-381 here, and probably written between 222-235 A.D.:
I wish to admonish you with examples from your religious practices. You who are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries know, when you receive the body of the Lord, how you protect it with all caution and veneration lest any small part fall from it, lest anything of the consecrated gift be lost. For you believe, and correctly, that you are answerable if anything falls from there by neglect. But if you are so careful to preserve his body, and rightly so, how do you think that there is less guilt to have neglected God's word than to have neglected his body?
So both Origen and his audience understand that to allow crumbs of the Eucharist to fall upon the floor through negligence is a sin we'll answer to God for, and that the Eucharist is His Body, is worthy of veneration, and is a Divine Mystery.


IV. St. Cyprian (c. 250 A.D.)

St. Cyprian was obviously Catholic.  His treatise On the Unity of the Church, (available in full here, and the most obviously Petrine excerpt here) is blatantly and explicitly Catholic, and he says all salvation is through the Church.  Yet many Protestants have concluded that Cyprian took a merely symbolic view of the Eucharist because of his Epistle 62 (sometimes listed as Epistle 63), which was written between 246 and 258 A.D.  In the letter, he's refuting the same heresy Clement refuted, that of attempting to consecrate the Eucharist using only water, instead of wine mixed with water. Given the subject, he speaks repeatedly of the Eucharist as wine, but he's contrasting it with the heretical attempted Eucharist as water; he's not contrasting it with the Eucharist as the true Body of Christ.  In other words, Cyprian's primary focus isn't on what the consecrated Eucharist is (the Body and Blood of Christ), but upon which species (Bread and Wine) can be validly used to consecrate the Eucharist.

That said, Cyprian still ends up talking about the Real Presence, for a very simple reason: he explains that those who attempt to consecrate mere water don't end up with the true Blood of Christ:
For when Christ says, "I am the true vine" [John 15:1] the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures.
And again:
Whence it appears that the blood of Christ is not offered if there be no wine in the cup, nor the Lord's sacrifice celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our oblation and sacrifice respond to His passion. But how shall we drink the new wine of the fruit of the vine with Christ in the kingdom of His Father, if in the sacrifice of God the Father and of Christ we do not offer wine, nor mix the cup of the Lord by the Lord's own tradition?"
And he says of Isaiah 63:2,
The treading also, and pressure of the wine-press, is repeatedly dwelt on; because just as the drinking of wine cannot be attained to unless the bunch of grapes be first trodden and pressed, so neither could we drink the blood of Christ unless Christ had first been trampled upon and pressed, and had first drunk the cup of which He should also give believers to drink.
So Cyprian plainly views the Eucharist as the Blood of Christ, as consecrated, and as offered up to God as a true Sacrifice and Oblation to God -- all views which Protestants reject.  Finally, Cyprian argues that "the intoxication of the Lord's cup and blood is not such as is the intoxication of the world's wine," since wine dissolves the mind, while "the Lord's cup and blood" restores the mind to spiritual wisdom, showing that he doesn't view the consecrated Chalice as containing wine any longer.


Conclusion

As before, we can see quite clearly that both the writers, and their Christian audiences, believe in what we would now call the Catholic view of the Eucharist. At the time, of course, any other view was totally unknown. Next up, I'll be looking at Church Fathers from 300 - 400 A.D., and should have that post done  pretty soon (it's mostly done already).

By the way, special thanks to Tim Troutman at Called to Communion. His list is very good. I considered just linking to his, in lieu of writing my own, but we've got them organized separately (his are by topic, mine by year), and we each have some Fathers the other one didn't include.  Still, he's where I found the Origen Contra Celsus reference, for example.

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