Category Archives: Sacraments

Eucharistic love


-by Br Elijah Dubek, OP

“Sometimes we take our Catholic lingo for granted, forgetting that like any other group, we have jargon. It takes time to get acclimated to it. If we are not attentive, sometimes the meaning of our own jargon eludes us. Maybe we grew up hearing a word and everyone seemed to know what it meant (except us, of course) and we were too ashamed to ask about it. As a result, when we listen to our pastor’s homily, faithfully looking for that spiritual nugget he delivers each week, we frown in confusion. “Let your love be eucharistic,” he says. We know what he says is true, and our whole heart affirms it in faith, but we puzzle over its meaning. What does it mean for love to be eucharistic? We believe in the Eucharist, and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but what does it mean for my love to be eucharistic?

I would like to suggest four ways to understand this.

First, eucharistic love is gratuitous. From its Greek roots, ευχαριστία, “eucharist” means thanksgiving or good grace/favor. God’s love for us is gratuitous because He loves us prior to anything good we do or become that could earn any love. Saint Paul said that’s how God proved His love, that He died while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). For our love to be eucharistic, then, means that we also offer gifts to others without first sizing up whether they are worthy. Instead of asking ourselves if the person in need deserves our help, and understanding they would accept our help while we maintain their dignity, let’s give them what they lack, regardless of any judgment.

Second, eucharistic love is empowered by God. Because every good gift has its origin in God, we cannot hope to love eucharistically if we expect the power to do so comes from ourselves. Jesus told us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To love eucharistically is to love with utter reliance on God’s divine power loving through us. Instead of white-knuckling our way through the day, whether at work, school, or home, let’s pray for God’s help and recognize that He delights in granting us the help we need, our loving Father.

Third, eucharistic love demands totality. When Christ approached His Passion, he “loved his disciples to the end” (John 13:1). He held nothing back when He offered His very self on the Cross for us. Eucharistic love knows no limit or measure. Empowered by God and not waiting for others to deserve it, we can love eucharistically when we give everything. It costs us to take time from our day, to break our routine in order to make someone else’s concerns our own. Instead of seeing these as distractions or delays to our own plans, let’s pray for the grace to expand our love so that they become opportunities to give our whole heart to them. As St. Paul put it, “Whatever you do, work with your whole heart, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col 3:23).

Fourth, eucharistic loves is ordered toward Christ. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself present substantially, though under sacramental forms of bread and wine. To love eucharistically can simply mean to love Jesus by adoring his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Find out where and when Eucharistic Adoration takes place near you and spend an extra ten minutes, or more if you can, with Jesus. By getting to know Him, by growing in close friendship with our Lord, your love can become ever more eucharistic.”

Love, Praise Him!!!
Matthew

May 24 – Relics, elevatio corporis, & fragrance of Resurrection


Arca di San Domenico, please click on the image for greater detail.

Dominican breviary: “In accordance with his wishes, St Dominic was buried ‘beneath the feet of his brethren’ in the church of St Nicholas of the Vineyards, Bologna. (Keeping with this, Dominicans have been traditionally been buried under main, ground floor hallways of Dominican priories, and those living lined the hallways of their priories after Evening Prayer to sing the DeProfundis.). Many of the sick avowed that they had been healed of their infirmities at his tomb; the brethren however were loath to recognise these miracles and accept votive offerings.”

On May 24, the Dominican Order celebrates the translation of the relics of St. Dominic. That is, we remember the day in 1233 when, during a General Chapter of the Order in Bologna, the interred body of St. Dominic was moved in order to allow the faithful to honor him more easily. More than 300 friars were present to celebrate this important day. In one of his letters, Bl. Jordan of Saxony, describes the event:

“But then the wonderful day came for the translation of the relics of one who was an illustrious doctor in his lifetime. Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin.

The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit. As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time.

The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ”.


-by Br Ireneus Dunleavy, OP

Why relics?

It’s a natural instinct to keep meaningful tokens. Anyone who has lost loved ones knows the impact of an old photo, a handwritten letter, or a crackling recorded message. In a way, the ones we have lost become present. Emotion rises along with memories and love’s affection. An old book, jewelry, an article of clothing … we keep these things as mementos. With the saints, however, we not only keep things of the person, but we also keep the body of the person.

The 25th session of Trent’s second decree teaches us why the bodies of saints are different. Relics of bone, hair, and even blood once belonged to bodies possessing a two-fold dignity: (1) being living members of the Body of Christ and (2) being temples of the Holy Spirit. The council states that, through venerating these relics, God bestows gifts on men. Additionally, those who oppose this teaching, “the Church has already long since condemned.”

This condemnation is not found among Dominicans. Today the Order of Preachers celebrates the Translation of Holy Father Dominic. ‘Translation’ is an unfortunate translation. The Latin, elevatio corporis, brings forth the transcendent quality of this feast. We don’t celebrate a horizontal change of word for word moving from tongue to tongue. Rather, we celebrate the vertical change of the profane to the holy. On this day in 1233, St. Dominic’s remains were elevated, celebrated, and laid to rest in the Arca di San Domenico—the exquisite sarcophagus complete in 1267.

Though the brethren lifted St. Dominic from the tomb, it was God who elevated the body of St. Dominic. Our Father in heaven honored our Holy Father Dominic by a miracle (ST III.6). The moment the stone slab covering the coffin was split, the broken seal emitted an indescribable, sweet fragrance. So potent was the smell that those who touched its source, St. Dominic’s bones, themselves began to emit the aroma. Martha feared the stench of Lazarus’ four days in the tomb (Jn 11:38–44), but the friars rejoiced in the sweet-smelling oblation of St. Dominic’s 11 years in the tomb.

The relics of St. Dominic, like all other relics, remind us of not only the saint but the One the saint served. By this miracle, through his lowly servant St. Dominic, God makes real the words of St. Paul:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Cor 2:15–16)

Smells, like a mother’s perfume, conjure the deepest memories we have of a person. The smell of St. Dominic works in an analogous way, but with an important difference. The brothers would not have been reminded of the old smell of the perspiring friar. They would have been reminded of the Resurrection. Christ by dying and rising has transformed the decay of death into the fragrance of eternal life. Relics do not just remind us of a life lived, but a life living.“

“Thou didst breath fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now do I sigh for Thee.” -St Augustine

Love, life, & LIFE to come!!
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 9 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“To wrap up this short series, I hope to describe as simply and clearly as I can the essential line thought that led me, as a Baptist minister, to embrace the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Step One: The Witness of the Fathers

As I explained in Part I, the first step was reading the early Church Fathers and finding myself faced with descriptions of the Eucharist that were totally different than I was familiar with and that I would have ever thought to use.

Jesus had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) and the early Church seemed to take this literally.

For Christians living in the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was a meal of remembrance of Christ’s death, as I would have said as a Baptist, but it was more than that. It was supernatural food, a miraculous meal in which simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was, to quote St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early bishop and disciple of St. John, the “medicine of immortality.”

The following quotation from St. Justin Martyr is fairly typical of what one finds in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

During the past week, I’ve pulled four of five important historians of Christian doctrine off the shelf and looked again at what they have to say on this subject, only to have my own impressions confirmed.

According to one of the most prominent, J.N.D. Kelly:

Eucharistic teaching, it should be said at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 440).

Even those historians who personally reject the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist tend to admit that this indeed was the view of the Church from as far back as we can tell. Of course they take this as an illustration of how quickly the Church departed from what they perceive to be the “clear teaching” of the New Testament.

Step Two: The Examination of Scripture

The next step for me was to leave the writings of the early Church to re-examine the writings of the Apostles themselves. After all, the writings of the Fathers are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired.

Now, I’d read the New Testament passages that touch on the Lord’s Supper many times. What I was eager to do now was read them again in the light of what I had seen in the early Church.

I wondered, would the Apostles contradict the early Church’s view of the Eucharist? Would the things they say about the Lord’s Supper support the teaching of the early Church, and possibly even be illuminated by it? Would I see things in Scripture I hadn’t noticed before?

What I found was that this was indeed the case.

First, there was nothing whatsoever in the New Testament that was not entirely consistent with the faith and teaching of the early Church, nothing that excluded or contradicted it.

But beyond this, there certain Old and New Testament biblical themes and passages that seemed positively illuminated when read in the light of the early Church’s faith and teaching (see Parts II, III and IV of this series).

I did not come away thinking I could, from the New Testament alone, somehow “prove” the doctrine of the Real Presence, or demonstrate its truth “beyond a shadow of doubt.” There simply is no passage where a “doctrine” of the Eucharist is spelled out in so many words.

But this only served to confirm something I had been coming to think for some time: that the New Testament was not written to function alone.

After all, Christian doctrine was something the Apostles taught the churches they founded, over a period of time, by word of mouth and face-to-face. St. Paul speaks, for instance, of having spent a year and six months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus teaching the believers there “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 18:11 and 20:27).

When the Apostles later wrote letters to those churches, the letters that comprise a good part of our New Testaments, with rare exceptions they were writing to those who already knew the doctrines of the faith and needed specific encouragement or correction or some issue resolved. When the churches read those letters, they read them, and understood them, in the light of what they had already been taught and already knew.

It wasn’t entirely surprising to me, then, to find that the passages in the New Testament that talk about the Lord’s Supper might need to be read and understood in the light of the early Church’s teaching.

Step Three: Relating Scripture and Tradition

All of this led to me thinking more deeply about the relationship of Scripture (the teaching of the Apostles as it was written down) to what Catholics refer to as “Tradition” (the teaching of the Apostles as it was known and preserved in the churches they founded).

As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.

Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.

This did not make sense.

And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first three centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).

Three centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?

Having been an evangelical Protestant for many years, there was the ingrained tendency in me to think:

Listen, Ken, everything God wants us to know is recorded in the New Testament and laid out clearly enough to be understood. You need to look again at the passages, examine the exegetical arguments and decide on the basis of Scripture alone which view you think best reflects the data. That’s how these things are determined. It doesn’t really matter what the early Church thought.

At the same time, thoughts that were new to this evangelical Protestant were beginning to insinuate themselves:

But Ken, Luther examined the data and came out in one place, Calvin examined the data and came out in another. And then there were the Baptists who examined the data and hold a view of the Lord’s Supper that differs from both Luther and Calvin. What if the New Testament wasn’t meant to function “alone”?

What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?

Step Four: Tradition in the Early Church

The final step for me was coming to see that this is exactly the view the early Church had of the correct relationship between the inspired Scripture and the faith and teaching of the Church.

In his book Against Heresies, the first serious work of biblical theology that we possess, St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, when there are disputes about the correct teaching, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)

What can I say but that this was a way of looking at things that was beginning to make more and more sense to this Evangelical.

I had treated the New Testament as though it were a stand-alone manual of Christian doctrine. The early Christians did not think of the New Testament in this way.

I had treated the faith and practice of the early Church as though it were essentially worthless when it comes to deciding what to believe as a Christian or how to understand the New Testament. None of the early Church Fathers thought in this way. None of them.

I was beginning now to think that my understanding of the nature of both the New Testament and Tradition, and how the two should be related to one another, was simply incorrect. I was beginning to think that the Catholic Church’s view of these matters was not only more historical, but more biblical.

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Although this sounds like another quotation from the early Church Fathers, it’s actually from Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 8 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

What Jesus Says and Does

So what am I talking about?

Well, so far Jesus has revealed himself to be the bread of life sent down from the Father in heaven. Those who “come” to him and “believe” in him will never hunger or thirst but will have eternal life, because Jesus will raise them up on the last day.

Beginning around verse 48, however, Jesus begins to use language he hasn’t to this point. He identifies the living bread with his “flesh” and says that one must “eat” this bread to live forever.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (vs. 51).

Now, those listening pick up on this shift in expression and immediately begin to dispute among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (vs. 52).

And what’s our Lord’s response? Does he explain that what he means by this is that they must “come to him” and “believe in him”? No. Instead, Jesus intensifies his language. He begins to insist—in the most literalistic and graphic of terms—that his listeners must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” if they would have life.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him . . . He who eats me will live because of me . . . He who eats this bread will live for ever” (vs. 53-58).

Jesus even switches from the more usual Greek verb for “eating” to use a word that means “to chew” or “to gnaw.” He repeats this particular verb four times in verses 54 through 58.

The repetition of this idea that his followers must eat, chew, gnaw upon his flesh and drink his blood is striking. It turns that not only are the Jews in general offended and scandalized, so are his disciples. It sounds to them as though Jesus is commanding some form of cannibalism and the exact reverse of the Mosaic laws forbidding the eating of flesh with the blood.

“Many of his disciples when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (vs. 60). “After this,” we read, “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (vs. 66).

And what does Jesus do? Again, does he explain that he has only been speaking “figuratively”? No. He lets them leave.

He even asks the twelve, “Will you also go away?” To which Peter famously responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 67-69).

I had to admit it: This does not make sense—if all that Jesus meant was that his disciples must “come” to him and “believe” in him.

After all, Jesus’ disciples had already “come” to him and “believed” in him. And yet he allows “many” of them to draw back and “no longer” walk with him. He lets them go. In other words, this was the end of the road for a good number of his disciples.

Even the twelve, those who would become his Apostles, are on the verge of leaving, and it appears as though Jesus would have let them go as well!

It appears as though Jesus would have let everyone go! And all he had to do was say, “Hey, I’m only speaking figuratively”?

Didn’t make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying here, he must be saying something more than that to receive eternal life we need to come to him and believe in him. He must be saying something more than this.

Baptists, Presbyterians and other Evangelicals all say that the figurative interpretation explains the passage.

Catholics say that in John chapter 6 Jesus is pointing forward to when, after suffering on the cross and ascending to heaven, he will give his body and blood as supernatural food and drink in the Eucharist; that this passage is pointing forward to the greatest miraculous meal of all, the feeding of the multitudes par excellence.

What other options are there? Assuming Jesus wasn’t teaching cannibalism, what options are there beyond his words being purely figurative and them indicating some means by which his disciples will have his glorified flesh and blood to eat and drink, some version of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

At this point, there were several lines of thought converging in my head and moving me in direction of the Real Presence.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 7 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“In our last post we looked at the pattern of miraculous meals in Scripture. This is a theme that recurs throughout the Old Testament and continues into the New Testament as well.

In their wilderness wanderings, the Lord supplied the children of Israel with supernatural food and drink, sending manna from heaven every morning and causing water to spring up from a rock to satisfy their hunger and thirst (Exodus 1-17).

During a time of drought and famine in Israel, the Lord sent ravens to miraculously feed Elijah and sending Elijah to miraculously feed a poor widow and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16).

Elijah’s successor Elisha miraculously multiplied a few loaves to feed a hundred hungry disciples (2 Kings 4:42-44) and pulled supernatural strings to cause a widow’s “one little jar of oil” to somehow fill to overflowing as many large vessels as she could find (2 Kings 4:1-7).

According to the Apostle John, the first “sign” our Lord performed, manifesting his glory and causing his disciples to believe in him, was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11).

And then, the final example recorded in all four Gospels, the high point of this biblical pattern, the greatest of all miraculous meals, when Jesus takes a few loaves and fish and multiplies them to feed thousands and thousands of men, women and children.

Or was it? Was the feeding of the multitudes the greatest of all miraculous meals, the high point in the development of this biblical pattern and theme?

The Catholic scholars I was reading insisted that it wasn’t. They said that the feeding of the multitudes was simply the greatest type, the greatest shadow, pointing forward to the culmination and fulfillment of the all miraculous meals of Scripture: The Eucharist.

Of course as a Baptist it would not have crossed my mind to think of the Lord’s Supper as being prefigured by the manna, the water from the rock, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the feeding of the multitudes. At that time, I didn’t think of the Lord’s Supper as a meal in which a miracle of any kind was taking place.

The Bread of Life Discourse

There’s no doubt that John 6:22-69 is one of the most important New Testament passages that Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans point to when presenting a biblical case for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Biblical scholars typically refer to this passage as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

It just so happens to immediately follow John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. Amazed at the miraculous meal Jesus has provided, the crowds want to take him by force and make him king. He withdrew to the hills alone, but word spreads of his location and the next day the crowds return, hungry and hoping that whatever he did the day before, he will do it again (John 6:14-24).

Jesus knows their hearts and encourages them to think about something more important than mere food and drink. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…” Jesus calls them to “believe” in him (vs. 25-29).

The response of the people is clever:

Fine. You want us to believe in you? You mention signs. OK, what sign will you perform so that we can believe in you? When our forefathers were starving in the wilderness, Moses was kind enough to give them bread from heaven. How about something along those lines?

But our Lord’s response is even more clever:

You just wait! The bread my Father is going to provide will make the manna look like the stalest of stale loaves! “The bread of God,” Jesus says, “is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (vs. 32-33).

The crowds are not sure what he’s saying, but they’re ready to listen: “Lord, give us this bread always” (vs. 34).

At this point, Jesus speaks the words no other religious figure in the history of the world has ever spoken or ever would have dared to speak: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Believe and Receive

Now, as a Baptist, here is how I would have answered the Catholic who wished to argue that this passage in some way is looking forward to the Eucharist:

Yes, Jesus is the bread of life that the Father has sent from heaven to give life to the world. Yes, Jesus is the true manna.

However, notice what Jesus says here in verse 35: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” And recall how he answered when the people asked him, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” His answer? “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent” (vs. 29). And then what Jesus goes on to say in verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

In other words, Jesus is speaking figuratively. All he means to say by calling himself the bread of life is that the Father has sent him to bring life to the world. To possess that life, we must see the Son, come to him and believe in him. That’s it.

This is exactly what I would have said. And if the Bread of Life Discourse ended with verse 29, or 35, or 40, or 47, this interpretation might seem to explain Jesus’ words and make perfect sense of them.

The problem is that the passage doesn’t end with these verses.

Instead, Jesus continues on to say many things. What Catholic apologists were pointing out (and I was listening with greater care at this point) is that when one listens carefully to what Jesus says in verses 48 – 69, and watches what Jesus does, the figurative interpretation begins to makes less and less sense.

It just doesn’t deal seriously with the whole of the passage.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 6 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

Miraculous Meals in the Old Testament

Now this whole concept was new to me.

It shouldn’t have been. After all, miraculous meals are a recurring theme in the Bible. Again and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, we find stories in which God’s people are fed through some supernatural means.

There’s the manna from heaven (Exodus 16) and water from the rock (Exodus 17). There’s the time when the Lord sent ravens to feed Elijah as he hiding in the wilderness (1 Kings 17).

And then there are a number of stories in which a small amount of food is miraculously multiplied to feed God’s people.

In 1 Kings 17, for instance, the prophet Elijah visits the home of a poor widow and her son. He says to her, “Make me something to eat!” She responds, “As the Lord lives, all I have is a little meal in my jar and a little oil in my vessel. I’m gathering some sticks right now to make something for me and my son before we die!”

Elijah instructs her to first make a cake and bring it to him and then to feed herself and her son, adding: “For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the vessel of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”

And it happened. Her little jar of meal and vessel of oil miraculously continued to produce until it was no longer needed.

In 2 Kings chapter 4 we find a similar account. This time it’s Elisha the prophet meeting a woman who explains that her husband has died, that she’s in tremendous debt, and that her two children are about to be sold as slaves to pay the debt. She informs Elisha that all she has to her name is “one little jar of oil.”

Elisha immediately instructs her to “Go and borrow empty vessels from all your neighbors. Find as many as you can and bring them here!” He then tells her to fill the vessels from her “one little jar.” Miraculously, the oil doesn’t stop flowing until she has filled every vessel to overflowing and run out of vessels to fill.

Later on in that same chapter of 2 Kings, another miraculous multiplication of food takes place.

In this case Elisha is sitting with one hundred of his disciples and they’re hungry. One of his servants has some loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Here’s the passage:

And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord (2 Kings 4:42-44).

This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament and a theme that continues right on into the New Testament.

Miracle Meals in the New Testament

It’s hard to read the account of the woman who borrowed all the vessels from her neighbors and filled them to overflowing from her “one little jar” without being reminded of a similar miracle that would take place centuries later, this time at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, when Jesus would command the servants to bring six stone water jars each containing twenty or thirty gallons and “fill the jars with water” so that he might transform the water into wine.

It’s hard to read the account of Elisha multiplying the barley loaves and ears of grain to feed one hundred hungry disciples without thinking about the time Jesus took a few loaves and fish and multiplied them to feed thousands of men, women and children who had come to listen to him speak and had become hungry.

In fact, the parallels between these Old and New Testament stories are clear and fascinating.

Elijah has compassion on the poor starving widow and Elisha on his famished disciples. Likewise, when Jesus sees the crowds he says, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matt 15:32)

Elisha’s servant objects when the prophet suggests that he feed the men: “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” (2 Kings 4:43). Likewise, the disciples object when Jesus suggests that they feed the multitude: “Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” (Matt 15:33).

In the end, Elijah and Elisha take whatever small amount the people have and miraculously multiply it to meet the need. Jesus does the same: “’How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish’ (Matt 15:34).

And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 15:35-37).

When our Lord changed water into wine and miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the crowds, I’m convinced that he was consciously reenacting the miraculous meals of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus was saying, “One greater than these has come!”

But was he also looking forward when he performed these miracles? Was the feeding of the multitudes the end of this Scriptural pattern of miraculous meals, or was there more to come? This is something St. Paul’s association of the Eucharist with supernatural food and drink made me wonder about. It’s something the early Church’s beliefs about the Eucharist made me wonder about. If anything was clear, it was that the early Church viewed the Eucharist as a miraculous meal.

The Last Supper

As an Evangelical Protestant, when I thought about the Last Supper, two things primarily came to mind: the Passover and the institution of the New Covenant.

By choosing to share this Last Supper during the celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus was surely revealing himself to be the true Passover Lamb, whose death would free his people from their sins. “This is my body which is broken for you.”

But he was also announcing the institution of the New Covenant. In Exodus 24 Moses sprinkled blood on the altar on Mt. Sinai and instituted the Old Covenant with these words: “This is the blood of the covenant.” When Jesus raised the chalice at the Last Supper and said, “This is my blood of the covenant,” he was deliberately echoing Moses’ words. Jesus was announcing the institution of the New Covenant—this time in his own blood.

The Last Supper was patterned after these sacrificial meals. This much is clear.

But there seems to be more, here. The Last Supper also seems to be patterned after Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes.

In the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, whether in Matthew, Mark or Luke, the actions of Jesus are described in a very specific manner. As the disciples are reclining at table (Luke 22:14), Jesus “takes” bread, he “blesses” it, he “breaks” it, and he “gives” it to his disciples (See Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).

Fine. So what? Well, it turns out that in every account of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes—again, whether looking at Matthew, Mark or Luke—Jesus’ actions are described in exactly the same way—in fact, using the very same words.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 14:19-20)

Here’s the point: It appears that Gospel authors have for some reason consciously patterned their description of the Last Supper in terms of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes. The two events are being connected. Even the crowds being commanded to sit down on the grass is echoed in the disciplines reclining at the table.

Whether the feeding of the multitudes is seen as somehow looking forward to the Last Supper, or the Last Supper is seen as somehow looking backward to the feeding of the multitudes, the two are connected in the minds of the Gospel writers.

Conclusion

Certainly, at this point, there were more questions than answers for this Baptist minister.

But the questions were provocative: Why did the Apostles draw this connection between the Last Supper and the feeding of the multitudes? Did they conceive of the Last Supper as some kind of meal in which a miracle was taking place?

And what about the Eucharist, to which the Last Supper points? From the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was treated as the center of Christian worship and, essentially, as theNew Testament fulfillment of the miracle of the manna, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, our Lord’s multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Is there truth to this? Is something happening in the Eucharist that is like what happened when Jesus fed the multitudes?

Is the Eucharist a miraculous meal?”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 5 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus. – Justin Martyr

My journey to the Eucharist began when I read the early Church Fathers—really read them—for the first time and found myself faced with the reality that what theologians refer to as the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist appeared to have been the doctrine of Christianity from the beginning.

A few of these earliest witnesses—mainly bishops and apologists—were either direct disciples of the Apostles or disciples of disciples of the Apostles. All of them that described the Eucharist described it in terms that made it abundantly clear to me that for them the Eucharist was not a simple meal of remembrance and proclamation.

For them, it was a miraculous meal. St. Ignatius, bishop of the Church in Antioch, who as a young man had been personally instructed in the faith by the Apostle John speaks of the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality.”

This had been the doctrine of the early Church, and it continued to be the doctrine of the Church, in both the East and the West, essentially until the time of Reformation in the 16th century.

Discovering this was step one for me.

Step two was returning to the New Testament, re-examining everything the New Testament writers had to say about the Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) and finding that it was entirely consistent with what the early Church seems to have believed.

Now, given my commitment at the time to the foundational Protestant principle of sola Scriptura—that we look to Scripture alone to authoritatively determine Christian doctrine—if I had discovered that the New Testament teaching on the Eucharist contradicted belief in the Real Presence, I might have been able to ignore what I had seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers. After all, it didn’t cross my mind back then to think that the faith of the early Church, as revealed in her doctrine, worship and practice, might provide compelling evidence of what the Apostles had actually taught their Christian communities.

But this didn’t happen.

I began by looking at the key passage on the topic in St. Paul’s writings: 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. Not only did I find nothing there that contradicted the “miraculous meal” conception of the early Church, there was at least one passage that seemed to lend positive support to the notion. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, where the Apostle draws a direct line between the Eucharist and the supernatural food and drink provided the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness.

Although Paul’s message to the believers in Corinth is implied, it is nevertheless quite clear: The Israelites were baptized into Moses and received supernatural food and drink from God and yet did not make it to the Promised Land. You Corinthian Christians need to beware. You likewise may have been baptized into Jesus Christ. You may have received your own supernatural food and drink (the Eucharist!), but none of this guarantees that you will inherit the Promised Land of heaven if you choose to imitate the Israelites in their unbelief and disobedience.

It seems that when Paul thought about the Lord’s Supper, while he certainly thought about remembering Christ’s death and proclaiming it (1 Cor 11:23-26), he also thought about supernatural food and drink, manna falling from heaven to feed God’s people and water springing up from a rock to quench their thirst.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 4 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“With all of this in mind, I did not feel that I could easily dismiss the witness of the early Church. I could not treat that witness as though it didn’t matter and shouldn’t carry weight in my thinking.

At the same time, I was eager to reexamine the New Testament passages that touched on the Lord’s Supper. Was there anything in the New Testament that might somehow demonstrate that the early Church’s view of the Eucharist, regardless of how long or unanimously it was held, was in error? Was there anything in the New Testament I had not seen before and that might support the early Church’s view?

First Corinthians 10 and 11

The passage that immediately came to mind was 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, the only passage in all the New Testament Epistles where the Lord’s Supper is discussed at some length.

The results were more than interesting.

1. It seemed clear to me that for Paul the Lord’s Supper was about remembering and proclaiming the Lord’s death — a point on which all Christians agree.

No dispute. Paul states this clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given the thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So far, so good.

2. It also seems clear to me that when Paul in 1 Cor 10:16-17 identified the bread and the cup with the body and blood of Christ he was not speaking literally but figuratively.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor 10:16-17).

Now the Greek word translated “participation” here is koinonia. It simply means “to share in” or “to participate in.” When we celebrate the Eucharist, Paul says, we are sharing in the body and blood of Christ.

Because of this, Paul could be saying that when we receive the bread and the cup we are sharing literally in the body and blood of Christ. And while I have come as a Catholic to believe this to be true, I do not believe Paul is saying that in this passage.

If you read further to verses 18-21, Paul compares this “sharing,” this “participation” in Christ with those who might “share” or “participate” in the altars of demons. He does not want his readers, he says, to be “partners with demons” (same Greek word koinonia). He goes on to say “You cannot partake (koinonia) of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Well, since I doubt very much that Paul means that when one eats pagan sacrifices he is consuming literal demons, it makes the most sense to think that what Paul is saying in vs. 16-17 is that when we share in the bread and the cup we are uniting ourselves to Christ, we are expressing our partnership with Christ.

Again, something all Christians believe.

3. But then, it also seemed to me that Paul thought of the Lord’s Supper as as in some sense parallel to the supernatural food and drink with which the Israelites were sustained in the desert.

Now this was something of a revelation to me.

I had read 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 many times. It’s the classic passage where St. Paul uses Old Covenant Israel’s experience in the wilderness as an illustration of what will happen to his New Covenant readers in Corinth — if they allow themselves to fall into sin again and fail to persevere in the obedience of faith.

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things are examples for us, not to desire evil as they did.

Even though the Israelites had been baptized into Moses; even though they were given supernatural food and drink to sustain them in their journey through the wilderness—the manna from heaven, the water from the rock—many of them never made it to the Promised Land.

There’s the example of Old Covenant Israel. OK, so what’s Paul’s message to the believers in Corinth? What is Paul saying to them by raising the illustration of Old Covenant Israel?

Here’s the implied message: “Brothers and sisters, you may have received your own baptism. You may have your own supernatural food and drink. But as with Israel in the wilderness, none of this guarantees that you will make it to the end of your journey—if you follow the example of Israel and fail to persevere in the obedience of faith.”

Here’s what I had not seen before but that now struck me as obvious: In this passage, Paul is drawing a direct parallel between the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, and the miraculous food and drink with which the Lord fed the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings. Paul is implicitly referring to the Eucharist as “supernatural food and drink.”

In other words, when the Apostle Paul thought about the Lord’s Supper, he didn’t just think about remembering our Lord’s death and proclaiming it. Images also came to his mind of water springing up from rocks and manna falling down from heaven. When Paul thought about the Eucharist he thought about supernatural food and drink given to sustain the New Covenant people of God on their journey through the wilderness of this world to the Promised Land of the Beatific Vision.

Paul seems to have thought of the Eucharist as supernatural food and drink.

4. Finally, I had to admit that what Paul goes on to say about the danger of receiving the Eucharist unworthily seemed somewhat at least strange—if he believed that the Lord’s Supper was nothing more than a simple meal by which we remember our Lord’s death.

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 anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged (1 Cor 11:27-31).

To receive unworthily is to profane the body and blood of the Lord?

It is to drink judgment on oneself?

One can become weak and ill and even die by receiving the Lord’s Supper unworthily?

Again, in biblical interpretation, it’s always possible to say, “Well, I think he just means…” and then go on to explain what the inspired author “just means.” But it sure seemed to me like Paul viewed Christ’s body and blood as being somehow truly present and received in the Eucharist.

It sure seemed to me like Paul viewed the Eucharist as something more than a merely symbolic meal of remembrance.

Conclusion

I left chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians with three main thoughts in mind:

1. Nothing Paul says in this passage “proves” or “demonstrates conclusively” the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I don’t believe one could demonstrate the doctrine from 1 Cor 10 and 11.

2. At the same time, Paul says nothing in these chapters that is not entirely consistent with the doctrine of the Real Presence and a few things in 1 Cor 1:1-6 and 11:27-31 that make a great of sense on the premise that he took the Eucharist to be more than a simple meal of remembrance. So while the Real Presence can’t be proved, it fits.

3. Finally, the question of how to weight the evidence from the early Church. Given that Paul doesn’t spell out a “doctrine of the Eucharist” anywhere in his writings, if the early Church believed and taught the Real Presence, and if what Paul says is consistent with the Real Presence, upon what exactly would I stand to reject that belief and teaching?

The mere possibility that this isn’t what Paul meant?’

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 3 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

If I had wanted to remain a Baptist pastor, I should never have read the brilliant Anglican convert John Henry Newman.

It was Newman who in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine famously said, “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” He insisted that it was “easy” to show that the early Church was not Protestant. He went so far as to assert that if the system of doctrine I held as a Baptist minister had ever existed in the earliest centuries of Christian history, it has been swept from the historical record as if by a flood. There is simply no evidence of it.

A single quotation from St. Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D., sums up what seems to have been the universal teaching of Christianity, in both the East and the West, for the first fifteen hundred years of Christian history.

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

From History to Scripture

How does a Christian who has always viewed the Lord’s Supper as a simple symbolic meal of remembrance respond to this challenge?

A good number have ingrained into them so deeply the conviction that “nothing really matters except what the New Testament teaches” that they don’t care what the early Church believed.

Assuming that they know pretty well what the New Testament teaches on the topic, the idea that the Church might have held—even for the first fifteen hundred years of it’s existence—a view of the Eucharist that was in all essentials Catholic, doesn’t rattle them enough to make them even want to find out if it’s true.

I wasn’t able to respond like this.

First, I had spent years and years in academic study of the New Testament writings. I had preached verse by verse through a number of New Testament books, working directly from the Greek text. I knew enough about the New Testament to know that it is not even close to being a “manual of Christian doctrine.”

If it was a manual of Christian doctrine, we wouldn’t have so many contradictory opinions on so many doctrinal issues among Christians who all believe they are following the clear teaching of Scripture.

The ministry of the Apostles was primarily one of evangelizing, making disciples, establishing churches and teaching those churches the doctrines of the faith. Instructing them.

When the Apostles wrote, most of the time they wrote to deal with specific problems that had arisen in specific churches. They didn’t write to summarize Christian doctrine and with rare exceptions, they don’t summarize Christian doctrine.

I knew this. And I knew enough about the contents of the New Testament to suspect that there was no passage to which I was going to be able to point to say, “Here it is! Proof that the early Church’s belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is unbiblical!”

Second, with respect to the value of early Church history, it seemed reasonable to me to think that even as the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in their writings, so would their teaching be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church.

Would not the faith and practice of the early Church, I asked myself, be a good indicator of what the Apostles had taught – especially in a case like this where the Church’s belief and practice seemed unanimous and was evidenced very early in the Church’s history?

This seemed reasonable to me.

It did not seem reasonable to think that the apostles would teach one thing and the entire Church turn around and immediately teach another.

Third, what seemed reasonable to me clearly seemed reasonable to the early Church as well.

St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: the witness of the Fathers, Part 2 of 9


-Christ & Church Fathers, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Ken Hensley

“One of the earliest post-apostolic writers is St. Ignatius, bishop of the Church in Antioch and personal disciple of John the Apostle. 

Late in his life (107-110 A.D.) Ignatius was condemned to death in the arena in Rome. He was to be fed alive to wild beasts. On his way from Antioch to Rome, he wrote letters to seven churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), many of the same churches St. John wrote to in the Apocalypse.

In his letter to the Church in Smyrna, Ignatius mentions a certain group he clearly conceives as being outside the fellowship of the Church. This is how he describes them: 

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ, which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond or of the free; of the hungry or of the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which was offered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6-7).

This was the first time I remember hearing the Eucharist described as “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.” And I was hearing it in a pastoral letter, written by a man who learned his Christian doctrine from John the Apostle himself, written by a man on is way to die for that faith.

In the same letter, St. Ignatius refers to the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality.” The medicine of immortality. 

What could I say? Clearly, this was language that would never have entered my mind to use to describe the Lord’s Supper. Whether Ignatius was right in his view or had already departed from the teaching of the Bible into “magical” Catholic ways of thinking, it was beyond dispute that this early bishop and martyr held a view of the Eucharist very different from mine.

*****

I read on and came to St. Justin Martyr, the first of the great Christian apologists. Writing around 150 A.D., he also described the Eucharist, and in terms similar to those of St. Ignatius: 

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

To this Baptist minister, there were nearly as many strange ideas as words in this passage. Food that is “made” into the Eucharist? Food that is made into the Eucharist “by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him”? Food that by the change of which” our blood and flesh is “nurtured”? 

A prayer that “changes” bread and wine and “makes” it into the Eucharist? Never had I heard anyone speak about the Lord’s Supper as these two early witnesses did — except of course my old friend who had become Catholic.

*****

I read on and came to St. Irenaeus, bishop of the Church in Lyon and the first great biblical theologian. Writing around A.D. 180, he described the Eucharist in these terms: 

Just as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist consisting of two things, the earthly and the heavenly, so our bodies, receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection to eternal life (Against Heresies, IV. 18).

*****

I read on and came to Tertullian. Writing around A.D. 210, he describes what is happening in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, he says, “the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ that the soul likewise may be filled with God” (Resurrection of the Flesh, 8).

I read on and came to Cyril of Jerusalem. Around 350 A.D he wrote in his Catechetical Lectures: 

[A]s the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Trinity… [are] simply bread and wine, after the invocation the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ (19;7).

The problem for me was not that I could find a few references like these scattered over the first four centuries of Christian history. The problem was that I found I could continue multiplying quotations like these from virtually everyone writing in those early centuries!

St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Hippolytus of Rome, Origin of Alexandria, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Hippo, and many, many more. It wasn’t just some of these early bishops and theologians and apologists that used this kind of language when speaking of the Eucharist. All of them did!

They all seemed to believe that when the words of consecration were spoken over the bread and the wine, these elements were changed. They all seemed to believe that some kind of miracle took place and that what was received in communion was no longer simple bread and wine but in some way, unknown to me, the body and blood of Christ. 

As far as I could tell, there was no evidence of any period of early Christian history in which the Church believed what I believed about the Lord’s Supper.

From History Back to Scripture

The questions that ran through my mind at this point were these: 

If the apostles taught that the Lord’s Supper was a simple meal of remembrance involving bread and wine as symbol, how could the early Church have gotten so far off, and so quickly, and so universally? 

How is it that Christian bishops and theologians living in different centuries and scattered all over the then-known world all speak in such similar ways? 

And if all of this is evidence of a grand departure from the teaching of the New Testament, how is it there no evidence anywhere of anyone saying this? Why is there no one raising his voice to complain? “Listen, brothers, this not what the apostles taught!” One can find plenty of evidence of other disputes in the early Church. Why not on this issue?

My instinct as a Protestant committed to sola scriptura was to respond to these questions as many others have responded: 

Who cares? Who cares what the early Church believed and taught about the Lord’s Supper? In the end, all that really matters is what the Bible teaches. As for Ignatius and Justin and Irenaeus and Ambrose and Augustine and the rest, Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” 

On the other hand, was it possible that there was more support for the teaching of the early Church in the Bible than I knew? How certain was I that the doctrine of the Real Presence was unbiblical?”

Love,
Matthew