May 23, 2013

Evangelicals & the Eucharist (Part 1)

by Nathan Busenitz

Over the past few weeks, I have received no less than three inquiries regarding the early church’s celebration of the Lord’s Table and its implications for the evangelical church today. Two of these inquiries have come from Roman Catholics, each of whom has suggested that the Roman Catholic practice of transubstantiation best represents the way the Lord’s Table was observed in the first few centuries of church  history.

This two-part post is intended to provide an initial response to such assertions.


The word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and was an early Christian way of referring to the celebration of the Lord’s Table. Believers in the early centuries of church history regularly celebrated the Lord’s Table as a way to commemorate the death of Christ. The Lord Himself commanded this observance on the night before His death. As the apostle Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also 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.

In discussing the Lord’s Table from the perspective of church history, at least two important questions arise. First, did the early church believe that the elements (the bread and the cup) were actually and literally transformed into the physical body and blood of Christ? In other words, did they articulate the doctrine of transubstantiation as modern Roman Catholics do? Second, did early Christians view the eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice? Or put another way, did they view it in the terms articulated by the sixteenth-century Council of Trent?

In today’s post, we will address the first of those two questions.

Did the Early Church Fathers Hold to Transubstantiation?

Transubstantiation is the Roman Catholic teaching that in the eucharist, the bread and the cup are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ. Here are several quotes from the church fathers, often cited by Roman Catholics, in defense of their claim that the early church embraced transubstantiation.

Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 110): “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God.   . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1).

Irenaeus (d. 202): “He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood” (Against Heresies, 4:17:5).

Irenaeus again: “He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” (Against Heresies, 5:2).

Tertullian (160–225): “[T]he flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may be filled with God” (The Resurrection of the Dead).

Origen (182–254): “Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’” (Homilies on Numbers, 7:2).

Augustine (354–430): “I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s Table. . . . That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Sermons 227).

How should we think about such statements?

Obviously, there is no disputing the fact that the patristic authors made statements like, “The bread is the body of Christ” and “The cup is the blood of Christ.” But there is a question of exactly what they meant when they used that language. After all, the Lord Himself said, “This is My body” and “This is My blood.” So it is not surprising that the early fathers echoed those very words.

But what did they mean when they used the language of Christ to describe the Lord’s Table? Did they intend the elements to be viewed as Christ’s literal flesh and blood? Or did they see the elements as symbols and figures of those physical realities?

In answering such questions, at least two things ought to be kept in mind:

* * * * *

1. We ought to interpret the church fathers’ statements within their historical context.

Such is especially true with regard to the quotes cited above from Ignatius and Irenaeus. During their ministries, both men found themselves contending against the theological error of docetism (a component of Gnostic teaching), which taught that all matter was evil. Consequently, docetism denied that Jesus possessed a real physical body. It was against this false teaching that the apostle John declared, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).

In order to combat the false notions of docetism, Ignatius and Irenaeus echoed the language Christ used at the Last Supper (paraphrasing His words, “This is My body” and “This is My blood”). Such provided a highly effective argument against docetic heresies, since our Lord’s words underscore the fact that He possessed a real, physical body.

A generation after Irenaeus, Tertullian (160–225) used the same arguments against the Gnostic heretic Marcion. However, Tertullian provided more information into how the eucharistic elements ought to be understood. Tertullian wrote:

“Having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, Jesus made it His own body, by saying, ‘This is My body,’ that is, the symbol of My body. There could not have been a symbol, however, unless there was first a true body. An empty thing or phantom is incapable of a symbol. He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new covenant to be sealed ‘in His blood,’ affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body that is not a body of flesh” (Against Marcion, 4.40).

Tertullian’s explanation could not be clearer. On the one hand, he based his argument against Gnostic docetism on the words of Christ, “This is My body.” On the other hand, Tertullian recognized that the elements themselves ought to be understood as symbols which represent the reality of Christ’s physical body. Because of the reality they represented, they provided a compelling refutation of docetic error.

Based on Tertullian’s explanation, we have good reason to view the words of Ignatius and Irenaeus in that same light.

* * * * *

2. We ought to allow the church fathers to clarify their understanding of the Lord’s Table.

We have already seen how Tertullian clarified his understanding of the Lord’s Table by noting that the bread and the cup were symbols of Christ’s body and blood. In that same vein, we find that many of the church fathers similarly clarified their understanding of the eucharist by describing it in symbolic and spiritual terms.

At times, they echoed the language of Christ (e.g. “This is My body” and “This is My blood”) when describing the Lord’s Table. Yet, in other places, it becomes clear that they intended this language to be ultimately understood in spiritual and symbolic terms. Here are a number of examples that demonstrate this point:

The Didache, written in the late-first or early-second century, referred to the elements of the Lord’s table as “spiritual food and drink” (The Didache, 9). The long passage detailing the Lord’s Table in this early Christian document gives no hint of transubstantiation whatsoever.

Justin Martyr (110–165) spoke of “the bread which our Christ gave us to offer in remembrance of the Body which He assumed for the sake of those who believe in Him, for whom He also suffered, and also to the cup which He taught us to offer in the Eucharist, in commemoration of His blood(Dialogue with Trypho, 70).

Clement of Alexandria explained that, “The Scripture, accordingly, has named wine the symbol of the sacred blood” (The Instructor, 2.2).

Origen similarly noted, “We have a symbol of gratitude to God in the bread which we call the Eucharist” (Against Celsus, 8.57).

Cyprian (200–258), who sometimes described the eucharist using very literal language, spoke against any who might use mere water for their celebration of the Lord’s Table. In condemning such practices, he explained that the cup of the Lord is a representation of the blood of Christ: “I marvel much whence this practice has arisen, that in some places, contrary to Evangelical and Apostolic discipline, water is offered in the Cup of the Lord, which alone cannot represent the Blood of Christ” (Epistle 63.7).

Eusebius of Caesarea (263–340) espoused a symbolic view in his Proof of the Gospel:

For with the wine which was indeed the symbol of His blood, He cleanses them that are baptized into His death, and believe on His blood, of their old sins, washing them away and purifying their old garments and vesture, so that they, ransomed by the precious blood of the divine spiritual grapes, and with the wine from this vine, “put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man which is renewed into knowledge in the image of Him that created him.” . . . He gave to His disciples, when He said, “Take, drink; this is my blood that is shed for you for the remission of sins: this do in remembrance of me.” And, “His teeth are white as milk,” show the brightness and purity of the sacramental food. For again, He gave Himself the symbols of His divine dispensation to His disciples, when He bade them make the likeness of His own Body. For since He no more was to take pleasure in bloody sacrifices, or those ordained by Moses in the slaughter of animals of various kinds, and was to give them bread to use as the symbol of His Body, He taught the purity and brightness of such food by saying, “And his teeth are white as milk” (Demonstratia Evangelica, 8.1.76–80).

Athanasius (296–373) similarly contended that the elements of the Eucharist are to be understood spiritually, not physically: “[W]hat He says is not fleshly but spiritual. For how many would the body suffice for eating, that it should become the food for the whole world? But for this reason He made mention of the ascension of the Son of Man into heaven, in order that He might draw them away from the bodily notion, and that from henceforth they might learn that the aforesaid flesh was heavenly eating from above and spiritual food given by Him.” (Festal Letter, 4.19)

Augustine (354–430), also, clarified that the Lord’s Table was to be understood in spiritual terms: “Understand spiritually what I said; you are not to eat this body which you see; nor to drink that blood which they who will crucify me shall pour forth. . . . Although it is needful that this be visibly celebrated, yet it must be spiritually understood” (Exposition of the Psalms, 99.8).

He also explained the eucharistic elements as symbols. Speaking of Christ, Augustine noted: “He committed and delivered to His disciples the figure [or symbol] of His Body and Blood.” (Exposition of the Psalms, 3.1).

And in another place, quoting the Lord Jesus, Augustine further explained: “‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,’ says Christ, ‘and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.’ This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure [or symbol], enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us (On Christian Doctrine, 3.16.24).

A number of similar quotations from the church fathers could be given to make the point that—at least for many of the fathers—the elements of the eucharist were ultimately understood in symbolic or spiritual terms. In other words, they did not hold to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

To be sure, they often reiterated the language of Christ when He said, “This is My body” and “This is My blood.” They especially used such language in defending the reality of His incarnation against Gnostic, docetic heretics who denied the reality of Christ’s physical body.

At the same time, however, they clarified their understanding of the Lord’s Table by further explaining that they ultimately recognized the elements of the Lord’s Table to be symbols—figures which represented and commemorated the physical reality of our Lord’s body and blood.

Next week, in part 2, we will consider whether or not the church fathers regarded the Lord’s Table as a propiatory sacrifice (as the Council of Trent defines it) or as simply a memorial offering of thanksgiving.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • JeffCamp

    Thanks for the post, Nathan! I think it is always interesting to discuss the early church with Catholics. So many times, it seems as if the fathers say one thing, but mean something else in context. This is especially true with the early church’s view of tradition, when the words “apostolic tradition” are often skewed to mean another infallible source of revelation. Hopefully, with a clear understanding of terms, we as evangelicals can come to have honest responses about the early church. Also, I think it is so important for us to know and understand the historicity of the reformation principles; something Luther and Calvin did not neglect to do.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Jeff,
      Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right about the way in which “apostolic tradition” gets skewed and distorted.
      Also, I appreciate your emphasis on the historicity of reformation principles. Those principles did not originate in the 16th century. They go all the way back, through the early church, to the apostles themselves.

    • gerald

      The problem is not Cathoilc use of terms the problem is protestant understanding. “the fathers say one thing but mean something else?”. Read that again….The Apostolic fathers are not considered another separate source but intimiately in union with scripture in Catholicism. Further what I see in articles like this and the previous one about sola scriptura is that a birds eye view is not taken but certain passages are taken as meaning that the fathers could not have believe multiple things about a passage. Ie.. some are quoted as saying that Jesus is the rock of Mt. 16:18 or that Peter’s faith is the rock. Were they disagreeing? No. The human tendancy is to interpret such things as either/or but in Catholicism we see things more as both/and. Thus I have seen Fathers such as Augustine and Tertullian interpret the passage in several ways and include Peter as an interpretation.

      Catholicism believes in multiple senses of scripture, There is a literal sense, a metaphorical sense, a moral sense, and a futuristic/prophetic sense at least. The literal is first but the others can be seen as well. Thus scripture is not a one dimensional letter 2000 years ago.

      I do find it intersting that you speak of Apostolic tradition being another source…… Read 2 Thes 2:15 CAREFULLY. There is actually only one source and that source is TRADITION. “Hold fast to the TRADITIONS you have received, whether by WORD OF MOUTH or in WRITING from us”. The source of the Word of God for the Church is the Oral and Written Traditions of the Apostles and Prophets of the OT. All is TRADITION, even scripture. HOLD FAST means that both forms of TRADITION have authority. Only a few apostles wrote anything. The rest no less spoke.

      God bless.

      • JeffCamp

        I understand where you are coming from, Gerald (the whole concept of God’s word encapsulating both oral and written form).I think we need to understand how Roman Catholicism defines this tradition, which is a much longer task. As Protestants, we believe that the truths of God
        are found in tradition as well, but that does not mean we view tradition as an infallible source of authority.

        The ultimate question is one of revelation.Is there still normative, special revelation from God to the church, or has such revelation ceased with the apostles? The bible is clear, and the early church understood, that such revelation had ceased. All of doctrine must be based upon the teaching of the apostles (eph 2:20, Jude 1:3). Now if you want to make a case that there are teachings that are not contained in the bible which the apostles taught, and the Roman Catholic Church teaches today, then you are welcome to try (assumption of Mary, immaculate conception of mary, papal infallibility).

        However, the early church understood that the canon of scripture was sufficient for doctrine, which is why the battles against the early heretics were primarily exegetical”. Of course, the early fathers were not infallible themselves, so we should not be surprised if they sometimes taught things that scripture didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that they subordinated the authority of scripture to that of the Church, or elevated the authority of the church separate from scripture.

        • gerald

          “The ultimate question is one of revelation.Is there still normative, special revelation from God to the church, or has such revelation ceased with the apostles?”

          This is not a question at all for Catholicism vs. protestantism. We agree that there is no new revelation!
          This statement simply shows that you don’t understand Catholicism. It is a straw man. We don’t believe there are new revelations to the Church. What we believe is that the Church is guided in it’s discernment of what has been revealed.

          The scritpures are not subordinated to the Church. Nor is the Church subordinated to the scriptures. Again it is not either or.

        • gerald

          “As for these doctrines that you clNow if you want to make a case that there are teachings that are not contained in the bible which the apostles taught, and the Roman Catholic Church teaches today, then you are welcome to try (assumption of Mary, immaculate conception of mary, papal infallibility).aim ”

          This is another straw man. The issue is not whether or not these teachings are found in the Bible. The problem is what is and isn’t explicit in the bible. I can see evidence of EVERY ONE of these doctrines in the Bible. You of course will not accept how I defend them. Why won’t you? Because they are not explicit and so human desires to have what we believe to be right comes in to play. This is the problem with sola scriptura. I say “faith alone” is not explicitly in the Bible. If it were then the words “faith alone” would be in the scirptures. That would be explicit. Anything less raises the level of implicitness. That the word faith is used over 300 times in the NT and only once is it paired with the word alone adds to my point. It is simply not explicit. In fact that one time seems to contradict the protestant notion. Of course we can have that debate but the debate seems to me only proves the point.

        • gerald

          Everyone in protestantism/bible alone wants to think that their doctrines are explicit in scripture. Then why are there such a wide variety of them on every single issue? There are 10 different views of baptism, free will/vs predestination (which can actually be reconciled in a Catholic perspective), preterism, partial preterism, futurism, post trib, pre-trib, no trib, amil, etc. etc.. But somehow the scriptures are supposed to settle all of this?

        • gerald

          “As Protestants, we believe that the truths of God
          are found in tradition as well, but that does not mean we view tradition as an infallible source of authority.”

          This statement also implies some common belief among protestants as if they could all put the same sign over the door and all be one big happy family. But in fact there is a wide range of beliefs in this area in reality and in my experience on the internet. People sounding just as protestant as you will not accept any tradition at all. The NIV Bible in 2 Thes 2:15 actually admits in it’s footnotes that the proper translation of pardosis is tradition but because of the negative implications of the word in protestant circles they changed it to teaching.

  • Jordan S.

    This is very helpful, thank you. It’s funny how the most helpful articles are the least commented and read. Maybe you should have put Tebow’s picture on the top of this page.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks Jordan. Hopefully this will prove useful in your discussions with those in RC circles.

  • Pingback: Evangelicals & the Eucharist (Part 1) | Truth2Freedom's Blog()

  • Thanks so much for this post! As Jordan noted, it’s unfortunate more people don’t see how wide reaching this controversy really is. I regularly point Catholics I have conversations with to some of your articles on here regarding the church fathers. Catholics don’t know how to respond to seeing the church fathers in context. We can only hope that this might challenge some to reconsider what they have been taught and humbly take a fresh look at the gospel. In this conversation it can also be helpful to note the parallels between verse 40 (literal) and verse 54 (figurative) in John 6. Thanks again!

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Thanks Jason! Your ministry is so helpful in reaching out to Roman Catholics. For those who don’t know about it:

    • gerald

      It is interesting that protestants think the Fathers were protestants like them. Yet if that were the case why the explosion of denominations at the reformation. Before that time there were Catholics and Orthodox, a few small offshoots such as the coptics who interestingly enough prove the Catholic point on the Eucharist because they clearly trace back to the early centuries and their doctrines on the Lords Supper are VERY CATHOLIC. What caused the explosion of denominations in the 16th century if everyone was operating on sola scriptura before that or if there was a significant body of people who believed it?

  • Nate_Busenitz

    A Roman Catholic responded to my post from last week (about sola Scriptura) with two additional quotes from the church fathers regarding the eucharist. Here they are:

    * * *

    Cyril of Jerusalem: “Therefore with fullest assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mightest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, (we become partaker of the divine nature.)” – Catechetical Lectures [22 (Mystagogic 4), 3]

    * * *

    Athanasius: “You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘And again:’ Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine – and thus His Body is confected.” – “Sermon to the Newly Baptized”

    * * *

    Both of those citations are helpful because they actually support the point of this article. Cyril refers to the bread as a “figure” (symbol). He does the same in reference to the cup. Reformed evangelicals would agree that the bread and the cup are symbols that represent the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.

    Athanasius speaks of the elements in terms of terms of the SPIRITUAL presence of Christ (as opposed to the PHYSICAL presence taught in transubstantiation). This, in fact, is similar to how John Calvin understood the Lord’s Table.

    When read carefully, neither of these quotes supports the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

    • gerald

      In this post you demonstrate my main point. Catholicism DOES NOT say there are not symbolic facets or spiritual facets to the Eucharist. Funny that you have to use one protestant reformer to show one thing and another to show another but if you look at Fathers such as Augustine you find that their writings support multiple perspectives. That is because the Eucharist is not one dimensional. THis is why protestants can get it wrong on the fathers and still think they are right. They view them from an either/or perspective. Oh he uses the word figure here, thus it is not what you think. You have to take a birds eye view of the fathers. They are quite Catholic.

    • gerald

      The perspective that you are missing in Catholic theology that makes Cyril’s statement consistent with our thinking is that “THE BREAD” after the consecration IS A FIGURE, where it used to be reality. Thus as the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article points out, the statement of tertullian in a similar fashion cannot be taken as discrediting real prescence/transubstantiation. Sorry.

  • disqus_mRkKHYPNdm

    “This is atrocious. None of us has ever seen anyone butcher the Church Fathers as Mr. Busenitz does in this article. Obviously there is no consistency in the hermeneutical principles he applies to the passages he quotes. Rather than “revealing” the context”, he manipulates the texts. This is a clear case of how “ideology” can blind a person and lead him to trample with academic rigor. This article is a crime against academic honesty committed in plain view: “would-be-academia become crippled.” And we are not speaking in a symbolic or figurative way!”
    Dr. L. Hernandez
    Dr. Panagiotis Manietis

    • JeffCamp

      would you care to explain how?

    • gerald

      Agreed. It is proof texting of the Fathers from an either/or perspective rather than the Catholic view of both/and. This is why protestants can distort the fathers and see them as supporting their opinion and see them as divided on maters. Thus while the Fathers spoke in a figurative way of the Eucharist, and spoke of it as spiritual food, as to which any Catholic should say amen, so they spoke of it in a literal manner that cannot be denied. Thus one Father can speak in multiple ways of these great mysteries and this is what betrays protestants.

      • JeffCamp

        Just for clarification, Gerald, in what way can a modern catholic see the eucharist of symbolic or figuarative?

        We as protestants could easily turn that around and say “yes, we believe that the eucharist is Christ’s blood and body”. We affirm it every Sunday. But we would never mean it in a literal sense even though we use literal language (bread=body). This is why other times we clarify by calling them symbols. That is why we have an easier time with the church fathers. How can you look at when they say it is symbolic, or in a spiritual sense as oppose the fleshly, and they enforce a literal interpretation?

        • gerald

          ” How can you look at when they say it is symbolic, or in a spiritual sense as oppose the fleshly, and they enforce a literal interpretation?”

          You need to reread my post just above the one disqus_mRkKHYPNdm wrote. Then try again. There is all kinds of sybolic/figurative meaning in the Lord’s Supper whether you believe it to be literal or not. The accidents of bread and wine are still there. They are figures when once they were reality. The represent the grains of wheat or the grapes being crushed and molded in to Christ’s body. In to his image and likeness. Thus there is all kinds of figurative meaning. Being fed by God is another meaning. It all ties in to the mana from heaven, the pascal lamb, etc. etc…. You believe that God just gave us another symbol. Jesus didn’t need another symbol at the last supper. The symbols of the old testament pointed to the realities of the new.

          You speak as if there is some sort of agreement on the Eucharist in protestantism that it is only symbolic. Or only spiritual. The reality is there is a wide range of understandings. From Zwingli’s symbolic to Calvin’s spiritual to Luther’s consubstantiation, in through and around whatever that means, to some lutherans and the anglicants who hold a real prescence view that is close to and consistent with the Catholic view, and more like what is really found if you take a birds eye view of the Church Fathers.

        • gerald

          The explanations of the Catholic Encyclopedia and my explanation above on the Cyril Quote should prove helpful in your understanding of what I said.

  • Tim Jennings

    Thanks for your work. This is just a general comment. Your names appear in the blog, but not in the email. Could you find a way to attach your names to the emails as well? Thanks.

  • OK. Time for a public service announcement.

    The topic of the post is the Church Fathers on the Lord’s Table and whether or not they supported a Roman Catholic understanding of the “Eucharist.”

    We are not debating every aspect of Roman Catholic theology. We are not debating sola Scriptura and the role of tradition. That was last week. We are not discussing whether disagreements on points of doctrine within the Protestant system undermines any sort of Protestant unity, nor, if such unity were undermined, whether or not that would be an adequate test of orthodoxy. Some such off-topic comments speaking have been deleted.

    If you have a problem with the way the Fathers were handled in the post, thinking them to be taken out of context, for example, do the hard work of providing the context and demonstrate the error. Barking about how terribly they were handled without handling them yourself is all heat with no light.
    Going forward, on-topic comments will include the Church Fathers’ understanding of the Lord’s Supper. Off-topic comments will be deleted.
    We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

  • gerald

    “tertullian’s words could not be clearer”.

    This from the Catholic encyclopedia – you are correct – they could not be clearer.

    Tertullian’s doctrine of the Holy Eucharist has been much discussed, especially the words: “Acceptum panem et distributum discipulis corpus suum illum fecit, hoc est corpus meum dicendo, id est, figura corporis mei”. A consideration of the context shows only one interpretation to be possible. Tertullian is proving that Our Lord Himself explained bread in Jeremiah 11:19 (mittamus lignum in panem ejus) to refer to His Body, when He said, “This is My Body”, that is, that bread was the symbol of His Body. Nothing can be elicited either for or against the Real Presence; for Tertullian does not explain whether the bread is the symbol of the Body present or absent. The context suggests the former meaning.

    “Based on Tertullian’s explanation, we have good reason to view the words of Ignatius and Irenaeus in that same light.”

    Seems the reason isn’t as good as anticipated or at least there are other alternative views from yours that seem just as contextually and historically valid. In light of the broader history I don’t think that yours is as strong.

    • Nate_Busenitz

      Hi Gerald,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize that I haven’t been able to interact sooner with you regarding Tertullian’s quote.

      As you might expect, I do not find the Catholic Encyclopedia’s conclusion to be convincing. Nonetheless, I am glad that they concur that Tertullian is referring to the bread as a *symbol* of Christ’s body. I have read other Catholic authors too, who have concurred that the word “symbol” is the appropriate translation for Tertullian’s use of the Latin word “figura” in this section.

      Here is the larger context of Tertullian’s quote (from Against Marcion 4.40):


      When [Christ] so earnestly expressed His desire to eat the passover, He considered it His own feast; for it would have been unworthy of God to desire to partake of what was not His own. Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is My body,” that is, the symbol of My body. A symbol, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a symbol. If, however, (as Marcion might say,) He pretended the bread was His body, because He lacked the truth of bodily substance, it follows that He must have given bread for us. It would contribute very well to the support of Marcion’s theory of a phantom body, that bread should have been crucified! But why call His body bread, and not rather (some other edible thing, say) a melon, which Marcion must have had in lieu of a heart! He did not understand how ancient was this symbol of the body of Christ, who said Himself by Jeremiah: “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter, and I knew not that they devised a device against me, saying, Let us cast the tree upon His bread,” which means, of course, the cross upon His body. And thus, casting light, as He always did, upon the ancient prophecies, He declared plainly enough what He meant by the bread, when He called the bread His own body. He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new testament to be sealed “in His blood,” affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body which is not a body of flesh. If any sort of body were presented to our view, which is not one of flesh, not being fleshly, it would not possess blood.


      As these additional lines of evidence show, Tertullian was specifically refuting Marcion’s docetic teachings—namely, the idea that Jesus did not possess a real body, but only a phantom body. Like Ignatius and Irenaeus before Him, Tertullian found Christ’s words at the Last Supper to be an effective refutation of Marcion’s error. Because the contexts are so similar (in that Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Tertullian were all refuting the docetic errors of Gnosticism), I believe their appeals to the Lord’s Table should be understood in generally the same way.

      While it is true, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, that Tertullian looked back to the prophecies of Jeremiah, that fact does not overturn the force of his use of the word “symbol.” Rather, it demonstrates that Tertullian saw the symbolism inherent in the bread and the wine as being rooted, not only in the words of Jesus but even going back to the Old Testament.

      The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that “nothing can be elicited either for or against the Real Presence” from Tertullian’s statements. Obviously, I do not agree. Tertullian quotes the words of Christ from the Last Supper: “This is My body.” He then continues by explaining his understanding of what those words mean: “That is, the symbol of My body.” That is precisely how evangelical Christians today understand the elements in the Lord’s Supper—as symbols that represent the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Thank you again for your comment. If you would like to see an even larger context of Tertullian’s statements, you can find both the Latin and English texts at CCEL:

      As a final note, I should add that my time this weekend is somewhat limited. So I apologize, in advance, if I am unable to interact with every comment. Nonetheless, I do hope this will be a profitable discussion, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.


      • gerald

        The mistake you continue to make in trying to convince Catholics they are in error is that when Jesus held the bread up it was bread and bread is a symbol of our Lord. If you are going to convert Catholics do it with honesty, knowing what they believe and making arguments that are correct. The Catholic Encyclopedia is correct from a Catholic perspective and that is the perspective that matters in discussing with Catholics what is wrong with what they believe. The C.E. knows better than you. Your point on Doceitism ONLY PROVES the point. Tertullian would have no reason to be arguing the nature of the elements AFTER the consecration when he can’t even get them to agree that Christ had a body.

        • Mike

          If Jesus meant that the bread was literally Himself at the supper that would mean that Jesus has another 2 natures that need to be added to His humanity and divinity. Secondly, there is no indication at the supper that the disciples believed that He was now a piece of bread. The third problem you have is that the bread and wine that has supposedly been changed at mass has no characteristics of deity.

          • gerald

            What characteristics of diety could be perceived when Jesus lay in the manger? That you cannot perceive diety does not mean God is not there.

            What would you expect the apostles to say that they had not said in John 6 when they did take Jesus literally and even walked away and he did not call them back. Peter assented to what Jesus was saying there. The literal version. So why would he need to again in Mt. 26?

            The two natures is silly. We do not claim it is bread any more so what is the other nature he would need?

          • Mike

            We know Jesus demonstrated He was God by the works He did. The disciples could see and hear what He did. Since you are claiming that the bread is Christ we should expect to see some evidence for this claim in the bread itself. What are the characteristics that we should look for in the bread being Christ?

            John 6 is not about the supper. Its never referenced in any supper accounts. Note also that there is no promise of eternal life for those who eat the Lord’s supper.

            We have no reason to think that the disciples understood Jesus to be in the bread by their reactions.

            I agree that it would be silly to have 2 other natures of bread and wine. We would though have to accept this if Jesus had also the nature of bread and wine.

          • gerald

            John 6 has nothing to do with Matt 26? Really? Every heard of parallels as a literary type? John 6 and Mt. 26 are very closely tied together such that it is clear that John and Mt. new it. For instance, both ocured around the passover. In John 6 Jesus points forward to Matt 26 when he says “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. In John 6 Judas is implicated. In mt. 26 he is exposed. In John 6 Jesus says “my flesh is true food…My blood is true drink” in mt 26 he says “this IS my body..this IS my blood.”.. More I could say if I sat down with my bible but this is just a quick post off the top of my head. So that you don’t see the two passages as closely related says a lot about you.

          • gerald

            “We have no reason to think that the disciples understood Jesus to be in the bread by their reactions.”

            Ah, the good old argument from silence. Man if someone would have only added the word alone to the word faith in the 300 or so times it is used in the Bible then that whole argument would be settled. But they didn’t so protestants like luther (who everyone admits corrupted the Bible in Rom 3:28) think the bible and Paul needed correction and clarfication, despite James using in in a contradictory fashion to their doctrine. But I am sure you will miss my point here as it relates to your quote.

          • Mike

            One of the significant issues in John 6 is eternal life. The supper accounts are not about eternal life. Jesus never mentions it as being necessary for eternal life.

            The disciples reaction is not really an argument from silence. If they took the literal view as you propose we would expect them to have protested since it would imply cannibalism and the drinking of blood. The metaphorical sense avoids these problems.

            BTW- Luther was not the first to translate faith alone. The Roman Catholic writer Joseph A. Fitzmyer points out that Luther was
            not the only one to translate Romans 3:28 with the word “alone.”

          • DelawareMom

            Gerald, Thank you for defending the real presence so well. All of your arguments are spot on. Good job!

          • DelawareMom

            What are the characteristics we should look for in the bread being Christ? You may find some surprising answers here:

            Did you know that in a blind scientific experiment, the host was examined and found to be human cardiac tissue?

            Here are a few quotes to show that many great saints believed it to be the literal body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ:

            “What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God,
            should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation”
            “…In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.”
            – St. Francis of Assisi

            “Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His Body to His disciples saying: ‘This is My Body.’ No one partakes of this Flesh before he has adored it.”
            – St. Augustine
            No one would adore bread!

          • mike

            Help me out. Are you saying that if you took a communion host and put it under a microscope that we would see some kind of physical change?

            How do you know these miracles are not embellishments or that you are not being tricked?