The Eucharist and the Real Presence

I have never written, nor even attempted to write, a web page on the Eucharist (communion or Lord’s supper) in early Christian history. That is because I find the early Christian statements about the Eucharist to be too loose to provide precise, definitive answers on the ideas that divide Roman Catholics and some Protestants.

It has been very easy to say simply that the early churches—and the apostles—didn’t treat anything they did as “purely symbolic” or as “a public testimony.” Those two ideas are indefensible both Biblically and historically.

Today, though, I found a page—a Catholic page at that—which addresses the Eucharist/communion extremely well.

I was searching for early Eucharistic prayers on the web when I ran across a page called The Real Presence on Catholic.com.

I have more than my share of disagreements and battles with Roman Catholics. Almost all of the offense is because I deny their claim to be the one true church. I have several pages on Christian-history.org refuting their claim that the Roman bishop had papal authority in the early centuries of the church, and I think the horrendous behavior of the Roman hierarchy in medieval times is proof enough that it could not possibly, as an organization, be even “an” authority from God, much less “the” authority. (example)

Nonetheless, as an organization, they do have a lineage going back to the apostles, and their doctrines have evolved over the centuries from some original, apostolic doctrines. The more they have evolved, the less accurate they are, because the original job of the leadership of the Roman church, and every other apostolic church, was to preserve the teaching (also called “tradition”) of the apostles, not improve it (something which cannot be done).

It is unlawful to assert that [the apostles] preached before they had “perfect knowledge,” as some [i.e., gnostics] dare to venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For after our Lord rose from the dead, they were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down, were filled, and had perfect knowledge.
   When we refer them to the tradition which originates from the apostles and which is preserved by means of the succession of elders in the churches, they object to tradition, saying that they are wiser not merely than the elders but even than the apostles!
   … [Irenaeus lists the Roman bishops up till his time here] … In this order and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition of the apostles and the preaching of the truth have come down to us. This is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving faith, which has been preserved in the church from the apostles until now and handed down in truth.
   Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles … but was also appointed bishop [lit. overseer]of the church in Smyrna … When a very old man, gloriously and most notably suffering martyrdom, [he] departed this life, having always taught the things he learned from the apostles and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. … Then, again. the church in Ephesus, founded by Paul and having John remaining among them until the times of Trajan [A.D 98], is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III:1:1 – III:3:4, c. A.D. 185)

The Eucharist is one doctrine that has been taken to extremes in the idea of “Transubstantiation,” but the original tradition of the apostles is still easy to find in Roman Catholic teaching, backed up both by Scripture and by the writings of the earliest Christians.

The Real Presence on Catholic.com is an excellent defense of basic Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. It avoids even discussing the excesses that “transubstantiation” has been taken to. As a result, it is the best short description and defense of apostolic teaching on the Eucharistic meal I have seen.

Transubstantiation

When I mention going overboard on “transubstantiation,” I mean, for example, that one Roman Catholic wrote to tell me that scientific tests have proven that the bread blessed in a Catholic Mass turns into actual human meat. This, of course, is a myth. I’m sure that most Roman Catholics would reject such an idea, and I know that it is not official Roman Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, there are numerous stories from the Reformation Era of Anabaptists who were tortured or put to death for refusing to acknowledge that the bread and wine of the Roman Catholic Eucharist was actual meat and blood. (Martyr’s Mirror preserves a number of interrogations conducted in the 17th century.)

By the sacraments we are made partakers of the divine nature, and yet the substance and nature of bread and wine do not cease to be in them. (“Pope” Gelasius, A.D. 490, as cited by Bingham’s Antiquities, Bk. xv, ch. 5, found in note 1911 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001 reprint]; The note in ANF says A.D. 490, but Gelasius was bishop of Rome from 492-496; I cannot explain the discrepancy.)

“Eucharist”

The word “Eucharist” is from the Greek word Ευχαριστια, which means “thanksgiving.” It is the word most commonly used by the early churches to refer to the communion meal or Lord’s Supper.

And this food is called among us Ευχαριστια, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes the things we teach are true, who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins and for the purpose of regeneration and who is living as Christ has commanded. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but in the same way that Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, we likewise have been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 66, c. A.D. 150)

You’ll find many more quotes and a great summation of early Christian teaching on the Eucharist at Catholic.com.

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13 Responses to The Eucharist and the Real Presence

  1. paulfpavao says:

    I ended up chatting with my wife most of the way. We’re almost to the hospital. I will probaby finish my post before I look at those long videos because I doubt the subject of my post is even addressed in those videos. You’ll understand when you see the post. I will look at the videos, just not today. I’m not addressing the real presence or anything like that because I already did, pretty recently. In fact, I pretty much just linked to a Roman Catholic page on the real presence because it referenced pre-Nicene fathers and accurately quoted them (https://ancient-faith.com/2013/01/05/the-eucharist-and-the-real-presence/). That part was already written, so I didn’t rewrite it.

    Where you and I would disagree most is in who has the authority to consecrate the Eucharist–to use terminology I don’t normally use–and I assure you that the Orthodox are presenting a case that you would agree with on a regular basis to me. They’re not making any headway, though, for reasons I won’t state here. It would start an argument I’ve had too many times already, in person and on line.

    Anyway, that’s a long way of saying, I will look at the videos, but probably not before I get the blog post published.

  2. Ben says:

    Hi Paul,
    I’m still looking forward to your paper on the Lord’s supper. Our various discussions over the weeks notwithstanding, I’m convinced that the subject of the Eucharist is one of the most important for all Christians, and I encourage you to examine it thoroughly (as I know you are so good at doing) from a biblical and historical standpoint. Have you come across these two talks?

    I hope that you are doing well!

    -Ben

    • paulfpavao says:

      Yeah, so is a very close friend of mine. I promised to send him an email Tuesday with my initial thoughts and questions that I sent a couple months ago. My 2-week vacation at the start of July left me with a schedule I can only stand in awe and look at. It is a really good thing that God has been working on my overdoing everything, or I would have tried to take care of my massive to do list in one day. Now I’m bit by bit going, “Priority 2; delegate this; delegate this; nice thought, but this will never happen; priority 1; delegate this; ignore this forever; etc.”

      Today, however, I am very excited about a 6-hour round trip drive to Venderbilt for my bimonthly lookover and tune-up by the hematology oncologists whom God used, among MANY others, to save my life. If you’re ever feeling insecure, get a disease that a horrendous treatment and a 20% survival chance, and you will find good people crawling out of the woodwork like ants, and all ingratefulness you ever had will be crushed under the weight of kindnesses that you can never repay.

      Anyway, your request, and my feelings of guilt about not getting that email to my friend, has moved that paper up to the top of the priority list. I will work on it on the way to Vanderbilt because my incredibly wonderful wife, to whom I owe my life as well as much of my happiness, is going to drive so I can get some relaxation. What better way than to explore the Word of God (everything God said, not just the Bible), the history of his people, and the majesty of his gifts?

      • Ben says:

        Thanks Paul. I can only imagine what it must have been like to endure such a disease and the treatments involved, but I am one of the many people who are glad that you made it through.
        As much as I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject, please don’t rush on my account. Take your time and include the 2 videos in your contemplation, and there should be plenty to discuss (or at least read about) when the time comes.
        My attempt at blogging is typically one of quality rather than quantity, so I can understand necessary delay, and necessary rest in the busy summer months.
        May your travels be safe, and may your appointments be boring 🙂

        -Ben

  3. paulfpavao says:

    I’ve been told that about the 4th cup before, but I have never made it a priority to research the seder (sp?) meal yet. I suspect on that topic, I can just borrow someone else’s research, as I doubt there is much controversy over the facts, just interpretations. So it should be easy to look up and get familiar with. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Ben says:

    By the way, you may find it interesting as part of your research to look into the relationship between the Passover meal, the last supper, and the crucifixion. The “cup of blessing”, the fourth cup, Jesus’s words in Gethsemane, and later “It is finished” are a few things I’ve been learning about more in depth lately that have really opened my eyes to the way the Jews would have understood the Eucharist as new Christians.

    God bless!

    -Ben

  5. Ben says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m curious to hear your understanding of 1 Cor. 10:16-17:

    “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing 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.”

    How does your church gathering share in the body and blood of Christ, as part of the one body… the Church? If the body and blood are the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is an essential aspect of being united as part of the Body of Christ, how do you know that you have the Eucharist?

    Also, how do you explain John 6:53-56 and the fact that many people stopped following Jesus as a result of those words?

    -Ben

    • paulfpavao says:

      I don’t have time right now to respond to this comment with anything of value. As soon as I have time again, I am working on a paper on the Lord’s supper from a historical and biblical standpoint, and that would be my best answer to your questions.

  6. Have you read/watched/listened to Fr. Barron’s “Eucharist”? Given what you’ve said, I think you might enjoy it:

    https://store.wordonfire.org/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=WF-17

  7. “I mean, for example, that one Roman Catholic wrote to tell me that scientific tests have proven that the bread blessed in a Catholic Mass turns into actual human meat.”

    /facepalm

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