Christians and Eucharistic "cannibalism"

I am answering a few questions a friend wrote me about the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Discussing verses from John 6, I had expressed that (of course) the Church has always believed in the Real Presence, and in fact, the Christians who were martyred in the Coliseum had been accused of cannibalism, as they would not disavow that they ate the *true Body *and *true Blood *of our Lord in communion.

I know this is true because I read it somewhere reliable (as a convert from Protestant, I remember being impressed that the martyrs died for something so Catholic, when we Protestants had always claimed them for our own). However, I don’t know where now, and I was asked for references, which I would like to provide. I know they exist, but where? Can anyone direct me? Thanks.


Not "in the Coliseum " for we do not have records of martyrs that would have died there.

But yes the early Christians were accused of such.

Isn’t cannibalism about eating dead human flesh. Is it that your Protestant friend feels that Christ is dead?


You read that too fast…

the* OP* is noting that early Christians were accused of cannibalism. To show that we have always believed in the reality of the Eucharist - so much so that Pagans thought we where being cannibals…

:thumbsup: :thumbsup: Ditto ! ! !

I guess its true then, both cats can’t be wrong


One small point, There is indeed evidence of Christians being executed at the Colosseum in Rome. [Hopkins, Keith (2011), The Colosseum. Profile books ISBN 976-1846684708.]

Thanks so much Bookcat. But there must be more, somewhere. That article stated: “Therefore it is not surprising that ordinary people attributed to Christians all sorts of monstrosities such as infanticide and cannibalism, etc.” and that was the only place cannibalism was mentioned, and it was as if it was just people making things up.

I did a lot of reading when I converted, reputable writers only, but I cannot remember where I read that. Hopefully someone will have heard of this…

Here’s what I could find:

sample excerpt:

“Incestuous cannibals”

A stranger complaint of critics was this: Christians were cannibals and practiced incest. They were thought to be involved in bizarre and abhorrent religious rituals such as **Thyestian feasts and Oedipean sex—the most heinous acts in Greco-Roman myth and literature. In these two myths, Thyestes eats his own children, **and Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.

How could pagans associate these myths with Christianity? Most likely the critics misread the Christian Scriptures. New Testament writers referred to their fellow Christians as brothers and sisters (James 2:15) and encouraged them to greet one another with a “holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16). This could have been misunderstood as incestuous, especially if a married couple were referred to as a brother and sister in Christ. This perspective may have been intensified by the secrecy of early eucharistic services, which were open only to baptized Christians.

The charge of cannibalism could also have arisen from a false understanding of the Christian Scripture and liturgy. The very words of the Eucharist,“Take and eat, this is my body broken for you,” could be misread in a literal, cannibalistic sense by a reader ignorant of the metaphor.



Perhaps you’re thinking of Tertullian’s Apology?

From the “Biographical Notices” at the beginning of the Reeve translation–

But the African Church was an exception to the general immunity.
Much depended everywhere on the disposition of the several pro-
consuls towards the faith. There had been laws in existence
against it ever since the days of Nero, and it depended altogether
on the various governors whether these laws should stand in abey-
ance or be put in vigorous exercise. There were by this time many
thousands of believers in Africa; and now heathen fanaticism,
which had been long smouldering, broke out. The priestesses of
the " Dea Coelestis " had raised seditious mobs, and allied heathens
and Jews had destroyed Christian churches, and rilled and
desecrated their burial-places. Caricatures of Christ were paraded
through the streets, and the usual ridiculous charges of incest and
cannibalism were brought against his disciples. It was all this
which produced Tertullian’s Apology.


It is the common talk that we are the wickedest of men, that we
murder and eat a child in our religious assemblies,1 and when we rise
from supper conclude all in the confusions of incest.

Chapter VIII and IX also addresses the subject.

I learned about how early Christians were accused of cannibalism from here:

And he has the references to the original sources.

Seems it was more that there were rumors and gossip going around.

Hope this helps

1st 5 centuries, quotes (properly referenced) from the ECF’s

list of ECF writings

**Examples **from that site pointing to the writing and the quote

St Ignatius is quoted,

“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, WHICH IS THE FLESH OF JESUS CHRIST, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I DESIRE HIS BLOOD, which is love incorruptible. **(Letter to the Romans ****7:3)” **Romans 7:3 Epistle to the Romans

then Ignatius is referenced again

“Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: FOR THERE IS ONE FLESH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, and one cup IN THE UNION OF HIS BLOOD; one ALTAR, as there is one bishop with the presbytery… (Letter to the Philadelphians 4:1)” Epistle to the Philadelphians


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 the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. (Letter to Smyrnians 7:1) Epistle to the Smyrnæans

etc etc etc*

A very inexpensive source of good information is titled, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers published by Penguin Classics. The notes are not Catholic but many have been converted by this little book.

Also have a look at There is a lot of information to go through on that site. The writings of Polycarp and the text of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans are good places to start.


Try this, about Justn Martyr’s%20Apology.htm

Regarding how to answer a non-catholic’s questions about the Eucharist, as a former Protestant I found it important to understand the difference between the “physical” body and the “true” body.

Protestant’s argue that the bread and wine do no physically change, because they still look, smell and taste just like bread and wine even after they have been prayed over.

This notion that we eat the “physical” body of Jesus would then be linkable to cannibalism, although I have never heard anyone make that as a serious accusation in our day.

But the Church teaches that it is the “true” body and blood of Christ. This is a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The physical realm neither proves, nor disproves it. And once you discuss it from the spiritual perspective, all notions of cannibalism simple disappear.

It is the “true” body and blood of Christ simply because Jesus said it is. We accept that by faith, just as we accept other spiritual truths that we cannot fully comprehend, such as the Trinity.

Protestants should be embarrassed that they appeal to modern science, rather than spiritual principles, when they argue with catholics over the Eucharist. They are in effect denying the spiritual realm, and holding up modern science as the highest authority. This contradicts most of their other beliefs.

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