Defending the Early Church Fathers and Their Belief in the Real Presence

I found this article about a man talking about the Early Church Fathers and what they wrote about the Real Presence:
Can anyone here write a good response to the article?

Unfortunately I’m on a prolonged trip and do not have the time for a in-depth reply and detailed analysis of the article you linked. But I will make some general comments.

First of all, there are two kinds of symbols in the world: those that contain what they signify and those that don’t. The Eucharist is an example of the former; it does, indeed, have a symbolic quality, but it is a symbol that contains what it signifies (i.e., it represents the Body and Blood of Christ, and literally is the Body and Blood of Christ). In light of this, certain theologians throughout the ages have, at times, naturally written about the Eucharist in a symbolic fashion. Nevertheless, it is non sequitur fallacy for someone to suggest that because someone describes the Eucharist symbolically then he must not believe in the Real Presence.

Secondly, as with any text, people can read the ECFs and interpret them differently. For example, the author of the article states (in his conclusion), “The church of the first three centuries, indeed, did not possess a real presence doctrine; the writings of the church fathers from that era certainly portray that.” If the writings of the ECFs “clearly portrayed” this then why did he have to craft such a lengthy article? For example, the author’s commentary on St. Ignatius alone is in excess of a thousand words, telling us what he thinks St. Ignatius meant. If St. Ignatius was “clearly portraying” a teaching that is contrary to the Doctrine of the Real Presence then why does it take over a thousand words to attempt to prove it?

Thirdly, the author states (also in the conclusion), “The real presence doctrine of the Catholic Church was, in fact, unheard of in the early centuries of the Christian church. It is interesting to think about how central the sacrifice of the mass is in Catholicism, and yet nowhere in early church do we find direct reference to it…” To begin with, in terms of his denial of a direct reference to the belief in the Real Presence, he presumes that his interpretation of Scripture and the ECFs is correct and anyone with a contrary position is automatically wrong. To that, I simply ask, “Why?”

But there is a bigger issue that I would like to point out here. Although the Orthodox Christians do not use the term “transubstantiation”, they have historically taught the Doctrine of the Real Presence. So not only is the Real Presence a Catholic belief, but it is also a belief shared by all the various Eastern Orthodox Churches and all the various Oriental Orthodox Churches. The sacrifice of the Mass is central to Catholics and all these other Christians. Collectively, we’re talking about all the Churches which grew from the original Apostolic Sees from the first century, which were founded in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa. Seeing as the author of the article claims that the Doctrine of the Real Presence was “unheard of in the early centuries of the Christian church” then my question for him is exactly which of the various Christian Churches invented this doctrine and how did it get all the other Churches spread out over three continents to go along with it? The simplest explanation as to why every Church which directly grew from the original Apostolic Sees believes in the Real Presence is because it was an apostolic teaching. To suggest otherwise requires the fabrication of a conspiracy theory which boggles the imagination.

Thank you very much, Father!

Protestant Church historian J. N. D. Kelly wrote "the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. . . . Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have “a pure offering” made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist. . . .
“It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, ‘Offer this.’ . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [Full Reference], 196–7).

From a Lutheran perspective, Martin Luther gives a solid response.

Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.”


I remember reading something like this is Beginning Apologetics 1.

See my response, also on these forums, here.

Hopefully they will be of some help to you.

Found this year’s ago on Catholiclegate it was from a debate. I believe it is just what you need :wink:

It is also unfortunate that you wrench quotes like this from the fathers without appreciating their true historical contexts.

First transubstantiation was a dogmatic definition designed to respond to a specific error – that of Berengarianism, which claimed that the Eucharist is merely a symbol and nothing more.*It teaches that the bread and wine remain as formal realities, but that the TRUE reality of the Eucharist – that is, the reality of its SUBSTANCE has indeed changed, by Divine command.

This was a medieval, Latin (Western) Scholastic definition, which addressed a medieval Latin challenge.

In terms of Ireneaus himself, he is clearly not denying Transubstantiation, and for several reasons. *First, Ireneaus lived in A.D. 180 – that is, about 900 years before the birth of Berengarius; and so he was not addressing the error of Berengarianism. *Secondly, Ireneaus is a Greek father who was using the philosophical language of Plato to communicate his theology, not the philosophical language of Aristotle, which distinguished between “form” and “substance”, and which was used to define the dogma of Transubstantiation against Berengarianism. *Thus, when Ireneaus speaks of “two realities”, he does not mean that “form” defines true reality – that “form” and “substance” are equal. *Not at all. *Rather, he is merely addressing two perceptible or distinguishable “realities” – that is, the fact that one can perceive the apparent physical presence of bread and wine in the Eucharist – what Aristotle would call mere “forms”. *For, despite what Protestants often fail to appreciate, we Catholics do not believe in “Trans-FORMation”, but in “Tran-SUBSTANTiation”. *We believe that the physical forms remain what they appear to be – that is, bread and wine. *The change that takes place is not a physical change, but a METAPHYSICAL change – a change in substance, not in physical form. *If the change were physical, rather than metaphysical, then the priest would not be able to lift the Eucharistic Host with one hand, since He would be lifting the physical / formal presence of a 160-pound Jewish Carpenter! *This is the “reality” – the FORMAL reality – that Ireneaus refers to. *The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a SUBSTANTIAL reality – a metaphysical reality – “metaphysical” defined as “that which is proper to the physical realm, but which transcends mere physical form” (like you being the same organism today that you were when you were 5, despite the total change in physical form through the death and replacement of all your cells).

So, Ireneaus does not deny Transubstantiation, but merely affirms the very same organic Mystery using different (non-Aristotelian) language and from a different perspective and with different preoccupations in mind. *For example, he clearly says that the bread itself is “NO LONGER ORDINARY bread” – that is, he recognizes that SOME KIND OF CHANGE happens to THE BREAD ITSELF. *And that’s not all he says about the Eucharist. *For, he also writes…
[Christ] 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 to our bodies. *(Ibid.)
So then, if the mixed cup and the manufactured bread receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, that is to say, the Blood and Body of Christ, which fortify and build up the essence of our flesh, how can these people claim that the flesh is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life, when it is nourished by Christ’s Blood and Body and is His member? *As the blessed Apostle says in his letter to the Ephesians, “For we are members of His Body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30). *He is not talking about some kind of “spiritual” and “invisible” man, “for a spirit does not have flesh an bones” (Luke 24:39). *No, he is talking of the organism possessed by a real human being, composed of flesh and nerves and bones. *It is this which is nourished by the Cup which is His Blood, and is fortified by the Bread which is His Body. *The stem of the vine takes root in the earth and eventually bears fruit, and “the grain of wheat falls into the earth” (John 12:24), dissolves, rises again, multiplied by the all-containing Spirit of God, and finally after skilled processing, is put to human use. *These two then receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, which is the Body and Blood of Christ. *(Ibid.)
So, again, while Ireneaus (like modern Catholics) recognizes that the formal realities of bread and wine remain, he clearly maintains that we are nourished and fortified, not by both Christ’s Body/Blood and bread/wine, but ONLY by Christ’s Body and Blood, which the bread and wine “BECOME” after receiving the Word of God. *So, not only was Ireneaus clearly not a Berengarian, he was clearly not an advocate of consubstantiation either! *Only one “reality” nourishes us – the Divine and Incarnational Presence of Christ. *The bread and wine are only what the Latin Scholastics (using the language of Aristotle, rather than Plato) call “the forms” or “the accidents” – that which is not intrinsic to the true substance of a thing. *For Ireneaus, the “substance” of the Eucharist is unquestionably only one thing: The Body and Blood of Christ.

And, when we address all of the other fathers cited above, we see exactly the same thing. *For example, Tertullian. Tertullian writes…
The flesh feeds on THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, so that the SOUL TOO may fatten on God. *(Resurrection of the Dead 8:3)
It is not “two realities” that we receive substantially, but only one. *He also writes…
Likewise, in regard to the days of the fast, many not ont think they should be present at the Sacrificial prayers (i.e., the Mass), because their fast would be broken if they were to receive THE BODY OF THE LORD. *(On Prayer 19:1)
Again, it is not “two realities”, – not bread itself that might cause them to break their fast, but the Body alone that they receive.
Also, St. Justin Martyr very clearly states that the Eucharist is not normal bread and wine. *He writes…
The food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except the one who believes that the things we teach are true and has received the Washing for the forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. *For we do not receive these things as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ, our Savior being Incarnate by God’s Word took Flesh and Blood for our salvation, so we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from Him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation (i.e., true change), is the Flesh and Blood of that incarnate Jesus. *(First Apology, 66)
Elsewhere, St. Justin talks about how the offering of the Eucharist is the pure Sacrifice (i.e., the one and only Sacrifice of Christ) that the prophet Malachi predicted would be offered by the Gentiles.

Plus protestants are not free to disagree with the Church Fathers unless they can show that their interpretation is better than theirs. And, since they have no objective standard for doing this they are reduced to a relativist. What makes their interpretation better than theirs? When we Catholics condemn an error in a Church Father’s writings we do so because we claim to possess an infallible Magisterium with the authority to determine Christian truth. And, once this is done, that becomes the immutable position of the Church (e.g. Acts 15). They dont claim infallibility. So then what makes their opinions any better than that of the Church Fathers?

Is Jesus not considered the “Lamb of God?” This is a direct tie into the passover meal in which Jesus celebrated the night he was arrested. In fact by Jewish law all Jews had to celebrate passover in Jerusalem because the lambs had to be sacrificed at the Temple. An unblemmished 1 year old male lamb was sacrificed and part of the ritual REQUIRED the Jews to EAT THE LAMB!!! On the night of the last supper during the passover celebration Jesus and the disciples did not finish the passover meal…which was also required. The meal was interrupted when Jesus and the apostles went to the Garden of Gethsemene. The passover meal is not over until the 4th cup of wine was drank…which scripture clearly shows that the meal wasn’t over…but they left……The point here is to show that Jesus was positioning himself as the passover lamb and the New Moses and instituting the new exodus that was prophesized that the Messiah was going to establish. If Christ being the paschal lamb the sacrifice of the lamb was not sufficient….the lamb had to be eaten is why Jesus says you must “Eat my Flesh” and that His flesh was food indeed and it would be “Given up for the forgiveness of sins”. On the cross Jesus takes the last drink of wine to end His final celebration of the old passover which just happens to be the 4th cup that officially ends passover. Clearly here Jesus does several things….He becomes the perfect sacrifice and we are required to eat it in rememberance of Him which is how He established the “New and everlasting covenant”….Check out Dr. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish roots of the New Testament”

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