Early Church CITH: the myth, the legends, the fraud

There is a perpetual myth found online and on this forum that the Early Church and up until the 9th Century communion in the hand (CITH) was common, normative and absolutely accepted as the good, natural standard thing to do. This myth is often brought up as evidence that CITH is a good thing and to be supported. For the purposes of this post, I won’t go much into this false antiquarinism spirit that latches onto (what is supposedly) a Patristic practice and elevates it to near dogma level (I will speak on the inherent contradiction in this particular point later on).

This post will not be exhaustive, and in fact I acknowledge from the start that I have written it myself as a starting point for more research and a longer paper (which I may write soon, or perhaps in the years to come God willing). I only present discussion points, ideas and certain facts.

To begin: The Early Church - and up until the 9th Century - did not practice CITH has normative, morally good or the absolute rule. Nor was this practice (when it did occur) universal

Notice the contradiction that apologists for CITH cannot overcome once they start (erroneously) saying that CITH is a longstanding tradition - to wit, if we are to take this point seriously and grant the (false) historical premise that the Early Church did pratice CITH we must believe our opponent takes long-standing Church tradition to be something authoritative, favorable and worthy. Yet, when it is pointed out that communion on the tongue (COTT) falls into the definition of a long-standing tradition suddenly our opponent is not inclined to be traditional and wishes to take another line of defense [either the heretical notion that the Early Church practices were more pure and later traditions a corruption or the equally as heretical idea that no matter the history we are a new Church now and should start again with our liturgical customs].

Now to get on to some discussion points.

1. Supposed Patristic sources

There are a handful of oft-quoted passages from some of the Church fathers that apparently prove that CITH was common practice and thus the case is closed. For the sake of this short post I won’t deal with the fact that this defense is usually not a sound argument as it misses the key point of showing how or why it matters that the Church Fathers wrote on the topic and merely assumes that to present a quote from St. Cyril suddenly proves the entire position to be correct.

Instead I’d like to present an examination of these quotes written by John Salza.

Many in favor of Communion in the hand point to the writings of St. Basil, Letter 93, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 23:21, the Quintsext Synod of Trullo, Canon CI; and St. John Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa Book IV, ch. XIII. Not only do these writings fail to establish a consensus on the matter, they provide dubious and even conflicting information. For example, St. Basil (330-379) says clearly that to receive Communion by one’s own hand is only permitted in times of persecution or, as was the case with monks in the desert, when no deacon or priest was available to give it: “It is not necessary to show that it does not constitute a grave fault for a person to communicate with his own hand in a time of persecution when there is no priest or deacon” (Letter 93). The text implies that to receive in the hand under other circumstances, outside of persecution, would be a grave fault. The saint based his opinion on the custom of the solitary monks, who reserved the Blessed Sacrament in their dwellings, and, in the absence of the priest or deacon, gave themselves Communion.

What can be seen, then, is that passages our usually taken out of context and given new meaning in order to qualify the position that CITH was common - when in fact all that can be shown is that the Early Church was in a special position at the time due to persecution. Many chose to flee into the desert in order to live as hermits. These are special circumstances which, needless to say, are not at all evident in today’s Catholic world.
Salza continues:

Many people point to Cyril of Jerusalem’s quote of making your hand like a “throne” to receive the Lord. However, Cyril lived in the same century (the 4th) as Basil, so this discounts Cyril’s “throne” quote and makes it an exception (during times of persecution), not the rule. Moreover, Cyril’s quote is of dubious origin; many scholars trace it to Patriarch John, who succeeded Cyril in Jerusalem. But this John was of suspect orthodoxy. This we know from the correspondence of St. Epiphanius, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.

Moreover the throne quote often leaves out other particulars - there were instructions requiring one to touch the Eucharist with one eyes and lips first before consuming. If we use the “throne” quote surely then we should follow the instructions and do these other movements too!

Salza continues:

In fact, the early witnesses actually demonstrate that Communion on the tongue was the normative practice of the Church. For example, Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461), already in the fifth century, is an early witness of the traditional practice of Communion on the tongue. In his comments on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, he speaks of Communion in the mouth as the current usage: “One receives in the mouth what one believes by faith.” The Pope does not speak as if he were introducing a novelty, but as if this were a well-established fact.

A century and a half later, Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) is another witness to the established practice of Communion on the tongue. In his dialogues (Roman 3, c. 3) he relates how Pope St. Agapito performed a miracle during the Mass, after having placed the Body of the Lord onto the tongue of the communicant. We are also told by John the Deacon of this Pope’s manner of giving Holy Communion. These witnesses are from the fifth and the sixth centuries. Thus, we have two great, sainted Popes who tell us communion sub lingua was the tradition of the Church, already in the fifth and sixth centuries.

The Council of Rouen, which met in 650, affirmed the tradition by declaring: “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen but only in their mouths.” The Council of Constantinople also prohibited the faithful from giving Communion to themselves (which is of course what happens when the Sacred Particle is placed in the hand of the communicant). It decreed an excommunication of one week’s duration for those who would do so in the presence of a bishop, priest or deacon.

Far from the idea that CITH was something well established, normative and the universal norm the least we are able to say (granting the ‘quotes’ as they are without looking at context) is that at the time things were not as cut and dry as is often made out. Two Pope Saints of the Early Church speak clearly on the fact that COTT was practiced; and they hardly speak of it as a novelty. If authority means anything to those who cite the Fathers, then let them read for themselves that two Popes, who are now Saints in Heaven, spoke of COTT as normative. Furthermore, two early councils affirmed the tradition. What we have, then, is a convenient (and I would say, purposeful) smudging of the historical facts, sources and authorities. Again, if it the least we are able to say is that CITH was not as well established as some have claimed then the appeal to the authority of the Fathers becomes a moot point as no party can agree on which of the Fathers, and which source is more authoritative. The option then is to either adopt an arbitrary private judgment and continue to promote (falsely) CITH as traditional or to look somewhere else for a defense of this practise.

For more information please read this article from Dr. Taylor Marshall called “Did the Church Fathers practice Communion in the Hand? (Not Exactly)”

Note: the above article was posted only because I am anticipating the fallacy of discrediting the cited John Salza because Salza is a traditionalist. If others cannot get past this fallacy let them examine Dr. Marshalls work who is not a traditionalist.

Continuing on next post…

I was going to continue with my next post, but I have seen that it will take me too long (I have about 6 discussion points - some will be longer than what I have already written). So I will leave it at what I have posted. I just don’t have to time if it’s only for a post on the internet.

Thanks for reading :slight_smile:

Followed along with the church fathers’ writings in question via my Faith Database*™.

Good research. Looking forward to the next batch.

Bravo. Nice job.

Well, the Pope himself accepted that CITH was common up until the 9th century, so personally, i’m happy to accept that too.

Quote from a post by Bookcat :

Cardinal Ratzinger (prior to being Pope Benedict XVI) notes that it was the practice of the Early Church.

He notes in God and the World “I wouldn’t be fussy about it. It was done in the early Church. A reverent manner of receiving Communion in the hand is in itself a perfectly reasonable way to receive Communion” (pg 410)

"…we know that until the ninth century Communion was received in the hand, standing. That does not of course mean that it should always do so. For what is fine, sublime, about the Church is that she is growing, maturing, understanding the mystery more profoundly. In the that sense the new development that began after the ninth century is quite justified, as an expression of reverence, and is well founded. But, on the other hand, we have to say that the Church could not possibly have been celebrating the Eucharist unworthily for nine hundred years. If we read what the Fathers say, we can see in what a spirit of reverence they received Communion…

:confused: The Pope, no. Cardinal Ratzinger, yes. He was writing as a theologian, in his personal capacity and is up for criticism. In the face of all that I have posted you’re willing to brush off the truth and the facts from one sentence from his book? One in which then Cardinal Ratzinger merely assumes that the practice was common. In other words, he just says “Well it was common so I have no problem with it” — you cannot present this is counter-evidence to a post which is asking the question “was it really common?”. That merely begs the question!

This is why I wanted to do a whole series - I was going to touch on this very point, to wit: that this myth has gained a lot of ground since it was invented in the 60’s and has gone unquestioned and unexamined by usually thorough and top-class theologians and historians. However, even they can and do make mistakes.

Is it worthwhile to discuss this ?

It’s better to be right than happy.


Truth is always worthwhile. Particularly when it involves reverence and respect for Our Lord in the Eucharist.

It comes up a lot on this particular sub-forum (and I imagine others too). If you don’t want to discuss it that’s perfectly acceptable but since you clicked and posted perhaps you do want to discuss it :smiley:

Misinformation, deception and lies have reigned long enough in this area. If there wasn’t already a book out on it by a respected theologian I would’ve made a thread, too, on the lie that the early Church celebrated their liturgies versus populum rather than ad Orientem — another common deception that is floated around whenever the issue comes up.

What kind of meaningless open ended question is that? Of course it is. If there are misconceptions about an important aspect of our Church’s history then thats worth discussing. And if faithful truly believe that clarifying this is good for the church then this discussion is protected by canon 212.3 which stresses our right and our duty to do exactly this.

Who walks into a forum in the middle of a completely legitimate discussion and asks such a pointless question?

…wait a minute… are you the guy from the file sharing forum who was defending piracy and praising abortion funder, euthanasia advocate, and anti-life icon Bill Gates?

Oh good, so I take it you are happy for me to be equally blithely dismissive of the same Cardinal Ratzinger’s often-quoted criticisms of Paul VI’s liturgical reforms then?

And, for that matter, of your interpretation of the significance of these comments, you not being the Magisterium?

Frankly, historical arguments have little resonance for me. Every revered historical tradition started as an innovation by someone. somewhere. There was a first time for everything.

As far as I am concerned, the Church permits both COTT and CITH, just as it permits priests to offer the chalice or not, at the discretion of those involved. Not that the options are necessarily entirely equal, however they ARE both permitted, and have been for more than a little time. Which tells me that the Church does not condemn. And if it does not, then neither will I.

I’m not sure where the hostility or tone comes from, perhaps I have been at fault in presenting my ideas and refuting one or two posts. I apologize if I have come off as dismissive. Let me address your post, LilyM.

Cardinal Ratzingers criticisms of Paul VI’s liturgical reforms amount to more than one sentence. If Cardinal Ratzingers criticism amounted to nothing more than “I have a problem with Paul VI’s reforms so I am perfectly happy to dismiss them” then yes you rightly could dismiss them. However, he has done a lot more work in this area. I am only familiar with one particular book.

There is no comparison between my criticism of (then) Cardinal Ratzingers one-liner on what the Fathers thought (at least, what he assumed they thought, having no references at all) and a broad dismissal of an entire book.

Furthermore, I didn’t blithely dismiss anything. I questioned the idea that one line from (then) Cardinal Ratzinger [which commits the fallacy of question begging in this instance] is enough to dismiss my post.

And, for that matter, of your interpretation of the significance of these comments, you not being the Magisterium?

What does the Magisterium have to do with this? I am not dealing with anything related to the Magisterium. If you read my title and post you would note that I am dealing with the supposed evidence that the ECF’s were unanimously supportive of and practicing CITH. I am dealing in a critique of the false antiquarinism and of a myth that has been perpetuated to support CITH. I am not dealing with a critique of magisterial pronouncements on CITH [perhaps my posts could form a background to such a task and indeed I intend them to be, but again this is a separate point].

Frankly, historical arguments have little resonance for me. Every revered historical tradition started as an innovation by someone. somewhere. There was a first time for everything.

If historical arguments mean nothing to you, then so does my post and I assume, then, that you never post a defense of CITH using the Early Church as your source. In that case, my post is not addressed to you (I don’t mean that in a hostile “this isn’t for you move along” kind of you, just in a more general way).

As far as I am concerned, the Church permits both COTT and CITH, just as it permits priests to offer the chalice or not, at the discretion of those involved. Not that the options are necessarily entirely equal, however they ARE both permitted, and have been for more than a little time.

That is perfectly true. I know (of course) that both are permitted. This has nothing to do with you or me in that regard. As far as the Church is concerned both are permitted. Again, my post has nothing to do with the de jure law in this area.

And if it does not, then neither will I.

That is perfectly reasonable. Again, though, I am not dealing with this in my thread. Since you mention it, however, you must note that it is not at all against the faith to legitimate critique or find offense to something that is questionable. You don’t condemn - that is fine. Personally, I do condemn the practice of CITH. That is fine too.

Thank you for your thoughts.

CITH was abandoned because the Church ***in Her growing wisdom *realised that there was very often a lack of reverence.
Receiving under both Species was stopped because some of Hus`s disciples claimed that, to receice our Lord in His entirety, it was
NECESSARY **to receive Him under both Species.

Appealing to “The Ancient Church” is dishonest.
Ancient practices were abandoned for a reason: abuses and heresy had crept in. Sadly, the same thing has happened today!
In some churches, the Communion Rite has drifted towards what, on the surface, looks more than a bit like some Protestant communion services. Belief in the Real Presence has decreased.

CITH was re-introduced as a result of disobedience in some European countries.

It wasn’t just europeans, it was preceded as a liturgical abuse in the US and in at least a few South American countries. How can people be so positive (and often agrily defensive) about something that was the fruit of disobedience?

You know, it’s a funny thing, but whenever I hear the argument that something must be condemned because ‘it is the fruit of disobedience’, rather then the value it has now, I start thinking about the Boston Tea Party.

Funny that, isn’t it?

You are correct. As our John Adams said while defending your redcoats at trial after the Boston massacre, “facts are stubborn things”.

However, doing away with an imprudent ordinance and doing away with a nation are obviously two different things. The church has reversed plenty of ordinances in its history that proved to be imprudent. Also, this wouldn’t even be the reversing of a norm. CITH is not a norm, contrary to popular belief. The norm, according to the magesterium, is still COTT (and there’s a reason Mother Church has retained that as the norm) but almost every nation has been granted an indult, a waiver, because everyone was doing it without permission anyway, and the poor pope hfelt he had no choice but to grant everyone waivers. Additionally, arguing in favor of this is protected by Canon 212.3.

Anyway, have fun enjoying the imaginary new spring time, in denial of what has happened to eucharistic faith in the church since CITH.

And as for reversing the existance of the US due to disobedience, touche, but I work closely with your RAF guys on our temporary joint airframe (the one we’re selling you to replace the your nimrod) and I’m confidant you guys don’t have it in you. :stuck_out_tongue:

He notes in God and the World “I wouldn’t be fussy about it. It was done in the early Church. A reverent manner of receiving Communion in the hand is in itself a perfectly reasonable way to receive Communion” (pg 410)

Just a comment on reading sources: I often see students stretching a fairly narrow statement to mean much more than was asserted. When the Cardinal writes “It was done in the early Church”, we can not assume that translates into “It was the common practice”. These are not equivalent statements. To say that something happened in the past is not to assert that it was universal or common. Perhaps if we read everything Cardinal Ratzinger wrote on this topic we will learn that it was, indeed, universal. But the quote supplied does not support that assumption at all. I think he’s simply making a factual observation about ancient practice in a measured way. I don’t find support for the proposition that “it was always done that way in the ancient church; COTT is a more recent innovation”. The fact is, it was done both ways in the past, so neither side can claim a slam-dunk on the evidence.

I think the actions of our Holy Father now are instructive. Watch him serving communion sometime. I think he is trying to lead us, by example, towards a new norm. But that’s just my opinion.


Thank yoy for the research, this is an interesting thread.

One quick question: you mentioned that considering the early church practices more pure and the later a corruption is heretical. Could you expand on this? Why would assigning different value to different disciplines be heretical, do you think?

Thanks, VC

Sure I will try to expand a bit. The idea that early Christianity was purer than what we have now (in substance, liturgy, belief) is clearly anti-thetical to Catholic belief (that what the Apostles believed, we believe now). In fact, this false idea is quite Protestant. Especially new Protestantism where they claim that by the 4th Century “Roman Catholicism” corrupted Christianity. In any case, what we are dealing with here is the idea that to go ‘back’ to older practice or understanding makes something purer and closer to the truth. This implies, though, that what Catholics believe now is corrupted truth. Clearly, this cannot be the case as it denies that we have the truth at all times in it’s fullness within the Catholic Church.

Assigning different value to different disciplines is far from heretical (it seems to me, but this is a vague question in my view). I’m far from a theologian though but heresy seems to only deal in doctrine.

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