ECFs Refute Real Presence in the Eucharist?

So I came across this article, “Early Church Evidence Refutes Real Presence”, which also seems to be reproduced here, “The Eucharist in the Ante-Nicene Church”.

Has anyone read this before? I still need to closely read it, but I’m curious if anyone has read this article, or has seen this sort of argument made before, claiming that the ECF quotes commonly used to support the Real Presence actually don’t support it, when supposedly read in context. I’d appreciate any thoughts from those familiar with/well read in the sources in question (i.e. the Ante-Nicene Fathers).

Check links from Dave Armstrong’s apologetics page. He has often engaged such arguments that claim the ECFs were not Catholic. Here is a search, for example, of posts of his containing Eucharist Clement Tertullian Real Presence. Also, be alert to contra-Catholic apologists who find a quote from an ECF affirming a symbolic interpretation as the equivalent of rejecting a real presence interpretation. One does not mean the other. In fact, Catholics also hold to a symbolic sense of the Eucharist.

Here’s another article at PhilVaz’s site on Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, and Clement. See other Eucharistic ECF articles at his apologetics page.

They’re essentially doing with the ECF’s what they do with the Bible: ripping verses out of context as a pretext.

They are openly ignoring those writings of the very same ECF’s which are problematic and only focusing on those verses that support their preconceived ideas, applying their definitions to words which the authors never meant or intended to mean.

Its actually quite a brazen tact.

Have you read the Didache? It is a short work written approximately the end of the 1st/beginning of the 2nd century and shows what the early Christians believed. Chapter 9 is about the Eucharist and starts with “Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way” and ends with a warning not to give the Eucharist to the unbaptised (at that time there was only the universal i.e. Catholic Church). I got a translation for less than £2 for my kindle.

I don’t know about the people quoted in the article as I haven’t studied Church history in-depth but no true believer would have denied Jesus in the Eucharist.

Hope this is helpful.

Sigh, I am beginning to feel as if I need to know the entire history of the world in-depth. So much to learn and so few brain cells.

Here’s an online source that covers the objections raised regarding symbolic language in ECF theology of the Eucharist Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen and St. Clement of Alexandria on the Eucharist.

I would also ask “Who is this author?” On the one hand we have him and his conclusions. On the other we have J.N.D. Kelly, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Everett Ferguson–all actual and distinguished patristic scholars who disagree with who ever this guy is. In posts below I’ll give quotes. Oh, and none of them are Catholic! I think I’ll go with the real experts.

Obviously I’m just presenting their conclusions to get all the data they amass you’d have to read the whole passages.

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 up 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, 5th , revised ed., 1977, p. 196]

Ignatius roundly declares that . . . The bread is the flesh of Jesus, the cup His blood. Clearly he intends this realism to be taken strictly, for he makes it the basis of his argument against the Docetists’ denial of the reality of Christ’s body. . . . Irenaeus teaches that the bread and wine are really the Lord’s body and blood. His witness is, indeed, all the more impressive because he produces it quite incidentally while refuting the Gnostic and Docetic rejection of the Lord’s real humanity.”
[J.N.D. Kelly, *Early Christian Doctrines, 5th , revised ed., 1977, pp. 197-98]

In the third century the early Christian identification of the eucharistic bread and wine with the Lord’s body and blood continued unchanged, although a difference of approach can be detected in East and West. The outline, too, of a more considered theology of the eucharistic sacrifice begins to appear.
In the West the equation of the consecrated elements with the body and blood was quite straightforward, although die fact that the presence is sacramental was never forgotten. Hippolytus speaks of ‘the body and the blood’ (through which the Church is saved, and Tertullian regularly describes the bread as ‘the Lord’s body’.
The converted pagan, he remarks, ‘feeds on the richness of the Lord’s body, that is, on the eucharist.’ (De Pud. 9) The realism of his theology comes to light in the argument, ( De res. carn. 8) based on the intimate relation of body and soul, that just as in baptism the body is washed with water so that the soul may be cleansed, so in the eucharist ‘the flesh feeds on Christ’s body and blood so that the soul may be filled with God.’ Clearly his assumption is that the Saviour’s body and blood are as real as the baptismal water.
[J.N.D. Kelly, *Early Christian Doctrines, 5th , revised ed., 1977, p. 211]

Occasionally these writers use language which has been held to imply that, for all its realist sound, their use of the terms ‘body’ and ‘blood’ may after all be merely symbolical. Tertullian, for example, refers (e.g., Marc. 3,19; 4,40) to the bread as ‘a figure’ (figura) of Christ’s body, and once speaks (Ibid., 1,14) of ‘the bread by which He represents (repraesentat) His very body’. Yet we should be cautious about interpreting such expressions in a modern fashion. According to ancient modes of thought a mysterious relationship existed between the thing symbolized and its symbol, figure or type; the symbol in some sense was the thing symbolized. Again, the verb repraesentare, in Tertullian’s vocabulary (Ibid., 4,22; de monog. 10), retained its original significance of ‘to make present.’ All that his language really suggests is that, while accepting the equation of the elements with the body and blood, he remains conscious of the sacramental distinction between them. In fact, he is trying, with the aid of the concept of figura, to rationalize to himself the apparent contradiction between (a) the dogma that the elements are now Christ’s body and blood, and (b) the empirical fact that for sensation they remain bread and wine. Similarly, when Cyprian states (Ep. 62,13; cf. 63,2) that ‘in the wine Christ’s blood is shown’ (in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi), we should recall that in the context he is arguing against heretics who willfully use water instead of wine at the eucharist. In choosing the term ‘is shown’, he is not hinting that the wine merely symbolizes the sacred blood. His point is simply that wine is an essential ingredient of the eucharist, since numerous Old Testament texts point to it as a type of the precious blood. It is significant that only a few lines above (Ibid., 63,11) he had spoken of ‘drinking the Lord’s blood.’
[J.N.D. Kelly, *Early Christian Doctrines, 5th , revised ed., 1977, pp. 212-13]

Eucharistic teaching [at the beginning of the period from Nicea to Chalcedon], it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Saviour’s body and blood. Among theologians, however, this identity was represented in our period in at least two different ways . . . . In the first place, the figurative or symbolic view, which stressed the distinction between the visible elements and the reality they represented, still claimed a measure of support. . . . Secondly, however, a new and increasingly potent tendency becomes observable to explain the identity as being the result of an actual change or conversion in the bread and wine. . . . It must not be supposed, of course, that this ‘symbolical’ language implied that the bread and wine were regarded as mere pointers to, or tokens of, absent realities. Rather they were accepted as signs of realities which were somehow actually present though apprehended by faith alone.
[J.N.D. Kelly, *Early Christian Doctrines, 5th , revised ed., 1977, pp. 440-442]

The same [that like baptism the church had a fully-developed and explicit doctrine] cannot be said in any sense about the doctrine of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which did not become the subject of controversy until the ninth century. The definitive and precise formulation of the crucial doctrinal issues concerning the Eucharist had to await that controversy and others that followed even later. This does not mean at all, however, that the church did not yet have a doctrine of the Eucharist; it does mean that the statements of its doctrine must {167} not be sought in polemical and dogmatic treatises devoted to sacramental theology. It means also that the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or sixteenth century is both silly and futile.

Perhaps the best illustration of such futility is the controversy that has been carried on, at least since the sixteenth century, over the eucharistic teaching of Irenaeus, especially over one passage. Since it unites the basic themes of eucharistic doctrine, this passage may serve the same function in this discussion of the Eucharist that was served by the passage from Tertullian in our summary of the doctrine of baptism. Arguing, just as Tertullian did, against a dualistic disparagement of creation, Irenaeus used the sacramental practice and teaching of the church to refute Gnostic claims; it was over bread which belonged to the creation that Christ had pronounced his blessing and said, “This is my body.” The church had received this tradition from the apostles, and all over the world it made this offering to God: “We offer to him the things that are his own, consistently announcing and confessing the fellowship and unity of flesh and spirit. For as the bread taken from the earth, when it has received the consecration from God, is no longer common bread but is the Eucharist, which consists of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but have the hope of the resurrection into eternal (life].” (Haer. 4,18,5) In the light of the controversy over these words it does seem an exaggeration to say that “nothing can be more express and clear than the language of the fathers upon this point.”

Yet it does seem “express and clear” that no orthodox father of the second or third century of whom we have record either declared the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist to be no more than symbolic (although Clement and Origen came close to doing so) or specified a process of substantial change by which the presence was effected (although Ignatius and Justin came close to doing so). Within the limits of those excluded extremes was the doctrine of the real presence. . . . {168} Yet the adoration of Christ in the Eucharist through the words and actions of the liturgy seems to have presupposed that this was a special presence, neither distinct from nor merely illustrative of his presence in the church. In some early Christian writers that presupposition was expressed in strikingly realistic language. Ignatius called the Eucharist “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins,” asserting the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist against docetists, who regarded his flesh as a phantasm both in the incarnation and in the Eucharist; Ignatius combined the realism of his eucharistic doctrine with a symbolic implication when he equated the “bread of God” with “the flesh of Jesus Christ,” but went on to equate “his blood” with “incorruptible love.” Tertullian spoke of the eucharistic bread as a “figure” of the body of Christ, but he also taught that in the Eucharist the flesh of the communicant fed on the flesh and blood of Christ. The theologians did not have adequate concepts within which to formulate a doctrine of the real presence that evidently was already believed by the church even though it was not yet taught by explicit instruction or confessed by creeds.
[Jaroslav Pelikan, *The Christian Tradition. vol. 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Chicago: The Univesity of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 166-8]

The prayer of thanksgiving was the basis for the extensive employment of sacrificial language in reference to the eucharist, for it was viewed as a thank offering (Justin, Dial. 41; Irenaeus. Haer. 4.17.5; 4.18.4). Malachi 1:11f, with its reference to the Lord’s table and a pure offering, and the greatness oldie Lord’s name among the nations, made it the favorite eucharistic text of the second-century church. The Lord’s death was itself viewed as a sacrifice and Cyprian combined the ideas of prayer as the pure sacrifice, the offering of bread and wine, and the association of the elements with the body and blood of Christ into the interpretation that 'the Lord’s passion is the sacrifice that we offer" (Ep. 63.17). The idea that the eucharist participated in and in some way perpetuated the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was to dominate later western thinking, giving the eucharist the character of a redemptive sacrifice (cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. 23.8-10) as well as a thank offering.

Jesus had identified the bread and the fruit of the vine with his body and blood (Mark 14:22). and this identification continued in Christian thought (Justin, I Apol. 66), especially in arguments against Docetists and Gnostics who denied the reality of Jesus’ human nature (Ignatius, Smyrn. 7: Irenaeus, Haer. 4.18.41; 5.21.). Although some authors preferred to speak of the elements as a figure (figura–Tertullian, Marc. 4.40) or symbol (symbolon–Clement of Alexandria, Paed. 2.2.191.; Origen, Comm. in Mt. 11.14), ancient thought gave a close correspondence between the symbol and that which was symbolized. Two strands of thought about the real presence were transmitted in the later tradition of the church. One line of interpretation maintained the symbolism of the visible signs and the reality of the supernatural and invisible gift of grace and divine life imparted through the symbols (dynamic symbolism—maintained in the Middle Ages especially through the influence of Augustine; cf. In evang. Ioh. 26.11 [13]. Another strand of thought emphasized a change by which the sign and the reality became virtually identical (Ambrose, Sacram. 4.4.14-5.23). The two strands intermingled in the same authors, who probably did not see them as alternatives but as different ways of expressing the spiritual significance of the elements.

By the sacrificial aspect of the eucharist, human beings were brought to God through the offering of the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, and by the real presence, God was brought to human beings in the spiritual food of the communion.
[Everett Ferguson, *The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 1999, s.v., "Eucharist”]

Well said. It is also a tactic used by Muslim apologists, who use a proof text which says that Jesus was the a teacher, or the “Son of Man,” to argue that that meant he was “only” those things, instead of those things plus more. It’s appropriate to to point out to the original author of the blog article that such proof-text tactics aren’t correct when a Muslim evangelist uses them to dissuade people the the Christian faith, and it’s not appropriate when he does.

Without personally vouching for the translation,


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