ECFs refute the Eucharist?


I was talking with a protestant friend of mine about the Eucharist over text, and I started to quote early church fathers, but she sent me these two links:

I really don’t know what to think about these. :confused: Was it merely considered a symbol all along? I doubt it, but I’m having trouble refuting it.

If I could get some help that would be awesome.

Pax Christi!

I could make the ECFs say “the moon is made of green cheese” if I tried hard enough.

You don’t need to think anything about these. You can read the Fathers for yourself, in their entirety. You can also realize that no Father stands alone, so if one made a remark that seems to be off, it might very well be. Fathers are not infallible. Some had to be corrected by their Bishops, by Councils. Remember, it is the Magesterium that is protected from error, not individual teachers and even Saints, brilliant though they may be.

If you read in one place text that points to symbolic Eucharist, you can find elsewhere a reference that says the opposite. Because it isn’t either/or-- it’s both/and. The Eucharist is both the real presence and symbolic of many things.

Nothing to trouble yourself about. The body of early Church writings, taken together, show undoubtedly the unanimous belief in the real presence.

Those links need to take their own advice, particularly context, and the fact that the word “symbol” in reference to the Eucharist is not used in the same way then as they mean it now. Catholics absolutely refrain from the word “symbol” now because it now has a very low church, non-sacramental meaning, but that’s not how it was always used. The Protestant take in those links is also very far removed from the Platonic ideas that would have permeated society at the time, where the “type” symbolizes the “archetype,” but not just in a representational way, but in a true and real way such that it in some way contains (not really the precise word) the archetype, that the archetype is present in the type.

We must, for one, really admit that when Jesus commanded others to eat his flesh in John 6 it was in some way “symbolic” because he did not mean that the crowd should rush forward, tear him limb from limb, roast his parts over a fire, and start consuming him. We can also understand that the Eucharist is “symbolic” in that Jesus’ presence is still veiled. He is truly there, truly present, truly manifest, but is veiled behind the *symbol *of (the appearance of) bread and wine. The consecrated species “symbolize” the reality of Christ; they “symbolize” this higher reality precisely because we can’t perceive with our bodily senses the higher reality that is present. It’s not for the body to sense, but for the spirit.

Point being, those links are far removed from the actual context the Church Fathers were writing from, they’re selective and don’t account for the whole corpus of writings from a given Church Father, and it must be remembered that the language used by the Church Fathers is not as developed or as precise. The sacrament is the same, but as heresy after heresy has arisen, the language to talk about it has been refined and tempered so as to provide a clearer orthodox understanding and to avoid heterodox misunderstandings. They also insist on an “either/or” interpretation, when in reality Catholics do still recognize that one way we received and feed on Christ spiritually is by reading scripture, prayer, etc… It’s not only the Eucharist. So if an ECF writes about spiritually feeding on Christ in worship and in prayer and in scripture, or if he writes about how eating from one loaf signifies the unity of Christians, he is NOT writing this to the exclusion of the real presence. In fact, the way all of these understandings interlock and complement each other (instead of being mutually exclusive) is incredibly beautiful.

There’s the problem! Boiled down, Protestantism is man-made opinions of a tiny fraction of revealed truth. There is no way that one can arrive at the fullness of revealed truth by eliminating most of it and then guessing at the rest! Bless them for the good they do, but each and every doctrine that is uniquely protestant is made up. Plain and simple. You can Google the names of the inventors.

Rather, ask your friend Where Jesus taught that His followers should go to a collection of writings - then unwritten - and scratch their heads to know the truth. That is the sand foundation of Protestantism, and that is the elephant in their living room.

Think about inviting that friend to mass, after explaining the true content of the mass.

When you read the Father’s work on the Eucharist, you see little quotes here and there that seem to mesh with reformed theology…

But in actuality, they do not. Because I can give you Augustine quotes that look reformed on this, but then several others that clearly indicate his believe in Jesus real presence in the Eucharist. What he, and I think others are essentially saying, is that it is symbolic to your human eye…but that it really is Jesus. Reformed folks usually never bother to read beyond the cherry picked quotes because they just want to see what already agrees with their own presuppositions. Seems like a few on this site are reading entire letters and dialogues but that is not the norm.

I try not to read blogs.
They are mostly navel-gazing "see how smart I am " diatribes.

Read the Catechism. Perhaps major Catholic theologians for Catholic teaching.
Everything else is just blah blah blah.

Another question is about Luther. The chief reformer who knew Church history and the Scriptures very well, could not deny the real presence of the Lord in communion, even though he seemed to want to. Lutherans of his era were still bowing to the Lord before receiving him in Communion. Not much difference from what Luther taught about it and what the RCC teaches, imo. It’s the later reformers who went off the deep end here.

The Sacraments ARE symbols, but they are not symbols EXCLUSIVELY.

And while it’s true that the Church Fathers spoke of the Eucharist in symbolic terms, it’s also true that it was universally held that Christ was physically present in some way. The precise mode of this physical presence was not formally defined until much later, of course.

Here is a snippet from no less an authoritative and scholarly text as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:

That the Eucharist conveyed to the believer the Body and Blood of Christ was universally accepted from the first . . . Even where the elements were spoken of as ‘symbols’ or ‘antitypes’ there was no intention of denying the reality of the Presence in the gifts . . . In the Patristic period there was remarkably little in the way of controversy on the subject . . . The first controversies on the nature of the Eucharistic Presence date from the earlier Middle Ages. In the 9th century Paschasius Radbertus raised doubts as to the identity of Christ’s Eucharistic Body with His Body in heaven, but won practically no support. Considerably greater stir was provoked in the 11th century by the teaching of Berengar, who opposed the doctrine of the Real Presence. He retracted his opinion, however, before his death in 1088 . . .

Here’s a quote from the 1978 edition New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, pg. 275:

The Fathers . . . [believed] that the union with Christ given and confirmed in the Supper was as real as that which took place in the incarnation of the Word in human flesh.

This is unnecessary, because the vast, vast, VAST majority of non-scholars of any field do precisely this. Moreover, those presuppositions come from sources whom they happen to trust that are then repeated parrot-fashion.

And let us not throw stones in glass houses.

I doubt that one one-hundredth of the folks on this forum have read anything at all of the Church Fathers and, of those who have, the vast majority have merely browsed the quote books. I think I would be hard-pressed to go to my parish, which serves a major university, and find more than a handful of individuals who could offer me a robust defense of the Church Father’s views on something like the divinity of Christ, let alone their nuanced views on the Real Presence.

But despite this, I would also think that the majority of Catholics here believe that the Church Fathers were Catholics, and that they held to the standard of orthodoxy in their day.

Luther himself affirmed real presence based on Early Church Fathers; that’s why the Church needs a teaching magisterium to discern the truth with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I like to use this quote on the rare occasion I speak to someone who disputes the real presence.

Any response works. Just say the reformer himself clung to the real presence which divided the Church more as those that believed on their own it was merely symbolic split the Church into a new Church.

" InQ. What did Martin Luther believe about the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine?

A. Martin Luther believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He became indignant when groups, who had followed him out of the Catholic Church, rejected the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.*[LIST=1]
]He deplored the fact that every milkmaid and farmhand thought they could interpret scripture correctly.
Here he is in his own words.
"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. **[LIST=1]
*]Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them
[/LIST][/LIST]**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.”
—Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391

The Church has always held to the teaching of the Real Presence, from the beginning. Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John. In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius states that the heterodox

abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.


I am not aware that Luther ever “seemed to want to” deny the real presence. His main dispute ( though not his only one) with Zwingli and later Calvin was over the real presence.
"Before I drink mere wine with the Swiss I shall drink blood with the pope.” - Luther
Yes, he felt that strongly about the real presence

As for the OP’s friend, Luther said this about the ECF’s:

"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.

You are in luck. The way the term figure, and symbol were used in early Christianity, are totally different than the way those terms are used today, and the foremost Protestant historians of the nineteenth, and twentieth centuries admit as much.


"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 the 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 [E.g. de orat. 19; de idol. 7] the bread as 'the Lord's body.' The converted pagan, he remarks [De pud. 9], 'feeds on the richness of the Lord's body, that is, on the eucharist.' 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 Savior's BODY and BLOOD are as REAL as the baptismal WATER." (Kelly, pg 211)

Further, Kelly goes on to say concerning -figura

"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. C. Marc. 3,19; 4,40] to the bread as 'a figure' (figura) of Christ's body, and once speaks [Ibid I,14: cf. Hippolytus, apost. trad. 32,3] 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 [Cf. 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." (JND Kelly, EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES, page 212)


"Another kind of phraseology is found most markedly in Tertullian... Tertullian more than once uses like language with explicit reference to the Eucharist. He asserts our Lord's intention to have been to show that bread was 'the figure (figura) of His body' : he explains the words 'This is My body' as meaning 'This is the figure (figura) of My body'; he interprets the words of institution as placing our Lord's body under the head of, or in the category of, bread (corpus eius in pane censetur) [Adv Marc iii,19; iv,40; De Orat 6]. He says also that our Lord by the use of bread 'makes present (repraesentat) His very body' [Adv Marc i,14].
"The consideration of this type of phraseology must include some discussion of (a) the meaning of the words 'symbol' [in Clement of Alexandria] and 'figure' (figura) [in Tertullian]; (b) the meaning of the word translated 'makes present' (repraesentat); (c) the relation of the passages here quoted to other statements of the same writers." (Stone, volume 1, page 29)

FIGURA IN TERTULLIAN – “This is the FIGURE of My body”

After Stone points out the different meanings, associations and tendencies of the words “symbol” and “figure” even in present language and cultures, he goes on to say

"As regards the early Church it may be confidently stated that the notions suggested by words meaning 'symbol' would differ in important respects from those which like words would suggest to an ordinary Englishman or German of today. Dr. Harnack has stated a crucial difference with great clearness.

** ‘What we nowadays,’ he writes, ‘understand by “symbol” is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time “symbol” denoted a thing which in some kind of way REALLY IS what it signifies…What we now call “symbol” is something wholly different from what was so called by the ancient Church.’ **[HISTORY OF DOGMA, ii,144; iv,289]

"...Still more explicit indications of the meaning of such terms [as symbol or figure] in the phraseology of Tertullian may be shown by an examination of his language elsewhere and by a comparison of other known uses of the word 'figura.'
"In describing the Incarnation Tertullian uses the phrase 'caro FIGURATUS' to denote that our Lord received in the womb of His Virgin Mother not only the appearance but also the REALITY of flesh [Apol 21; cf. Adv Marc iv,21]. He says that our Lord made known to the Apostles 'the form (FIGURA) of His voice' [Scorp 12]. He uses the word 'figura' in the sense of a main point in, or head of, a discussion [Adv Marc ii,21]. Elsewhere he denotes by it the prophetic anticipation of an event afterwards to be fulfilled [De Monog 6 -- the Latin is provided in note]." (Stone, vol 1, pg 30,31)


"The question of the meaning of such words in connection with the Eucharist will recur again in a later period. It may be sufficient here to express the warning that to suppose that ‘symbol’ in Clement of Alexandria or ‘figure’ in Tertullian must mean the same as in modern speech would be to assent to a line of thought which is GRAVELY MISLEADING." (Stone, vol 1, pg 31)…

Stone continues concerning Tertullian’s view of the Eucharist and Sacraments –

"A very imperfect idea of the Eucharistic doctrine of Tertullian would be given if attention were confined to those passages in his writings in which he describes the Eucharist as the 'figura' of the body of Christ and the means by which our Lord 'makes His body present.' To understand it rightly, it must be viewed in the general setting of sacramental principle which Tertullian emphasizes. In his eyes the Incarnation has introduced new aspects of the relation of man to God. The human flesh which the Lord then took is an abiding reality. 'That same Person who suffered,' he declares, 'will come from heaven; that same Person who was raised from the dead will appear to all. And they who pierced Him will see and recognize the very flesh against which they raged' [De carn Christi, 24]. With this Christ, thus retaining His human body and blood, Christians are closely united. The baptised are clothed with Christ; in them Christ lives [De fug 10; De poen 10]. By the daily reception of the bread of life there is continuance in Christ and abiding union in His body [De orat 6]. Before the Incarnation the flesh was far off from God, 'not yet worthy of the gift of salvation, not yet fitted for the duty of holiness'; but Christ's work, accomplished in the flesh, has changed all that [De pud 6]. Since the Incarnation Sacraments have become necessary and effectual [De Bapt 11,13]; and that which in the ordinances of the Church touches the flesh benefits the soul [De carn res 8].
"It is in harmony with these general sacramental principles that Tertullian not only calls the Eucharist 'the holy thing' [De spectac 25], but also often and naturally refers to it as the body of Christ." (Stone, vol 1, pg 36-37)

Stone then gives six clear examples of Tertullian’s literal view –

(1) It is a matter of anxious care that no drop of the wine or fragment of the bread should fall to the ground (De cor 3).

(2) It was the Lord’s body which the disciples received at the Last Supper (Adv Marc iv,40).

(3) It is the Lord’s body which the communicant receives in the Church or reserves for his Communion at home (De orat 19).

(4) It is the Lord’s body with the richness of which the Christian is fed in the Eucharist (De pud 9).

(5) It is Christ’s body and blood with which “the flesh is clothed, so that the soul also may be made fat by God” (De carn res 8).

(6) Even in unworthy Communions it is the body of the Lord which wicked hands approach, the body of the Lord which wicked men outrage and offend (De idol 7).

Stone concludes on Tertullian –

"The writings of Tertullian certainly bear witness to his belief that the Eucharistic food is a special means of union with the Manhood of Christ, and that in some sense it is His body and His blood. When we view the complexity and varying elements of his language, perhaps we are wise if we are not too positive as to what further definitions he might have made if he had explained more precisely what his exact meaning was." (Stone, volume 1, page 37)

See this link. It has all the writing of the early church fathers.

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