question about the eucharist

i’ve been reading some of the early church fathers lately and it seems like everyone until after irenaeus treats the eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving only and not propitiatory including the ditache, ignatius, justin martyr. and then, well, there’s augustine… not sure what to make of him exactly. i’m not even sure if he believe in the real presence. sorry, don’t have any direct quotes because it would take too long to find. but i’m sure some of you know what i’m talking about

Oh, really? Do you really want to come here and question the Early Fathers on Eucharist? OK, fair enough - here you go…

Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ [Mal. 1:11, 14]" (Didache 14 [A.D. 70])

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God" (St. Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).

“God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [A.D. 155]).

I think he did (even though he was quite a lot later than St. Irenaeus - or did you not know that?):

“In the sacrament he is immolated for the people not only on every Easter Solemnity but on every day; and a man would not be lying if, when asked, he were to reply that Christ is being immolated. For if sacraments had not a likeness to those things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all; and they generally take the names of those same things by reason of this likeness” (St. Augustine, Letters 98:9 [A.D. 412]).

“For when he says in another book, which is called Ecclesiastes, ‘There is no good for a man except that he should eat and drink’ [Eccles. 2:24], what can he be more credibly understood to say [prophetically] than what belongs to the participation of this table which the Mediator of the New Testament himself, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, furnishes with his own body and blood? For that sacrifice has succeeded all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were slain as a shadow of what was to come. . . . Because, instead of all these sacrifices and oblations, his body is offered and is served up to the partakers of it” (St. Augustine, The City of God 17:20 [A.D. 419]).

Yeah, we know exactly what you are talking about. It is anti-Catholic nonsense, and easily refuted here. If you claim to have been reading the Early Fathers, then you ought to really read them, and not just tell what you have been told about them. It’s hard to imagine that you could have overlooked these passages and instead found passages which insist Eucharist is merely symbolic or non-propitiatory (which, of course, you cannot cite, because there are no such passages to cite).

You are maybe being a bit stern. David? Isn’t it possible that the OP is being perfectly sincere?

I doubt that. The OP stated that

it seems like everyone until after irenaeus treats the eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving only and not propitiatory

The OP could not cite even a single quote to support his position (even though he claims to have personally studied these writings and arrived at this conclusion as a result of these studies).

By saying that “]it seems like everyone until after irenaeus treats the eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” I would expect that the OP has actually encountered such writing in any of his quoted sources that actually “treats” Eucharist in this manner. Yet, I happen to know that NONE of the sources he cites say anything of the kind (unless the OP has recently unearthed some newly-discovered ancient scroll that I am not aware of).

So, no, I do not accept the OP at his word. He makes a claim that I personally know to be absolutely false, while claiming to have discerned these claims through his own research. If the OP will care to CITE one single claim (as I have CITED passages contrary to EVERY one of his claims) then I will gladly recant my criticism, and express my gratitude to the OP for educating me further in the teachings of the Early Fathers.

I’m waiting.

No kidding! I took it as an honest inquiry.


This person was not confrontational nor disrespectful in their post. They weren’t refuting, and were merely questioning. That’s why they posted here, so they can gain some insight. Let’s respond charitably to our brothers and sisters.

Dear Original Poster:

I have noticed you posting many questions in various forums over the past several days. Kudos to you regarding wanting to increase knowledge regarding your faith (I see you list your faith as Catholic).

A suggestion for you would be to read Scripture daily and also delve into the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church). You will find the majority if your questions answered there. The CCC can be purchased or it is free on the Vatican website.

Also, use the CAF search box on the home page to search the topics or questions you are interested in------ most of the questions you are posting have been asked and answered numerous times before.

I hope this helps you to learn more about your faith.


I have been noticing angel’s questions on CAF as well. And I congratulate her for being such active in strengthening her faith through knowledge. However, as she is always silent on the sources of the allegations always present in her questions, I am afraid of the agenda behind the sources she has been using (probably fundamentalist Christians by the nature of the questions). I second that a reading of the Catechism is a must. She can find both references to the Bible as well to the early Church Fathers there.

To the OP I recommend Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Dr. Brant Pitre.


haven’t read the book but I’m actually taking a class with him great thinker :smiley:

i find it slightly uncharitable that yu say i’m just buying in to anticatholic propaganda. of course i’ve actually read them. what about justin martyr’s first apology where he’s describing the worship service? or irenaeus’s against heresies writings on the eucharist. it doesn’t say anything about the sacrifice being proprtiatory, only the offering of prayers and thanksgiving. which, coincidentally, happens to be the lutheran position. i’m not trying to provoke anyone, just trying to find out the truth because my faith depends on it. was just wondering why they never mentioned it if it’s so important

i’ve only been looking at catholic websites, and they don’t always preovide the whole context for the quotes they sometimes use. and these are questions i’ve come to mainly on my own, just for the record. even if they happen to be the same as some other people. i’ve read scripture in its entirety by the way, as well as the catechism

angell1’s observation is a legitimate one, which scholars have discussed and treated.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Sacrifice of the Mass”:

An impartial study of the earliest texts seems indeed to make this much clear, that the early Church paid most attention to the spiritual and subjective side of sacrifice and laid chief stress on prayer and thanksgiving in the Eucharistic function.

This admission, however, is not identical with the statement that the early Church rejected out and out the objective sacrifice, and acknowledged as genuine only the spiritual sacrifice as expressed in the “Eucharistic thanksgiving”. That there has been an historical dogmatic development from the indefinite to the definite, from the implicit to the explicit, from the seed to the fruit, no one familiar with the subject will deny. An assumption so reasonable, the only one in fact consistent with Christianity, is, however, fundamentally different from the hypothesis that the Christian idea of sacrifice has veered from one extreme to the other. This is a priori improbable and unproved in fact.

here’s a part from chapters 17 and 18 of book Iv , against heresies by irenaeus

  1. From all these it is evident that God did not seek sacrifices and holocausts from them, but faith, and obedience, and righteousness, because of their salvation. As God, when teaching them His will in Hosea the prophet, said, “I desire mercy rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.”(3) Besides, our Lord also exhorted them to the same effect, when He said, “But if ye had known what [this] meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.”(4) Thus does He bear witness to the prophets, that they preached the truth; but accuses these men (His hearers) of being foolish through their own fault.

  2. Again, giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits(5) of His own, created things–not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful–He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, “This is My body.”(6) And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachi, among the twelve prophets, thus spoke beforehand: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, saith the LORD Omnipotent;”(7)–indicating in the plainest manner, by these words, that the former people [the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles.(8)

  3. But what other name is there which is glorified among the Gentiles than that of our Lord, by whom the Father is glorified, and man also? And because it is [the name] of His own Son, who was made man by Him, He calls it His own. Just as a king, if he himself paints a likeness of his son, is right in calling this likeness his own, for both these reasons, because it is [the likeness] of his son, and because it is his own production; so also does the Father confess the name of Jesus Christ, which is throughout all the world glorified in the Church, to be His own, both because it is that of His Son, and because He who thus describes it gave Him for the salvation of men. Since, therefore, the name of the Son belongs to the Father, and since in the omnipotent God the Church makes offerings through Jesus Christ, He says well on both these grounds, “And in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice.” Now John, in the Apocalypse, declares that the “incense” is “the prayers of the saints.”(9)

given is the body of their Lord,(2) and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.”(3)

  1. Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned.(4) But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit.(5) For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread,(6) but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.
  2. Now we make offering to Him, not as though He stood in need of it, but rendering thanks for His gift,(7) and thus sanctifying what has been created. For even as God does not need our possessions, so do we need to offer something to God; as Solomon says: “He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord.”(8) For God, who stands in need of nothing, takes our good works to Himself for this purpose, that He may grant us a recompense of His own good things, as our Lord says: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you. For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came to Me.”(9) As, therefore, He does not stand in need of these [services], yet does desire that we should render them for our own benefit, lest we be unfruitful; so did the Word give to the people that very precept as to the making of oblations, although He stood in no need of them, that they might learn to serve God: thus is it, therefore, also His will that we, too, should offer a gift at the altar, frequently and without intermission. The altar, then, is in heaven(10) (for towards that place are our prayers and oblations directed); the temple likewise [is there], as John says in the Apocalypse, “And the temple of God was opened:”(11) the tabernacle also: “For, behold,” He says, “the tabernacle of God, in which He will dwell with men.”

David, the tone of your response was just a little ridiculous. There was nothing to suggest insincerity in the question. Furthermore, your reply did not address her question. She didn’t question if the Eucharist was a Sacrifice, she was questioning the notion of Sacrifice of Thanksgiving V.S. Propitiatory Sacrifice for Sins.

Gee, I’ve been reading them too. I am in the process of reading the ECFs in the general order in time, by author. I don’t see your point though, sorry. :shrug:

One thing that I have noticed is that they weren’t concerned about the same issues that we are concerned with in this age, and many of the things they are addressing are not in a level of detail to address the doctrines and dogmas of the Church. (My opinion only)

There are bits and pieces which I have found informative and educational. Verses of the scripture that are identical to what I read in my Bible, reflections of our rites that are identical to our current rites.

I read some of the ECFs before I became Catholic and there were many things that I could not understand because I wasn’t reading them with a Catholic mind, and I didn’t yet understand the teaching of the Church. I had no context. But during my RCIA I began reading “Four Witnesses” which placed a lot of the ECF’s writings grouped by doctrinal theme, which I found very helpful. I recommend this book, it is a very good read. Ignatius Press, I believe if memory serves.

Have you read all of Justin Martyr’s works, or just the First Apology? I found his Dialogue with Trypho to be a very good work, and highly recommend it.

Have you been reading the patristic texts in their entirety (obviously I don’t mean everything all of them wrote, which would be a lifetime endeavor if it were possible at all, but whole texts or even whole lengthy passages), or simply looking for quotes dealing with this particular topic? I ask this because your post doesn’t make it entirely clear, and apologists on both sides will often take prooftexts out of context, providing a misleading impression.

In the case of Augustine, there are passages that sound as if he’s endorsing a “spiritual” view of the Eucharist, but then you find him telling people to adore Christ in the Eucharist. . . :shrug:

Many of the Fathers simply speak of the Eucharist as a sacrifice without specifying just what they mean by it. But yes, my impression too is that they think of it in terms of a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

I don’t think this presents a problem for Catholic teaching at all. The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving–but the one sacrifice of Jesus, for which we give thanks in the Eucharist, becomes present as we commemorate it. We aren’t holding a memorial service for something that happened in the past and which we remember with fond nostalgia. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus breaks into our place and time through our act of “remembrance.”

Doctrine develops, remember. Once the question is posed: “what relationship does the Eucharist have to the one sacrifice of Jesus?” an answer that says, “it’s just giving thanks for the one sacrifice, but it is in no way to be identified with it,” is insufficient and thus heretical.

But the early Fathers weren’t asking that question. They were speaking in mystical terms and not defining the answers to questions that hadn’t been raised yet.


Can you describe what it is you are seeing there that prompts your question? I read the passage, and while it certainly offers up a “high” view of the Eucharist as sacrifice, I do not see where it specifies the type of sacrifice. Thus I am not seeing how the passage pertains to the issue you raise.

In general, I’d agree that the Eucharist is first and foremost a sacrifice of thanks and praise, hence the very name “Eucharist.” As the author of Hebrews makes clear, Christians do not require repeated propitiatory sacrifices such as existed before the Cross. On the other hand, in offering the Eucharist we are joining in the Son’s offering of Himself to the Father, which of course was the ultimate propitiation for sins. So the Eucharist is not an independent propitiatory sacrifice but a gift that allows us to participate in offering the only propitiatory sacrifice that matters.


Excellent reply (if a bit pointed). :wink: Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

@ OP:

A couple of points, just as an aside/for consideration:

  1. The word “Eucharist” means ‘thanks giving’–we give thanks through the sacrifice of the Mass–IOW/that is, giving thanks, does not negate the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist–they go together.

  2. Sacred Tradition provides the living interpretation of what the Church Fathers said. You dismiss their legacy (i.e.–their actual successors–i.e. the Catholic Church) at your own peril–in favor of a selective interpretation of their writings, that contradict their living legacy;

  3. Do you think the successors of the Church Fathers would have made the interpretation of the Eucharist, more…‘cannibalistic’ than necessary? Seek to alienate more than were/are naturally challenged by the concept? The concept is patently challenging–and was ab initio–note that when Christ first describes the Eucharist (John Ch. 6, v. 35 et. seq.), “…many disciples followed him no more”, precisely because it is such a hard, and challenging teaching–but it comes straight from Christ’s mouth;

  4. This Church’s belief in the Eucharist has always been problematic for non-believers–so the early Christians (reflected in the ECF’s writings)–tended to hedge their language just a tad–but not to compromise its true meaning/significance (that’s probably where your encountering difficulty with finding clearer references amongst the ECF’s)–[IMHO];

  5. Note further that much of the initiation was somewhat ‘secretive’–only ‘initiated’ Christians could be present for the Eucharistic part of the Mass (open to non-initiated for the liturgy of the Word; closed for the liturgy of the Eucharist)–recall, they were being persecuted by secular/pagan authorities in the early days–and it was precisely the radical nature of the Eucharistic teaching, that many found threatening;

  6. Note in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, his admonition against partaking of the Eucharist without '...discerning the body and blood of the Lord"--resulting in bringing judgment upon oneself.  Why pray tell might that be, if it was anything less that what the Church professes it to be?  

It was and has always been the heart of Christianity; it has always been difficult; and it always will be.

Just some thoughts…


Indeed. They are good questions, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. And as I said, Catholic apologists prooftext too–indeed, I find that most apologetics has the opposite effect on me from the one intended (when I finish reading a Catholic argument, I think the Protestants must be right, and vice versa–but I’m weird and obnoxious:p).

I became Anglican in part because of issues like this–I was sure that I agreed with the more “watered-down” version of Catholicism one finds in Anglicanism, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to go “all the way.”

Newman’s Essay on Development is the classic response to this kind of argument (i.e., an argument saying that the early Church Fathers don’t “go as far” as modern Catholicism does). I don’t agree with everything he says there, but I think he makes a lot of valid points and it’s a book well worth reading.

You can find the Fathers easily online, both at and at


are you sure you’re not catholic, you have by far given me the best answers so far on most of my questions. and i’m sorry if my post was taking the wrong way. i’m simply trying to learn

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