Christ be with you all,
So I’ve been diving into the study of the most holy sacrament of the altar, and I have been stuck on trying interpret what some of the earliest Church Fathers meant when they spoke about the Eucharist. There is no question that they believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that being, body, soul, blood, and divinity. However, one disconnect I notice from the way that we modern Catholic believe about the Eucharist is that the Church Fathers understood there to be a physical effect of the Eucharist upon the physical human body. I will put some quotes below which demonstrate this fact.
*“This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for 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 or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also 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, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”
** St. Justin Martyr “First Apology”, Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155**.*
St. Irenaeus succeeded St. Pothinus to become the second bishop of Lyons in 177 A.D. Earlier in his life he studied under St. Polycarp. Considered, one of the greatest theologians of the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus is best known for refuting the Gnostic heresies.
[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."
Source: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 180 A.D.:
“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 substance 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’ (Eph. 5:30). He is not talking about some kind of ‘spiritual’ and ‘invisible’ man, ‘for a spirit does not have flesh an bones’ (Lk. 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’ (Jn. 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.”
-"Five Books on the Unmasking and Refutation of the Falsely
Named Gnosis". Book 5:2, 2-3, circa 180 A.D. “For just as the bread which comes from the earth, having received the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly, so our bodies, having received the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, because they have the hope of the resurrection.”
-“Five Books on the Unmasking and Refutation of the Falsely named Gnosis”. Book 4:18 4-5, circa 180 A.D.
I could provide more quotes, but in particular, St, Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the flesh of Jesus Christ has having within itself the power to give resurrection life, and that our bodies receive the power of resurrection only by coming into a “blend” or “mix” with this living flesh of Christ. He even extends His argument to include that the digestion of the bread and wine into our bloodstream and cell-life is what makes our bodies suck on the immortality which inheres within the flesh of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Today, we are more accustomed to hearing about the soul’s benefit of the Eucharist, namely, that through the Eucharist our souls are infused with the grace and virtues of the Holy Spirit, principally divine charity, which conforms us more and more to the standard of the divine community of the Trinity. However, these Fathers above make it clear that we are missing some other element to the Eucharist’s effect upon the human physical body.