Early Christians Comment on the Eucharist
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, as it is commonly called in Latin. In my homily (Which you can listen to here) I explained the reasons why I personally believe that the bread and wine we bless at Mass becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus. The reasons are that 1) Christ taught it, 2) the early Christians believed it, 3) the most courageous saints believed it and 4) I have personally experienced the transformative effects of the Eucharist in my own life.
As for point two, I thought I would share a few quotes from the writings of some of these early Christians. This is far from exhaustive, but I find these particular quotes enlightening.
Ignatius of Antioch is believed to have learned directly from John, the Apostle. He wrote the following to Christians living in Smyrna, warning them of a splinter group. The approximate date of this writing is 107-110 AD:
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”
Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist who tried to convince the Emperor to cease his persecutions of Christians. The following quote comes from his First Apology, in which he explains Christian worship:
“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus”
Irenaeus was a bishop in the second century. His mentor was a man named Polycarp, and Polycarp is believed to have learned directly from the Apostle, John. His greatest work, Against Heresies, was specifically written to refute Gnosticism, a belief system that denied the incarnation of Jesus and the goodness of the human body. His argument is that the Eucharist affirms the goodness of the human body:
“He 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 unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?”
These are just a few quotes that support the teaching of our Church. The Early Christians really believed the Eucharist was the flesh and blood of Jesus. If they are correct, then this is a very, very big deal. I would like to invite you to consider believing what they believed, and I would like to invite you to consider joining us in the same prayer of these early Christians at St. Rose.