Church Fathers on the Real Presence

First Lutheran service in Brandenburg 1539

 

As I have stated in other posts, I agree with the Lutheran teaching on the Real Presence in Holy Communion.  How is it that they define this?  If you want to nail a Confessional Lutheran to the wall on their beliefs it is an easy thing to do, just bust out pretty much anything from the Book of Concord.  The simplest place to go though is the Small Catechism.

 

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

“It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” – Small Catechism

So far I have addressed this Biblically HERE and HERE.  But for the moment I would like to take a look at what the Church Fathers believed.  Can we find a Patristic confession consistent with that of the Small Catechism?  Or is the Lutheran view something  entirely anachronistic to the Historic Christian faith?

As I have stated in other posts, while I confess Sola Scriptura, that doesn’t preclude doing ones homework and appealing to ancient Church teachings.  Chances are, if your confession cannot be found in church history then it isn’t a Christian confession.  Christ promised Hell itself would not overcome his Church so we should expect consistency on some level throughout every age.

Specifically what I am going to demonstrate is samples of the Church Fathers referring to the Bread and Wine as being the body and blood of Christ in a literal sense.  Can we find clear testimony on this?

“On the Lord’s Day of the Lord gather together, break bread and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join you until he is reconciled by the Lord: “In every place and time let there be offered to me a clean sacrifice. For I am  Great King,” says the Lord, “and My name is wonderful among the Gentiles.”  – Didache, 90 AD

“I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ,  who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” -Ignatius, ~110 AD, Letter to the Romans

“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They 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.”- Ignatius, ~110 AD,  Letter to the Smyrnaeans, paragraph 6.

“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 nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” -Justin Martyr, 100-165 AD, First Apology

“…He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, “This is my body.” The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood.

He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve prophets, had signified beforehand: [quotes Mal 1:10-11]. By these words He makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one; for His name is glorified among the Gentiles.” -Irenaeus, 140 – 202 AD, Against Heresies 

“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.”-Irenaeus, 140 – 202 AD, “Five Books on the Unmasking and Refutation of the Falsely named Gnosis”. Book 4:18 4-5

But what consistency is there in those who hold that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord,  and the cup his blood,  if they do not acknowledge that He is the Son of the Creator… How can they say that the flesh which has been nourished by the Body of the Lord and by his blood gives way to corruption and does not partake of life? …For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly…”-Irenaeus, 140 – 202 AD, Against Heresies 

“He Himself warns us, saying, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink is blood, you shall not have life in you”. Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body.” -Cyprian of Carthage, 200-258 AD, The Lord’s Prayer 18

“Also in the priest Melchisedech we see the Sacrament of the sacrifice of the Lord prefigured…The order certainly is that which comes from his [Melchisedech’s] sacrifice and which comes down from it: because Melchisedech was a priest of the Most High God; because he offered bread; and because he blessed Abraham. And who is more a priest of the Most High God than our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when he offered sacrifice to God the Father, offered the very same which Melchisedech had offered, namely bread and wine, which is in fact his Body and Blood. -Cyprian of Carthage, 200-258 AD, Letters 63:4

 

 

The quotes I have given are really just the tip of the iceberg.  If you want a more exhaustive list you can read where I found them HERE.

Furthermore, I cannot find anything in early Church writings rebuking real presence.  I have seen those of a Zwinglian persuasion use quotes like the one below to make their case:

 

“But you are not inclined to understand it thus, but perchance more generally. Hear it also in the following way. The flesh figuratively represents to us the Holy Spirit; for the flesh was created by Him. The blood points out to us the Word, for as rich blood the Word has been infused into life; and the union of both is the Lord, the food of the babes–the Lord who is Spirit and Word. The food- that is, the Lord Jesus–that is, the Word of God, the Spirit made flesh, the heavenly flesh sanctified…” Clement, Paedagogus 1:6

 

This segment above isn’t the only example I have seen used but it is a good representation of them.  It is my assessment that some of the Church fathers believed the Bread and Wine to be both literal and figurative at the same time.

The reason I take this stance is because I cannot find anyone specifically naming the belief of the real presence and then denying it until Zwingli.  Clearly the belief in the real presence was very common, so if it had been considered idolatry as Zwinglians today regard it, then I would expect lengthy rebukes and apologetics to that effect.

And this goes both ways.  Just as one cannot assert that the Church fathers didn’t see symbolism in the Lord’s Supper, one cannot assert that they didn’t see the Real Presence either.  The chief problem with a Zwinglian confession though is that it is a flat out denial of the real presence.  I have argued in prior posts that this denial is unbiblical, and now I feel confident also asserting that it is anachronistic to Church history and teaching as well.

 

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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