Early Great Christian Teachers
The First 5 Centuries
St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. A. D. 110
(At Capharnaum, when the promise was made, “the Jews on that account argued with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat,’ ” and “many of his disciples……. said, ‘This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?’…… From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went with him” (Jn. 6: 53, 61, 67). These men took Christ literally and parted company with Him. The first group to refuse to take Christ literally, and, thereby, to forfeit the name “Christian,” were the Docetists. Against them St. Ignatius warns the Christians of the major churches of the East and of Rome. For the Docetists not only were the words of promise and fulfilment sheer make-believe, but the words of the Prologue of St. John. “And the Word became flesh,” were also make-believe.)
From Eucharist and prayer they [the Docetists] hold aloof; because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His lovingkindness raised from the dead.
To the Smyrnaeans
Writing ten years after St. John, he called the Eucharist: ‘the medicine of immortality,
St. Justin Martyr, c. A. D. 150
(Once again, it is the Docetists that St. Justin has in mind, when, in his Apology or defence of Christians against the charges brought forward by pagans, he lifts the veil of secrecy that would ordinarily surround the Christian mysteries.)
We call this food the Eucharist…..Not as ordinary bread or as ordinary drink do we partake of them, but just as, through the word of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ became Incarnate and took upon Himself flesh and blood for our salvation, so, we have been taught, the food which has been made the Eucharist by the prayer of His word, and which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is both the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
The First Apology
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. A. D. 177
Since we are His members, and because we are nourished by created foods, He who makes His sun to rise and His rain to fall as He wills holds out to us foods of His creation: this chalice, which is of creation, He has confessed to be His very own blood, which was shed and which nourishes our blood; this bread, which is of creation, He has confessed to be His very own body, which nourishes our bodies.
When, therefore, the mixed chalice and the bread that is made receive the word of God and become a Eucharist, the body of Christ, by which the substance of our flesh grows and subsists, how can they (the Docetists) deny that the flesh is capable of the gift of God, which is life eternal, seeing that it is nourished with the body and blood of Christ, and is His member?
For when the blessed Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians “that we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones” [5: 30], he is not speaking of spiritual and invisible man — “‘For the Spirit has neither bones nor flesh” [Lk. 24: 39] — but of a truly human organism that is made of flesh, and nerves, and bones. It is this which is nourished by the cup, which is His blood, and by the bread, which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine, planted in the earth, bears fruit in due season, and a grain of wheat, falling on the ground therein dissolves, and rises again with large increase by the Spirit of God who sustains all things, and thereafter, by the Wisdom of God, becomes fit for man’s food, and at last receives the Word of God and becomes a Eucharist, which is Christ’s body and blood, so too our bodies, nourished by the Eucharist, and laid in the earth there to suffer dissolution, will in due season rise again. This resurrection will the Word of God grant them, to the glory of God the Father, who clothes mortality with immortality, and grants to the corruptible incorruption, God’s power thus being perfected in weakness [1 Cor. 15: 33].
Against the Heresies (PG, 7, 1125 – 1127).
St. Ephrem the Syrian, c. A. D. 373
Jesus, our Lord, took into His hand what at first was merely bread, and blessed, signed, and sanctified it in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit …..and the bread He called His own living body and filled it with Himself and with the Spirit. Reaching out His hand, He gave them bread which He had sanctified with His right hand: Take, all of you eat of this which My word has sanctified (emphasis added)……He took a chalice and mixed wine into it; then He blessed, signed and sanctified it, professing that it was His blood which was to be shed…..This is My true blood which is shed for all of you; take, all of you drink of it, since it is the new covenant in My blood. As you see Me doing, so do ye in commemoration of Me. When you shall be gathered together in My name, in the Church throughout the world, do what I did in memory of Me; eat My body and drink My blood, a covenant that is new and old.
Sermons in Holy Week, 4. 4, 6 (Lamy,1, 416ff.)
St. Gregory of Nvssa, c. A. D. 385
Rightly then do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the word of God is made over into the body of God the Word…..In this case the bread, as the Apostle says, is consecrated by means of the word of God and prayer; not that it advances by the process of eating into becoming the body of the Word, but it is at once made over into the body by means of the word, as the Word said, ‘This is My Body’…..In the dispensation of grace He plants Himself in all the faithful by means of that flesh fashioned from wine and bread, blending himself with the bodies of the faithful, so that man also may become partaker of incorruption by union with the immortal. He bestows these gifts as He transforms the elements of the visible things so that of the immortal thing by virtue of the consecration.
Catechtical Oration, 37 (PG, 45, 93).
St. John Chrysostom, c. A. D. 388
Union with Christ and with One Another.
“We are one body, and members of his flesh and bones” (Eph. 5: 30)……Now that we might become such, not only by way of love but also in very reality, we are commingled with that flesh. For through the food that He has given, this is brought about, that He may show us how great is His love for us. Therefore has He gathered us into Himself and made of the whole one body, that we may be, as it were, one body united to its head.
Homilies on John, 46, 2, 3 (PG, 59, 260).
“Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body.” (1 Cor. 10: 17).
Now why do I speak of fellowship, St. Paul Paul asks in verse 16.
We are that very body. For what is the bread? The body of Christ. What do they become who receive? The body of Christ; not many bodies, but one body. For just as bread which is made up of many grains is so made one that the individual grains nowhere appear ― but are yet present, even though their distinction is not apparent because of their union ― so we too are mutually united with one another and with Christ. For one is not fed on one body and another on another; rather, are we all nourished by one and the same body.
Homilies on 1 Corinthians.
St. Ambrose of Milan, c. AD 390
Now if the word of Elias was powerful enough to bring down fire from heaven, will not the words of Christ be powerful enough to change the specific nature of the eucharistic elements (i.e. bread and wine)? With reference to the fashioning of the whole of creation you have read: “For he spoke and they were made; he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 33: 9). The word of Christ, then, which could make out of nothing that which was not, can it not change the things that are into that which they were not? For no less power is needed to give new natures to things than to change their natures.
The Lord Jesus himself exclaims: “This is my body”. Before the blessing of the heavenly words a different kind of thing is named; after consecration it is designated as a body. He himself speaks of His blood. Before consecration it is called something else; after consecration it is named blood. And you say: Amen, that is, it is true. What the mouth utters, let the mind within confess; what the word proclaims, let the affections feel.
On the Mysteries, 4
St. Cyril of Alexandria, c. A. D. 428
There was need, then, that He be in us through the Holy Spirit after a divine manner, and be mingled, so to speak, with our bodies through His sacred flesh and His precious blood, which we also have through the life-giving blessing as though in bread and wine. For lest we be stunned with horror on seeing flesh and blood set out on the holy tables of the churches, God condescends to our weakness and sends the power of life into the elements and transforms them into the power of His own flesh, that we may have and partake of them as a means of life, and that the. body of life may become in us a life-giving seed. And doubt not that this is true, since He clearly says: “This is my body” and “This is my blood”; rather, in faith receive the Saviour’s word, for He is the Truth and does not lie.
Commentary on Luke 22: 19 (PG, 72, 912)