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AHC B This Bread Is My Flesh Ordinary 20 - Hebrew Catholics

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This Bread Is My Flesh

Ordinary 20 Year B

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

St. John 6: 51 — 58

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

 

Introduction

In this reading we arrive at the climax of John 6. In our reflection, it is not an issue whether we claim that we do, or don’t interpret the Bible literally; nor whether we agree that the Bible says what it means and means what it says.

This is a beautiful passage, and it is all about the Lord abiding in the disciple, and the disciple abiding in the Lord. This abiding is to be understood as the closest possible relationship: one of total unity surpassed only in the unity between each member of the Holy Trinity.

It would be a pity if we were to put constraints on our Lord as He tries to express the unity He yearns for with His disciples, and to block Him as He offers all that he is and does as our source of sustenance and fullness of life. The Church is collapsing on almost all fronts and Christians of different traditions are often more at home with the barbarians coming over the walls than they are in one another’s presence.

This text is a good one for us to listen to with total openness and to take our Lord at His word, and to consign prejudices where they belong — in the rubbish. To help us in our pursuit of what Jesus taught, we have included, out of respect for our varied readership (as is our custom), readings from both Protestant and Catholic sources. These are quite extensive and are offered only as supporting material for those who wish to study at that level. (Note: all emphases in these quotations are ours.) This one of the most complex pieces of the New Testament to study.

Click here for a printable copy of our text

 

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 51

Our reading commences with the closing verse of our previous text:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever
eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Verse 52

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can
this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

That statement of Jesus started an angry argument among some of His listeners. They argued with one another but their anger was pitched at what out Lord said. They asked in their bewilderment, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In the United Bible Societies “Translators Handbook” (John), Newman and Nida comment:

Some Greek manuscripts have ‘flesh’ rather than ‘his flesh’,
and the evidence for the inclusion or omission of his is about
equal. However, the context makes it clear that Jesus’ own
flesh is referred to. Even though the manuscript evidence
may not absolutely support the inclusion of this word, it is
obligatory on translational grounds.

No translation of this passage can completely eliminate the
problem of readers or hearers in understanding it. In fact
in some societies people will almost inevitably understand
“eating his flesh” as a reference to cannibalism. The total
context makes it clear that this meaning is not intended.
But in no way can one be faithful to the meaning John
intends and at the same time avoid all problems of
misunderstanding. If this discourse produced serious
problems even for followers of Jesus it is inevitable that it
will produce difficulties for the present day reader.
However, the presence of serious difficulties does not give
the translator a warrant to rewrite the passage.

It is perfectly obvious no one could fully understand what Jesus was saying. On reflection we must be fair; this teaching could not be understood by any human person. However, it could be received by faith, as the Apostles had done: listened to, reflected on, and believed. That is the model presented by St. John.

Verse 53

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you
do not have life within you.

In verse 53 our Lord states negatively what He presented positively in verse 51. This is really the beginning of the final section of His long discourse. He adds the new dimension of drinking the blood of the Son of Man, and eating His flesh. Even for us, let alone the Jews in His time, we have to take that thought slowly. Actually what Jesus us saying is that a person must receive Him totally for the purpose for which He was sent: to live, to die, and to rise again, thus, by this great work, revealing the love and mercy of God.

We simply have to accept the fact that when He said “eat”, His chosen language, the linguists tell us, could only mean “to chew. He doesn’t say, “Eat my body,” but, “Eat (or chew) my flesh”. This term is carefully placed in this part of the discourse four times. Newman and Nida (U.B.S.) have a helpful comment on interpreting this language:

“Whatever the source of meaning of, ‘eat this flesh……drink
this blood,’ these terms cannot be de-metaphorised. The
picture of eating flesh and of drinking blood may be offensive
in some cultures (the Jews themselves were forbidden to
drink blood). However, meaning and symbol are so closely
related here, that one cannot de-metaphorise without
destroying the meaning of the passage.”

For the student of Scripture we offer a further reading see “Sadler on John 6: 52 and 53″

Verses 54 and 55

Jesus continued pressing His essential message home to His critics:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal
life, and I will raise him on the last day.

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

Donald Guthrie comments:

Because the Jews put a literalistic interpretation on His
words, Jesus gives a fuller explanation in the following
words ― unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and
drink his blood, you have no life in you. The metaphor of
eating and drinking prepares the way for the later
institution of the Lord’s Supper. It is understandable that
the Jews would not have grasped the spiritual meaning
of these words, which can be understood only in the light
of the subsequent sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.

Some translations have words to the effect:

For my flesh is real flesh, and my blood is real drink
(or drink indeed).

Our translation above “true food” and “true drink” certainly emphasises the aspect of fulfilment by Jesus. Just as He is the True Vine, and True Shepherd, so He is true food, and true drink, i.e. True Flesh and True Blood, given to us to bring us to our True Home.

Just to reflect on the use of the word “real”, we should note
that the traditional understanding had always been that
the word real meant physical and spiritual in the same
sense that we were created body and soul: physical and
spiritual. A new meaning was given more recently at the
Reformation to be that real meant a higher level of reality;
i.e. pointing to the spiritual significance of the flesh and
blood as being more real than the physical aspects which
were seen as lesser.

Here there is a potential for a tragic fracture in Christianity! Perhaps St. Paul sensed our vulnerability when he reminded us that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the physical and the spiritual can dwell together, echoing Jesus’ words in verse 56. Hopefully meditation on this passage could help Christians of different persuasions to evaluate humbly their understanding of this vital discourse of Jesus in the interests of hearing correctly what He wanted to convey. Our experience is that we can all profit from the exercise.

Verses 56 and 57

We now reach the climax of our Lord’s long and very ernest instruction. His words are very beautiful:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me
and I in him.

Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of
the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life
because of me.

Bruce Vawter, C. M. explains the richness of these verses:

Reception of the Eucharist establishes communion of life
between Christ and the Christian (compare 1 Corinthians
10: 16). Even as the life of the Son and the Father is one
(14: 10; 5: 21ff), a life that in turn they share with the
Spirit (1: 32f.; 15: 26), in the Eucharist the Christian
received the shared life of God himself.

W. Leonard gives us examples of how this was interpreted by two great saints of the Church:

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s illustration from two pieces of
wax melted together is classical, and St. Therese of
Lisieux gave us a living commentary on this verse when
she described her first communion not as a meeting
with
Jesus but a fusion.

Jesus is talking about communion: our remaining in Him, and His remaining in us. For the students of Scripture we have an elaboration of this teaching and invite you to read:
“Sadler on John 6: 56 — 58″

Verse 58

Jesus rounded off his lesson by picking up phrases from the earlier parts and making a forceful statement:

This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your
ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread
will live forever.”

We offer another summing up by a great German scholar of the late 19th century, Bishop Knecht.

Concerning the promises made by our Lord in this
discourse
. He promised to give us a food, the effects of
which would not be passing, but would endure for ever.
This Food is Himself: He is the living and life-giving Food
which came down from heaven. He promised to give
His Flesh for the life of the world, and to offer this His Flesh
to be our Food. When the Jews were scandalized at the idea
of His giving His Flesh to be eaten, He did not say to them:
“You have misunderstood Me.”

On the contrary, He re-affirmed the very thing which had
scandalized them, and asserted repeatedly that His Flesh
was meat indeed and His Blood drink indeed, and that those
only will have life who eat His Flesh and drink His Blood;
though, at the same time, He signified that the Flesh which
He would give to be our Food was His glorified Body. When
many of His disciples were still offended at the idea of His
giving His Flesh to eat, and refused to believe His words,
our Lord preferred to let them go, rather than retract or
explain away one syllable of the words He had spoken. It is
therefore undeniably true that our Lord promised to give
His Body, His Flesh and Blood, to be the Food of His servants.
Our Lord gave this promise at the time of the third Pasch,
kept during His public life, and He fulfilled it a year later
when, at the Last Supper, He instituted the most holy
Sacrament of the Altar.

Another writer, James McPollin, S. J. gives us a most helpful explanation of “eating flesh and drinking blood”:

In this description of the eucharist as “eating flesh and
drinking blood,” “flesh and blood is a Hebrew idiom
for the
whole person” so that the sense is sacramental
communion is a personal communion (encounter) with
Jesus who shares His life and the life of His Father with us
(verse 35).
(For a fuller statement from this author, see the Appendix ―
Appendix: James McPollin S. J. on John 6: 51 ― 58

 

Conclusion

What can one say, after all that? Surely it is a time for silence and reflection on this treasured record of the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will take our own advice and keep silence adding only an invitation to read the earliest writings of the first great Christian teachers after the Apostles in which they uphold the teaching of Jesus, as they understood what was passed on to them.

 Early Great Christian Teachers

 

Shalom!

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 20 ― Year B

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”

(Mark 16: 15)

Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating how you can note the
gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going reflection.

This Bread Is My Flesh

Ordinary 20 Year B           St. John 6: 51 — 58

Jesus said: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever
eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for
the life of the world.”

1. Much of St. John’s Gospel is “unpacked” by commentators who analyse
sentence structure, compare word use, and other text based items of
interest. This is a little different from the Hebrew practice which integrates
more of the Oral Law and reference to “tradition”, i.e. the commonly held
deposit of faith handed down by our forbears. This latter custom flowed
over into the infant Church and continues to guide much of the
interpretation of Sacred Scripture to this day.

Whatever is our cultural background, we owe it to St. John, and certainly
to our Lord, to read carefully the text, receive it by faith, and set aside
time to listen to its messages, reflect on them, and believe in our Lord
who is, after all, the One sent to convey them to the whole world.

2. Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh
of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”.

As usual in any group situation the noisiest squeak gets the most oil. This
verse was spoken to “the Jews” ― not the crowd, but the unbelieving,
rabble-rousing authorities. See our article “The Jews” In the Gospel of John
They were determined “to sink” Jesus before He had time to explain Himself.
He was becoming perceived as dangerous already.

In this beautiful verse our Lord discloses that those who eat and drink as
He urges will actually share in His Risen Life which will be His to dispense.
He offers True Food
For True Life in Him.

3. Jesus courageously presses on with fulfilling what the Prophets
proclaimed in awesome splendour:
In good pastures will I pasture
them, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing
ground. There they shall lie down on good grazing ground, and in
rich pastures shall they be pastured on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the
Lord GOD.

The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will
bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy),
shepherding them rightly. 
  (Ezekiel 34: 14 ― 16)

So the True Shepherd will seek us out and lead us to our True Home
with Him ― sustaining us with His own life: His own Flesh and Blood,
fulfilling the Promise made in Eden so long ago
.

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of the Reflection points

 

John 6: 51 — 58

Ordinary 20 Year B

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

51     I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever
         eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give
         is my flesh for the life of the world.”

52     The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can
         this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

53     Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat
         the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not
         have life within you.

54     Whoever eats 19 my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal    
         life,
and I will raise him on the last day.

55     For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

56     Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me
         and I in him.

57     Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of
         the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life
         because of me.

58     This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your
         ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will
         live forever.”

19 [54-58] Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: “munch,” “gnaw.” This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf ⇒ John 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning “eat.”

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

Sadler On John 6: 52 and 53

Verse 52 “The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

The words of the Jews do not seem to be the outcome of mere unbelief. Unbelief would, on such an occasion, have shown itself in scorn and contempt — in such words as, “He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye him?”

These words of the Son of God could at that time be understood by no living being. They could be received by implicit faith, as the Apostles received them, but understood they could not be, for to understand them implied the believing apprehension of Christ’s holy Incarnation, as well as of His atoning Death, and His Resurrection in His spiritualised Body. To understand them implied that the Flesh of this Jesus, “whose father and mother they knew,” was in some sense a necessity for every inhabitant of the world. No matter what explanation is given of them, they mean that some sort of apprehension of the lower nature, the Flesh, of the Man before them was an antecedent to the Resurrection of each of their bodies at the last day.

No explanation such as would make His words intelligible could be given till after the Resurrection and the Ascension, and the day of Pentecost had come; and so the Lord proceeds to further enunciate the mystery in words which, like the former, could only be received in implicit faith, but which a short time after this would help those to whom God had given this faith, if not to a solution of the mystery, at least to a realization of the promise.

Verse 53 “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”

The mystery contained in the fifty-first verse is here repeated with the most important addition of the Blood . “Flesh” and “Blood” are the two lower elements of man’s nature, and sometimes stand for human nature, to distinguish it from natures above it, such as that of the angels, which is purely spiritual.

Flesh is the tenement in which man’s intellectual nature resides, and which in this lower world is its instrument for making itself known, and Blood is in the Scriptures put for his animal life. (“The blood is the life,” Deuteronomy 12: 23.) So that here the Lord asserts that we are to receive Himself — the Living Bread, and with it the Resurrection of the body — not primarily through communion with His higher Nature, but through participation in His lower, and His lower Nature is “flesh and blood.”

It will be needful to ask in passing, “Can flesh and blood stand for death, so that the Lord means that all we have to do is to realize His Death?” Impossible. Flesh and Blood never stand for death. On the contrary in every place where they occur together in the New Testament, they mean the living human being. We of course do receive the Flesh and Blood of Christ in remembrance of His Death, but this we do, not to receive His Death, but His Life. Those who now heard Christ would understand the words of one living, not of one dead. Before we proceed to consider how this feeding is to be brought about, one or two matters must be noticed.

1. If our Lord meant by “flesh” and “blood” that part of our nature
which is not mind and spirit (and He surely did so), then it is clearly
wrong and dishonourable to Him to substitute for His Flesh and
Blood His Mind or Spirit, or any element or product of His Spiritual
Nature, such as His will, or love, or righteousness or doctrine.
Virtually, to substitute “spirit” or some product of “spirit” for “flesh,”
is to destroy all meaning of human language, for it is to assert that
our Lord expressed a particular form of being by that which is most
opposite to it, for no words in the range of human language can be
more opposite than “flesh” and “spirit.”

2. This assertion of Christ that, in order to have His life, we are to
eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, is the ultimate assertion of this
wonderful discourse. All leads up to Himself as the Living Bread,
and his giving us of himself the Living Bread, not through His Spirit,
but through His Flesh and Blood.

Now, if all leads up to this, the faith which is set forth throughout this discourse as the qualification, on our part, for eating the Bread of life, must ultimately, if it be a true implicit faith, such as that of the Apostles, fasten itself upon Christ giving to us His Flesh and Blood.

It must be a humble and devout faith, willing to receive Christ, not through His Godhead or His Spirit, but through His Flesh and Blood, the lower part of His lower nature.

If the Faith mentioned throughout this discourse has to do with the subject of this discourse, then it must follow Christ as He enunciates one deep truth after another, and receive each one, and not stop short till He comes to an end, which He does when He says, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you.” If then our faith is to be what many call a “self-appropriating” faith, it must appropriate to itself what Christ here sets forth to be received, which is His Flesh and Blood.

And now we have to answer the question, Has our Lord provided any means, in the faithful use of which we can partake of His Flesh and Blood for the purposes set forth in this discourse?

The New Testament, taken by itself, would lead us to believe that the Flesh and Blood of Christ and the accompanying benefits are actually given to us in one ordinance, and in that alone; for in the references to that ordinance, and that only, have we the salient words of this discourse reproduced. This ordinance, of course, is the Eucharist or Breaking of Bread, which was ordained at the hour when Christ actually gave His Flesh and Blood, which was immolated within twenty-four hours after as a Sacrifice.

The words of Institution of the Eucharist and the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 10 and 11. which refer to them, and are founded upon them, are the only passages in which there is any allusion to this eating of the Flesh and drinking of the Blood of the Son of Man. Christ is set before us in the rest of the New Testament in every possible relation of love to us.

He is set forth as the Husband of the Church, its Head, its Shepherd, its Priest and Intercessor, above all its Life, but never as its Bread or its Food, except in connection with the Communion of His Body and Blood. Never is the reception of His doctrine, or the contemplation of His Goodness, or the abiding in His Body or Church, or trust in His Righteousness called by such terms as “eating Him as the Living Bread,” or “eating His Flesh”. So that if this discourse be not the setting forth of a blessing which it is the will of God that we should receive in the devout reception of the Eucharist, then its most salient words fall to the ground.

And the converse, if it may be so called, is equally true, that if the Eucharist be not the correlative and fulfilment of this discourse, then the Lord gave to the disciples the Eucharistic Food without a single word to prepare them for it. He said, “Take eat, this is my body,” without a word to explain why they were to do such a thing as eat His Body.

How is it then that so many professed believers in Christ and in the Inspiration of Holy Scripture formally repudiate any connection worth speaking of between this discourse and the Eucharistic rite? It cannot be because of the teaching of the New Testament, but simply because of the present state of the Church, or rather of one part of Christendom, in which it is supposed that many Christians have a realising or self-appropriating faith in our Lord, altogether apart from Eucharistic Reception; and even the greater part of those who do receive Holy Communion, have no belief that it is anything more than a means of reminding ourselves of His love. They look not for, and in many cases would repudiate, any benefit of a kind different from what they would receive by hearing a sermon on the Death of Christ.

But surely it is most perilous to make our own unbelief, or that of the majority of any particular age or part of the world, the measure of God’s dealings. In the Pentecostal Church, and for centuries afterwards, there would be no difficulty, for every one who believed, we may say naturally, and as a matter of course, received the Eucharist; and if any one for the sake of discipline was debarred from it, it was considered both by the Church and by the man himself, if he had any faith or repentance, as tantamount to his separation from Christ.

End of quotation

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Sadler On John 6: 56 ― 58

Verse 56 “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

In this verse we have the first instance of that remarkable language which reappears in the latter part of the Gospel, and is dominant throughout St. Paul’s Epistles, that there is, or can be, a mutual indwelling between Christ and the Christian; Christ in the believer, and the believer in Christ. This is here first said by way of promise. But in chapter 15 it is declared to be in fulfilment, “I am the true vine, ye are the branches,” He that abideth in me and I in him,” &c. The apostles in the latter chapters of this Gospel are repeatedly said to be “in Christ,” and have to “abide in him”. Now it is to be noticed that they are never said to be “in Christ” till they have received at His Hands the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, for their being “in” Christ is first said of the apostles in chap. 15, just after they had received it.

Again, the same truth is so constantly set forth in St. Paul’s Epistles, that to be “in” Christ may not unfitly be described as the characteristic phrase of the Apostle. All the Christians to whom he writes are assumed to be “in Christ.” But what is the pledge of this? The Apostle distinctly tells us that the means or pledge is sacramental. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (1 Cor 10: l6 — 17.) How can the partaking of one bread [or, rather one loaf] make men in all parts of the earth one body, for the bread of each assembly is different, not only made of different grains, but sometimes of different sorts of grain? Only because it is not mere bread, but has an Inward Part which is always the same everywhere, being the Body of the Lord.

Verse 57 “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”

The true and faithful feeder on Christ lives morally, spiritually, and eternally by the Life of God Himself, the fountain of all life. For the Son lives by the Life communicated to Him by the Father, and he who effectually partakes of Christ, lives by the same life communicated to Him through the Flesh and Blood of the Son.

Verse 58 “This is that bread which came down from heaven…..live for ever.”

The Lord ends with an assertion which binds the whole discourse together as having one meaning, and referring to one thing. “The bread which cometh down from heaven (v. 33), which is infinitely above that which “your fathers” did eat (v. 32), which will endue the eater with such life that he will live for ever, is that which I have in Myself, in My Flesh and Blood, set before you.

 

End of quotation.

 Click here for a printable copy of this paper

 

James McPollin, S.J. on John 6: 51 ― 58

In this description of the eucharist as “eating flesh and drinking blood” “flesh and blood” is a Hebrew idiom for the whole person so that the sense is: sacramental communion is a personal communion (encounter) with Jesus who shares his life and the life of his Father with us (verse.53). Eucharist is a mutual “abiding,” a life of mutual presence of one person to another, a reciprocal. indwelling which does not submerge the personality of another (verses 56; cf. 15: 4 ― 6). Besides, in the eucharist Jesus continues that life-giving mission which he had received from his Father and he communicates the life he receives from the Father, who is the source of all “life” (verse 57). Therefore, Jesus, the source and bread of life, who came down from heaven and gave his life for the world, becomes a sacramental bread of life (verse 55; cf. verse 51), and, now ascended, he continues to give his own person, his “flesh and blood,” in the eucharist. Finally, the life-giving communion experienced in the eucharist is a pledge of and reaches its perfection in an eternal communion with Jesus and his Father (verses 54 and 58). Yet it is not a kind of food which gives instant and automatic claim to immortality, since its life-giving effect is assured only for the person of faith.

The two themes of this discourse, faith and the eucharist, cannot be separated for neither faith nor the eucharist are directly the focus of attention but rather both are unified in the person of Jesus who offers a living relationship through faith and sacrament. Therefore, the sacramental experience, instead of replacing faith in Jesus, expresses and confirms it, and since the whole discourse is Christ centred, it moves from Jesus’ Incarnation, Mission and death towards the eucharist. For John eucharistic faith is to believe that the same, risen, Incarnate Jesus continues to give himself to believers in a personal communion and to exercise his life-giving mission.

From: “John,” by James McPollin, S. J. Published by Michael Glazier, Inc. 1979
(Biblical Quotations are from the R.S.V.)

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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,
an antidote that we should not die, but live forever in Christ Jesus’ ― Ephesians 2.

 

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)

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