Evangelical Protestant Critics on the Eucharist and the Fathers

Reply to Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie, James White, Eric Svendsen, William Webster, Others


See first This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

"Nothing is more solid than the UNANIMITY of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist for the first 1,500 years of the Church. The spontaneous uproar caused by men such as Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088) only attests the more to the unquestioned acceptance of the Real Presence. This UNANIMOUS belief of 1,500 years is itself an argument to its truth. For it is impossible that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, could leave the Church in error over a long period of time about one of the central doctrines of Christianity, according to the argument from prescription." (New Catholic Encyclopedia, under "Eucharist (as Sacrament)", volume 5, page 604, emphasis added)

The Evangelical Critics of the Eucharist and the Church Fathers

As for anti-Catholic Fundamentalist/Evangelical critics of the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, little mention is made of the Church Fathers. For example, James White (The Roman Catholic Controversy, chapter 11 "What of the Mass?" and his first book The Fatal Flaw) and former Catholic James McCarthy (The Gospel According to Rome, chapters 6 and 7) make no mention at all of the early Fathers in their critique of the Eucharist/Mass, probably because they are either an embarrassment to them (White -- although he does try to quote Tertullian, Augustine and others in his formal debates) or they are mostly ignorant of them or consider them "irrelevant" (McCarthy).

However, there are some exceptions to this. Evangelical critics Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals), former Catholics William Webster (The Church of Rome at the Bar of History) and Eric Svendsen (Evangelical Answers), make an attempt to "salvage" the Fathers or at least try to prevent them from being interpreted in a Catholic (or Orthodox) sense -- with little success I might add since there is so much they have to ignore from the Fathers. The Eucharist was central to the worship and liturgy of the early Church, was unanimously called and considered a sacrifice, and unanimously believed to be the "Real Presence" of Christ (while the literal and realist view was unanimous among the Fathers they used different analogies to explain this and the proper terminology was not yet fully worked out). However, almost all of the modern anti-Catholic Evangelical critics hold to a purely "symbolical" or "memorialist" view of the Eucharist (true of Geisler/MacKenzie, White, Webster, Svendsen, McCarthy and others) which is flatly contradicted by the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and worship in the early Church and the entire testimony of the Church Fathers.

The Errors of Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie

The Evangelical authors of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker, 1995), insist the Fathers were not "unanimous" and that some Fathers "clearly opposed" the literal view.

"....appeal to the church fathers to support the Trentian [sic] dogma of transubstantiation is poorly grounded for many reasons. First, as even Catholic scholars admit, the Fathers were by no means unanimous in their interpretation, and yet Trent speaks of the 'unanimous consent of the Fathers' as the means of determining true apostolic tradition. But some Fathers clearly opposed the idea of taking literally the phrase 'this is my body.'" (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals by Geisler/MacKenzie, page 263, emphasis added)

These unknown Fathers who "clearly opposed" the literal view are not mentioned, and no quotations are provided. The reason for this is there were no such Church Fathers. I am wondering which Catholic scholars he has in mind -- I have quoted above prominent Anglican scholars JND Kelly, Darwell Stone, and the New Catholic Encyclopedia showing the Fathers were unanimous on the Eucharist ("unanimous" is the word that is used).

Transubstantiation vs. "Real Presence"

"Second, many of the Fathers simply supported the idea of Jesus' real presence in the communion, not that the elements were literally transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. So the later dogma of transubstantiation cannot be based on any early or unanimous consent of the Fathers which Catholics claim for it." (Geisler/MacKenzie, page 263)

A second strategy used to deny the Fathers were unanimous on the Eucharist is to concede they believed in the "Real Presence" of Christ but did not affirm the later Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation (this is also employed by White in his formal debates). I would grant the point that the word "transubstantiation" is not specifically used by the Church Fathers (the word first appears in the 11th century debates on the Eucharist, and was affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council [1215] and the Council of Trent), but this is not relevant. It is no more valid an argument to claim that the ante-Nicene Fathers or the writers of the New Testament did not believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity since they did not specifically and explicitly affirm that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are "consubstantial" or "of one substance" (a term defined at the Council of Nicaea) and are co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons. It took time for the correct terminology to develop to define the issue, whether we are talking the Holy Trinity or the Holy Eucharist.

Did the Church Fathers use the specific term "transubstantiation" or related terms such as "substance" or "accidents" to explain or describe the Eucharist? No, this was not necessary since there was no debate on the issue until the 9th and 11th century controversies (spelled out in great detail in Stone's work, good articles also found in the New Catholic Encyclopedia) which then required the Church to delve more deeply into the subject and define orthodox Catholic teaching on the Blessed Sacrament. So while the Fathers did not use the later terminology, they DID employ terms and analogies that can only be understood of a literal and realist view of the Eucharist (such terms in Latin and Greek that the elements were "changed" or "transformed" into the body and blood of Christ in a mysterious way).

Orthodoxy and Transubstantiation

"The Eastern Orthodox Church, whose roots are at least as old as the Roman church, has always held a mystical view of Christ's presence in the communion but never the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation." (Geisler/MacKenzie, page 263, although in a footnote the authors admit the Orthodox "permit" transubstantiation)

A third point that is made is the Eastern Orthodox do not believe in Transubstantiation, and hold to a more "mystical" view, and do not accept the "Roman" terminology. This might be true of some modern Orthodox scholars and theologians (John Meyendorff and Alex Schmemann), but is certainly not true with Orthodoxy as defined by official Eastern councils (held at Jerusalem, Constantinople, others) and Orthodox theologians of the 15th to 18th centuries in response to Protestant interpretations and errors on the Eucharist. There is no real difference in the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist as believed by Catholics and Orthodox. Both accept the other as having valid Sacraments, valid priestly ordination, and valid apostolic succession.

For proof of this, see the article ORTHODOXY AND TRANSUBSTANTIATION

Eucharist as Sacrifice Invented by Pope Gregory the Great?

"Roman Catholics (and Anglicans) view the eucharistic feast as a sacrifice (albeit an unbloody one). This term is found as early as Gregory the Great (c. AD 540-604), who was elected pope in AD 590. Gregory held that at every mass Christ was sacrificed afresh and consequently 'This notion of the mass as sacrifice eventually became standard doctrine of the Western church -- until it was rejected by Protestants in the sixteenth century.' [quoting Gonzales, Story of Christianity]....The early church had considered the Eucharist a fellowship meal....Thus, the Lord's Supper -- which the early church viewed as a fellowship meal -- became a sacrifice. The remembrance of a sacrifice becomes a new enactment of that sacrifice." (Geisler/MacKenzie, page 266, emphasis author)

This is probably the most egregious and embarrassing error in the Geisler/MacKenzie book. There is no evidence whatever to support any of this. The idea that Pope Gregory the Great invented the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist (not a "re-crucifixion" or "re-sacrifice") is probably derived from a statement made by Protestant scholar Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church (volume 3, page 506, "[the sacrifice of the Mass] is brought to its settlement by Gregory the Great at the close of the sixth century") that implies something similar (although the rest of Schaff must be ignored that clearly supports the early Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the Eucharist). This mistake is repeated by Geisler/MacKenzie on page 243-244 where the authors add "some early medieval Fathers" believed the Eucharist was a sacrifice and a footnote refers to Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, page 405-7. However, Ott actually says: "But it is clear from the oldest witnesses of Tradition that the Church has always seen in the Eucharist an objective gift-sacrifice" (page 405). Ott then quotes the Didache, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine who all clearly affirmed the Eucharist is a sacrifice -- hardly "medieval Fathers" however "early" you want to claim the Middle Ages began.

Eric Svendsen's "Evangelical Answers" on the Eucharist

In a somewhat sophisticated biblical critique of Catholic teaching and Catholic apologetics, former Catholic turned Evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen notes concerning the Fathers and the Eucharist (I have the debate he mentions, held Nov 1992 in Omaha, Gerry Matatics is a former Presbyterian minister, now a traditionalist Catholic)

"In a debate with James White, Gerry Matatics baldly asserts there there is not even one father who held to the Protestant view of the Eucharist as symbolizing Christ's body. While there is no doubt that Catholic apologists are able to produce writings from the Fathers that seem to support transubstantiation, the fact is there was no consensus or clarification on this issue in the Catholic Church until the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. While the views of the Fathers are not the standard of truth for the Evangelical (although they are of some value), they are an important standard of truth for the Catholic. It will be beneficial therefore to show that some significant Fathers did not believe in transubstantiation." (Evangelical Answers by Eric Svendsen, page 248-9, emphasis author)

The fact that there was no "clarification" on the Eucharist until the Fourth Lateran Council just shows how unanimous the Fathers were on the subject. It was not even an issue of controversy until the 9th and later 11th centuries which then required the Church to define the issue more explicitly. This plainly contradicts the idea that there were several opposing views running rampant in the early Church (for example, the purely "symbolical" or "memorialist" view vs. the literal or realist view) otherwise the issue would have been settled much earlier. Of course it is obvious that the important doctrinal issue of who Jesus Christ really is had to be settled first before the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament could be explicitly and formally defined. Svendsen shows himself to be inconsistent on this point since he states the same concerning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:

"There have been many beliefs held by the church for hundreds of years before some controversy forced it into the open and an official statement was made. Very little was said about a belief in the Trinity before the council of Nicaea and the Athanasian creed. Are we to assume that the church did not widely hold to a belief in the Trinity before Nicaea? Of course not....The reason little was said about the Trinity before Nicaea is that it was not an issue until Nicaea." (Svendsen, page 120, emphasis author)

Ditto for the Eucharist which was not an issue until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). While acknowledging the Fathers have "some value" for the Evangelical, Svendsen then quotes from St. Irenaeus, St. Augustine, St. Theodore of Cyrus, and others in an attempt to show the Fathers were not unanimous or did not hold to the Catholic belief.

"While this list is not exhaustive, it is sufficient to show that the Catholic view of the Eucharist certainly cannot be considered a unanimous teaching of the Fathers. Yes, they did believe in a 'real' presence -- but then so do most Evangelicals believe in a 'real' presence. That is not what is at issue. The question is, Is the 'real' presence a physical or a spiritual presence?" (Svendsen, page 251, emphasis author)

Evangelicals DO NOT believe in a "real presence" of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In fact, most of them (at least the independent, non-liturgical variety) do not even like the word "eucharist" or "sacrament" and certainly reject the word "sacrifice" in reference to the Eucharist. Svendsen interprets "spiritual presence" as meaning a purely symbolic presence, which is no "presence" at all:

"...there are good reasons for believing that Christ did not mean 'this is my actual body,' and 'this is my actual blood.'....they [the Apostles] took his words to mean that the bread and wine represent the body and blood of the Lord, not that the bread and wine become his body and blood....the Apostles understood Jesus' statement to be symbolic and not literal." (Svendsen, page 239, 240, emphasis author)

Eric Svendsen and the Incarnation

Part of Svendsen's problem in understanding the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is he does not truly believe in the Incarnation (a problem I also see in the Fundamentalist McCarthy below), or at least has Nestorian or Monophysite tendencies (separating Christ into two persons and worshipping just his deity or "divine nature" alone), something of which Svendsen strangely accuses Catholics. For example,

"The Catholic church holds that since Christ was worshipped in his human body on earth, it follows that we may worship the body of Christ in the Eucharist. The fallacy again lies in not making the proper distinction between the humanity and deity of Christ. No one in the first century worshipped the body of Christ per se, but rather the person of Christ who happened to be embodied. It is one thing to worship Christ's person; it is quite another thing to worship Christ's body, which is idolatry." (Svendsen, page 242, emphasis author)

This is quite a confusing statement to me, and I have to ask whether Svendsen, a former Catholic, still believes in the Incarnation? What he is preaching here is akin to Nestorianism, that Christ is two persons, and not two natures in one Person (either that or Gnosticism, which denied the Incarnation and the human nature of Christ). Catholics are not Nestorians or Gnostics, and we worship Christ who is the fullness of deity bodily (Col 2:9; John 1:1,14; 20:28; 1 John 4:1-3). There is no true worship of Christ that seeks to do away with his humanity. As the great St. Athanasius has argued:

"We do not worship a creature. Inconceivable! For such an error belongs to heathens and Arians. Rather, we worship the Lord of creation, the Incarnate Word of God. For if the flesh, too, is in itself a part of the created world, still, it had become God's body. Nor, indeed, the body being such, do we divide it from the Word and adore it by itself; neither, when we wish to worship the Word, do we separate Him from the flesh. Rather, as we said before, knowing that the Word was made flesh (John 1:14), we recognize Him as God even after He has come in the flesh. Who, then, is so lacking in sense that he would say to the Lord: 'Leave the body, so that I may worship You?'" (Letter to Adelphius, Against the Arians 3)

This confusion shows up again in Svendsen's problems with the Marian title "Mother of God" (Theotokos). For a reply to Svendsen's critique of Theotokos (although he seems to accept the Christological doctrine of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, page 240), see Mario Derksen's articles at Catholic Insight, also my discussion of MARY THE MOTHER OF GOD in response to a Fundamentalist.

The Fathers cited by Svendsen clearly held to a literal and realist view of the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ (see This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers and St. Augustine on the Eucharist ), were unanimous that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, although I grant the terminology of the later Eucharistic controversies was not employed. This does not mean the Fathers were confused or held opposing views on the Eucharist as I have already explained.

All the prominent modern anti-Catholic Fundamentalist/Evangelical critics of the Eucharist and the Mass hold to a purely "symbolical" or "memorialist" view of the "Lord's Supper." The bread and wine are "symbols" and nothing more. This is not a "real presence" by any definition but more properly a "real absence" of Christ (whose body can only be in heaven according to this view).

James White and the Eucharist

James White, probably the most prominent Protestant anti-Catholic critic, even says: "No one denies that Christ is truly present in the Lord's Supper just as He is truly present with believers on a daily basis" (page 165). With all due respect to White's personal beliefs, this is not a "real presence of Christ" in the Sacrament any more than claiming that the bodily appearances of Jesus (John 20-21; Luke 24; 1 Cor 15:1-8) were actually mass "spiritual" hallucinations among the Apostles (which some biblical critics use to explain away the bodily Resurrection of Jesus). More important, this is clearly not what the Church Fathers believed on the Eucharist. Furthermore, White says

"Jesus is obviously not speaking of a Sacrament of the Eucharist supposedly established years later. His referring to His body and blood is paralleled clearly with belief in the Son and the drawing of the Father. Consistency of interpretation must lead to the rejection of a sacramental interpretation of this passage [referring to John 6:51ff]....Participation in the Supper is meant to be a memorial (not a sacrifice) of the death of Christ....But to take this to mean that the bread and the wine are literally the body and blood of Christ in the Roman sense is to go beyond the meaning of the text....We do not look at another sacrifice or a 're-presentation' of the sacrifice of Christ. There is no need for this. It is a memorial supper, as the Lord said....Clearly, then [referring to the institution narratives], Christ is using the wine as a symbol of the blood of the New Covenant and the bread as a symbol of His broken body. They have to be symbols, since the reality of the crucifixion had not yet taken place!" (The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White, page 172, 175, 176)

White, a Reformed Baptist, rejects the literal view, rejects the sacramental interpretation of John 6:51ff, and believes the bread and wine are symbols, nothing more. This is not "real presence" by any definition but the Protestant "Reformer" Zwingli's symbolic and "memorialist" interpretation.

The Gospel According to McCarthy

Even more blatant are the views of James McCarthy, who wrote an anti-Catholic book that ignores the Fathers, and promotes a Fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture. McCarthy says on the Eucharist:

"At the Last Supper, Christ spoke of the bread and wine as symbols, not the substance, of His body and blood. In John 6, Christ taught that eternal life is through believing in Him, not through eating His flesh....Jesus used bread and wine at the Last Supper as symbols of His body and blood....The bread and wine remain bread and wine....Since spiritual commuion is the goal, Christ's bodily presence is unnecessary. Ordinary bread and wine can serve as adequate reminders for Christians....Eternal life was to be obtained by believing Jesus' words. Eating His flesh would be profitless [supposedly referring to John 6:63]....He [Jesus] uses bread to represent His body. His purpose is to institute a memorial meal by which they would remember Him....But what do Catholics actually receive? Nothing but a thin wafer of unleavened bread -- a wafer that does not bring them any closer to eternal salvation....But what are Catholics actually worshiping? A piece of bread! A cup of wine!....We can be sure that God will never contradict Himself by entering into material objects such as bread and wine and then ordering people to worship them [this leads me to ask: Does McCarthy still believe in the Incarnation?]..." (The Gospel According to Rome by James McCarthy, page 133, 136, 138, 142, 143 )

This view of McCarthy, a Fundamentalist and former Catholic, cannot be called a "real presence" by any stretch of the imagination. He clearly rejects the literal view, and mocks the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine in the process. Lord have mercy on him.

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is that the Mass/Liturgy is a sacrifice, and the elements are mysteriously transformed, changed, and become the body and blood of Christ (they are not mere symbols). This literal and realist view is unanimous among the early Fathers, although granted it was more precisely defined by the great Fathers and theologians of the fourth century (the same Fathers in the same century where the Holy Trinity was formerly defined), and explicitly and formerly defined at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Trent (1545-63) as a result of the later Eucharistic controversies.

William Webster's Skewed History of the Eucharist

For a different view we have this bold statement from William Webster: "For the first 1200 years of the Church's life there was no unanimity on the nature of the eucharist." (page 127)

In an admittedly unique book, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History (Banner of Truth, 1995), former Catholic turned Evangelical William Webster tackles the Church Fathers themselves and attempts to make a case for Evangelical Protestant Christianity from them, or at least tries to neutralize Catholic dogma by appealing to their undeveloped terminology and doctrines. But it is a losing battle since there is too much in the Fathers that Webster has to ignore. Much of what we find in his chapter on the Eucharist is a distortion of the Fathers as he tries to force them into his Evangelical "symbolical" views, ignoring everything else they said. For example, he has a long paragraph on Tertullian claiming:

"Tertullian...spoke of the bread and wine in the eucharist as symbols and figures which represent the body and blood of Christ. He specifically stated that these were not the literal body and blood of the Lord....His interpretation of John 6 similarly indicates that when he spoke of the bread and wine as figures and symbols of Christ's body and blood, that is exactly what he meant. He says that Christ spoke in spiritual terms when referring to the eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood and did not mean this literally...Clearly he did not teach the concept of transubstantiation." (The Church of Rome at the Bar of History by William Webster, page 119)

A couple of things in response. First, while it is true some of the Fathers (such as Tertullian, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria) employed more symbolical and allegorical interpretations of John 6:51ff, it is clear at the same time they had a literal and very realist view of the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ. This is admitted and confirmed by JND Kelly, Darwell Stone, even Philip Schaff.

Tertullian (while not technically a Church Father, since he later became a Montanist) affirms that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ (granted he did not use the term "transubstantiation" since as I have explained it took time for the terminology to develop), and is a sacrifice of benefit even for departed Christians:

"The flesh feeds on THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, so that the SOUL TOO may fatten on God." (Resurrection of the Dead 8:3)

"Likewise, in regard to days of fast, many do not think they should be present at the SACRIFICIAL prayers, because their fast would be broken if they were to receive THE BODY OF THE LORD...THE BODY OF THE LORD HAVING BEEN RECEIVED AND RESERVED, each point is secured: both the participation IN THE SACRIFICE..." (Prayer 19:1)

"The Sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord commanded to be taken at meal times and by all, we take even before daybreak in congregations... WE OFFER SACRIFICES FOR THE DEAD on their birthday anniversaries.... We take anxious care lest something of our Cup or Bread should fall upon the ground..." (The Crown 3:3-4)

For more see my article on Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria which details the more "symbolical" and "allegorical" language of these Fathers and demonstrates they did not deny the literal and realist understanding of the Eucharist. So even while using the terms "symbol" and "figure" and "type" in referring to the Eucharist at points the Church Fathers did not adopt the purely "symbolical" or "figurative" interpretation that Webster and the rest of the Evangelical critics hold. The Council of Trent even uses the word "symbol" when referring to the Eucharist, and there is no problem here. The error is to stop there and not affirm that the "symbol" is in a real sense what it symbolizes (the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood).

Webster includes a number of carefully selected citations from the Fathers (in appendix 8 on Real Presence we have excerpts from the Didache, Justin, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Augustine; in appendix 9 on Sacrifice we have the Didache, Justin, Origen, Eusebius, Chrysostom, Augustine), and tries to force many of the Fathers into his "symbolical" and "figurative" views in his chapter on the Eucharist. What Webster seems to do is search through the Fathers for passages that contain the words "memorial" and "symbol" and "figure" while ignoring their most explicit passages on the Real Presence and sacrifice, and disregards the rest of what they wrote and believed. This is not proper "historiography" (to use one of his favorite terms). It is obvious that one should interpret the more obscure and symbolical phrases in light of the more explicit.

Again, for the full story see This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

Webster also distorts the teaching of St. Augustine by suggesting "the theological giant who provided the most comprehensive and influential defense of the symbolic interpretation of the Lord's Supper was Augustine...These views of Augustine are obviously in direct opposition to those of the Council of Trent" (page 120-121). To see how wrong Webster is go to St. Augustine on the Eucharist

"From the beginning of the Church the Fathers generally expressed their belief in the Real Presence in the eucharist, in that they identified the elements with the body and blood of Christ, and also referred to the eucharist as a sacrifice, but there was considerable difference of opinion among the Fathers on the precise nature of these things, reflected in the fact that the ancient Church produced no official dogma of the Lord's Supper." (The Church of Rome at the Bar of History by William Webster, page 117)

Here Webster concedes that the Fathers generally believed in the Real Presence, they identified the elements with the body and blood of Christ, and referred to the Eucharist as a sacrifice. So far so good. And there is no problem with the statement that the "precise nature" of the Eucharist was not explicitly defined, since this is true of a lot of beliefs in the early Church, such as the Holy Trinity. When controversies arise, then official dogma needs to be formally and explicitly defined to separate the orthodox from the heretics. For the Eucharist, this was not necessary until the later 9th and 11th century controversies, resulting in the adoption of the term "transubstantiation" at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, and finally in response to the Protestant Reformation at the Council of Trent.

"As time passed clearer descriptions of the eucharist as the transformation of the elements into the literal body and blood of Christ emerged in the writings of the Fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom and Ambrose." (Webster, page 120)

Thank you, Bill. Here Webster concedes that the "transformation" or "conversion" view was clearly present in such great Fathers of the fourth century Church. Thanks for the admission. What he does not mention is these same Fathers who were quite explicit in their belief on the Eucharist, also employed at the same time such terms as "symbol" and "figure" and "type" which clearly shows we should interpret the more "symbolical" language in light of the more explicit passages.

For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 AD) used the words "figure" and "antitype" in his Catechetical Lectures concerning the Eucharist:

"Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the figure of bread His Body is given to you, and in the figure of wine His Blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus we become Christ-bearers, His Body and Blood being distributed through our members. And thus it is that we become, according to the blessed Peter, sharers of the divine nature [2 Pet 1:4]." (Catechetical Lectures 22 [Mystagogic 4], 3; also 23 [Mystagogic 5], 20 for the word "antitype")

Along with these we find such explicit statements as:

"For just as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ..." (Catechetical Lectures 19 [Mystagogic 1], 7)

"Once in Cana of Galilee He changed the water into wine, a thing related to blood; and is His changing of wine into Blood not credible? When invited to an ordinary marriage, with a miracle He performed that glorious deed. And is it not much more to be confessed that He has betowed His Body and His Blood upon the wedding guests?" (22 [Mystagogic 4], 2)

"Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but -- be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ." (22 [Mystagogic 4], 6)

"Having learned these things, and being fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the apparent Wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so..." (22 [Mystagogic 4], 9)

"Then, having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual songs, we call upon the benevolent God to send out the Holy Spirit upon the gifts which have been laid out: that He may make the bread the Body of Christ, and the wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Spirit touches, that is sanctified and changed." (23 [Mystagogic 5], 7)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem continues with similar statements and calls the Eucharist and Mass in most explicit language a "propitiatory sacrifice" since Christ is offered as the "propitiatory victim" both for living saints and for departed souls, that Christian priests should "offer this sacrifice for all who are in need," that it is of very great benefit for the souls who have fallen asleep "while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out," we not only offer our prayers for departed Christians, but in the Eucharist we "offer up Christ who has been sacrificed for our sins; and we thereby propitiate the benevolent God for them as well as for ourselves." (23 [Mystagogic 5], 8, 9, 10). With such beautiful Catholic language reminicient of the later Council of Trent, who would dare say this fourth century Saint and Father held to a purely "symbolical" or "figurative" Eucharist? As a side note: Webster, White, Svendsen, et al believe St. Cyril of Jerusalem firmly taught Sola Scriptura. If so, how do they explain the above?

After warning us that the Fathers need to be examined with "great caution" since "it is very easy to take a preconceived theology of the eucharist and read it back into their comments and teachings" (page 117-118) Webster seems to contradict himself a few pages later when he suggests

"There is the literal view of transubstantiation which could be that expressed by Chrysostom; the Lutheran view of consubstantiation, which could be that taught by Irenaeus or Justin Martyr; the spiritual view of Calvin, which is closely aligned with Augustine; and the strictly symbolic view of Zwingli, which is similar to that expressed by Eusebius." (Webster, page 122)

I would say none of this is correct. It is true the Fathers did not use the term "transubstantiation" but they were also unaware of "consubstantiation" or other such terms. And none of them held a strictly "symbolic" or "spiritual" (whatever that word may mean) view. We can agree it is wrong to read the later Eucharistic controversies of the 9th, 11th, or 16th centuries back into the Fathers, however to assume the Fathers held opposing views (the literal vs. the symbolic) is not consistent with the evidence. The terminology was indeed more fluid and less refined since there was no defined dogma on the Eucharist but at the same time there was no real controversy on the doctrine during the patristic age. Webster is trying to pit the Fathers against one another by suggesting they were as confused on the nature of the Eucharist as modern Protestant sects. This is clearly anachronistic.

Jaroslav Pelikan, the Lutheran scholar who later converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, writes in The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine series:

"...the doctrine of the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist...did not become the subject of controversy until the ninth century. The definitive and precise formulation of the crucial doctrinal issues concerning the Eucharist had to await that controversy and others that followed even later. This does not mean at all, however, that the church did not yet have a doctrine of the Eucharist; it does mean that the statements of its doctrine must not be sought in polemical and dogmatic treatises devoted to sacramental theology. It means also that the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or sixteenth century is both silly and futile." (Jaroslav Pelikan, volume 1, page 166-7)

For a short balanced treatment of the Fathers on the Eucharist, I would suggest the classic non-Catholic work Early Christian Doctrines by JND Kelly (chapter 8 for the ante-Nicene, and chapter 16 for the post-Nicene Fathers), which Webster does refer to in his endnotes, although Kelly contradicts Webster at a number of points. For an exhaustive study, the older two-volume work A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist by the Anglo-Catholic scholar Darwell Stone is available through inter-library loan. A third important work by a Jesuit scholar is titled Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation (1960) by Francis Clark which shows in great detail the errors and misunderstandings of Protestants concerning the Eucharist in the sixteenth century and the consistency of the Catholic belief by the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church.


For the views of the early Church Fathers before St. Augustine

This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

For a study of the "symbolical" language and "allegorical" interpretations of

Tertullian, St. Cyprian of Carthage, Origen and St. Clement of Alexandria

For a study and explanation of the complex view of

St. Augustine on the Eucharist


The new book Not By Bread Alone: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for the Eucharistic Sacrifice (Queenship Publishing, 2000) by Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International is a most thorough study on the subject, and answers the modern Evangelical/Reformed Protestant critics of the Eucharist from the Bible and the Church Fathers (my article is quoted on page 209 of this book and included in the bibliography)

Another excellent study is found in the conversion story Crossing the Tiber (Ignatius Press, 1997) by Stephen Ray of Defenders of the Catholic Faith which contains much biblical and historical material on the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism


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