Early Church Evidence for the Eucharist

By: William Hemsworth

Did the early church believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ? To answer this question the writings of the following four early church fathers will be discussed: St. Ignatius of Antioch who lived from approximately 35-108 A.D., St. Justin Martyr who lived from 100-165 A.D., St. Irenaeus who lived from 130-202 A.D., and St. Augustine who lived from 354-430 A.D. There are many more who write about the subject, but this is a small sampling.

Eucharist

St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius of Antioch is an individual who has several distinctions in Church history. He learned the faith directly from St. John, but he also was the second bishop of Antioch after St. Peter (Johnson 46). While he was being led to Rome for his eventual martyrdom he wrote seven letters to a series of Christian communities. At the time he wrote these letters there was a dangerous heresy known as Docetism that was gaining steam. This dangerous error taught that Jesus was not really a human, and what people saw only seemed to be human. In many ways it was similar to Gnosticism in it view of who Jesus was.

St. Ignatius warned against this false teaching in a very strong manner. One of the ways he refuted this teaching was in the Eucharist. In his letter to the Smyrneans St. Ignatius writes, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again” (Ignatius of Antioch 89). To defend the orthodox teaching of who Christ is he states that the Eucharist is the body of Christ who suffered for our sins. If it was a just a symbol, then this teaching on the Eucharist would have meant nothing to combat the Docetic heresy.

Eucharist meme

The Eucharist Provides Unity

In his letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes about the importance of unity. He writes about union with the Bishop, avoiding schism, and how there is only one Eucharist. Regarding the Eucharist St. Ignatius writes, “Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons” (Ignatius of Antioch 81). Here we see a bold claim, at least in today’s world, that there is one true Christian church and that the Eucharist is at the center of its sacramental life (CCC 1407).

St. Ignatius also sees the Eucharist as not only the body and blood of Christ, but as a connection to him. In addition to being the true body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist is a source of unity and strength to continue the Christian journey. For St. Ignatius, the grace given through the God in the Eucharist helped him to proceed to his eventual martyrdom. The sacramental worldview involves seeing God work through ordinary things, and through his grace the Eucharist becomes what Christ says it is and helps us through life.

St. Justin Martyr

Another church father that taught that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ is St. Justin Martyr. A philosopher by trade, St. Justin was one of the first of the layman apologists. In his First Apology, St. Justin writes to the emperor to defend Christianity from misconceptions that were spreading in the Roman empire (Kreider 233). In this apology he lays out the order of mass in striking detail and addresses the charge of cannibalism that was often levied against Christians. He states that no one can receive the Eucharist unless they believe what the church teaches and only after baptism.

Justin Martyr

Regarding the Eucharist St. Justin states, “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Justin Martyr 185). The charge of cannibalism was serious offense on the Roman Empire, and Justin clarifies that the Eucharist is to eliminate doubt. However, he still says that it is the flesh and blood of Jesus.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

The Gnostic Heresy was a big problem and became quite popular in the early church.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons was concerned for the souls which he was responsible for. He wrote an excellent treatise titled Against Heresies in which he took the teaching of Gnosticism to task. The Gnostics taught that all matter was evil and that the true teaching of Christ was passed down in secret, and salvation can only be attained by attaining this secret knowledge. To combat this heresy, he said that all true churches have a rule of faith that has been passed down via apostolic succession. Essentially, he stated that all bishops can trace their lineage to the Apostles. This is still the teaching of the Catholic church today.

St. Irenaeus

According to St. Irenaeus the sacrament allowed the Lord to shine through the follies of human weakness and strengthen us on the road to heaven, or immortality as he called it. He argues that Jesus was real person with flesh and bones, and he gave his flesh to nourish the body and soul of his followers. Regarding this, St. Irenaeus writes, “He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body” (Irenaeus 528).

St. Augustine of Hippo

The last church father to be discussed regarding the Eucharist is the great St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine was familiar with the Gnostic movement as he was a member of the Gnostic movement known as Manichaeism (Hitchcock 91). He understood the Gnostic movements teaching of all material matter being evil. He probably had a deeper appreciation of the sacraments and of the sacramental worldview. St. Augustine was a prolific writer and homilist, and as such he said and wrote much about the Eucharist.

St. Augustine of Hippo

In one of his sermons he was instructing a group that had just received the sacrament of baptism. Augustine had promised to explain the nature of the Eucharist after they had been washed from the stain of original sin and received the seal of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. Regarding the Eucharist St. Augustine states in sermon 227. “The bread you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in the chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Akin 297). Augustine goes on to say that our eyes see ordinary bread and wine, but when they are consecrated our faith obligates us to believe that they are the true body and blood of Christ.

Catholic funny Eucharist meme

St. Augustine wrote much more about the Eucharist, but from the quotation above we can deduce two things. Firstly, he strongly believed that the Eucharist was the literal body and blood of Christ and it is something that must be believed. Secondly, that the ordinary elements are transformed when God sanctifies them. God uses ordinary elements, infuses his grace, and takes material things that cause us to sin and transforms them to become a cause for our sanctification.

Works Cited

Akin, Jimmy. The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church. San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010. Print.

Hitchcock, James. History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012. Print.

Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Justin Martyr. “The First Apology of Justin.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

Kreider, Alan. The Origins of Christendom in the West. Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark, 2001. Print.


About our guest blogger:

William is a convert to the Catholic faith.  Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults.  Check out his website/blog at https://tucsonapologetics.org/for more great and informative Catholic content!

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel Pray for Us!

O most beautiful Flower of Mount Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in this my necessity. O Star of the Sea, help me and show me herein that you are my Mother.

O Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succor me in this my necessity. There are none that can withstand your power. O show me herein that you are my Mother.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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3 Ways St. Maria Faustina Provided Buoyancy in the Overwhelming Ocean of Life

Over 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons (326 million trillion gallons) exist on our planet. My mind is still amazed that numbers go way up to a trillion, let alone million upon millions of trillion!! Words simply cannot do justice to the size and sheer amount of water that is present on our globe. I found these pictures that best capture my own sense of minuteness in the grand scheme of the universe. Let us reflect on these images for a few moments to consider our dependence on something greater in this mysterious and vast universe.

plunge in water

ocean 1

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Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

According to the dictionary, the word mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”. St. Maria Faustina is the champion and first great channel of God in the 20th century to remind the modern world that God’s mercy overcomes all sin.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Polish sister to write down these words in paragraph 1142 of her Diary, “My daughter, be diligent in writing down every sentence I tell you concerning My mercy, because this is meant for a great number of souls who will profit from it.” Throughout the history of the Catholic Church both the judgment and mercy of God has been taught. However, in the centuries leading up to the time and life of St. Maria Faustina a pendulum swing focused on the omnipotence of God. People viewed our Creator primarily as a Judge. God utilized a simple and humble Catholic woman to be the impetus to renew the teaching of God’s mercy!

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Saintly Sentinel

We live in an age where surveillance technology is improving its efficiency on a day to day basis. More and more movies deal with the issue of utilizing governments monitoring its citizens under the pretense of national security. Needless to say, being watched over and guided does not necessarily have the most positive connotation in the 21st century.

Instead of viewing such observation and guidance as a bad and thing to be avoided, St. Maria Faustina’s mantra- and really is the message of the universal Church—is Jesus I Trust in You! To be guided is not always a terrible thing. Through the intercession and life of Sister Faustina, other amazing saints arose during the murderous 20th century—Maximilian Kolbe and Pope John Paul II to name just a couple. Both of these men were influenced by the Polish nun. She acted as a sentinel, a beacon of hope, to usher Christ into the 3rd millennium.

Uplifted my Marriage

My wife officially joined the Catholic Church as a convert from Lutheranism during her junior year of college. She selected Sr. Faustina as her confirmation saint and patron saint of her conversion to the faith. Along with providing the world with the wonderful vision—later captured by artist—of the Divine Mercy Icon, the Polish saint taught the world the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It was this prayer that gave my wife spiritual sustenance during a low point in her life.

As the years of my marriage accumulate, I have developed a great love and closeness to Maria Faustina as well. In fact, she is my honorary confirmation saint [I never actually officially selected a confirmation saint as my role model in high school!]. I also love the Eucharistic references in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Through its repetition, this short [IT IS QUITE BRIEF AND GREAT FOR PARENTS OF YOUNG KIDS PINCHED FOR TIME!] prayer unites me to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Another effect of this prayer is my marriage is strengthened and I enjoy conversations about the Polish nun’s life with my wife.

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I will end my thoughts on St. Maria Faustina with part of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy [the section prayed on the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” beads of the Rosary. I challenge you to find one person in your life that is not aware of this prayer and teach it to them. Your communication with God through this form of prayer will bring great joy and peace.

How to Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Say on “Our Father” bead:

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

Say on each “Hail Mary” bead:

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1st Podcast Interview Complete! ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Good Morning! ☀️

I wanted to share with you something awesome–I was just interviewed for my first ever appearance on a podcast. The topic was on empathy and the importance in the workplace and in evangelization. To see the blog post that inspired this collaboration check out the link in the Related Link section 👇

The Catholic Servant Podcast will air my interview on August 13th. More details to follow in the upcoming weeks.

I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity. I was initially nervous, but I am glad I pushed through my anxiety. I challenge to try something new this upcoming week.

💡Reach out to a fellow blogger, talk with your neighbor across the street, volunteer at a local charity, or anything else that could positively contribute to society and your personal/professional development.

Thank you for your continued support of The Simple Catholic!

Related Link

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/07/01/the-power-of-empathy-2/

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The Curious Case for St. Thorlak’s Patron Sainthood

St. Thorlak

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my oldest son was diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum a couple years ago. This journey toward an answer to helping our son has been filled with both joys and struggles. One of the fruits of this process is my wife has discovered her calling as a special education teacher. Another benefit of her knowledge is that it helps my cousin who is experiencing similar trials as my son. Recently, my mom was doing research on saints who assist with people on the autism spectrum. She came across St. Thorlak who is currently being considered as a patron saint for people with autism spectrum disorder.

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Born in 1133 A.D. Thorlak received the sacrament of Holy Orders at a young age. He was ordained a deacon at age 15 and became a priest when he was 18 years old! Eventually founding a monastery based on the rule of St. Augustine, Thorlak lived a monastic way of life for a several years. Thorlak was ordained a bishop of the Icelandic diocese of Skalholt. He continued to carry out the reforms instituted by Pope Gregory VII. St. Thorlak die in 1193 at the age of 60.

Relatively little information is known about Thorlak compared to other Catholic saints, such as Augustine, John Paul II, Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, etc. Despite this, my review of the website that is championing his cause for patron sainthood provides some insight as to how Thorlak could be a relieving guide in both my son’s life and our family in general.

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Rigidity in manner

Being unbending in his moral expectations, St. Thorlak demonstrates a parallel to children with autism that commonly sees the world in terms of black/white dichotomy. My son for example, is a “rules kid” and will follow our household law to the letter.

Failure to Initiate or Reply to Social Interactions

According to http://mission-of-saint-thorlak.weebly.com/patron-of-asd.html, the Icelandic saint said little during the discernment process for him to become bishop.  St. Thorlak displayed reticence in social situations as well. Many times children with autism spectrum disorder are non-verbal when it comes to communication.

Ritualized routine

Although a lot of Catholic tradition relies on daily routine, St. Thorlak adhered to a strict routine of fasting and prayer—especially in his time of founding and living in the monastic community. Similarly, my son thrives on a strict and regular routine.

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To be clear asking saints for help is not an easy solution to daily turmoil that medicine or therapy fails to soothe. Rather, I look to saints for guidance and relief for my personal trials or family strife. In regards to St. Thorlak, I believe based on the information I learned about his life that he would be a great role model for my son to look to when it comes to the challenges a child with autism faces on a daily basis. I found this concise prayer [see below] that I printed off and taped to my car dashboard to prayer on my morning commute to work. I am grateful for the witness of St. Thorlak and I hope his life gives insight, joy, and relief to individuals and families of those with autism spectrum disorder!

“Holy Thorlak,

Cut with the scythe of your workings

the thorns casting shadows

in my unclear mind!”

Related Links

https://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/THORLAK.htm

 

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The Catholicity of Cardinal Newman will Ignite 🔥🔥🔥 Your Soul!

The timing of Cardinal Newman’s canonization is definitely providential. God is reminding us, and hopeful more Catholics will learn, of the wonderful, keen, and common sense approach to holiness of the English priest.

I am excited for his official sainthood. I hope you are as well. Please check out a sermon or writing of John Henry Newman this summer. I guarantee your fervor for the faith will ignite 🔥 🔥!

Check out more content on Cardinal Newman from my latest article for EpicPew at the link 👇

https://epicpew.com/exploring-the-comprehensive-catholicity-of-cardinal-newman/

Thank you for sharing!