Monday, June 15, 2009

This is my body: Eminent writers of the first five centuries

This is my body.
Matthew 26 Commentary

To shew how these words have been interpreted by the primitive Church, we shall here subjoin some few extracts from the works of some of the most eminent writers of the first five centuries.

First Century.

St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was a disciple and contemporary with some of the apostles, and died a martyr, at Rome, in a very advanced age, An. 107, speaking of certain heretics of those times, says: "They abstain from the Eucharist and from oblations, because they do not confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sins." See epis. genuin. ad Smyrn├Žos. --- He calls the Eucharist the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, by which we always live in Christ. --- In another part he writes: "I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, and for drink, his blood." Again: "use one Eucharist; for the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ is one, and the cup is one in the unity of his blood. There is one altar, as there is one bishop with the college of the priesthood," &c.

Second Century.

St. Justin, the philosopher, in an apology for the Christians, which he addressed to the emperor and senate of Rome, about the year 150, says of the blessed Eucharist: "No one is allowed to partake of this food, but he that believes our doctrines are true, and who has been baptized in the laver of regeneration for remission of sins, and lives up to what Christ has taught. For we take not these as common bread, and common drink, but in the same manner as Jesus Christ, our Saviour, being incarnate by the word of God, hath both flesh and blood for our salvation; so we are taught that this food, by which our flesh and blood are nourished, over which thanks have been given by the prayers in his own words, is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus." Apology ii. in fin. he calls it, Panem eucharistisatum Greek: ton arton eucharistethenta, the bread blessed by giving thanks, as he blessed and miraculously multiplied the loaves, Greek: eulogsen autous.

Third Century.

St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who suffered martyrdom in 258, says: "the bread which our Lord delivered to his disciples, was changed not in appearance, but in nature, being made flesh by the Almighty power of the divine word."

Fourth Century.

St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, who was born in the commencement of the 4th century, and died in 386, explaining the mystery of the blessed Eucharist to the newly baptized, says: "Do not look upon the bread and wine as bare and common elements, for they are the body and blood of Christ; as our Lord assures us. Although thy senses suggest this to thee, let faith make thee firm and sure. Judge not of the thing by the taste, but be certain from faith that thou has been honoured with the gift of Christ's body and blood. When he has pronounced and said of the bread, this is my body, who will after this dare to doubt? And when he has assured, and said, this is my blood, who can ever hesitate, saying it in not his blood? He changed water into wine at Cana; and shall we not him worthy of our belief, when he changed wine into blood? Wherefore, let us receive them with an entire belief, as Christ's body and blood; for under the figure of bread, is given to thee his body, and under the figure of wine, his blood; that when thou hast received Christ's body and blood, thou be made one body and blood with him; for so we carry him about in us, his body and blood being distributed though our bodies." (St. Cyril, cathech.) --- St. Ambrose, one of the greatest doctors of the Latin Church, and bishop of Milan, who died in 396, proving that the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, is really possible to God, and really take place in the blessed Eucharist, uses these words: "Will not the words of Christ have power enough to change the species of the elements? Shall not the words of Christ, which could make out of nothing things which did not exist, be able to change that, which already exists, into what it was not? It is not a less exertion of power to give a new nature to things, than to change their natures. Let us propose examples from himself and assert the truth of this mystery from the incarnation. Was it according to the course of nature, that our Lord Jesus Christ should be born of the Virgin Mary? It is evident that it was contrary to the course of nature for a virgin to bring forth. Not this body, which we produce, was born of the virgin. Who dost thou seek for the order of nature in the body of Christ, when our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. (St. Ambrose, lib. de initiandis, chap. ix)

Fifth Century.

St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, who died in 407, does not speak less clearly on this subject. "He," (i.e. Jesus Christ,) says the holy doctor, hom. l. in Matt. "has given us himself to eat, and has set himself in the place of a victim sacrificed for us." And in hom. lxxxiii.: "How many now say they could wish to see his form, his garments, &c.; you wish to see his garments, but he gives you himself not only to be seen, but to be touched, to be eaten, to be received within you. Than what beam of the sun ought not that hand to be purer, which divides this flesh! That mouth, which is filled with this spiritual fire! That tongue, which is purpled with this adorable blood! The angels beholding it tremble, and dare not look thereon through awe and fear, on account of the rays, which dart from that, wherewith we are nourished, with which we are mingled, being made one body, one flesh with Christ. What shepherd ever fed his sheep with his own limbs? Nay, many mothers turn over their children to mercenary nurses; whereas he feeds us with his own blood!" --- On another occasion, to inspire us with a dread of profaning the sacred body of Christ, he says: "When you see Him exposed before you, say to yourself: this body was pierced with nails; this body which was scourged, death did not destroy; this body was nailed to a cross, at which spectacle the sun withdrew his rays; this body the Magi venerated." --- "There is as much difference between the loaves of proposition and the body of Christ, as between a shadow and a body, between a picture and the reality." Thus St. Jerome upon the epistle to Titus, chap. i. See more authorities in the notes on St. Mark's Gospel, chap. xiv, ver. 22, on the real presence, and also in the following verses and alibi passim.

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