Real or Symbolic?
We find in the writings of the early Christians, people throughout history who believed in the actual presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. This belief is a continuous belief from the very first generation of Christians to today. Those writings where they speak of others who do not believe in the True Presence are the beliefs of those who no one from today would even consider being actual Christians. For 1500 years, until the Reformation, all Christians believed in the True Presence. Here are a few quotes for your consideration…
A quote from St Ignatius of Antioch who heard the Apostle John speak and was the second successor of the Apostle Peter at Antioch. He wrote in c.110 AD:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness raised from the dead.” (Letter to the Ephesians, par. 20)
Here is a second quote from Ignatius:
“I have no taste for the food that perishes nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood which is love that cannot be destroyed.”
St Justin Martyr was born a pagan but converted to Christianity after studying philosophy. Tradition has it that he was taught by St. Polycarp himself who was taught by John the Apostle sometime between 163 and 167 A.D. He said:
“This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread and common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from Him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”(First Apology, Ch. 66, c. 150 AD)
I could go on but in the interest of time I will give you one last quote from an early Christian considered a saint and hero by many in the Protestant community. St Augustine lived in the late fourth century at a time where great discussions were under way in determining which books actually belonged in our Bible. He had no small part in cementing the canon of Books for the whole Christian community. What he said on how he understood the words of our Lord at the Last Supper when He said “This is my Body” is my favorite quote on the Eucharist by an Early Church Father. He said: “And was carried in His own hands: ‘how was He carried in his own hands’? Because when He commended His own Body and Blood, He took into His hands that which the faithful know; and in a manner carried Himself, when He said: ‘This is my Body’” (Augustine, on the Psalms, 33:1, c. 400 AD)
These early Christians understood the words of the Apostle John just as the Catholic Church believes today. Jesus spoke literally when he said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
They understood Jesus to be speaking of His literal body because Jesus says that He is the living bread. We are to eat this bread. This bread that He gives for us to eat is the flesh that He will give for the life of the world. If the bread is symbolically His flesh then the flesh that He gives for the life of the world must be symbolic as well. That’s how Jesus describes it. Was the flesh on the cross symbolic? Or real? If the flesh on the cross is real then the bread that we are to eat is that same flesh. It is literally His Flesh and Blood because He said so.
Early Christians can be wrong because as individuals all are imperfect and yet we find a single understanding of the Eucharist as truly being the Body and Blood of Jesus in a continuous fashion throughout Christian history. This continuous belief, beginning with the apostles and all the way down to today’s Catholics is proof of its divine origin.
Prepared by a St.Denis parishioner