We concluded our preceding article with the observation that the North African Church revealed rather clear tendencies toward what is called the Reformed view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Among the leaders of the North African Church are men as Origin, Clement, Tertullian, and Cyprian. Origin, it is claimed, is the only one among the Ante Nicene Fathers (the Fathers prior to the Council of Nicaea, 325) who decidedly opposes those who take the external sign in the Eucharist for the thing itself. He wrote, for example, and we quote: “As common meat does not defile, but rather unbelief and the impurity of the heart, so the meat which is consecrated by the word of God and by prayer, does not by itself sanctify those who partake of it. The bread of the Lord profits only those who receive it with an undefiled heart and a pure conscience.” Of Origin it is said that he developed, in his conception of the Lord’s Supper, in the merely symbolical line of Zwingli, and did not attach as much significance to the actual participation of the Lord’s Supper as the other fathers.
Tertullian certainly distinguishes between the signs in the Lord’s Supper and the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Replying to the wicked and slanderous attacks upon the truth by a certain, Marcion, Tertullian writes concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as follows: “Indeed, up to the present time, He has not disdained the water which the Creator made wherewith He washes His people; nor the oil with which He anoints them; nor that union of honey and milk wherewithal He gives them the nourishment of the children ; nor the bread by which He represents His own proper body, thus requiring in I!& very sacraments the “beggarly elements” of the creator.” Tertullian, in this quotation, speaks of the bread as representing Christ’s own proper body. Elsewhere, also refuting the wicked Marcion, Tertullian continues to speak of the elements in the Lord’s Supper in the same vein, and we quote: “When He so earnestly expressed His desire to eat the Passover, He considered it His own feast; for it would have been unworthy of God to desire to partake of what was not His own. Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,” that is, the figure of my body (notice that Tertullian here speaks of the bread as the figure of Christ’s body—H.V.). A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body (Marcion denied that Jesus had a real human body—H.V.). An empty thing, or phantom is incapable of a figure. If, however, (as Marcion might say), He pretended the bread was His, because He: lacked the truth of the bodily substance, it follows that He must have given bread to us. It would contribute very well to the support of Marcion’s theory of a phantom body, that bread should have been crucified! But why call His body bread, and not rather (some other edible thing, say) a melon, which Marcion must have had in lieu of a heart! He did not understand how ancient was this figure of the body of Christ, who said Himself by Jeremiah: “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter, and I knew not that they devised a device against me, saying, Let us cast the tree upon His bread (this is the translation in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament by the Seventy—H.V.), which means, of course, the cross upon His body. And thus casting light, as He always did, upon the ancient prophecies, He declared plainly enough what He meant by the bread, when He called the bread His own body: He likewise, when mentioning the cup and making the new testament to be sealed “in His blood,” affirms the reality of His body. For no blood can belong to a body which is not a body of flesh. If any sort of body were presented to our view, which is not one of flesh, not being fleshly, it would not possess blood. Thus, from the evidence of the flesh, we get a proof of the body, and a proof of the flesh from the evidence of the blood. In order, however, that you may discover how anciently wine is used as a figure for blood, turn to Isaiah, who asks, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, Bosor with garments dyed in red, so glorious in His apparel, in the greatness of His might? Why are thy garments red, and thy raiment as his who comes from the treading of the full winepress?” The prophetic Spirit contemplates the Lord as if He were already on His way to His passion, clad in His fleshly nature; and as He was to suffer therein, He represents the bleeding condition of His flesh under the metaphor of garments dyed in red (a metaphor is an implied simile, as for example: he is an ox, meaning that he is like an ox—H.V.), as if reddened in the treading and crushing process of the winepress, from which the laborers descend reddened with the wine-juice, like men stained in blood. Much more clearly still does the book of Genesis foretell this, when (in the blessing of Judah, out of whose tribe Christ was to come according to the flesh) it even then delineated Christ in the person of that patriarch, saying, “He washed His garments in wine, and His clothes in the blood of grapes”—in His garments and clothes the prophecy pointed out his flesh, and His blood in the wine. Thus did He now consecrate His blood in wine, who then [by the patriarch) used the figure of wine to describe His blood.”—end of quotation. We have already observed, in parenthesis, that Tertullian speaks of the bread as a figure of the body of Christ. We quoted the rest of this writing of Tertullian because of the interesting manner in which he refutes Marcion’s terrible conception of Jesus’ phantom body. That fact that he, in opposition to the heresy of Marcion, speaks of the bread as a figure of the body of Christ certainly indicates an essential distinction between the consecrated elements in the Lord’s Supper and the Lord Jesus Christ Whom we spiritually eat and drink. On the other hand, however, Tertullian must not be understood as merely teaching a symbolical presence of Christ, inasmuch as he, in other places, speaks of an eating of the body of Christ, and this indicates that Tertullian viewed the holy Supper as more than a merely symbolical observance.
Turning our attention to Cyprian, we note that we have already called attention to his exposition to the effect that water and wine must both be used in the celebration or the Eucharist. Interesting, I believe, is this short quotation of this learned church father: “Let us also arm the right hand with the sword of the Spirit, that it may bravely reject the deadly sacrifices; that, mindful of the Eucharist, the hand which has received the Lord’s body may embrace the Lord Himself, hereafter to receive from the Lord the reward of the heavenly crowns.” This passage certainly indicates that the Eucharist was at this time received by the hand of the communicant, and not placed in his mouth by the minister, as some have pretended was the original mode of the administration of this sacrament. When Cyprian writes, and we again quote him, “For because Christ bore us all, in that He also bore our sins, we see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ, “the implication is very clear, that he did not identify the elements of the Eucharist with the Lord Jesus Christ., He declares that if water be offered alone, the people are dissociated from Christ, and, if wine be offered alone, Christ is dissociated from the people. Hence, if the mixture of the wine and water also symbolize the people, how, then, is it possible to conceive of this element of the holy Supper as identical with the Lord Jesus Christ. Cyprian, therefore, surely advocated the symbolical significance of the bread and wine. However, he did not advocate a merely symbolical presentation of the elements of the Eucharist, inasmuch as he, too, speaks of an eating and drinking of the body and the blood of Christ. To eat and drink the body and the blood of Christ surely emphasizes a real contact with the Lord Jesus Christ and not merely a feast of remembrance.
From another of the Ante Nicene fathers we offer the following brief quotation: “After this let the sacrifice follow, the people standing and praying silently; and when the oblation has been made, let every rank by itself partake of the Lord’s body and precious blood in order, and approach with reverence and holy fear, as to the body of their king. Let the women approach with their heads covered, as is becoming the order of women; but let the door be watched, lest any unbeliever, or one not yet initiated, come in.” This passage certainly shows, in the first place, the profound reverence which characterized the early Church in its celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And secondly, it is not difficult to understand, in the light of this quotation, that seeds were sown during this early period, for the later development of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, although it must be added that also here nothing is said of the changeof the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before we proceed with our next observation the following may be interesting in connection with the celebration of the holy Supper during the early period of the Church. Only baptized Christians could receive this sacrament of Communion, this was a universal principle from the very beginning. This, of course, also applies in our present day. Heretics, schismatics, and unreconciled penitents were also excluded, though, we are told, it was sometimes given to the lapsed when dying. Interesting, I am sure, is the observation that it was the general practice to give it to children. This, I say, is a most interesting observation. The undersigned has often wondered why children in our present day should partake of all the means of grace except the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They are baptized, attend divine service, and therefore the preaching of the word, partake of the various means of instruction (in the home, school, and church), but are barred from participating in the sacrament of the holy supper. And I believe that we may say without fear of contradiction that the children were permitted to partake of the Passover in the old dispensation. The custom of placing it in the mouths of dead persons must have been deeply rooted, to judge from the number of church councils which discussed this practice, and found it necessary to prohibit it. Much emphasis was laid, following Lev. 7:20 and I Cor. 11:27, upon purity of body and soul as a preparation for Communion. Chrysostom, who is especially strong on this point, requires a particular preparation by penance, prayer, almsgiving, and spiritual exercises lasting for days. As to frequency of celebration, the most which can be said for this primitive age with any certainty is that it occurred at least every Sunday, and there is plenty of proof for this in the second century. Our Church Order specifies that it shall be observed not less than four times and not more than six times a year. One wonders whether the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated more than four times a year as is the custom prevailing in our present day. Being observed at least every Sunday, the tendency was toward greater frequency. Daily celebrations became customary in the West by the beginning of the third century in Africa, as evidenced by Cyprian; in Rome at least in the time of Jerome (died near Bethlehem in 420 A.D.) or much earlier if certain documents are to be accepted as genuine. At Caesarea in Cappadocia the rule was four times a week, and the leaders of the Church were eager to celebrate it more frequently. The Lord willing, in our following article, we will call attention to the idea of the sacrifice which was prevalent in the early Church’s presentation of the Eucharist.