Finally, continuing to quote Irenaeus, we submit to our readers the following rather lengthy quotation which is remarkable because it enables us to understand why the seeds of the later Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass and of the real, be it bloodless, sacrifice of Christ were sown in this early period of the Church. We must remember, however, that the language of the apostolic fathers is highly figurative, so that when Irenaeus writes that our flesh, when nourished with the body of the Lord, becomes incorruptible, he may mean that the Eucharist is simply a means through which the Church receives everlasting life. Be this as it may, we would quote the following: “Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God. As Paul also says to the Philippians, “I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things that were sent from you, the odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, pleasing to God.” For it I behooves us to make an oblation to God, and in all things to be found grateful to God our maker, in a pure mind, and in faith without hypocrisy, in well-grounded hope, in fervent love, offering the first fruits of. His own created things. And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the creator offering to Him, with giving of thanks, (the things taken) from His creation. But the Jews do not offer thus: for their hands ace full of blood; for they have not received the word, through whom it is offered to God (according to one writer, the words: “through whom it is offered to God,” must read: “Who is offered to God, “implying that the body of Christ is really offered as a sacrifice to God in the Eucharist. However, there is nothing in the writings of Irenaeus to substantiate this particular translation of what the Church Father had written—H.V.) . . . . But how can they be consistent with themselves (when they say) that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord, and the cup of His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the creator of, the world, that is, His word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accord with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion: For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For is the bread which is, produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the. Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.”—end of quote. There is much in this quotation of Irenaeus which surely appears to resemble Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. However, in the first place, Irenaeus declares that sacrifices do not sanctify a man. This is certainly not in harmony with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. And we may notice, in the second place, that the author of these words speaks of two realities in the Eucharist, the earthly and the heavenly; hence, the one is not changed into the other. Thirdly, the sacrifices or oblations are the sacrifices offered by the Church to God, and nor by Jesus Christ Himself.
We may conclude, therefore, that Irenaeus, in connection with the idea of sacrifice, clearly teaches that Christ has commanded, not for the sake of the Lord, but of the disciples, to offer the first fruits; the early Church recognized the bread and the wine as gifts of God, and returned them unto the Lord in thanksgiving. He emphasized that the principal thing is the disposition of the person who makes the offering.
Origin knows only of one sacrifice offered by Christ. It is fitting, however, for Christians to offer spiritual sacrifices unto the Lord. He does not know of a sacrifice of Christ in the Mass as taught by Rome.
Tertullian, too, speaks of sacrifices. However, he calls prayers sacrifices; as in the following passage which we quote from this western Church Father: “Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshments for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversary of his falling asleep.” We will not discuss the ceremony to which Tertullian refers in this passage. It is sufficient for our purpose to remark that he is speaking here of prayers for the dead, and he calls them sacrifices. In fact, this Church Father calls the entire Christian worship a sacrifice. There is no reference to the Roman Catholic conception of the daily sacrifice of Christ which occurs daily in the Mass.
The idea of sacrifice also occurs, as we might surmise, in the writings of Cyprian. He, too, speaks of the life of the Christian as a sacrifice, as in the following quotation: “He has clearly joined herewith and added the law; and has bound us by a certain condition and engagement, that we should ask that our debts be forgiven us in such a manner as we ourselves forgive our debtors, knowing that that which we seek for our sins cannot be obtained unless we ourselves have acted in a similar way in respect of our debtors. Therefore also He says in another place, “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” And the servant who, after having all his debt forgiven him by his master, would not forgive his fellow servant is cast into prison: because he would not forgive his fellow servant, he lost the indulgence that had been shown to himself by his Lord. And these things Christ still more urgently sets forth in His precepts with yet greater power of His rebuke. “When ye stand praying,” says He, “forgive if ye have ought against any, that your Father which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” There remains no ground of excuse in the day of judgment when you will be judged, according to your own sentence; and whatever you have done, that you also will suffer. For God commands us to be peacemakers, and in agreement, and of one mind in His house; and such as He makes us by a second birth, such He wishes us when new born to continue; that we who have begun to be sons of God may abide in God’s peace, and that, having one spirit, we should also have one heart and one mind. Thus God does not receive the, sacrifice of a person who is in disagreement, but commands him to go back from the altar and first be reconciled to his brother, that so God may be appeased by the prayers of a peacemaker. Our peace and brotherly agreement is the greater sacrifice to God,—and a people united in one in the unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For even in. the sacrifice which Abel and Cain first offered, God looked not at their gifts, but at their hearts, so that he I was acceptable in his gift who was acceptable in his heart. Abel, peaceable and righteous in sacrificing in innocence to God, taught others also, when they bring their gift to the altar, thus to come with the fear of God, with a simple heart, with the law of righteousness, with the peace of concord. With reason did he, who was such in respect of God’s sacrifice, become subsequently himself a sacrifice to God; so that he who first set forth martyrdom, and initiated the Lord’s passion by the glory of his blood, had both the Lord’s righteousness and His peace.”—end of quote. This, incidentally, is part of Cyprian’s explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. It is evident that what Cyprian here writes of the sacrifice has nothing in common with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass. He declares that our peace and brotherly agreement is the greater sacrifice to God, a people united in one in the unity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
However, Cyprian with his hierarchical tendencies already expresses the idea that not the Church, but the priest offers an imitation of the sacrifice of the Lord. We may recall that Cyprian taught that a mixture of the water and wine was essential for a proper celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He taught that “in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ.” Hence, when the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people is made one with Christ, and the assembly of believers is associated and conjoined with Him on whom it believes. This association and conjunction of water and wine, Cyprian continues, is so mingled in the Lord’s cup, that that mixture cannot anymore be separated. Therefore, Cyprian concludes, in thus consecrating the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be, offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered.
Cyprian, however, held the office of bishop very highly, one of his basic teachings was that the bishop is in the Church and the Church is in the bishop. Salvation without the Church and the bishop is impossible. And it is therefore not surprising that he should express the idea that not the Church but the priest offers an imitation of the sacrifice of the Lord. This appears from the following quotation: “But if we may not break even the least of the Lord’s commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord’s passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the. Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.”—end of quote. This quotation clearly illustrates why it can be said of this early period of the Church of God that the seeds were sown for the later development of the Roman Catholic conception of the Mass, the daily and actual, though bloodless, sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must bear in mind, however, that Cyprian declares in this quotation that the, priest, when truly discharging the office of Christ, imitates that which Christ did, and this is certainly not the same as the Roman Catholic conception which declares that Jesus Christ is truly and actually sacrificed daily in then Mass, and that this, daily sacrifice “of Christ is just as real and. actual as that which occurred upon the cross of Calvary.