The idea of sacrifice (continued).

Of interest, in connection with this idea of sacrifice in connection with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as prevalent in the early period of the Christian Church, is what we read in the History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff whom, writing on the Eucharist as a Sacrifice, we quote as follows (Vol. II, 245 ff.)

The Eucharist as a Sacrifice

This point is very important in relation to the doctrine, and still more important in relation to the cultus and life, of the ancient church. The Lord’s Supper was universally regarded not only as sacrament, but also as a sacrifice, the true and eternal sacrifice of the new covenant, superseding all the provisional and typical sacrifices of the old; taking the place particularly of the Passover, or the feast of the typical redemption from Egypt. This Eucharistic sacrifice,” however, the ante-Nicene fathers conceived not as an unbloody repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but, simply as a commemoration and renewed appropriation of that atonement, and, above all, a thank-offering of the whole church for all the favors of God in creation and redemption. Hence, the current name itself—Eucharist; which denoted in the first place the prayer of thanksgiving, but afterwards the whole rite.

The consecrated elements were regarded in a twofold light, as representing at once the natural and the spiritual gifts of God, which culminated in the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Hence the Eucharistic prayer like that connected with the typical Passover, related at the same time to creation and redemption, which were the more closely joined in the mind of the church for their dualistic separation by the Gnostics. The earthly gifts of bread and wine were taken as types and pledges of the heavenly gifts of the same God, who has both created and redeemed the world.

Upon this followed the idea of the self-sacrifice of the worshipper himself, the sacrifice of renewed self-consecration to Christ in return for his sacrifice on the cross, and also the sacrifice of charity to the poor. Down to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Eucharistic elements were presented as a thank-offering by the members of the congregation themselves, and the remnants went to the clergy and the poor. In these gifts the people yielded themselves as a priestly race and a living thank-offering to God, to whom they owed all the blessings alike of providence and of grace. In later times the priest alone offered the sacrifice. But even the Roman Missal retains a recollection of the ancient custom in the plural form, “We offer,” and in the sentence: “All you, both brethren and sisters, pray that my sacrifice and your sacrifice, which is equally yours as well as mine, may be meat for the Lord.”

This subjective offering of the whole congregation on the ground of the objective atoning sacrifice of Christ is the real center of the ancient Christian worship, and particularly of the communion. It thus differed both from the later Catholic mass, which has changed the thank-offering into a sin-offering, the congregational offering into a priest offering; and from the common Protestant cultus, which, in opposition to the Roman mass, has almost entirely banished the idea of sacrifice from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, except in the customary offerings for the poor.

The writers of the second century keep strictly within the limits of the notion of a congregational thank-offering. Thus Justin says expressly, prayers and thanksgivings alone are the true and acceptable sacrifices, which the Christians offer. Irenaeus has been brought as a witness for the Roman doctrine, only on the ground of a false reading. The African fathers, in the third century, who elsewhere incline to the symbolical interpretation of the words of institution, are the first to approach on this point the later Roman Catholic idea of a sin-offering especially Cyprian, the steadfast advocate of priesthood and of episcopal authority. The ideas of priesthood, sacrifice, and altar, are intimately connected, and a Judaizing or paganizing conception of one must extend to all.—end of quote from Philip Schaff.

The idea of the Sacrament.

In general we may remark that the word, “sacrament,” is not found in the holy Scriptures. This word, “sacrament,” however, is not the only term which we use dogmatically and does not appear in holy writ. Terms such as: providence, trinity, are also foreign to the Scriptures. The word, “sacrament,” is derived from the Latin, “sacramentum,” which originally denoted a sum of money deposited by parties in litigation, inasmuch as the winner’s money was returned while the loser’s sum was forfeited. This seems to have been called a “sacramentum” because it was intended to be a sort of sacrifice to the gods and therefore sacred. The transition of this term to its Christian use may be sought in two things. First, the word appears to have been used as a military term, in which it denoted the oath by which a soldier solemnly pledged obedience to his commander. A reference to this idea of an oath and obedience to our Commander may be discerned in Article 34 of our Confession of Faith where we read that “by which we are received into the Church of God and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear (italic ours—H.V.). Secondly, we would refer to the specifically religious sense which the term acquired when the Vulgate employed it as a rendering of the Greek “mysterion.” It is possible that this Greek term was applied to the sacraments because they have a faint resemblance to some of the mysteries of the Greek religion. In the early Church the word “sacrament” was first used to denote all kinds of doctrines and ordinances.

We have already observed that two words were employed: the Latin “sacramentum” and the Greek “mysterion.” Justin the great apologist, employs the term “mystery” in a short paragraph which he devotes to the Eucharist, a part of which we quote: “that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do you in remembrance of me, this is my body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is my blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”—end of quote. It is true that Justine here speaks of the mysteries of Mithras. However, he declares that these wicked devils have imitated the practices of the Christians, and he plainly implies that the practices of the Christians are mysteries. Today, we know, the term, sacrament, is used with respect to the Lord’s Supper and holy baptism. However, the word, “sacrament,” as we have already remarked, was derived from the Latin, “sacramenturn” and employed by the Vulgata (the Latin translation of the Bible) as the Latin translation of the Greek “mysterion,” which word was used by Justin, not to denote the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism as today, but to denote the practices of the Christians.

Tertullian is said to be the first of the Church Fathers to use the word “sacrament” in connection with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Refuting Marcion, who denied that Jesus possessed a real human nature, and writing of the institution of the Lord’s Supper but referring to Moses, he writes, and we quote: “In like manner does He also know the very time it behooved Him to suffer, since the law prefigures His passion. According to all the festal days of the Jews He chose the Passover. In this Moses had declared that there was a sacred mystery.”—end of quote. The word which is translated “mystery” here is literally: sacramentum.

It must be remembered, however, that these words: mystery and sacrament, were not exclusively used for our sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that they also had a wider use: the sacrament or mystery of religion, of the Trinity, of the Lord’s Prayer, etc. Tertullian, for example, writes the following: “In the scheme of Marcion, on the contrary, the mystery (sacramentum) of the Christian religion begins from the discipleship of Luke.” And this, too, was written by Tertullian: “I say, therefore, that in them (and not simply such of them as were founded by apostles, but in all those which are united with them in the fellowship of the mystery (sacramenturn) of the gospel of Christ, that the Gospel of Luke which we are defending with all our might has stood its ground from its very first publication.” Cyprian does not recognize an exclusive terminology on this point. He speaks. we know, of a sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as in the following quotation: “For when Christ: says, “I am the true vine,” the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures.” That Cyprian speaks of prayer and the Trinity as a sacrament is evident from the following which we quote from his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer. However, inasmuch as our space is almost filled as far as this article is concerned, we will conclude this article at this point and write this quotation from Cyprianin our following article.