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In our preceding article we noted that the early Church Fathers attached a profound significance to the Lord’s Supper. In that article we quoted at length from the renowned Church Father, Cyprian. 

Moreover, it may also be remarked that by various writers of that early period of the New Testament Church the seeds were sown for the development of all the various views of the Lord’s Supper that were to be developed in a later period. Concerning this there cannot possibly be any doubt. It is certainly of great interest to call attention to this in detail. Men like Ignatius, Martyr, Irenaeus, Origin, Clement, Tertullian, and Cyprian have left writings which clearly substantiate this observation. 

More specifically we may make the following observations. In the first place, the present Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was entirely unknown during this early period. This doctrine, we understand, propounds the theory that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are actually changed into the real and actual body and blood of the Lord. This doctrine, we say, was completely unknown in the early period of the Church. We are informed, that Pope Gelasius I (he was pope from 492 to 496), although declaring that the elements of the bread and wine are perfected by the Holy Spirit and pass over into a Divine substance as was the case with Christ Himself, also taught that “the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease to exist.” This Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation will be discussed, the Lord willing, when we discuss the historical development of the doctrine concerning the sacraments in later history. 

Ignatius teaches that flesh and blood are present in the Lord’s Supper, but he does not teach how they came to be there, nor in what relation they stand to the bread arid the, wine. It is true that this apostolic father speaks in a certain place of the bread of God, and of the bread of life as being the flesh of Jesus Christ, but he evidently in these words is not referring to the elements of the holy Supper. He writes this in an epistle to the Romans in which he, a prisoner, is speaking of his great longing and eagerness to die for the sake of Christ, and we quote him: “I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” It is evident that in these words Ignatius does not refer to the Lord’s Supper, but to the internal and vital union with Christ, after which the martyr longed. However, in an epistle to the Smyrneans he does refer to the Lord’s Supper, and we quote: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the gospel, in which the passion (of Christ) has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.” Ignatius speaks here of the Eucharist as the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Hence, since the Church generally held that somehow the flesh and blood of Christ were received at the Lord’s Supper and the question as to how these were present is not always answered clearly, it may surely be said that tendencies can be found in this period that would point in the direction of the Roman Catholic doctrine. 

In the second place, besides observing that the present Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was entirely unknown in that early period, we may observe that the views of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus remind us of the present Lutheran doctrine. We have already remarked that the Lutheran doctrine is knows as Consubstantiation, which advocates the theory that the sign and the thing obsignated, although not identified, are nevertheless objectively connected. The body of the Lord is really present in, with, and under the bread and wine. We have already quoted Ignatius to the effect that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior, the Son of God. In an epistle to the Philadelphians this apostolic father writes as follows: “I have confidence of you in the Lord, that ye will be of no other mind. Wherefore I write boldly to your love, which is worthy of God, and exhort you to have but one faith, and one (kind of) preaching, and one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken to all (the communicants), and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but one altar for the whole Church, and one bishop with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants.” Also in this quotation Ignatius declares that the flesh or body and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is present at the Eucharist; he speaks of the one loaf broken for all and the one cup distributed among them all. 

The same manner of speaking occurs in the writing of Justin Martyr. Writing on the Eucharist, he expresses himself as follows: “And this food is called among us Eucharistia (the Eucharist), of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ, our Savior, having been made flesh by the word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus, who was made flesh.” Following upon this the learned Church Father calls attention to those Scriptures which hold before us the words of Christ: “This is my body,” and: “This is my blood.” In this quotation Justin Martyr declares that the bread and wine in the Eucharist are not common bread and drink, but the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was made flesh. 

Irenaeus, who suffered martyrdom either toward the close of the second century. or in the early years of the third century, expresses himself similarly on the Eucharist. He writes as follows: “But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this cannot attain unto salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body . . . . He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which (flesh) is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh, but (he refers to) that dispensation (by which the Lord came) an actual man consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones—that (flesh) which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a corn of wheat falling into the earth—becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.”—end of quotation from Irenaeus. 

We may certainly conclude from these passages that Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus emphasized the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord. We have already observed that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was entirely unknown during this early period. Nothing in their writings indicates that the bread and wine were changed into the actual body and blood of the Lord, and that therefore there was no bread or wine at the Lord’s Supper after the change into Christ’s actual body and blood had been affected. However, they did emphasize the real presence of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. This explains why the writings of these men remind us of the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. It must be remembered, however, that also these fathers did not clearly define the manner in which the body and blood of Christ were present in the sacrament. 

In the third place, in addition to the observations already made, namely, that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation was unknown in the early period of the Church, and that the Church Fathers mentioned in the foregoing remind us of the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, we may remark that the North African Church revealed rather clear tendencies toward what is called the Reformed view. Origin, one of the most brilliant of the Church Fathers, inclined toward the Zwinglian view whereas, Clement, Tertullian, and Cyprian inclined toward the Calvinistic idea. Zwingli, we will recall, inclined toward the merely symbolical view, speaking of the holy supper as merely a remembrance feast. The bread and wine remain bread and wine. They are merely symbols. In the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we merely “remember His death until His coming.” The Calvinistic conception is the sacramental conception. It, too, emphasizes that the bread arid wine do not undergo any change: are merely symbolic in character. However, this conception emphasizes the sacramental operation of the Lord’s Supper. We do not merely gather around the table of the Lord as if we merely remember the death of a departed Friend. In the Lord’s Supper there is a very real contact of the child of God with the crucified and glorified Christ. Christ, although He is in heaven, is very really present. Not merely physically, we understand, but spiritually, as our crucified and glorified Savior. And the Church of God has contact with Him, spiritually, through the signs of the bread and wine, and by faith, in a very real sense of the word.