The Eucharist is both a sacrament wherein God conveys to us a certain blessing, and a sacrifice which man offers to God. As a sacrament, or the communion, it stands at the head of all sacred rites; as a sacrifice it stands alone. The celebration of it under this twofold character forms the holy of holies of the Christian cultus in the ancient church, and in the greater part of Christendom at this day (the reader may recall, having read these articles on the development and history of doctrine throughout the ages, that mention has been made in the past that the Fathers viewed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice which man or the church offers to the Lord. They did not use the word “sacrifice” in the sense in which the Roman Catholic Church uses it today. It. was our sacrifice to the Lord. That the word “sacrifice” was used in this sense is confirmed by Philip Schaff in this paragraph.—H.V. Schaff, when writing that the Eucharist, as a sacrament, stands alone and at the head of all sacred rites, quotes the following interesting statement, and I quote: “Freemen says to the Eucharist, not without justice, from a historical and theological point of view: ‘It was confessedly through long ages of the church, and is by the vast majority of the Christian world at this hour, conceived to be . . . no less than the highest line of contact and region of commingling between heaven and earth known to us, or provided for us;—a borderland of mystery, where, by gradations baffling sight and thought, the material truly blends with the spiritual, and the visible shades off into the unseen; a thing, therefore, which of all events or gifts in this world most nearly answers to the highest aspirations and deepest yearnings of our wonderfully compounded being; while in some ages and climes of the church it has been elevated into something yet more awful and mysterious.'”)
We consider first the doctrine of the Eucharist as a sacrament, then the doctrine of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, and finally the celebration of the Eucharistic communion and Eucharistic sacrifice. The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy and ecclesiastical action till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century; whereas since then this feast of the Savior’s dying love has been the innocent cause of the most bitter disputes, especially in the age of the Reformation, between Papists and Protestants, and among Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists. Hence the doctrine of the ancient church on this point lacks the clearness and definiteness which the Nicene dogma of the Trinity, the Chalcedonian Christology (that the two natures, in Christ, are united in one Divine Person, unchanged, unmixed, undivided, and without separation—H.V.), and the Augustinian anthropology and soteriology acquired from the controversies preceding them. In the doctrine of baptism also we have a much better right to speak of a consensus partum (consensus, agreement between the fathers—H.V.), than in the doctrine of the holy supper.
In general, this period, following the representatives of the mystic theory in the previous one, was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, which are inseparable in so far as a real sacrifice requires the real presence of the victim. But the kind and mode of this presence are not yet particularly defined, and amidst very different views: Christ may be conceived as really present either in and with the elements (consubstantiation, impanation), or under the illusive appearance of the changed elements (transubstantiation), or only dynamically and spiritually.
In the previous period we distinguish three views: the mystic view of Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus; the symbolical view of Tertullian and Cyprian; and the allegorical or spiritualistic view of Clement of Alexandria and. Origin. In the present the first view, which best answered the mystic and superstitious tendency of the time, preponderated, but the second also was represented by considerable authorities.
I. The realistic and mystic view is represented by several fathers and the early liturgies, whose testimony we shall further cite below. They speak in enthusiastic and extravagant terms of the sacrament and sacrifice of the altar. They teach a real presence of the body and blood of Christ, which is included in the very idea of a real sacrifice, and they see in the mystical union of it with the sensible elements a sort of repetition of the incarnation of the Logos. With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, whereby they become vehicles and organs of the life of Christ, although by no means necessarily changed into another substance. To denote this change very strong expressions are used, like metabolee, metaballein, metetaballesthai, metastoixeiousthai, metapoiiesthai, mutatio, translatio, transfiguratio, transformtio; illustrated by the miraculous transformation of water into wine, the assimilation of food, and the pervasive power of leaven.
Cyril of Jerusalem goes farther in this direction than any of the fathers. He plainly teaches some sort of supernatural connection between the body of Christ and the elements, though not necessarily a transubstantiation of the latter. Let us hear the principal passages. “Then follows,” he says in describing the celebration of the Eucharist, “the invocation of God, for the sending of his Spirit to make the bread the body of Christ, the wine the blood of Christ. For what the Holy Ghost touches is sanctified and transformed.” “Under the type of the bread is given to thee the body, under the type of the wine is given to thee the blood, that thou mayest be a partaker of the body and blood of Christ, and be of one body and blood with him.” “After the invocation of the Holy Ghost the bread of the Eucharist is no longer bread, but the body of Christ.” “Consider, therefore, the bread and the wine not as empty elements, for they are, according to the declaration of the Lord, the body and blood of Christ.” In support of this change Cyril refers at one time to the wedding feast at Cana, which indicates the Roman theory of change of substance; but at another to the consecration of the chrism, wherein the substance is unchanged. He was not clear and consistent with himself. His opinion probably was that the Eucharistic elements lost by consecration not so much their earthly substance, as their earthly purpose.
Gregory of Nyssa, though in general a very faithful disciple of the spiritualistic Origin, is on this point entirely realistic. He calls the Eucharistic a food of immortality, and speaks of a miraculous transformation of the nature of the elements into the glorified body of Christ by virtue of the priestly blessing.
Chrysostom likewise, though only incidentally in. his homilies, and not in the strain of sober logic and theology, but of glowing rhetoric, speaks several times of a union of our whole nature with the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and even of a manducatio oralis.
Of the Latin fathers, Hilary, Ambrose, and Gaudentius (dies in 410) come nearest to the later dogma of transubstantiation. The latter says: “The Creator and Lord of nature, who produces bread from the earth, prepares out of bread his own body, makes of wine his own blood.”
But closely as these and similar expressions verge upon the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, they seem to contain at most a dynamic, not a substantial, change of the elements into the body and blood of Christ. For, in the first place, it must be remembered there is a great difference between the half poetic, enthusiastic, glowing language of devotion, in which the fathers, and especially the liturgies, speak of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and the clear, calm, and cool language of logic and doctrinal definition. In the second place, the same fathers apply the same or quite similar terms to the baptismal water and the chrism of confirmation, without intending to teach a proper change of the substance of these material elements into the Holy Ghost. On the other hand, they not rarely use, concerning the bread and wine,tupos, antitupa, figura, signum, and like expressions, which denote rather a symbolical than a metabolical relation of them to the body and blood of the Lord. Finally, the favorite comparison of the mysterious transformation with the incarnation of the Logos, which, in fact, was not an annihilation of the human nature, but an assumption of it into unity with the divine, is of itself in favor of the continuance of the substance of the elements; else it would abet the Eutychian heresy (Eutychianism was a Christological heresy of the fifth century, taking its name from Eutyches, an ascetic, of strict monastic training, for thirty years superior of a monastery near Constantinople—H.V.).
II. The symbolical view, though on a realistic basis, is represented first by Eusebius, who calls the Supper a commemoration of Christ by the symbols of his body and blood, and takes the flesh and blood of Christ in the sixth chapter of John to mean the words of Christ, which are spirit and life, the true food of the soul, to believers. Here appears the influence of his venerated Origen, whose views in regard to the sacraments aspect of the Eucharist he substantially repeats.
But it is striking that even Athanasius, “the father of orthodoxy,” recognized only a spiritual participation, a self communication of the nourishing divine virtue of the Logos, in the symbols of the bread and wine, and incidentally evinces a doctrine of the Eucharist wholly foreign to the Catholic, and very like the older Alexandrian or Origenistic, and the Calvinistic, though by no means identical with the latter. By the flesh and blood in the mysterious discourse of Jesus in the sixth chapter of John, which he refers to the Lord’s Supper, he understands not the earthly, human, but the heavenly, divine manifestation of Jesus, a spiritual nutriment coming down from above, which the Logos through the Holy Ghost communicates to believers (but not to a Judas, nor to the unbelieving). With this view accords his extending of the participation of the Eucharistic food to believers in heaven, and even to the angels, who, on account of their incorporeal nature, are incapable of a corporeal participation of Christ.
Gregory Nazianzen sees in the Eucharist a type of the incarnation, and calls the consecrated elements symbols and antitypes of the great mysteries, but ascribes to them a saving virtue.
St. Basil, likewise, in explaining the words of Christ, “I live by the Father” (John 6:57), against the Arians who inferred from it that Christ was a creature, incidentally gives a spiritual meaning to the fruition of the Eucharistic elements. “We eat the flesh of Christ,” he says, “and drink His blood, if we, through His incarnation and human life, become partakers of the Logos and wisdom.”