More than Bread and Wine Part 4: Throughout History

Tracing the Doctrine Throughout History: The Early Church to Now

But how do we know that's actually what the early church taught? How do we know this isn't just a teaching that emerged in the middle ages and has been taught erroneously since then and it wasn't until the Reformation that people began to speak out against this treasonous, blasphemous doctrine? Well, let's take a walk through history and see who preached which doctrines when.

The Early Church

Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 110 AD to Rome and Smyrna, and his admonitions to both respectively are listed below.

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible"
"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes"

Justin Martyr needs little introduction, I think. He wrote a few centuries after Ignatius of Antioch, and in his First Apology said,

"We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies in 189, and in it, he said,

"If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?"
"He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?"

Two years later, Clement of Alexandria wrote,

"’Eat my flesh,’ [Jesus] says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children"

In the middle of the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Chatechetical Lectures, said,

"Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ. . . . [Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so, . . . partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul"

Saint Augustine, just after the turn of the fifth century, said simply

"What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction"

The Council of Ephasus in 431 AD, the council that established both the divinity and humanity of Christ, wrote,

"We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his holy flesh and the precious blood of Christ the Savior of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his flesh, he made it also to be life-giving"

Even from the early days, all the church fathers, doctors, priests, deacons, and apologists believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The bread and the wine actually were (and are) the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.

The Middle Ages

One of the most noted developments in the Middle Ages was that a new feast was proclaimed: the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Feast of the Body of Christ. This was initiated because of a well documented miracle wherein a priest, having doubts about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, said mass, and right after the consecration, the host began to bleed onto his hands and onto the cloth on the altar. The priest rapidly went to the pope, who was nearby, and told him what had happened. So impressed was he that he immediately proclaimed a new feast day. Then, he turned to a brilliant writer and asked him to write an office for the Eucharist. That man was Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas did so joyfully, for he had such a deep love of the Eucharist. He explained the Eucharist as having a threefold meaning: In relation to the past, it is the memorial of the Passion and Death of Christ, and therefore, the “Sacrifice.” In relation to the present, it is the source of unity, and therefore “Communion.” In relation to the future, it signifies the way to heaven and is the “Viaticum.” In his Eucharistic Prayer titled O Sacrum Convivium, Thomas wrote, “O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

Some of the hymns he wrote for that office are still used regularly in churches around the world, and each of them proclaims the beauty, the majesty, and the truth of the mystery of transubstantiation. Some of his works, and other famous works that are songs to or about the Holy Eucharist can be found by following this link:

The last half of this video tells a bit more about the love Thomas Aquinas had for the Eucharist and for the miracle of Corpus Christi.

The doctrine of Transubstantiation was officially proclaimed by the Lateran Council IV, but it had been taught from the early ages. However, it took many many many years to work out the way to explain this mystery in a way that would not lead to misunderstanding (see the doctrine of the Incarnation or Trinity if you want to understand the plethora of misunderstandings that were common about any and all doctrines stated). Did the church not believe in the Incarnation before 431 when it was officially proclaimed? Of course not! The Church Fathers defended that idea from day one, but it was never an official church teaching until 431.

The Reformation

It was not until the 1500s that we begin to see anything different being taught. The doctrine of Transubstantiation was something that Luther disputed. He said that when Jesus said “This is My body,” he meant it, but that the bread did not turn into the Body and the wine into the Blood but that Jesus was there alongside the bread and wine. He called the the sacramental union.

Zwingli opposed this view entirely and said that the Last Supper was simply a memorial. He is the one who propagated the more common belief that there was nothing literal at all in the statement by Jesus when he said “This is My body.” Luther and Zwingli argued over this, and neither were willing to budge on their views. Luther claimed that if you couldn't take Jesus literally, then how could you interpret any of scripture? Zwingli remained unswayed and continued to teach the idea of a memorial until his death in 1531.

Calvin disagreed with both of these reformers and walked the middle line saying that the grace of Christ was evident in communion but that it was not the Body and Blood of Christ. His power was there, but not his body or blood. This is a dangerous road to walk because it reduces the last will and testament of Christ before his earthly death to something that can be seen in any number of things, for I think we would all agree that the Grace and power of Christ are in more things than just the communion crackers and juice or bread and wine that come out a couple times a year or even every day.

This doctrine was so polarizing in the early days of the reformation that Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Melanchthon and Oeclampadius all met at Marburg in 1529 to try and come to an agreement, and yet none could be reached. These reformers left that meeting with nothing resolved at all. Now, most protestant denominations follow closest to Zwingli or Calvin. But this was not what the early church taught, as was evidenced above.

The Council of Trent, in response to these doctrines being taught, declared, once again, the Church teaching on the Eucharist:

Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation”


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