Becoming Catholic #1: The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the Church Fathers

MAKING WISDOM POPULAR

The “Becoming Catholic” blog series is a multi-part, multi-year, bite-size, fact-focused attempt at describing the journey of a lifelong protestant to the Catholic Church. You can read all the individual articles here.

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After nearly 30 years as a devout Protestant, I decided in February 2018, after nearly a year of in-depth study, to become Catholic. I am set to be received into the Catholic Church at the 2019 Easter Vigil.

When people ask me about my conversion, especially if they are protestants, I half-joke with them, “Well, if you have a whole week, and 12 hours a day, we can get a good start on that.” An overall summary of my conversion can be found in a podcast interview I did here, as well as in the newly released book, Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome, which includes the interviews of various intellectuals who converted to Catholicism. Mine is in Chapter 7, entitled “Slapped Across the Face by the Church Fathers.”

While I was consciously investigating Catholicism the year before making the decision, the reality is that I had had many issues with protestantism for many years (protestantism provides no basis for Christian unity beyond an abstraction—which is one of the problems I had with it, its fundamental lack of unity—so I am referring in general to theological doctrines that belong to one or more protestant sects). Thus, my year of consciously studying Catholicism actually turned out to be a year in which I discovered all the issues I had had with protestantism for so long had an answer, and that answer was the teaching of the Catholic Church.

So I’ve decided that I will be doing a large, multi-part series of blogs which show some of the reasons I decided to convert. I feel the need to explain myself, as well as the desire to share my unspeakable joy at becoming Catholic. The journey was in-depth, and so will these blogs—but in bite-size pieces, so as many people can follow along and digest it as possible. I purchased literally hundreds of books in the process of studying Catholicism, and so many of the quotes and points made in those books will be included on these blog posts. I have no idea how many posts will be included, so I’ve simply entitled this first one “Becoming Catholic #1.” As you probably guessed, I’ll simply increase the number as we go along, with a short summary of the topic being discussed.

A big reason why I am writing these posts is not only to explain, in depth, the reasons for my conversion, but also provide good resources for people who simply don’t have the time or willingness to do the sort of in-depth study I have done.

This post is about an incredibly important topic: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, according to the Church Fathers. Indeed, this was the initial “red pill” I consumed when I opened the first volume of the Apostolic Fathers. These were the earliest Church Fathers, some of whom knew the Apostles themselves—hence their categorization as the “Apostolic Fathers. You can purchase the 38 volume set this came from here. You can also access many of the salient writings of the Church Fathers (including those in the 38 volume set) online, for free, at New Advent, and the Ethereal Library of Christian Classics.

So without further ado, here is a good sample of the quotes from the Church Fathers on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist that blew me away. This is not complete, but you will quickly see that the understanding of the Church Fathers on this point was thoroughly Catholic. Of particular importance: these Fathers are from both West and East. This is not a “Roman” invention. The Orthodox hold the same basic doctrine, along with Catholics, to this very day.

But first, here is the primary (but not only) biblical text upon which the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is based (John 6:22-71) (RSVCE):

The Bread from Heaven

22 On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 However, boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

The Words of Eternal Life

60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

66 After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 67 Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.

Now, the quotes from the Church Fathers:

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 7 (c. AD 110)

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.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7 (c. AD 110)

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ, which have 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 that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.  They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, 4 (c. AD 110)

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.

Saint Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (c. AD 151)

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 that is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e. 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 that 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.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 4:33:2 (c. AD 189)

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?

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 5:2:2-3 (c. AD 189)

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 to our bodies.  When the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receive the Word of God and become 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 that is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?

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Saint Clement of Alexandria, Instructor of Children, 1:6 (c. AD 197)

“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.

Tertullian of Carthage, Resurrection of the Flesh, 8 (c. AD 210)

[T]here is not a soul that can at all procure salvation, except it believe while it is in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges.  And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh that actually renders it capable of such service.  The flesh, indeed, is washed [in baptism], that the soul may be cleansed…The flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands [in confirmation], that the soul may be illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds [in the Eucharist] on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul may fatten on its God.

Saint Hippolytus of Rome, On Proverbs (c. AD 217)

“And she has furnished her table”: That denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to his honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper.

Origen of Alexandria, Homilies on Numbers, 7:2 (c. AD 249)

Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way…Now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit.  Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” [John 6:56]

Saint Cyprian of Carthage, The Lapsed, Treatise 3, 15-16 (AD 251)

[Paul] threatens, moreover, the stubborn and forward, and denounces them, saying, “Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” [1 Cor. 11:27] All these warnings being scorned and despised, [lapsed Christians will often take Communion] before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, [and so] violence is done to his body and blood; and they sin against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord.

Saint Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer (c. AD 251/252)

And we ask that this bread [“our daily bread” in the Lord's Prayer] should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation, may not by the interposition of some heinous sin be separated from Christ's body by being withheld from communicating and prevented from partaking of the heavenly bread.

Council of Nicaea I, Canon 18 (AD 325)

It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters [i.e. priests], though neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer [the Eucharistic sacrifice] should give the body of Christ to them that do offer [it].

Saint Aphrahat the Persian Sage, Demonstrations, 12:6 (c. AD 340)

After having spoken thus [at the Last Supper], the Lord rose up from the place where he had made the Passover and had given his body as food and his blood as drink, and he went with his disciples to the place where he was to be arrested.  But he ate of his own body and drank of his own blood, while he was pondering on the dead.  With his own hands the Lord presented his own body to be eaten, and before he was crucified he gave his blood as drink.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 19:7 (c. AD 350)

[A]s the bread and wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Trinity, which is holy and worthy of adoration, were simply bread and wine, and after the invocation the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 22:6, 9 (c. AD 350)

Consider therefore the bread and the wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, let faith establish you.  Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the body and blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you…Having learned these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not bread, though sensible to taste, but the body of Christ; and that the seeming wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the blood of Christ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, “And bread strengthens man’s heart, to make his face to shine with oil, strengthen your heart,” by partaking of it as spiritual, and “make the face of your soul to shine.”

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37 (c. AD 380)

Rightly then do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word...consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh…Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment, also [bread], and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He trans-elements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.

Saint Ambrose of Milan, The Mysteries, 9:50, 58 (c. AD 390)

Perhaps you may be saying, “I see something else; how can you assure me that I am receiving the body of Christ?”  It only remains for us to prove it.  And how many are the examples we might use!…For Christ is in that sacrament, because it is the body of Christ.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical Homilies, 5:1 (c. AD 410)

When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, “This is the symbol of my body,” but, “This is my body.”  In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, “This is the symbol of my blood,” but, “This is my blood.”  For he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord.  We ought…not to see [the elements] merely as bread and cup, but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Explanations of the Psalms, 33:1 (c. AD 405)

Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, “This is my body.” [Matt. 26:26] For he carried that body in his hands.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, 227 (c. AD 411)

I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table…The bread you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ.  The chalice, or rather, what is in the chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.

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Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, 272 (c. AD 411)

What you see in the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you.  But your faith obliged you to accept that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ.

Council of Ephesus, Session 1, Letter of Cyril to Nestorius (AD 431)

We will necessarily add this also.  Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Chris, 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.

Saint John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (8th century)

[I]f God the Word of His own will became man and the pure and undefiled blood of the holy and ever-Virginal One made His flesh without the aid of seed, can He not then make the bread His body and the wine and water His blood?…For just as God made all that He made by the energy of the Holy Spirit, so also now the energy of the Spirit performs those things that are supernatural and which it is not possible to comprehend unless by faith alone.

RESOURCES

You can access my conversion story, as well as the writings of the Church Fathers (purchased and free) at the following links:

(1) My Conversion Story (podcast)

(2) Heart, Mind, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (Chapter 7 features my Conversion Story)

(3) “38 Volume Set” of Church Fathers for purchase (physical books)

(4) Church Fathers: New Advent website (the “38 Volume Set” online for free)

(5) Church Fathers: Ethereal Library of Christian Classics website (another free version of the “38 Volume Set”)

Joshua Charles