Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Am The Bread of Life

One of the central elements of the Catholic and Orthodox faith is the belief that Christ is really present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Belief in the Real Presence is often attacked by non-catholic Christians who are trying to win souls to their belief. I have had people tell me that Catholic worship a cookie because that's all that the Eucharist is. Anyone who has read a Chick tract will be familiar with the phrase “Death Cookie”. Or, I've been told that belief in the Eucharist is non biblical. What follows is a short apology on why Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe in the Real Presence.

The Bread of Life Discourse

"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Petedr answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” - John 6:48 -68

Most Christians who deny the Real Presence quickly dismiss this passage as it was symbolic. However, the murmuring of the Jews is the clearest evidence that they had understood the preceeding words of Christ literally. Yet far from repudiating this construction as a gross misunderstanding, Christ repeated his words in a most solemn manner. In consequence, many of his Disciples were scandalized and said “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” But instead of retracting what He had said, Christ rather reproached them for their want of faith, by alluding to His sublimer origin and His future Ascension into heaven. And without further ado He allowed these Disciples to go their way.

The Words of Institution

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said “Take; this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14: 22-24

In this passage, Jesus did not say this is a symbol of my body. He said it was his body. Reading in the Epistles, there is more evidence that the Disciples believed in the Real Presence. Consider the following passage:

“For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another comes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink it? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the nigh when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrances of me. In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 1 Corinthians 11:18-29

St. Paul believed in the Real Presence. He repeats the words of institution and chastises the Corinthians on eat and drinking unworthily.

Early Church Fathers

Denial of the Real Presence by some Christian churches is a rather new theory, coming about after the Protestant reformation. Instead of relying on interpretation of scripture from someone 1600 or more years after the event took place, I like to look at what the early church believed on a topic. With regards to the Real Presence, there is a wealth of writings.

“the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father in His goodness raised” - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Epistle to the Smyrneans 6:2)

Clearly he intends this realism to be taken strictly, for he makes it the basis of his argument against the Docetists denial of the reality of Christ's body(Doctrines, 197). St. Igantius's argument would not have been persuasive to his opponents unless belief in the Eucharist as truly the Body and Blood of Christ was pervasive by AD 106.

“We do not receive these as common bread or common drink. But just as our Saviour Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been eucharistized by the word of prayer from the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. - Justin Martyr (First Apology, 66:2)

“He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks and said, ‘This is My body.’ And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world. . . . Then again, how can they [Gnostic heretics] say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption and does not partake of life? . . . 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 [the Gnostics] 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? - St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing around 160 AD (Against Heresies, 4:17:5, 4:18:4-5, 5:2:3)

Note that here St. Irenaus supports both the Catholic view of the Real Presence and the Eucharistic sacrifice in the same context. And so it is with all the Church Fathers: Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem. I read them and found they all believed in the Real Presence and the Eucharist as the New Covenant sacrifice.

I ran across the following quote on day and was surprised at the author of it. The quote goes as follows:

“Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? Or, that is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they though so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: it is bread only, or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present; but they are all of them unanimous” - Martin Luther(Luther's Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391)

I stumbled upon these writings and works as I was deciding on what Church to attend. Only two Christian groups have believed consistently in the true presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist through all of Church history; The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church. Other issues, such as the papacy and unity, steered me away from the Orthodox Church and back into the Catholic Church. I have continued my study of the Eucharist and am ever more fully convinced that the Catholic teaching is the teaching passed on from Christ to his Apostles. It is eminently defensible and has become a central tenent of my Christian faith. Union with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist brings me peace and joy beyond anything I have had in my life before.

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