Currently, I am discussing the Lord’s Supper with a recent Lutheran (LC-MS) convert who has started to have issues with our doctrine concerning the same. Evidently, even the great Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse’s great 20th century book, “This is My Body”, has been unable to allay this man’s doubts.
Struggles like this about the Supper are not the only kind however. I have often wondered if many Protestants hold Lutheran beliefs regarding the Lord’s Supper in spite of their denominational label. Years ago, my evangelical friend who eventually became Eastern Orthodox told me that it wasn’t our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper that gave him trouble, but baptism. My father, who is a pastor, has told me about conversations he has had with several Baptists that indicate that they actually hold more Lutheran beliefs on the Supper.
I’ve always found this issue to be a real head-scratcher. As regards the matter of our Lord’s words on the night he was betrayed, why not take His very solemn words about this Supper in simple, child-like trust? As can be seen in spades below, the early church fathers, in line with the Scriptures, seem to wholeheartedly agree – thanks be to God, orthodox antiquity is with us! Again, why, during the Reformation, so much of Christendom should have abandoned the historical, biblical, sacramental beliefs of the Church is difficult for me to fathom (though see my post here about the Real reason there are no “Lutheran Baptists”)
It seems strange to me that any would desire to explain away the comforting words below. Might this have something to do with the way that some persons are determined to overstate the problems faced in the Reformation? For example, note words like these:
“The Reformers’ forensic understanding of justification … the idea of an immediate divine imputation [of righteousness] renders superfluous the entire Catholic system of the priestly mediation of grace by the Church.” — (Bruce McCormack, What’s at Stake in the Current Debates over Justification, from Husbands and Treier’s “Justification”, pg 82.)
Do not the called and ordained servants of the Lord administer God’s grace in its various fashions – not only in Word but in the Sacraments – with their important particularities – as well? Does it not do all of us well to realize that the extreme political currents of the Reformation – the concern to face the very real political power of the Roman church (see here for example) – may have perhaps resulted in a bit of an overreaction in some quarters? As Luther said, we are like a drunk man who falls off the horse on one side only to get back on and to fall off the horse on the other side….
Ambrose, in On Those Who Are Initiated, ch. 9, distinguishes the manna of the Old Testament from the Lord’s Supper: “Consider, he says, whether the bread of angels is better, or the flesh of Christ, which certainly is a body of life.”He concludes with these words: “The light is better than the shadow; the truth better than the figure; the body of Christ than the bread from heaven.” (see also Jerome on Titus, chapter 1; also Cyril, On John, bk. 4, ch. 28; Augustine, Book of Questions, qu. 95; Ambrose, On 1 Cor. 10). Chrysostom (I Cor. 11) and Cyril of Alexandria (On John, bk. 4, ch. 13) believe it is certain that that very thing which flowed from the side of Lord is present in the chalice of the Lord. They refused to ask how. Also, “Theodoret, in his Dialogues 1 and 2, calls the bread symbol and sign, but in the same way as there are two natures in Christ, so there is also in the Supper the bread and the body of Christ. He here understands it by no means to be a sign of the absent body… but of the true, present body of Christ.” (see also Cyril, On John, bk. 3, ch. 36, bk. 4, ch. 14 and 17, bk. 10, ch. 13, bk. 11, ch. 26-27 ; Augustine, in his Confessions, bk. 7, ch. 10 ; Tertullian, in the book On the Resurrection of the Flesh ; Chrysostom, Homily 24 on 1 Cor., Homily 83 on Matthew ; and Hilary, On the Trinity, bk. 8)
… And Justin, Apology 2; Cyprian, Sermon on the Supper; Ambrose, On Those Being Initiated; Augustine, in the Sentences of Prosper; Chrysostom, To Caesarius the Monk, and Gelasius, Against Eutyches, as well as Theodoret, in his Dialogues, introduce the example of the union of the two natures in Christ and adapt it to the sacramental union of the bread and the body of Christ, as is seen in their writings.
These quotes from and about the early church fathers – above and below – are culled from the Apology to the Book of Concord* (unpublished as of today, translated by Dr. Holger Sonntag), and need to be reckoned with. Here are some more (there may be some repeats):
-Ignatius, in his Letter to the Smyrneans, says (and these words are quoted by Theodoret as well) that they are heretics who deny that the Supper is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which has suffered for us.
-Ignatius, quoted by Theodoret, in his Third Dialogue: “The Supper is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father awakened out of grace.”
-Justin Martyr: “We know that the food, by which our blood and flesh is fed by the change of the same (unto eternal life and immortality), is the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus who became man.”
-Justin Martyr: “We do not receive it as common bread and common drink, but we have learned that it is the flesh and blood of the Son of God who was made man”
-Justin Martyr: “Just as Jesus Christ had flesh and blood for the sake of the sake of the salvation of our souls, so we have also learned and know that by the prayer of his Word and thanksgiving the food and drink, which we consume, is the flesh and blood of the Son of God who was made man, by which our flesh and blood are nourished, that is, changed unto immortality and eternal life.”
-Irenaeus, bk. 5: “How can they deny that our flesh should not be capable of eternal life since it is fed by the blood and flesh of the Lord Christ?”
-Irenaeus, bk. 5: “Therefore, when the word of God is added to the cup and the broken bread, it becomes the Supper of the blood and body of Christ.”
-Irenaeus, bk. 4, ch. 34, “When the bread, which is from the earth, receives the divine call, it is no longer common bread but the Supper, which consists of two things, etc.”
-Tertullian, in the Book on the Resurrection of the Flesh, “Our flesh eats and drinks the body and the blood of Christ so that also the soul would be satisfied by God.”
-Cyprian, in the Sermon on the Fallen: “He who lies threatens those who still stand; and he who is wounded threatens those who are still healthy. And a church robber gets angry at the priests that he does not at once receive the body of the Lord with his unclean hands or that he cannot drink the blood of Christ with his impure mouth.”
-Cyprian, in his Sermon on the Lord’s Supper: “A fleshly man may not be received as a guest at the Lord’s table. For everything flesh and blood utter is excluded from this assembly. Everything that human wit produces is without understanding and without use. The wise of this world are such that they consider everything that does not agree with their wisdom to be foolish and not in accordance with the truth. But those men who are drowned in error cannot comprehend the truth.”
-Council of Nicea: “On this divine table we should not humbly look only at the bread and the cup, but lift up our heart and consider in faith that on this holy table lies the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and is sacrificed by the church servants, but not in the same way as the other sacrifices. And now, when we truly receive his precious body and his blood, we must believe that they are witnesses of our resurrection. For this is why we do not take much of it, but only a little, not to fill the belly, but for sanctification.”
-Ambrose, On Those Who Are Initiated: “In this disputation – that and how the bread is Christ’s body – we should not look at the course of nature because that very body was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin against the course of nature.”
-Augustine, To the Neophytes, “Receive in the bread that which hung on the cross; drink in the cup that which flowed out of Christ’s side.”
-Augustine, in Prosper’s Sentences, “The Supper consists of the visible forms of bread and wine and of the invisible flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-Augustine, in Letter 118, “The Holy Spirit was well pleased to have this lofty sacrament honored by having the Christians take the body of the Lord into their mouth before using other, common food.”
-Augustine, in his Sermon 215 according to the Church Year, “Consider, dear brothers, whether it is just that a shameful, unchaste song or similar diabolic venom should proceed from the Christians’ mouth with which they eat Christ’s body.”
-Augustine, in Against the Adversary of the Law, bk. 2, ch. 9, “With believing hearts and with the mouth we receive the Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.
-Augustine, Against the Donatists, bk. 3, ch. 14: “When the question is about the completeness and holiness of the sacrament, there is no difference when it comes to the faith of the person receiving the sacrament. However, there is a big difference when it comes to salvation or the beneficial use. Yet when one asks about the substance of the sacrament, there is no difference. For it may well happen that a person receives the complete sacrament while he has an erroneous faith.”
-Hilary, On the Trinity, bk. 8: “By the sacrament of his communicated flesh and blood we have received the nature of his flesh.”
-Hilary, On the Trinity, bk. 5,“By the sacrament of the communicated flesh he has brought the nature of the flesh to eternity and immortality, and we truly take the flesh of his body under the mystery.”
-Cyril, On John, bk. 10, ch. 13: “One therefore ought to consider that we do not partake of the flesh of the Lord only by means of the spiritual unity, or faith, but also by natural communication.”
-Cyril, On John, bk. 11, ch. 26,“One ought to consider that the Lord Christ dwells in us not only by the spiritual communion and love, but that he is also in us by natural communication.” At the same place, “He also brings it about that Christ dwells in us bodily by the communication of his flesh.”
-Chrysostom and Theophylact, “Drink from the cup that which flowed from the Lord’s side.”
-Chrysostom, on 1 Cor. 11, “That which is present in the cup is that which flowed from Christ’s side and that which we receive.”
-Chrysostom, Homily 83 on Matth. 26,“He makes himself and us into one cake, and this not only by faith, but he makes us into his body by deed.” At the same place, “He feeds us by his own body and unites and connects us to himself.”
-Chrysostom, Homily 83 on Matthew: “Let us believe God everywhere and not contradict him, even though what he says appears absurd to our senses and thoughts. For his Word is high above our reason and senses. And this we should do in all cases, but especially in the mysteries, looking not only to that which is before our eyes, but we should grasp and hold onto his Word. For by his Word we cannot be deceived, but our reason and senses can very easily be deceived. Therefore, since he said: “This is my body,” we should not at all doubt but believe and look at it with the illuminated eyes of reason.”
-Chrysostom, in his Homily 29 on 2. Cor.: “Through this gate and door Christ has entered and still enters when we receive the Supper. You who enjoy the holy mystery know what there is said. For our mouth gets no common honor when it receives the body of the Lord. Let them who speak shameful and blasphemous words take note of this and be terrified by polluting such a mouth.”
-Chrysostom, in his Third Homily to the Ephesians, “How will the man appear before Christ’s judgment seat who dares to touch his body with impure lips and hands?”
-Chrysostom, in his Homily 27 on 1 Cor. against Drunkenness: “This you do when you have gone to the table of the Lord, on that very day when the Lord Christ Jesus deigned you worthy to touch his flesh with your tongue. So that this might not happen again, cleanse your right hand, your tongue and lips as those which have become an entrance by which Christ enters to us.”
–Epiphanius, in his Well-Anchored Man: “Christ stood up in the Holy Supper, took the bread and wine, gave thanks and said: “This is that which I say it is.” And we do not see anything here that is similar or equal either to the humanity or the invisible divinity or the members of a human body. However, because he said so, there is no one who does not believe these words. And he who does not believe that he is truthful in that which he says: “This is my body, etc.,” will lose God’s grace and salvation.”
-Leo, in Sermon 6 on Fasting: “Thus you should communicate at the Lord’s table that you do not at all doubt the true presence of Christ’s body and blood. For that which is believed by faith is taken with the mouth. This is why those, who argue against that which is said there, say Amen in vain.”
-Gregory, in his Homily on Easter, 22, “You have learned what the blood of the Lamb is not only by hearing but also by drinking. This blood is applied to both doorposts. For it is taken not only with the mouth of the body but also with the mouth of the heart.”
-Theodoret, bk. 5, ch. 18 recounts Ambrose’s word to emperor Theodosius: “What temerity that you want to take the cup of the precious blood of Christ with your mouth when you by your angry order have shed blood unjustly!”
-Beda from Augustine on 1 John, “The body and the blood of Christ is received by the mouth of the believers unto salvation.”
-Oecumenius, on 1 Cor. 11, “The unworthy put the most holy body of Christ with their impure hands into their accursed mouth.”
*earlier, I had incorrectly written “Apology to the Formula of Concord”
Image of Christ breaking bread: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/2553170223
Bread and wine: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8546/8607134077_1f36d48346_z.jpg