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St. Irenaeus on the Eucharist

The Pontificator has produced an excellent series of posts on the Eucharist lately, which has inspired me to do some blogging of my own on the subject. I am no Pontificator, alas, so I would instead like to offer a few quotations from the Fathers along with my brief scholia. The first is from St. Irenaeus:

2. But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins." And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

3. 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 they 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?-even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,-that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a corn of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness, in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful; but learning by experience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature, we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives, and thus never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man. And might it not be the case, perhaps, as I have already observed, that for this purpose God permitted our resolution into the common dust of mortality, that we, being instructed by every mode, may be accurate in all things for the future, being ignorant neither of God nor of ourselves?

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies

There is no ambiguity with St. Irenaeus. The Eucharist is really and truly Christ's body and blood, for our bodies and souls. This is indeed St. Irenaeus's great thrust, that Christ has really become flesh-and-blood man for us, so that the whole person can be saved in Him. Creation is brought into salvation, all of creation, visible and spiritual. We are grafted entirely into Christ, in all our being: and in so doing, we are wholly dependent on God for our life, in every respect.

St. Irenaeus speaks of the bread and wine in immediate conjunction with their being body and wine, which is, I think, significant. The Eucharist is bread and wine, but it is also body and blood. When the elements 'recieve' the Word of God, they truly become the Eucharist. The transformation of the created elements is compared to the transformation which we undergo in recieving the Eucharist and being nourished and transformed by God's power. Are the 'natures' of the bread and wine absolutely negated? I would offer that, in St. Irenaeus's understanding, this is not the case. Rather, the elements are changed, because they- a part of creation- recieve the Word of God and become Eucharist. I think that it is not amiss to see a sort of Chalcedonian form here: the elements become Eucharist through a perfect hypostatic union.

"He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies." Christ takes part of the creation and gives it new reality, which He establishes as His own body and blood. Thus we see an important truth: the creation is good, and through it- the bread and wine- we are made partakers of Christ, unto eternal salvation in Him! And this partaking invovles His body and blood for our bodies, which we receive in the Eucharist, which comes from the created things.

Later this week, I intend to approach Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and John of Damascus. The later in particular has some interesting comments that seem to fit into my 'Chalcedonian' attempt at understanding the Eucharist. I had begun including both in this post, but realized that St. Gregory is just too darn difficult to understand for me to go after at the moment (the fact that I am using the old NPNF translation doesn't help!).


Blogger Brother Quotidian said...

Hi, Jonathan,

Glad you gound Pontificator's musings on the Eucharist. I recently stumbled across them too. Too bad he can't be persuaded to go a step further and to write an apologetic to the Zwinglian branches of Protestantism.

In the parish plant I'm working with, most of the folks had their Christiain formation within these stream of Protestantism (Baptists, mostly). Their settled (and laudable) disposition to take the Bible at face value is a great help in explaining the catholic (note the small "c") faith to them. Still, Eucharistic topics have to be handled patiently. I wish people of Pontificator's attainments in erudition had their attention trained to folks like those who labor with me to plant an orthodox Anglican parish.

Just curious -- where are you getting your NPNF materials? A library? A CD version? CCEL?


8:03 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Earlier this year I purchased the Schaff volumes of the Fathers from Christian Book Distributors- all 38 volumes. They have them for a reasonable price- considering the vast amount of material you recieve. I've found having the volumes in book form is very nice- granted, one can read them online (and I get my blog citations from the online collection), but nothing beats having real books (computers will never replace books entirely as long as I'm around!).

I also have bought several Patristic translations from the Popular Patristic series by Saint Vladmir's Seminary Press.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

And regarding an apologetic for our Zwinglian brethern: I concur! It's not easy- the whole idea of eating and drinking Jesus- and not just symbolicaly but in reality- is hard for anyone to swallow (pardon the pun!).

12:51 PM  

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