December 18th, 2009 | 7 Comments
Today Joel Watts posted a quote from one of the Early Church Fathers on the subject of the Eucharist (a.k.a. the Lord’s Supper or Communion):
For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. [Emphasis all Steve's]
This wasn’t post-Nicea, folks. The doctrine of transubstantiation, or Real Presence, which teaches that the bread and wine literally become Christ’s body and blood upon the blessing from the Church leader, goes way back. The above quote was from Justin Martyr in his First Apology (ch. 66), written about 155. When looking at the Early Church Fathers, we don’t get a whole lot earlier than Justin Martyr. Interestingly, wider context shows that his main point wasn’t even that the elements became Christ’s body and blood — that was a given — but that the Church leadership was entrusted with the administration of the sacrament. And it’s clear that Justin is under the impression that this teaching was handed down by the Apostles, so at very least it well predates 155.
I’m not taking a position on whether he was right or wrong here, but that this was an exceptionally early witness to a doctrine that many “orthodox” Protestants who highly depend upon “historic, orthodox Christianity” nevertheless reject (this was not true of Martin Luther, who insisted on a literal interpretation of “Hoc est corpus meam,” meaning “This is my body.”). These same orthodoxy-loving Protestants characteristically dismiss out of hand all kinds of perfectly compelling textual, historical, and scientific evidence that contradicts what they regard as the teaching of “historic Christianity”.
From my experience, dissenting from another Christian’s belief on the grounds that it has somehow departed ways with “historic Christianity” is simply the most convenient way of ignoring that belief without having to address it honestly. Granted, not all beliefs warrant the same level of scrutiny before being put on the back shelf or dismissed; I certainly wouldn’t expect everyone to personally debunk every shady conspiracy theory, fantastic claim, or alternative explanation with transparently misguided motivations. But many other beliefs deserve to be examined and not simply ignored, particularly when they’re held by other well-intentioned, critical thinking believers. Letting the question of whether a point of view is right or wrong be answered solely by an appeal to ”orthodoxy” is not critical thinking: it’s blind faith that an intellectually honest lover of truth should not allow to be kept under lock and key to exempt it from analysis and authentication.