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Unless You Eat the Flesh: A Defense of the Eucharist

“What remains but for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, children even to perceive this abomination of the Mass, which, held forth in a golden cup, has so intoxicated all the kings and nations of the earth, from the highest to the lowest; so struck them with stupor and

giddiness, that, duller than the lower animals, they have placed the vessel of their salvation in this fatal vortex. Certainly Satan never employed a more powerful engine to assail and storm the kingdom of Christ.” – John Calvin, founder of Calvinism (Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 4, Chapter 18: Of the Popish Mass. How it not only profanes, but annihilates the Lord's Supper.)

If Catholics have their belief in the Eucharist completely misplaced, then we the Church are two millennia worth of heretics. On top of that, it would mean that immediately following the Apostles their disciples all fell into heresy, and the Church was led astray straight from the beginning. Then we would have to question if the Holy Spirit truly was with and working through the Apostles (John 14:16; 20:22). We would also have to question the legitimacy of the scriptures and the assertion by St. Luke that the laying on of hands by the Apostles bestows the Holy Spirit onto the recipient (Acts 8:17). Finally, this would be in contradiction to Christ’s words to the Apostles that the Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13), and his assurance that He Himself would be with them until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). Before we try to understand what Christ meant, let us first look at what He said:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying,

“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:19-20

And then:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 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.” John 6:47-51

And also:

“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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 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.” 6:53-58

Did Christ institute a covenant with Man that was purely made of symbols? If so He would seem to undermine His intention with the words He uses. There is SO MUCH emphasis on eating flesh and drinking blood in these passages. Christ even repeats Himself in John 6 multiple times just trying to hammer this teaching home. He does not weaken or explain away His command to eat His flesh, but rather seems to intensify it. But what even is this teaching?

The very earliest members of the Church and the disciples o f the twelve Apostles seem to have believed that Christ was leaving us His very self in the Eucharist. The great John Wooden, considered to be one of the best coaches in sports history, said: “the most crucial task of teaching is differentiating between ‘I taught it’ and ‘they learned it.’” So, was Christ a bad teacher? Or were the Apostles, while being led by the Holy Spirit, bad teachers? If the Catholic claim that the Eucharist is Christ’s true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the form of bread and wine isn’t true, this would mean that the disciples of the Apostles most definitely did not understand the teachings. In particular a disciple of St. John: St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch, a disciple of St. John the Apostle, and a defender of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. In his letter to the Church of Smyrna, whose bishop was St. Polycarp (another disciple of St John), Ignatius warns them to “keep aloof from” the Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). He says this because the Gnostic views would have be seen as heresy, and the Smyrnaeans would have seen this error in the Gnostic beliefs and how it differed from the orthodox Catholic teachings of the day. The nature of the Eucharist as Christ's actual body and blood was a Christian truth to be protected and defended. Take note, in his letter, Ignatius doesn’t find it necessary to convince the Church of Smyrna of the Real Presence. He assumes that they already are familiar with and hold to this belief. This view of the Eucharist was not a “theologian here, and a bishop there” kind of teaching. It was the universal teaching. The Real Presence was known and acknowledged by the Church, except by outliers with whom they were not to associate.

These were the last words that Ignatius would have had for the Church of Smyrna, for he was aware he was on his way to his martyrdom in Rome 107-110AD. Keep in mind, this was only a decade after John wrote Revelation on Patmos (96AD). To say that the Church of Smyrna went from being encouraged and lauded in their faithfulness amidst suffering in John’s writings (Rev, 2:8-11) to then being heretics only a decade later, by direction of his disciple Ignatius seems rather unlikely to the point of being almost impossible. Were it the case, it would be a stark change and a devastating occurrence for the Christians of Asia Minor and the continuation of the Great Commission. If Ignatius failed John by not continuing his teachings, and then was willing to go to his death for his warped beliefs without making amends with the Lord nor with the Churches, but rather stayed persistent up to his death to lead others astray, it would be an astounding and a dark twist to Church history.

If the view of the Reformers on the Eucharist were true, it would mean the following:

  • Either St. John the Apostle was not a good or clear teacher to his disciples, or his disciples intentionally did not pass on his teachings

  • The disciples of the Apostles did not receive the guidance and blessings of the Holy Spirit and Scripture is wrong in Acts 8

  • St Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, disciple of John, is a heretic

  • St Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, disciple of John, is a heretic

  • St. Peter, led by the Spirit, taught unclearly and laid a weak enough foundation in the Church of Antioch that it was able to be overcome by heresy within decades of his departure

  • St. Peter, an Apostle led by the Holy Spirit, entrusted the Church of Antioch to a heretic by allowing/making Ignatius the bishop in his stead.

  • That the entire Church of Smyrna were a Church of heretics since they venerated Ignatius, mirrored his views, and preserved his letter.

  • That nearly every Christian from the 2nd century up until the 16th century was a heretic

  • That every practicing Catholic from the 16th century up until today is a persistent heretic

But these points definitely are not and can not be true as we will see from Ignatius' letter to the Church of Rome. Ignatius, in all of his letters, speaks of submission to authority, or more specifically, to one's local bishop, but in his letter to the Romans he humbles himself to that church which presides over the other churches in love. He wrote:

"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church that has found mercy in the transcendent Majesty of the Most High Father and of Jesus Christ, His only Son; the church by the will of Him who willed all things that exist, beloved and illuminated through the faith and love of Jesus Christ our God; which also presides in the chief place of the Roman territory; a church worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of felicitation, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and presiding in love, maintaining the law of Christ, and bearer of the Father's name: her do I therefore salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father."

He goes on to state later in the same letter:

"Not like Peter and Paul do I issue any orders to you. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free, I am until this moment a slave. But once I have suffered, I shall become a freedman of Jesus Christ, and, united with Him, I shall rise a free man. Just now I learn, being in chains, to desire nothing."(St Ignatius to the Church of Rome)

A man with these principles and views would not willfully sabotage the teachings of St. John the Apostle who instructed him, nor St Peter, the leader of the Church, whom he succeeded in his native region and received his office as bishop of Antioch. Neither Ignatius' convictions, nor the receiving of the Spirit by the laying on of hands by John could lead him to ever shepherd his church into heresy. So there can only be one conclusion: his teaching on the Eucharist is an inspired apostolic teaching.

Christ, then, did not institute a covenant of symbols and confusion. The Eucharist is as real today as it was in the Last Supper when it was instituted. What a blessing it is that we are called to receive this gift of inexhaustible and unimaginable grace. The Sacrifice of the Mass is not an instrument or "engine of Satan" (Calvin), but rather a Life giving gift from God Himself (John 6:33). It is the means by which Christ remains with us not in a sign but in His very body and blood. The Mass is where we may find this union with God while we yet live on this side of eternity. And all praise and honor and glory be to Him for this.

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