Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen and St. Clement of Alexandria on the Eucharist

Analysis of "Symbolical" and Allegorical Language

These posts originally appeared in the FidoNet OpenBible conference in April 1996 in response to a prominent anti-Catholic Baptist of FidoNet, David Goforth (his words DG>), and concluded in FidoNet RCatholic with the help of a young traditionalist Catholic, Brett Johnson (a/k/a Tim Rivera) in June 1996. Philip Schaff is quoted from his multi-volume History of the Christian Church, a source that is popular among Protestant Reformed apologists since it contains a lot of anti-Catholic bias (along with some good objective history). I counter Schaff's comments with two more respected 20th century Protestant patristic scholars of Christian doctrine and the Eucharist: JND Kelly (a more liberal Anglican), and Darwell Stone (an Anglo-Catholic who compiled a massive two-volume work early in the 20th century). For more from the Church Fathers, see This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

DG> Tertullian's and Cyprian's views were "symbolic"

PP> Quote me the statements of Tertullian using the word "figure" and I will deal with them. Both J.N.D. Kelly and Darwell Stone cover that. Tertullian was no Baptist. Neither was Cyprian.

DG> And a Tertullian and Cyprian were fundie papists??? What a joke!


See quotations from Tertullian in This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

Just from this evidence we see the following from Tertullian --

(1) The Eucharist is REALLY the body and blood of Christ (we shall deal exhaustively with the term "figure" below)

(2) The "Body of the Lord" and not mere "bread" was RESERVED for later

(3) The Mass or Eucharistic service was called a SACRIFICE

(4) The Mass was OFFERED for our DEPARTED loved ones

Question: Can Luther, Calvin, Zwingli or any of the Reformers say "AMEN" to each of these points? NO! Catholics and Orthodox can! Again, the point is not whether Tertullian used the specific term transubstantiation but whether the Catholic position is compatible with his statements on the Eucharist. Indeed, it is!

Now we get into what Schaff says regarding Tertullian. You left a bit out in the following paragraphs which is all misleading.

DG> Schaff, "Tertullian makes the words of institution: Hoc est corpus meum, equivalent to : figura corporis mei, to prove, in opposition to Marcion's docetism, the reality of the body of Jesus--a mere phantom being capable of no emblematic representation. This involves at all events, an ESSENTIAL DISTINCTION between the consecrated elements and body and blood of Christ in the Supper."

No, we shall get to this below. J.N.D. Kelly says Tertullian accepted the essential EQUATION of the elements with the body and blood. For clarity and some context, here is what the passage in question reads:

"Having taken bread and having distributed it to His disciples, He made it His own Body by saying, 'This is My Body' -- that is, the 'figure of My Body.' A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there was in truth a body. Some empty thing, which is a phantasm, were not able to satisfy a figure. Or, if He pretended that bread were His Body, because in truth He lacked a body, then he must have given bread for us. It would support the vanity of Marcion, had bread been crucified! But why call His Body bread, and not rather a pumpkin, which Marcion had in place of a brain! Marcion did not understand how ancient is that figure of the Body of Christ, who said Himself through Jeremias: 'They have devised a device against Me, saying, "Come, let us throw wood onto his bread,"' -- the cross, of course, upon His Body." (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4:40:3, from Jurgens Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 1, pg 141)

DG> "..the Zwinglian view, which puts the figure in the predicate, appears also in Tertullian, Adv. Marc. I. 14, in the words: "Panem qui ipsum corpus suum representat". The two interpretations are only grammatical modifications of the same symbolical theory."

That is Schaff's (and Zwingli's) wrong conclusion that ignores other statements from Tertullian. In addition, you misquoted that footnote. Here is what the whole section reads in context. First, on page 241 after Schaff warns us that "it is unhistorical to carry any of the later theories back into this age; although it has been done frequently in the apologetic and polemic discussion of this subject" -- Schaff then becomes unhistorical himself when he writes --

"A different view, approaching nearer the Calvinistic or Reformed, we meet with among the African fathers. Tertullian makes the words of institution: -Hoc est corpus meum- ["This is My Body"], equivalent to: -figura corporis mei- ["the figure of My Body"], to prove, in opposition to Marcion's docetism, the reality of the body of Jesus -- a mere phantom being capable of no emblematic representation [3]. This involves, at all events, an essential distinction between the consecrated elements and the body and blood of Christ in the Supper. Yet Tertullian must NOT be understood as teaching a MERELY symbolical presence of Christ; for in other places he speaks, according to his GENERAL REALISTIC turn, in almost MATERIALISTIC language of an EATINGof the body of Christ, and extends the participation even to the body of the receiver." [4] (Schaff, volume 2, page 243)

So you left out the final sentence which clarifies his view. Generally, Tertullian used very realistic and materialistic language concerning the Eucharist. We will see much more on this later from Darwell Stone.

That's it -- that is the whole "scholarly" discussion on Tertullian in the body of the text from Schaff. There was also a footnote #3 which you misquoted at the bottom of the page concerning Oecolampadius and Zwingli -- again, Schaff is "unhistorical" --

"Adv. Marc. IV. 40; and likewise III.19. This interpretation is plainly very near that of Oecolampadius, who puts the figure in the predicate, and who attached no small weight to Tertullian's authority. But the Zwinglian view, which puts the figure in the -esti-, instead of the predicate, appears also in Tertullian, Adv. Marc. I. 14, in the words: '-Panem qui ipsum corpus suum repraesentat-' [translation and full discussion by Stone below: "makes present His very body"]. The two interpretations are only grammatical modifications of the same symbolical theory." (Schaff, footnote #3, pg 243)

So, David, looking at how you misquoted this above, you mixed up the views of Protestants Oecolampadius and Zwingli. But I realize when one is desperate to refute the Catholic position, people tend to get sloppy.

And I would say to the above -- SO WHAT? Both Oecolampadius and Zwingli were considered heretics by the historic Christian Church -- the Catholic Church -- at the time of the Reformation, heretics who held to a purely "symbolical" view of the Eucharist based on a misreading of a couple of statements from Tertullian. Even Luther denounced Zwingli.

You then left out the next footnote #4 which gave the evidence for Tertullian's "REALISTIC" and "MATERIALISTIC" language concerning the Eucharist. Footnote #4 from Schaff which you ignored reads --

"De Resur. Carnis, c.8. 'Caro corpore et sanguine Christi vescitur, ut et anima de Deo saginetur' [see translation by Jurgens above: "The flesh FEEDS on the BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, so that the SOUL TOO may fatten on God" -- nothing "symbolic" about that].

"De Pudic. c. 9, he refers the fatted calf, in the parable of the prodigal son, to the Lord's Supper, and says: 'Opimitate Dominici corporis vescitur, eucharistia scilicet' [translation by J.N.D. Kelly below: "FEEDS on the richness of the LORD'S BODY, that is, on the Eucharist" -- not very symbolic there either].

"De Orat. c. 6: 'Quod et corpus Christi in pane censetur,' which should probably be translated: is to be understood by the bread (not contained in the bread)." (footnote #4, pg 243-244)

That is it from Schaff on Tertullian. Next I want to quote two more Protestant scholars, J.N.D. Kelly and Darwell Stone, against Schaff to demonstrate his (and Zwingli's) misunderstanding of Tertullian.


"In the third century the early Christian identification of the eucharistic bread and wine with the Lord's body and blood continued unchanged, although a difference of approach can be detected in East and West. The outline, too, of a more considered theology of the eucharistic sacrifice begins to appear [I'll cover Sacrifice later]. In the West the equation of the consecrated elements with the body and blood was quite straightforward, although the fact that the presence is sacramental was never forgotten. Hippolytus speaks of 'the body and the blood' through which the Church is saved, and Tertullian regularly describes [E.g. de orat. 19; de idol. 7] the bread as 'the Lord's body.' The converted pagan, he remarks [De pud. 9], 'feeds on the richness of the Lord's body, that is, on the eucharist.' The REALISM of his theology comes to light in the argument [De res. carn. 8], based on the intimate relation of body and soul, that just as in baptism the body is washed with water so that the soul may be cleansed, so in the eucharist 'the flesh feeds on Christ's body and blood so that the soul may be filled with God.' Clearly his assumption is that the Savior'sBODY and BLOOD are as REAL as the baptismal WATER." (Kelly, pg 211)

So says J.N.D. Kelly, Oxford scholar and one of the greatest Protestant patristic scholars of the 20th century. Schaff may have been good last century, but his accounts on the Eucharist are incomplete and misleading. Further, Kelly goes on to say concerning -figura- --

"Occasionally these writers use language which has been held to imply that, for all its realist sound, their use of the terms 'body' and 'blood' may after all be merely symbolical. Tertullian, for example, refers [E.g. C. Marc. 3,19; 4,40] to the bread as 'a figure' (figura) of Christ's body, and once speaks [Ibid I,14: cf. Hippolytus, apost. trad. 32,3] of 'the bread by which He represents (repraesentat) His very body.'

"YET WE SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT INTERPRETING SUCH EXPRESSIONS IN A MODERN FASHION. According to ancient modes of thought a mysterious relationship existed between the thing symbolized and its symbol, figure or type; the symbol in some sense WAS the thing symbolized. Again, the verb -repraesentare-, in Tertullian's vocabulary [Cf. ibid 4,22; de monog. 10], retained its original significance of 'to make PRESENT.'

"All that his language really suggests is that, while accepting the EQUATION of the elements with the body and blood, he remains conscious of the sacramental distinction between them [as do Catholics today -- see the Catechism, paragraphs 1333ff].

"In fact, he is trying, with the aid of the concept of -figura-, to rationalize to himself the apparent contradiction between (a) the dogma that the elements are NOW Christ's body and blood, and (b) the empirical fact that for sensation they remain bread and wine." (JND Kelly, EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES, page 212)


"Another kind of phraseology is found most markedly in Tertullian... Tertullian more than once uses like language with explicit reference to the Eucharist. He asserts our Lord's intention to have been to show that bread was 'the figure (figura) of His body' : he explains the words 'This is My body' as meaning 'This is the figure (figura) of My body'; he interprets the words of institution as placing our Lord's body under the head of, or in the category of, bread (corpus eius in pane censetur) [Adv Marc iii,19; iv,40; De Orat 6]. He says also that our Lord by the use of bread 'makes present (repraesentat) His very body' [Adv Marc i,14].

"The consideration of this type of phraseology must include some discussion of (a) the meaning of the words 'symbol' [in Clement of Alexandria] and 'figure' (figura) [in Tertullian]; (b) the meaning of the word translated 'makes present' (repraesentat); (c) the relation of the passages here quoted to other statements of the same writers." [something which Schaff did not address] (Stone, volume 1, page 29)

FIGURA IN TERTULLIAN -- "This is the FIGURE of My body"

After Stone points out the different meanings, associations and tendencies of the words "symbol" and "figure" even in present language and cultures, he goes on to say

"As regards the early Church it may be confidently stated that the notions suggested by words meaning 'symbol' would differ in important respects from those which like words would suggest to an ordinary Englishman or German of today. Dr. Harnack has stated a crucial difference with great clearness.

'What we nowadays,' he writes, 'understand by "symbol" is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time "symbol" denoted a thing which in some kind of way REALLY IS what it signifies...What we now call "symbol" is something wholly different from what was so called by the ancient Church.' [HISTORY OF DOGMA, ii,144; iv,289]

"...Still more explicit indications of the meaning of such terms [as symbol or figure] in the phraseology of Tertullian may be shown by an examination of his language elsewhere and by a comparison of other known uses of the word 'figura.'

"In describing the Incarnation Tertullian uses the phrase 'caro FIGURATUS' to denote that our Lord received in the womb of His Virgin Mother not only the appearance but also the REALITYof flesh [Apol 21; cf. Adv Marc iv,21]. He says that our Lord made known to the Apostles 'the form (FIGURA) of His voice' [Scorp 12]. He uses the word 'figura' in the sense of a main point in, or head of, a discussion [Adv Marc ii,21]. Elsewhere he denotes by it the prophetic anticipation of an event afterwards to be fulfilled [De Monog 6 -- the Latin is provided in note]." (Stone, vol 1, pg 30,31)

Stone goes on to give further examples of "figura" --

(1) In one of Seneca's letters it is the equivalent of the Greek word -idea- as used in Platonic philosophy (Ep lxv,7 Latin given).

(2) The translation of Phil 2:6 "being in the FORM of God" in the old Latin version becomes "in FIGURA Dei constitutus"

(3) After Tertullian, a Roman council spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as being "of one Godhead, one power, one FIGURA, one essence" (Council of 370 A.D.)

(4) a Gallican version of the Nicene Creed translated "was made flesh and became man" by "corpus atque FIGURAM hominis suscepit"

"A scholar of great authority as to the meaning of early Latin documents has inferred from these facts that in Tertullian 'figura' is equivalent not to -schema- but to -charakter- [see Turner, Journal of Theological Studies, vii,596], that is, it would approach more nearly to 'ACTUAL and distinctive NATURE' than to 'symbol' or 'figure' in the modern sense of those terms.

"The question of the meaning of such words in connection with the Eucharist will recur again in a later period. It may be sufficient here to express the warning that to suppose that 'symbol' in Clement of Alexandria or 'figure' in Tertullian must mean the same as in modern speech would be to assent to a line of thought which is GRAVELY MISLEADING." (Stone, vol 1, pg 31)

REPRAESENTAT -- "by which He MAKES PRESENT His very body"

Next Stone analyzes the uses of the word -repraesentat- in Tertullian which occurs in the phrase "by which He makes present His very body" in which Tertullian is describing the use of material things in the ministries of grace as an argument against the view of Marcion that matter is essentially evil. The passage reads as follows --

"Even up to the present time has not disdained the water which is the Creator's work, by which He washes His own people, or the oil whereby He anoints them, or the mixture of milk and honey with which He feeds them as infants, or the bread by which He makes present (repraesentat) His very body, requiring even in His own Sacraments the 'beggarly elements' (mendicitatibus) of the Creator." (Tertullian, Adv Marc i,14)

Stone goes on to explain that according to the context in which the word -repraesentat- is used "it may denote that the presence is actual or that it is only to the mind." Stone proceeds to give 21 examples of the use of -repraesentat- in Tertullian and concludes --

"Consequently an examination of the usage of Tertullian in other places does not decisively determine whether the phrase 'the bread by which He makes present His very body' means that the 'very body' is actually present in the element of bread or that by means of the bread it is depicted or represented to the mind and soul." (Stone, volume 1, page 33)

Stone then says that it is therefore important to inquire what is Tertullian's teaching about the Sacraments in general, and about the Eucharist in particular, in other passages than those where the words "figura" and "repraesentat" are used. And this other phraseology of his falls under the third kind distinguished by Stone in the Ante-Nicene Fathers where the bread and wine of the Eucharist are described as the body and blood of Christ.

Tertullian on the Sacraments and Real Presence

St. Ignatius, St. Justin Martyr, and St. Irenaeus are then cited extensively for this literal view of the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ. Stone continues concerning Tertullian's view of the Eucharist and Sacraments --

"A very imperfect idea of the Eucharistic doctrine of Tertullian would be given if attention were confined to those passages in his writings in which he describes the Eucharist as the 'figura' of the body of Christ and the means by which our Lord 'makes His body present.' To understand it rightly, it must be viewed in the general setting of sacramental principle which Tertullian emphasizes. In his eyes the Incarnation has introduced new aspects of the relation of man to God. The human flesh which the Lord then took is an abiding reality. 'That same Person who suffered,' he declares, 'will come from heaven; that same Person who was raised from the dead will appear to all. And they who pierced Him will see and recognize the very flesh against which they raged' [De carn Christi, 24]. With this Christ, thus retaining His human body and blood, Christians are closely united. The baptised are clothed with Christ; in them Christ lives [De fug 10; De poen 10]. By the daily reception of the bread of life there is continuance in Christ and abiding union in His body [De orat 6]. Before the Incarnation the flesh was far off from God, 'not yet worthy of the gift of salvation, not yet fitted for the duty of holiness'; but Christ's work, accomplished in the flesh, has changed all that [De pud 6]. Since the Incarnation Sacraments have become necessary and effectual [De Bapt 11,13]; and that which in the ordinances of the Church touches the flesh benefits the soul [De carn res 8].

"It is in harmony with these general sacramental principles that Tertullian not only calls the Eucharist 'the holy thing' [De spectac 25], but also often and naturally refers to it as the body of Christ." (Stone, vol 1, pg 36-37)

Stone then gives six clear examples of Tertullian's literal view --

(1) It is a matter of anxious care that no drop of the wine or fragment of the bread should fall to the ground (De cor 3).

(2) It was the Lord's body which the disciples received at the Last Supper (Adv Marc iv,40).

(3) It is the Lord's body which the communicant receives in the Church or reserves for his Communion at home (De orat 19).

(4) It is the Lord's body with the richness of which the Christian is fed in the Eucharist (De pud 9).

(5) It is Christ's body and blood with which "the flesh is clothed, so that the soul also may be made fat by God" (De carn res 8).

(6) Even in unworthy Communions it is the body of the Lord which wicked hands approach, the body of the Lord which wicked men outrage and offend (De idol 7).

Stone concludes on Tertullian --

"The writings of Tertullian certainly bear witness to his belief that the Eucharistic food is a special means of union with the Manhood of Christ, and that in some sense it is His body and His blood. When we view the complexity and varying elements of his language, perhaps we are wise if we are not too positive as to what further definitions he might have made if he had explained more precisely what his exact meaning was." (Stone, volume 1, page 37)

So to characterize Tertullian's view as purely "symbolical" (which Schaff seems to do in volume 2, pg 244,246; volume 3, pg 492) is misleading and simplistic to the point of error. It is completely false to ascribe the purely figurative views of the Protestant heretics Zwingli or Oecolampadius to Tertullian (which Schaff does -- see volume 2, pg 243, footnote #3). It is also "unhistorical" as Schaff himself admits (volume 2, pg 241).

Next we shall delve in depth with St. Cyprian and St. Augustine who you (following Schaff) also claim as "symbolical" on the Eucharist. For the complex view of St. Augustine, see St. Augustine on the Eucharist


See quotations from St. Cyprian of Carthage in This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

From these statements we clearly see the following from Cyprian --

(1) The Eucharist is received daily and is called "the food of salvation"

(2) A Christian receives Christ in the Eucharist, the heavenly Bread

(3) We eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood in the Eucharist (John 6:53ff)

(4) The Eucharist is essential to salvation and is how Christians live, abide, and remain in Christ's Body and continue in His sanctification

(5) The Eucharist is called "the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of the Lord"

(6) At the Last Supper, Christ the High Priest OFFERED SACRIFICE to God the Father, in the form of bread and wine "which is in fact His BODY AND BLOOD"

(7) The Christian priest "truly functions in place of Christ" and OFFERS SACRIFICE just as Christ commanded in commemoration of Him

All I can say is -- How much more Roman Catholic can you get????????

Philip Schaff Says Cyprian "Symbolic"

What does historian Philip Schaff say about Cyprian on the Eucharist?

"Cyprian likewise appears to favor a symbolical interpretation of the words of institution, yet not so clearly. The idea of the real presence would have much better suited his sacerdotal conception of the ministry. In the customary mixing of the wine with water he sees a type of the union of Christ with his church, and, on the authority of John 6:53, holds the communion of the Supper indispensable to salvation. The idea of a sacrifice comes out very boldly in Cyprian." (Schaff, volume 2, page 243-244)

That's it from Schaff on Cyprian. First, I ask -- WHERE does Cyprian "appear to favor a symbolical interpretation" of "This is My Body... This is My Blood." He then adds "yet not so clearly." You better believe not so clearly! Schaff gives no evidence whatsoever for this "symbolical" view. The direct quotes from St. Cyprian above speak for themselves. Schaff is simply wrong characterizing this as "symbolical." WHAT is symbolical? The Eucharist is in fact "the body and blood" of Christ and is offered in sacrifice says Cyprian! That is not symbolical! That is as Catholic and Orthodox as you can get!

Schaff is fudging here. While he admits that the idea of sacrifice in the Eucharist "comes out very boldly" in Cyprian, he later repeats --

"The African fathers, in the third century, who elsewhere incline to the symbolical interpretation of the words of institution, are the first to approach on this point the later Roman Catholic idea of a sin-offering; especially Cyprian, the steadfast advocate of priesthood and of episcopal authority." (Schaff, vol 2, pg 246-7)

Again "...the symbolical view of Tertullian and Cyprian" (vol 3, pg 492).

NOWHERE does Cyprian incline to a symbolical interpretation of the words of institution. Give me the evidence from Cyprian, not Schaff! I've already dealt with "This is the figure (Latin figura) of My body" from Tertullian and showed that should not be understood in modern terms of "symbolic." Much more from J.N.D. Kelly and Darwell Stone later.

Cyprian on Real Presence and Sacrifice

In a footnote Schaff gives the Latin for Cyprian Letters 63:14 above --

"Epist. 63 ad Coecil. c. 14: 'Si Jesus Christus, Dominus et Deus noster, ipse est summus sacerdos Dei Patris et sacrificium Patri seipsum primus obtulit et hoc fieri in sui commemorationem proecepit: utique ille sacerdos vice Christi vere fungitur, gui id, quod Christus fecit, imitatur et sacrificium verum et plenum tunc offert'" (Schaff, footnote #1, page 247).

See translation of Letters 63:14 above. Nothing "symbolic" about that! Schaff ends his section on the Eucharist as sacrifice with this line --

"The ideas of priesthood, sacrifice, and altar, are intimately connected, and a Judaizing or paganizing conception of one must extend to all." (Schaff, volume 2, page 247)

St. Cyprian was not a Jew nor a pagan. He was a Christian bishop and a Saint who took Jesus at His word (Luke 22:19f). This is CHRIST'S body and blood we are receiving in the Holy Eucharist to unite us to Himself and to His Body the Church (1 Cor 10:16-17). That is neither a Judaizing nor paganizing conception. That is the BIBLE conception and the unanimous testimony of the early Christians!

"The belief that the Eucharist is a SACRIFICE is found EVERYWHERE. This belief is coupled with strong repudiations of carnal sacrifices; and is SAVED from being JUDAIC by the recognition of the elements AS CHRIST'S BODY AND BLOOD, of the union of the action of the Church on earth with that of Christ in heaven, and of the spiritual character of that whole priestly life and service and action of the community as the body of Christ which is a distinguishing mark of the Christian system." (Darwell Stone, conclusion of Ante-Nicene period, volume 1, page 54)

"...the eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian SACRIFICE from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier." "The eucharist was also, of course, the great act of worship of Christians, their SACRIFICE. The writers and liturgies of the period are UNANIMOUS in recognizing it as such." (Kelly, page 196, 214)

Here's more from Protestant church history scholar J.N.D. Kelly --

"Clearly his [Tertullian cited before] assumption is that the Savior's BODY and BLOOD are as REAL as the baptismal WATER. Cyprian's attitude is similar. Lapsed Christians who claim communion without doing penance, he declares [De laps 16; cf. Ep 15:1], 'DO VIOLENCE TO HIS BODY AND BLOOD, and sin more heinously AGAINST THE LORD with their hands and mouths [from which they received Communion] than when they denied Him'" (Kelly, page 211-212).

This passage from Jurgens FAITH OF THE EARLY FATHERS reads in context --

"The Apostle likewise bears witness and says; 'You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. You cannot be a communicant of the table of the Lord and of the table of devils' [1 Cor 10:21]. And again he threatens the stubborn and perverse and denounces them, saying: 'Whoever eats the bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord' [1 Cor 11:27]. But they spurn and despise all these warnings; and before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest [sacrificio et manu sacerdotis], before the offense against an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, they do VIOLENCE TO HIS BODY AND BLOOD; and with their hands and mouth they SIN AGAINST THE LORD more than when they denied Him." (Cyprian, The Lapsed 15,16)

Again, how in the world does Schaff get "symbolical" out of that!

I wanted also to quote this line from the NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA --

"St. Cyprian (d. 258) deplored the denial of Christ by those who apostatized in the persecution of Decius. But even worse was their reception of the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ before their sins had been expiated. (This would not be so if Christ were only symbolically present.) 'Greater is the crime they now commit by hand and mouth [the priest used to put the Host into the hand of the Christian, who in turn put it upon his own tongue] against the Lord than when they denied the Lord' (De lapsis 15.16; CSEL 3.1:248)." (NCE [1967], volume 5, page 604)

BTW, the NCE and JND Kelly list Darwell Stone as a reference in their bibliography but Schaff is nowhere to be found! I wonder why?

"Later he [St. Cyprian] expatiates [De laps 25f] on the terrifying consequences of profaning the sacrament, and the stories he tells confirm that he took the REAL PRESENCE LITERALLY." (Kelly, pg 212)

And it just so happens I have this extended passage from Jurgens as well!

"Hear what took place in my presence and with myself as witness. It happened that some parents were fleeing; and acting imprudently because of their fear, they left an infant daughter in the care of a nurse. The nurse turned the abandoned child over to the magistrates. In the presence of the idol where the people were gathering, and because she was not, on account of her age, able to eat meat, they gave her bread mixed with wine, which was itself left over after the sacrifice offered by those who are perishing [i.e. pagans]. Afterwards the mother recovered her daughter. But the girl was no more able to speak and point out the crime that had been committed than she had before been able to understand and prevent it.

"It came about through ignorance, therefore, that the mother brought the child into our presence when we were offering the Sacrifice. The girl mingled with the saints [Jurgens: the term -cum sanctis- applies to the Christian congregation]; and then, growing impatient of our prayers and petitions, was at one moment shaken with weeping and at another began to be tossed about by the violent excitement of her mind. As if by the compulsion of a torturer, the soul of that child of still tender years confessed the awareness of the deed by such signs as it could.

"When the solemnities were completed, however, and the deacon began to offer the chalice to those present, and when her turn came among the rest of those receiving, the little girl, with an instinct of the divine majesty, turned her face away, compressed her mouth with resisting lips, and refused the cup. The deacon persisted, however; and although she was resisting, he poured some into her mouth from the Sacrament in the cup. The result was that she began to choke and to vomit. The Eucharist was not able to remain in that violated body and mouth. The drink sanctified in the Blood of the Lord [santificatus in Domini sanguine potus] burst forth from her polluted stomach. So great is the power of the Lord, and so great his majesty!" (Cyprian, The Lapsed 25)

DG> Tertullian's and Cyprian's views were "symbolic"

Symbolic? Symbolic? Symbolic my left ear lobe as Joe Didde says!

More from J.N.D. Kelly on St. Cyprian and the Eucharist --

"So, when he comments on the Lord's Prayer, he states [De orat dom 18] that Christ is our bread 'because He is the bread of us who TOUCH HIS BODY'; and elsewhere he argues [Ep 57:2] that prospective martyrs should be fortified 'with the protection of CHRIST'S BODY AND BLOOD....For how can we teach or incite them to shed their OWN blood in confessing the Name if, as they set out on their service, we refuse them THE BLOOD OF CHRIST?'.....

"....when Cyprian states [Ep 63:13; cf. ib 63:2] that 'in the wine CHRIST'S BLOOD IS SHOWN' (in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi), we should recall that in the context he is arguing against heretics who wilfully use water instead of wine at the eucharist. In choosing the term 'is shown', therefore, he is NOT hinting that the wine merely symbolizes the sacred blood. His point is simply that wine is an essential ingredient of the eucharist, since numerous Old Testament texts point to it as a type of the precious blood. It is significant that only a few lines above [Ep 63:11] he had spoken of 'DRINKING THE LORD'S BLOOD'" (Kelly, page 212-213).


"The writings of St. Cyprian contain very many incidental references to the Eucharist. It is always mentioned with profound reverence. The Eucharistic food is described as 'sanctified' [De laps 25] -- a phrase applied also, it must be noticed, to a person who has been made holy by being baptised [E.g. Ep 69:2,8,10,11,15; 70:2; 73:18], and to the water and the oil made holy for use in the administration of Baptism [Ep 70:1,2].

"With obvious or expressed reference to our Lord's words, 'Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine' [Matt 7:6], it is spoken of as 'the holy thing' [De laps 26], or 'the holy thing of the Lord' [De unit 8; De laps 15,26; Ep 31:6], or 'the pearls of the Lord' [Ep 31:6]. 'THE BLOOD OF CHRIST' is said to be 'shown' or 'set forth' by the wine in the cup; the bread and wine which the Lord offered to the Father are called 'HIS BODY AND BLOOD'; the 'wine of the cup of the Lord' is spoken of as 'BLOOD'. (Stone, volume 1, page 40)

[in a footnote Stone has the following from Cyprian Epistle 63] :

2, 'nor can His blood, by which we have been redeemed and quickened, be seen to be in the cup, when wine, which is shown (ostenditur) to be the blood of Christ, is absent from the cup';

4, 'our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered sacrifice to God the Father, and offered the very same thing as Melchizedek, that is bread and wine, namely His body and blood';

6, 'when the blood of the grape is spoken of, what else is shown than the wine of the cup of the Lord which is blood?';

7, 'mention is made of wine that by wine may be understood the blood of the Lord, and that what was afterwards manifested in the Lord's cup might be foretold in the predictions of the prophets.' (Cyprian, from Stone, volume 1, page 40, footnote)

"Communicants are said to receive and to be sustained and protected by the BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST [De laps 2; De dom orat 18; Ep 11:5; 57:2; 58:1,9; 63:7]. When any communicate unworthily the BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD are taken and drunk with defiled hands and polluted mouth, and are outraged and profaned [De laps 16,22,25; Ep 15:1; 75:21].

"To complete what may be gathered as to St. Cyprian's thought of the Eucharistic presence, there are two passages which need to be correlated to those already in view. In the first of these passages St. Cyprian says of one who took part in the Eucharistic rite after an act of apostacy --

'He could not eat and handle the holy thing of the Lord, but found that he was carrying a cinder in his open hands. By this single instance it was shown that the Lord departs when he is denied, and that what is received does not benefit unto salvation one who is unworthy, since the saving grace is changed into a cinder on the departure of the holy thing' [De laps 26 we shall cover this later].

"In the other passage St. Cyprian is speaking of an opposite instance, where the faith of Christ is victoriously maintained in time of persecution -- 'Let us arm,' he says, 'the right hand also with the sword of the Spirit, so that it may bravely reject the deadly sacrifices of the heathen, and that the hand which mindful of the Eucharist RECEIVES THE BODY OF THE LORD may embrace the Lord Himself, hereafter to obtain the reward of the heavenly crowns of the Lord' [Ep 58:9].

"In the first of these passages, in distinction from those in which the body and blood of the Lord is said to be taken and drunk and outraged and profaned in unworthy Communions, the possibility is contemplated of a withdrawal of the sacred presence in such cases; in the second of them the embrace of the Lord Himself seems to be regarded as a special gift over and above what is in every good Communion." (Stone, volume 1, page 40-41)

DG> Tertullian's and Cyprian's views were "symbolic"

Are you nuts? Zwingli would be rolling over in his grave by now!

"Sacrificial phraseology then occurs throughout the second century in different parts of the Church. The sacrificial idea receives somewhat more definite expression in the third century from the Carthaginian writers, Tertullian and St. Cyprian. In a description of Christian life and worship Tertullian says 'We annually offer oblations (oblationes facimus) on behalf of the DEPARTED on the anniversaries of their deaths [De cor 3]. Elsewhere he mentions among the duties of a Christian husband that he 'offers sacrifice' on behalf of his wife [De exhort cast 11], and of a Christian widow that she 'annually offers sacrifice on behalf of the SOUL' of her husband 'on the anniversary of his DECEASE' [De monog 10].

"The words 'SACRIFICE', 'PRIEST', and 'ALTAR' are all used by him [Tertullian] in a Christian sense [E.g. -sacrificium- in De orat 18,19; -sacrificare- in Ad Scap 2; -sacerdos- in De bapt 17; -ara- in De orat 19]; and in a case which he contemplates of a communicant on a fast day receiving the Sacrament in his hands but not consuming it till later in the day at home, he speaks of the communicant having taken part in the SACRIFICE [De orat 19]" (Stone, vol 1, pg 47-48).

"The writings of St. Cyprian are FULL of allusions to the Eucharist as a SACRIFICE. The priestly terms for the ministry, -sacerdos- for the bishop, -sacerdotium- for his office, are found. To celebrate the Eucharist is to 'OFFER' and to 'SACRIFICE'. The Eucharist itself is the 'SACRIFICE', or the 'OBLATION', or 'THE SACRIFICE OF THE LORD', or 'THE VICTIM OF THE LORD'. The place where it is offered is the 'ALTAR'.

[E.g. -sacerdos- in De unit 17; Ep 1:2; -sacerdotium- in Ep 17:2; -offerre- in Ep 16:2; -sacrificare- in De laps 25; -sacrificium- and -oblatio- in Ep 1:2; -sacrificium dominicum- in Ep 63:9; -dominica hostia- in De unit 17; -altare- in De unit 17].

"In a remarkable sentence, occurring when he is dealing with the point of practice that both wine and water are to be placed in the Eucharistic cup, St. Cyprian writes --

'If our Lord and God Christ Jesus is Himself the High Priest of God the Father and offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father and commanded this to be done for a memorial of Himself, certainly that priest truly performs his office in the place of Christ who imitates that which Christ did, and then offers in the Church to God the Father a real and complete sacrifice when he begins to offer as he sees Christ Himself offered' [Cyprian, Ep 63:14 Latin quoted earlier].

"St. Cyprian quite definitely connects the Eucharist with the commemoration of the passion, and says that 'the passion is the sacrifice of the Lord WHICH WE OFFER' [passio est enim domini sacrificium quod offerimus -- Ep 63:5,9,17]" (Stone, pg 48,50).


"The priest, it would appear, sacramentally re-enacts the oblation of His passion which the Savior originally presented to the Father. Further, it is clear from what he says elsewhere about offering it on behalf of people in need [Ep 15:1; 17:2], and especially on behalf of the dead [Ep 1:2; 12:2; 39:3], that Cyprian conceived of the eucharistic sacrifice as possessing OBJECTIVE EFFICACY.

"A further point Cyprian makes [Ep 63:13] is that, when Christ suffered for us and thus offered His sacrifice, we were in Him inasmuch as He was bearing our sins. Thus in His physical body and blood the people of God were being offered to the Father.

"In the eucharist there is a parallel union between Christ and His people, so that the rite is in effect the offering of the whole Church, both its Head and the faithful who in it have been made one with Him." (Kelly, page 215-216)

1325. "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Eucharisticum mysterium, 6)

Summary by JND Kelly and Darwell Stone

Summary at the end of the Ante-Nicene Fathers by Darwell Stone --

"....it is most natural and reasonable to understand the less definite language in the light of the more definite; and THROUGHOUT the writers of the period the identification of the ELEMENTS WITH THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST appears to be the ruling idea." (Stone, volume 1, page 54)

Summary of the Ante-Nicene Fathers by J.N.D. Kelly --

"[Concerning the Lord's presence in the Sacrament] Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general UNQUESTIONINGLY REALIST, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and treated and designated as, the Savior's BODY AND BLOOD." (Kelly, page 440)

Even Schaff admits there was no serious controversy until the 9th century --

"The doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist was not a subject of theological controversy and ecclesiastical action till the time of Paschasius Radbert, in the ninth century...." (Schaff, vol 3, pg 492)

From the NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA under "Eucharist (as Sacrament)"

"Nothing is more solid than the UNANIMITY of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist for the first 1,500 years of the Church. The spontaneous uproar caused by men such as Berengarius of Tours (d. 1088) only attests the more to the unquestioned acceptance of the Real Presence. This UNANIMOUS belief of 1,500 years is itself an argument to its truth. For it is impossible that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, could leave the Church in error over a long period of time about one of the central doctrines of Christianity, according to the argument from prescription." (NCE, volume 5, page 604)

BJ> The Biblical evidence when coupled with the unanimous testimony of early Christians should convince people that it's foolish to start completly allegorizing Christ's command.

It looks like Brett Johnson was right after all! Remember, we are not talking the technical term "transubstantiation" here but the Real Presence of Christ, despite some differences in how the Fathers expressed that unanimous belief of the Christian church. Next -- the great Saint Augustine! Was he a "symbolic" kind of guy?

For the complex view of St. Augustine, see St Augustine on the Eucharist


For more from the Church Fathers, see This is My Body: Eucharist in the Early Fathers

Saints Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr (all 2nd century) are quite clear. When we get to St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian (early 3rd century) other meanings are evident with regard to John chapter 6.

Although I want to stress they ALL took the Real Presence and Eucharist institution (Matt 26:26ff; Luke 22:19ff; 1 Cor 11:23-29) literally as the Body and Blood of Christ. NONE of the Fathers or early Christian writers denied the literal interpretation in order to adopt a purely "symbolic" one. This realist and literal interpretation was not denied until Berengarius of Tours in the 11th century. Concerning the Alexandrian allegorical interpretations, Catholic scholar Ott says

"The Alexandrinians, St. Clement [of Alexandria] and Origen, attest the general belief of the Church that the Lord offers us the partaking of His Body and His Blood. However, due to their penchant for allegory, passages are also found in their writings, in which they use the words body and blood to signify the teaching of Christ, by which our spirits are nourished [Origen is quoted from Contra Celsum VIII,33 cf. In Num hom 7,2; In Exod hom 13,3; In Matt comm ser 85]. As, according to the usage of the Alexandrinians, the same scriptural passage can be variously interpreted, an allegorical interpretation DOES NOT EXCLUDE the possibility of a more fundamental meaning." (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, page 376)


BJ> "Eat my flesh," [Jesus] says, "and drink my blood." The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children. (Paidagogos 1:6; 43:3)

This passage is in the Jurgen's set (volume 1, page 178). The reference should be to Paidagogos (or The Instructor of Children) 1:6:42:3. While it is true St. Clement of Alexandria at some points takes these words literally as referring to the Eucharist, other times a strong allegorical teaching can be found in his writings. Darwell Stone, the Anglican scholar I have quoted often, cites the above passage...

"Clement explains that the Lord feeds Christians with His own flesh and blood even as a mother feeds her infant child from her own body: 'The young brood which the Lord Himself brought forth with throes of the flesh, which the Lord Himself swaddled with precious blood. O holy birth, O holy swaddling clothes, the Word is all to the babe, father and mother and tutor and nurse. "Eat ye My flesh," He says, "and drink ye My blood." This suitable food the Lord supplies to us, and offers flesh and pours out blood; and the little children lack nothing that their growth needs.' [Clement of Alexandria, Paed I:vi:42,43]" (vol 1, pg 37-38)

Stone calls this "a more explicit passage" (page 25) in Clement. As I said, while the above is fairly clear, other interpretations (of John 6) are found in this ante-Nicene Father as well as Origen and Tertullian.

In other words, David Goforth (via Fr. Raymond Brown) might be onto something.... To quote Darwell Stone again --

"In discussing our Lord's teaching at Capernaum about the spirit and the flesh [i.e. John 6:51-63] in connection with the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, Tertullian writes:

'Making His spoken word life-giving, because that word is spirit and life, He also described his flesh in the same way, because the Word became flesh; therefore, to obtain life, we ought to long for Him, and to devour Him with our hearing, and to ruminate on Him with our understanding, and to digest Him by our FAITH.' [Tertullian, De carn res 37]

"This kind of expression is more fully developed in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Clement writes:

'The Lord expressed this by means of symbols in the Gospel according to John when He said, "Eat My flesh and drink My blood," depicting [Greek word given] plainly the drinkable character of FAITHand the promise by means of which the Church, as a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows and is welded together and compacted of both, of FAITH as the body and of HOPEas the soul, as also the Lord of flesh and blood.' [Clement of Alexandria, Paed I:vi:38]

'[After the more explicit passage cited above] But you are unwilling to understand it thus [referring to John 6:51ff], but perhaps more generally [Greek given]. Hear it also as follows: The Holy Ghost uses flesh as a picture [Greek given] for us, for by Him was the flesh created. Blood signifies [Greek given] for us the Word, for as rich blood the Word has been poured into our life.' [Clement of Alexandria, ibid 43]

'The blood of the Lord is twofold. In one sense it is fleshly, that by which we have been redeemed from corruption; in another sense it is spiritual, that by which we have been anointed. To drink the blood of Jesus is to partake of the Lord's immortality; and the Spirit is the strength of the Word, as blood of flesh.

'As then wine is mixed with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture, nourishes to faith; and the other, the Spirit, guides to immortality. And the mingling of both -- of the drink and the Word -- is called Eucharist, renowned and beauteous grace; and those who partake of it in faith are sanctified in both body and soul, since the will of the Father has mystically united the divine mixture, man, by the Spirit and the Word.

'For in truth the Spirit is joined to the soul that is moved by it, and the flesh, for the sake of which the Word became flesh, to the Word.'" [Clement of Alexandria, Paed II:ii:19,20] (Stone, volume 1, page 25-26)

And for a slightly different translation of the above, see Jurgens The Faith of the Early Fathers, volume 1, page 179. Stone continues quoting Clement --

'The food is the mystic contemplation; for the flesh and blood of the Word are the comprehension of the divine power and essence. "Taste and see that the Lord is Christ" [see Psalm 34(35):8] it is said; for so He imparts of Himself to those who partake of such food in a more spiritual manner, when now the soul nourishes itself, as says the truth-loving Plato. For the eating and drinking of the divine Word is the knowledge of the divine essence." [Clement of Alexandria, Strom V:x:56 or Miscellanies]

Darwell Stone comments on the above --

"Thus, of one aspect of Clement's teaching it is true to say -- 'The flesh and blood of the Logos are the apprehension of the divine power and essence; the eating and drinking of the Logos is knowledge of the divine essence; the flesh is the Spirit, the blood is the Logos, the union of the two is the Lord who is the food of His people.' [from J.B. Mayor in Hort and Mayor, Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, Book vii, page 383]

"The mode of speech thus found in Clement of Alexandria is carried on in the writings of Origen; and the latter lays some stress on the more perfect understanding of the phraseology about the Eucharistic elements which is possessed by those who have deeper knowledge of the Christian religion." (vol 1, pg 25-26)


Darwell Stone (pages 26-28) then goes on to cite Origen extensively from In Lev Hom 7:5; cf. 13:6; In Num Hom 16:9; In Matt Comm Ser 85; and In Joann 32:24(16) where Origen interprets John 6:51-63 at several levels -- not only sacramentally concerning the Eucharist but also to mean believing and obeying Christ's words, as in the following excerpts --

"Because therefore Jesus is wholly clean, His whole flesh is food, and His whole blood is drink, because every work of His is holy and every WORD of His is true. Therefore also His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. For by the flesh and blood OF HIS WORD as clean food and drink He gives drink and refreshment to the whole race of men." (Origen, In Lev Hom 7:5; cf. 13:6)

"Now we are said to drink the blood of Christ NOT ONLY in the way of Sacraments, but ALSO when we receive HIS WORDS, in which life consists as also He Himself said, 'The words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and life.' Therefore He Himself was wounded, whose blood we drink, THAT IS, receive the WORDS of His teaching." (Origen, In Num Hom 16:9)

"That bread which God the Word confesses to be His own body is the WORD that nourishes souls, the WORD proceeding from God the Word.... and that drink which God the Word confesses to be His blood is the WORD that gives drink and excellent gladness to the hearts of those who drink....For not that visible bread which He held in His hands did God the Word call His body, but the WORD in the mystery of which that bread was to be broken. Nor did He call that visible drink His blood, but the WORD in the mystery of which that drink was to be poured out. For what else can the body of God the Word, or His blood, be but the WORD which nourishes and the WORD which gladdens the heart?" (Origen, In Matt Comm Ser 85)

"Let the bread and the cup be understood by the more SIMPLE according to the more COMMON acceptation of the Eucharist, BUT by those who have learnt to hear more DEEPLYaccording to the more divine promise, even that of the nourishing WORD of the truth." (Origen, In Joann 32:24[16])

Stone concludes on this allegorical interpretation found also in a few other early writings in Syria and Ethiopia --

"In any attempt to place the phraseology of which instances have here been given in its right position in the history of Christian thought, it must be remembered that the less definite descriptions of the Sacrament in the Letters of St. Ignatius and in the -Statutes of the Apostles- [an Ethiopic document] occur SIDE BY SIDE with the more EXPLICIT terminology in the same writings which will be quoted later, that the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen contain many instances of 'the more COMMON acceptation of the Eucharist' [the more explicit and literal kind] which in the last quotation Origen described as suitable only for 'the more simple,' and that a marked characteristic of the Alexandrian theology was THE EXCESSIVE EXTENT to which it carried