Many of the writings of Church leaders about the Lord’s Supper in the 4th and 5th centuries are similar to the earlier writings of the Church – an extremely high view of the Supper. However, many of their writings show a more mystical understanding of the elements of the Supper.
“And your floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow equally with wine and oil.’ … This has been fulfilled mystically by Christ, who gave to the people whom He had redeemed, that is, to His Church, wheat and wine and oil in a mystic manner. For the wheat is the mystery of His sacred Body; and the wine His saving Blood; and again, the oil is the sweet unguent with which those who are baptized are signed, being clothed in the armaments of the Holy Spirit.” Commentaries on Sacred Scripture, Ephraim
“So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘And again:’ Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine – and thus His Body is confected.” Sermon to the Newly Baptized, Athanasius
“Contemplate therefore the Bread and Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for though sense suggests this to thee, let faith stablish thee. Judge not the matter from taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that thou hast been vouchsafed the Body and Blood of Christ.”Catechetical Lectures, Cyril of Jerusalem
“As to the reality of His Flesh and Blood, there is no room left for doubt, because now, both by the declaration of the Lord Himself and by our own faith, it is truly the Flesh and it is truly Blood. And These Elements bring it about, when taken and consumed, that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Is this not true? Let those who deny that Jesus Christ is true God be free to find these things untrue. But He Himself is in us through the flesh and we are in Him, while that which we are with Him is in God.” The Trinity, Hilary of Poiters
“We see that the Saviour took [something] in His hands, as it is in the Gospel, when He was reclining at the supper; and He took this, and giving thanks, He said: ‘This is really Me.’ And He gave to His disciples and said: ‘This is really Me.’ And we see that It is not equal nor similar, not to the incarnate image, not to the invisible divinity, not to the outline of His limbs. For It is round of shape, and devoid of feeling. As to Its power, He means to say even of Its grace, ‘This is really Me.’; and none disbelieves His word. For anyone who does not believe the truth in what He says is deprived of grace and of a Savior.” The Man Well-Anchored, Epiphanius of Salamis
“The bread is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ.” Orations and Sermons, Gregory of Nyssa
“It is not the power of man which makes what is put before us the Body and Blood of Christ, but the power of Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words but their power and grace are from God. ‘This is My Body,’ he says, and these words transform what lies before him.” Homilies on the Treachery of Judas, John Chrysostom
“You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ.” Sermons, Augustine
It’s important to keep in mind that we do not have access to all the teachings of the early Church about the Lord’s Supper, but we can see from what we do have that many leaders in the Church believed Christians should have a serious attitude about the Supper. It was not to be taken lightly or frivolously. That much is certainly in line with the seriousness presented by Paul in 1 Corinthians.
In our next study, we’ll conclude our thoughts about the Lord’s Supper and look again at its Purpose, Power and Promise.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”