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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. His letter to the Ephesians is one of the earliest and most explicitly Catholic writings of the fathers that I’ve ever read.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia….

As with virtually all letters of Scripture and the early fathers, only one Church is affirmed; it just happens to be at different places physically on the earth.

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him.

This is perhaps the same Onesimus who was a slave of Philemon and whom St. Paul converted. Ignatius prays that the Ephesians will love and imitate Onesimus.

After praise for Onesimus and his subordinate ministers, he continues:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience “you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10), and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified…. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that you would all run together in accordance with the will of God. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ. Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do.

Ignatius exhorts the Ephesians to “unanimous obedience” to the doctrinal teachings of their bishop, not to rely on Scripture alone (there was no New Testament anyway then). Through this obedience to the bishop and his ministers, the flock is sanctified in all respects. It is not up to the individual believer to decide what true, correct doctrine is. Unity of mind, judgment, action, and speech are necessary. Moreover and strikingly, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God. The necessity and authority of the bishops is “so by the will of Jesus Christ.”

It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature— how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!

Unity, unity, unity. This is a constant theme of this letter and other letters by Ignatius.

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.

This is a reference to the Eucharist. Those outside of the Church are not part of the Body of Christ and thus do not receive the Body of Christ at the altar.

For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matthew 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resists the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

Again, authority and power rests with the bishop and the Church universal (the catholic Church). Those who separate themselves from the catholic Church out of pride condemn themselves. Again, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God.

For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matthew 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.

Again, the bishop is identified with “the Lord Himself,” as an overseer designated by “the Master” who must be obeyed. The bishop creates “good order in God” so that Christians may “live according to the truth” and that no denomination/sect disobedient to the bishop is tolerated among them. Sects do not arise if there is “unanimous obedience” to the bishop, but when the disobedient cannot be reconciled, they must be expelled from the communion in which the one, true Church dwells. Thus Martin Luther and other heretics sealed their own fate with regard to the Church.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured.

There are many wicked people who call themselves “Christian” but who are not worthy of the Name. The true Christian must be on guard against them and avoid them.

Let not then any one deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, inasmuch as you are wholly devoted to God. For since there is no strife raging among you which might distress you, you are certainly living in accordance with God’s will. I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus, so renowned throughout the world. They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which you do according to the flesh are spiritual; for you do all things in Jesus Christ.

The faithful can be deceived and fall away. Strife in a church is caused by false, deceitful teachers and is a sign that God’s will is not being done. Ignatius also powerfully expresses the Catholic position that faith and works are intimately and inseparably joined together. If you “do the works of  unbelief,” then you do not have faith or salvation.

The last times have come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed— one of two things. Only [in one way or another] let us be found in Christ Jesus unto the true life. Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

We should fear God. Notice that Ignatius does not discount the possibility of any Christian’s condemnation by God. He does not speak as one assured of his own salvation. One does not “get saved”; one is “found in Christ Jesus unto the true life.” Salvation comes from always being “of the same mind with the apostles.”

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

This is a reference to the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia, thanksgiving). Again, “unity of faith” destroys the powers of Satan. Schisms empower Satan.

No man [truly] making a profession of faith sins; (1 John 3:7) nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; (Matthew 12:33) so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

Real faith is evident from sinlessness, obedience, and good works. “Mere profession” is not enough to be saved; one must continue “in the power of faith to the end.” And the power of faith is the power to avoid all mortal sin and bear good fruit.

Do not err, my brethren (James 1:16). Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.

Error and consequent sin effect death, not salvation. Just as those who corrupt their bodies in sins of the flesh (and don’t receive forgiveness) suffer death in hell, so those who wickedly corrupt the “faith of God” and listen to these corrupters “shall go away into everlasting fire.”

Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Again, Christians can fall away from the faith and be damned; they can be led away from the Christian life like a captive in war. Knowledge of the truth is not enough to keep the Christian from perishing foolishly; discipline of the will is necessary to tame the body and evil desires of the heart.

Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Again and in conclusion, another reemphasis that there is only “one faith,” that one must “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind,” and that one must break “one and the same bread.” The faith (body of true doctrines), the Church leadership, and the Eucharist together all proclaim the oneness and unity of the Body of Christ. Moreover, the Eucharistic “bread” is not merely memorial but effective as “the medicine of immortality,” “the antidote” to death, and the cause of eternal life in Jesus.

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to St. Polycarp

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. He wrote a letter to St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

Having obtained good proof that your mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] your blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in your course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain your position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better…. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.

Salvation is not guaranteed. One’s mind must be “fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock.” Exhortation to holy conduct is required from clergy for the benefit of the flock that they may be saved. What does Ignatius mean by “maintain your position”? Maintain the state of grace in which Polycarp is clothed? Maintain his office as bishop of Smyrna? Without recourse to the original language of the text, I think the former interpretation seems more reasonable. Is it possible for Polycarp to lose the office of bishop through neglect of body or spirit? No. But we can all lose the state of grace.

Schism is condemned; preservation of unity of doctrine and institution is affirmed.

Lastly, differential rewards in heaven are affirmed; those who labor greatly for the Lord gain greatly.

The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded.

Bishop Polycarp is the leader of the flock whose eternal fate rests partly with him. Like St. Paul, Ignatius refers to salvation as a prize, something not yet attained until the race is run till the end.

Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3, 1 Timothy 6:3) fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. 

It is the responsibility of the bishop to “stand firm” in the face of  “strange doctrines,” i.e. heresy. It is not up to the individual believer to say what true, correct Christian doctrine is. Rather, as St. Paul writes to fellow bishops Timothy and Titus, the bishop is the guardian of true doctrine and authoritatively teaches the rest of the flock. Moreover, it does not matter if heretics are good people “who seem worthy of credit.” Good works alone are not proof of truth, though truth in action does bear fruit in good works.

Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.

God is timeless, outside of time, transcending time. There are interesting implications of this truth for the topics of prayer, what heaven is like, interpretation of the creation story in Genesis, and many other esoteric Christian doctrines and traditions.

Let not widows be neglected. Be, after the Lord, their protector and friend. Let nothing be done without your consent; neither do anything without the approval of God, which indeed you do not, inasmuch as you are steadfast.

Women in ancient times were totally dependent on their husbands for their livelihood. To lose your husband was to become destitute oftentimes. In our times, single mothers are widows. They should not be wards of the state but rather assisted by the Church. And no mother should be able to claim an excuse to choose infanticide because of a lack of material support.

The supreme authority of the bishop is reemphasized here. His consent is necessary for everything concerning the church under his care.

Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.

There has been a lot of slander and defamation of the Church with regard to slavery. This passage succinctly expresses some major Christian points with regard to slavery:

  1. Slaves are not to be despised as if they were sub-human.
  2. Slavery, as practiced in the ancient world, was not evil in itself.
  3. Slavery of the soul to sin is the chief concern of the Church, not slavery of the body to the will of another human being. True liberty, liberty from sin and worldly “desires,” comes from God alone.

It  is interesting to note that Ignatius recognizes the obvious universal fact that slaves set free tend to become dependent upon the state just as they were dependent upon their masters before. Somehow this fact seems to have been lost on Americans during the late 19th century. The manumission of black slaves and their future welfare could have been better managed.

Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them.

We must flee all evil but not speech regarding what is evil. What is evil must be talked about publicly. Evil is most powerful when it is ignored and not confronted  refuted, and denounced.

If any one can continue in a state of purity, to the honour of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.

As St. Paul urges, Ignatius also urges virginity for those who can attain it. Virgins are held in so high regard in the early Church that the temptation to pride for them was apparently quite high then. Notice how pride is what leads one to think one is greater in authority than the bishop. And this pride spells the doom of the Christian, even of the virgin.

With regard to marriage, the bishop is involved as well, approving the union of the man and woman. The sacred character of marriage is governed by the bishop, not the urges and desires of the man and woman.

Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!

Again, the authority of the bishop is reaffirmed. Obedience is due to him and the other ministers.

Please Him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that you may receive a worthy recompense.

The unmistakable war-like imagery presents Christian life as a struggle for salvation. God is compared to an employer and commander of soldiers. Notice that salvation is not guaranteed. The promise and grace of baptism may not endure, for one may desert God after one has joined his legion and thus lose salvation. We are assigned by God to do certain good works. Our salvation depends on obedience to these assignments; our recompense in heaven depends on how well we carry them out.

Seeing that the Church which is at Antioch in Syria is, as report has informed me, at peace, through your prayers, I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple [of Christ]. It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honour that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ.

There is only one Church; it just happens to be at many places physically on the earth.

Notice that Ignatius does not presume to be saved and that he sees the prayers of others as playing a role in his salvation.

Bishops have the authority to convene local councils for various purposes.

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Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans

Posted by Tony Listi on February 16, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. It appears that he was arrested and taken to Rome for a trial and/or his execution. He writes the following letter “to the Church.”

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Ignatius gives an extraordinary amount of praise to this 6-times “worthy” Church, which seemingly only parenthetically “also presides  in the place of the region of the Romans.” This Church is also “beloved and enlightened by the will of [God].” Very interesting. He does not pour out such praise in his letters to other churches. He speaks as if it were the entire universal Church itself. I see this as evidence for the primacy of the Church of Rome even by the late 1st or early 2nd century AD.

Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end. For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if you spare me. For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also you please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will you, if you shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work. For if you are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared….

In general, it seems that Ignatius is afraid that the Church of Rome will save him from martyrdom and perhaps make less certain his eternal salvation. He hopes for the grace to cling to his path of martyrdom until the end. Such uncertainty about his eternal fate is very un-Protestant.

You have never envied any one; you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions you enjoin [on others].

Ignatius says that this Church at Rome teaches, instructs, and enjoins others. He implies that this Church has authority.

Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world.

He also asks for the prayers of this Church for himself, prayers for strength to continue down the path to martyrdom. Notice that he does not believe mere faith, mental assent, to be sufficient to be “deemed faithful” or to “really be found to be [a Christian].” To be a Christian is not something one claims for oneself verbally but rather is something another judges and finds.

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God.

Here Ignatius distinguishes between “[all] the Churches” and the Church of Rome, which apparently has either the authority to “hinder” him from writing to every individual church or the ability to “hinder” him from going through with his martyrdom. The context suggests the latter is meant.

I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.

How very interesting that he compares his body to “wheat” that when ground in martyrdom becomes “the pure bread of Christ.” This is a Eucharistic reference. Through the death of Jesus, ordinary bread becomes the Body of Christ, “the pure bread of Christ.” So also, the deaths of the martyrs unite them to Christ, once and for all.

Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.

Again, martyrdom seals and confirm his discipleship and thus his salvation.

Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God].

Christians are called to sacrifice, to be a living sacrifice but also a literal sacrifice for the faith if need be. Sacrifices do not end with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross; our sacrifices are united to His.

I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him.

Apparently, St. Peter and St. Paul issued commandments to those to whom Ignatius is writing. Ignatius implicitly recognizes the authority of Peter and Paul and their successors to whom he now writes (one does not give commandments to a superior). He makes it crystal clear that he is not commanding the Church but making a request.

But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified.” [1 Corinthians 4:4]… Now I begin to be a disciple.

Ignatius quotes Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, implying that he has not yet attained salvation, even under the abuse of his Roman captors. Only now does he feel that he is truly a disciple of Jesus.

Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

Again, a plea to the Church of Rome not to prevent his martrydom and asking pardon perhaps for the boldness of his strong request. Ignatius wants to imitate Christ in suffering. He says he is “straitened,” meaning he is under some difficulty or distress. The next line explains further:

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world.

Ignatius fears the Devil and his attacks to foil Ignatius’ salvation.

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Another Eucharistic reference. Of course, he’s talking specifically about the Eucharist of heaven, not of earth, though the two are united as one. The Eucharist in heaven has no and needs no transformation of bread and wine, for the Body and Blood itself is present in heaven in the most literal, direct, and real sense possible.

I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if you consent. Be willing, then, that you also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that you shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, you have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, you have hated me.

Again, Ignatius seeks the “consent,” prayers, and well-wishes of the Church of Rome for his forthcoming martyrdom. He claims to speak “according to the will of God.” And that last line seems to imply that the Church is intimately involved in his fate.

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it].

St. Ignatius, who will die soon, seems to leave responsibility for his church congregation in the hands of Jesus and the Church of Rome.

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Were the early Church fathers corrupted by paganism?

Posted by Tony Listi on February 16, 2010

What former evangelical Protestant and apologist Mark Shea calls the “Pagan Creep Theory” is the standard Protestant retort (if any) that rationalizes away at will anything the early Church fathers say about Scripture that the Protestant wants to reject.

But this theory is unreasonable and can be reduced to absurdity. This theory only begs another question: you must really think Our Lord Jesus and the Twelve (and the Holy Spirit) were terribly incompetent in accurately spreading the gospel to these earliest Christian leaders, no?

As Shea correctly puts it, this theory means:

believing that everywhere the apostles went they–all of them–appointed successors who perverted their teaching on a dozen subjects as badly as modernism said that the apostles had perverted Christ’s. It meant that for sixty years of blood, sweat, and toil, the apostles made thousands of disciples so stupid that they could not grasp the most elementary teachings of their faith. It meant believing that their churches–all of them in north, south, east, and west– paganized Christianity (and paganized it everywhere in the same way) the instant the apostles died. It meant that these churches, together with their overseers who had been handpicked by the apostles, were constantly engaged in a schizophrenic campaign of deliberate pagan perversion of the Faith while simultaneously dying in droves for the purity of that Faith. It meant believing that the immediate successors to the apostles (and the flocks they shepherded) were both martyrs against all pagan compromise and punctillious observers of Scripture, and yet simultaneously secret devotees of  Mithra, Isis, and the mystery cults. It meant believing that in some fantastic fashion quite unparalleled in history, this outburst of amnesia, heresy, and schizophrenia (beginning well before the death of the Apostle John and spanning the length of the Roman Empire) managed to completely pervert the Faith once given to the saints without one of those saints taking notice at all–the very same saints who were willing to be burned alive for Christ rather than offer a tiny pinch to Caesar.

If we can’t trust the beliefs and practices of the Christians whom the original apostles taught and laid hands on (conferring the Spirit), then we can trust no one’s supposedly Christian beliefs and practices!

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The Earliest Church Fathers on Transubstantiation of Bread and Wine

Posted by Tony Listi on January 13, 2010

Why the heck should any Christian believe that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in Scripture about his body and blood in John 6 and Luke 22 when the earliest Church leaders (bishops) believed and acted otherwise?

It doesn’t get any clearer or earlier than St. Ignatius’ (died by 117 AD) denunciation of the Docetic heretics in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer,  because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect,  that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of  them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved.  But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils. (emphasis mine)

More evidence from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans:

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterward of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. (emphasis mine)

This last citation of St. Ignatius in his letter to the Philadephians is less explicit but still supportive:

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God. (emphasis mine)

St. Justin Martyr (died circa 165 AD) is also very explicit in his First Apology:

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία  [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, 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 in remembrance of Me, (Luke 22:19) 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 mine)

St. Irenaeus (died circa 200 AD) is also very clear in upholding transubstantiation in his rebuke of heretics:

But how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord,  and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned.  But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit.  For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread,  but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (emphasis mine)

The Didache (written 100 AD) says:

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (emphasis mine)

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