Monday, September 12, 2005

Eucharistic Sacrifice: Witness of the Church Fathers and the Bible, Part I (vs. "CPA")

By Dave Armstrong (9-12-05)

Overview of CPA's Position

"CPA", a Lutheran, has written a multi-part series on his blog about Dom Gregory Dix's book, Shape of the Liturgy:

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Why Do We Need to Eat Christ's Body?

Sacrifice? Could You Unpack That Please?

Dix on the Ante-Nicene Theology of the Eucharistic Sacrifice

More on Sacrifice

In a nutshell: Dix argues that sacrifice was indeed a prominent motif in the Fathers, even in the ante-Nicene period. CPA disputes this. Here are a few of his comments (in green), to give readers a capsule summary of his position (from the last two papers listed above):

Dix first emphasizes, against skeptical critics, that the sacrificial understanding of the crucifixion was not added on later, but the only possible interpretation of the crucifixion that could make sense and allow the continued existence of movement formed around Jesus . . .

. . . in the reading the sources he presents, nowhere do we see the idea that the Body and Blood of the Lord is actually being offered to God by the bishop or church.

we can suddenly notice that the "offering" of Christ's sacrifice and the "re-calling" of Christ's sacrifice are in fact not the same thing, or at any rate, not the same words, and that by his own account, in Clement, Justin, and Hippolytus, the offering of bread and wine are offered and Christ's sacrifice is re-called. Dix himself throughout implies that offering the bread and wine is synonymous with offering Christ's sacrifice (as opposed to the church's own sacrifice of thanksgiving), but without offering evidence that any ante-Nicene father before Cyprian treated the issue in the same way.

When it comes to Cyprian himself, he notes the innovation but adds, "There is no reason whatever to suppose that Cyprian was the inventor of defining the eucharistic sacrifice, or in any intentional way its partisan" (p. 115). But there is not reason to suppose he wasn't either. There appears to be no evidence either way, since the idea that the Eucharist "offers the Lord's passion" is simply unknown in any previous source.

. . . There is more theological meat here than Dix seems to have recognized, meat which clearly aligns Justin's understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice as a thank-offering for creation and redemption. In fact, Justin is clearly not saying that this rememberance of Christ's sacrifice is a re-presentation, a renewed propitiatory action (to use Tridentine terminology) of Christ's death. So far from being some sort of intermediate between Cyprian's doctrine of the Eucharist as a propitiatory offering of the Lord's passion, and Irenaeus's doctrine of it as a thank offering for creation and redemption, Justin Martyr is clearly simply expounding the Irenaean viewpoint. Assuming, as would seem legitimate, that Irenaeus certainly accepted that the Eucharist was a memorial/re-calling/remembrance of the Lord's Passion, one can thus say that all of the ante-Nicene authors, except Cyprian, understand the Eucharist in a three-fold way:

1) as a thanksgiving sacrifice of created things by the church as a whole to God for the gifts of creation and redemption;
2) as a remembrance/re-calling/anamnesis of the Lord's passion
3) that it is the true Body and Blood of our Lord.

None link sacrifice to anamnesis so as to make it an offering of Christ's sacrifice.

. . . Dix has in no sense proven his point that the propitiatory offering of the Lord's passion, to use a combined Cyprianic-Tridentine way of speaking, is either a part of the pre-Cyprianic Christian doctrine, or that Luther was a bizarre exception in holding to the Real Presence apart from a propitiatory-sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist.

. . . That understanding, that the priest re-presents Christ's passion as a propitiatory sacrifice cannot be found before Cyprian (c. AD 255) . . .

. . . the nature of the sacrifice be understood as a thanksgiving sacrifice, not a propitiatory sacrifice. While the ante-Nicene fathers are pretty vague on this whole distinction, the preponderance of early evidence shows that thanksgiving is indeed the strongly dominant note.

Development of Eucharistic Doctrine in the Fathers

I would emphasize that much of the tacitly assumed "difficulty" in progression of patristic views on this subject can be explained, I think, by the nature of the process of development of doctrine. John Henry Newman, in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, explained how the Fathers' theology built upon what came before, expanding and amplifying it in greater depth (which is exactly what we see with regard to "sacrifice," as with all other aspects of theology):

Doctrine too is percolated, as it were, through different minds, beginning with writers of inferior authority in the Church, and issuing at length in the enunciation of her Doctors. Origen, Tertullian, nay Eusebius and the Antiochenes, {366} supply the materials, from which the Fathers have wrought out comments or treatises. St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil digested into form the theological principles of Origen; St. Hilary and St. Ambrose are both indebted to the same great writer in their interpretations of Scripture; St. Ambrose again has taken his comment on St. Luke from Eusebius, and certain of his Tracts from Philo; St. Cyprian called Tertullian his Master; and traces of Tertullian, in his almost heretical treatises, may be detected in the most finished sentences of St. Leo. The school of Antioch, in spite of the heretical taint of various of its Masters, formed the genius of St. Chrysostom. And the Apocryphal gospels have contributed many things for the devotion and edification of Catholic believers.

The deep meditation which seems to have been exercised by the Fathers on points of doctrine, the disputes and turbulence yet lucid determination which characterize the Councils, the indecision of Popes, are all in different ways, at least when viewed together, portions and indications of the same process. The theology of the Church is no random combination of various opinions, but a diligent, patient working out of one doctrine from many materials. The conduct of Popes, Councils, Fathers, betokens the slow, painful, anxious taking up of new truths into an existing body of belief. St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Leo are conspicuous for the repetition in terminis of their own theological statements; on the contrary, it has been observed of the heterodox Tertullian, that his works "indicate no ordinary fertility of mind in that he so little repeats himself or recurs to favourite thoughts, as is frequently the case even with the great St. Augustine." {367}

Here we see the difference between originality of mind and the gift and calling of a Doctor in the Church; the holy Fathers just mentioned were intently fixing their minds on what they taught, grasping it more and more closely, viewing it on various sides, trying its consistency, weighing their own separate expressions. And thus if in some cases they were even left in ignorance, the next generation of teachers completed their work, for the same unwearied anxious process of thought went on. St. Gregory Nyssen finishes the investigations of St. Athanasius; St. Leo guards the polemical statements of St. Cyril. Clement may hold a purgatory, yet tend to consider all punishment purgatorial; St. Cyprian may hold the unsanctified state of heretics, but include in his doctrine a denial of their baptism; St. Hippolytus may believe in the personal existence of the Word from eternity, yet speak confusedly on the eternity of His Sonship; the Council of Antioch might put aside the Homoüsion, and the Council of Nicæa impose it; St. Hilary may believe in a purgatory, yet confine it to the day of judgment; St. Athanasius and other Fathers may treat with almost supernatural exactness the doctrine of our Lord's incarnation, yet imply, as far as words go, that He was ignorant viewed in His human nature; the Athanasian Creed may admit the illustration of soul and body, and later Fathers may discountenance it; St. Augustine might first be opposed to the employment of force in religion, and then acquiesce in it. Prayers for the faithful departed may be found in the early liturgies, yet with an indistinctness which included the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs in the same rank with the imperfect Christian whose sins were as yet unexpiated; and succeeding times might keep what was exact, and supply what was deficient. Aristotle might be reprobated by certain early Fathers, yet {368} furnish the phraseology for theological definitions afterwards. And in a different subject-matter, St. Isidore and others might be suspicious of the decoration of Churches; St. Paulinus and St. Helena advance it. And thus we are brought on to dwell upon the office of grace, as well as of truth, in enabling the Church's creed to develope and to absorb without the risk of corruption.

(Part II, Chapter 8, Sections 10-11)

This is how development always proceeds; hence what we see as we examine this subject is precisely what we would expect to find. The earlier writers believe in a primitive form what the later writers develop into a more complex, nuanced theology. That's altogether to be expected, and entails no great difficulty for the Catholic position.

But CPA's view (if I am understanding it correctly) requires the odd scenario of having to believe that no Father before St. Cyprian really taught what he did (not even in kernel form), and then somehow the Cyprianic view (for some strange reason that we are not told) overwhelmed all others and became the status quo (and involved inherent blasphemies and outrageous perversions of true eucharistic doctrine). These corruptions would have to wait for "Super-Fathers" Luther and Calvin to arrive on the scene, to denounce the status quo and received Tradition, and help usher the Church back to the true gospel, which - so they endlessly informed their followers - had been obscured in a sacerdotal, idolatrous haze for the previous thousand or so years.

In my opinion, this outlook is not only implausible; it also trivializes and cheapens the necessary, remarkable theological groundwork of the Church Fathers. It requires one to interpret their legacy as a chaotic mess, often teetering on the edge of severe heterodoxy, or indeed, crossing over into it. Rather than take them for what they are, it too quickly superimposes (or presupposes) later theology which is arguably itself heterodox (in this case, Lutheranism, vis-a-vis the sacrifice of the Mass). But I am getting ahead of myself.

I wanted to lay on the table my ultimate presuppositions: I believe that, as a whole, patristic theology develps consistently, in one direction, and that it culminates in the fully-developed Catholic Church. Protestants, it seems to me, must deny that this was what happened in history. they have to either deny the validity of development of doctrine itself, or argue that the consistent developments all went in the direction of Protestantism, while the corrupt strains of thought formed medieval and modern Catholicism. This is no easy task at all. Cardinal Newman wrote about this general line of thought, in his Difficulties of Anglicans (Lecture 12, Part 7):

No other form of Christianity but this present Catholic Communion, has a pretence to resemble, even in the faintest shadow, the Christianity of Antiquity, viewed as a living religion on the stage of the world . . . You may make ten thousand extracts from the Fathers, and not get deeper into the state of their times than the paper you write upon; to imbibe into the intellect the Ancient Church as a fact, is either to be a Catholic or an infidel . . . it was that Antiquity, instead of leading me from the Holy See as it leads many, on the contrary drew me on to submit to its claims. But, even had I worked out for you these various arguments ever so fully, I should have brought before you but a secondary portion of the testimony which the Ancient Church seemed to me to supply to its own identity with the modern. What was far more striking to me than the ecclesiastical phenomena which I have been drawing out, remarkable as they are, is a subject of investigation which is not of a nature to introduce into a popular lecture; I mean the history of the doctrinal definitions of the Church. It is well known that, though the creed of the Church has been one and the same from the beginning, yet it has been so deeply lodged in her bosom as to be held by individuals more or less implicitly, instead of being delivered from the first in those special statements, or what are called definitions, under which it is now presented to us, and which preclude mistake or ignorance. These definitions, which are but the expression of portions of the one dogma which has ever been received by the Church, are the work of time; they have grown to their present shape and number in the course of eighteen centuries, under the exigency of successive events, such as heresies and the like, and they may of course receive still further additions {395} as time goes on. Now this process of doctrinal development, as you might suppose, is not of an accidental or random character; it is conducted upon laws, as everything else which comes from God; and the study of its laws and of its exhibition, or, in other words, the science and history of the formation of theology, was a subject which had interested me more than anything else from the time I first began to read the Fathers, and which had engaged my attention in a special way. Now it was gradually brought home to me, in the course of my reading, so gradually, that I cannot trace the steps of my conviction, that the decrees of later Councils, or what Anglicans call the Roman corruptions, were but instances of that very same doctrinal law which was to be found in the history of the early Church; and that in the sense in which the dogmatic truth of the prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin may be said, in the lapse of centuries, to have grown upon the consciousness of the faithful, in that same sense did, in the first age, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity also gradually shine out and manifest itself more and more completely before their minds. Here was at once an answer to the objections urged by Anglicans against the present teaching of Rome; and not only an answer to objections, but a positive argument in its favour; for the immutability and uninterrupted action of the laws in question throughout the course of Church history is a plain note of {396} identity between the Catholic Church of the first ages and that which now goes by that name;—just as the argument from the analogy of natural and revealed religion is at once an answer to difficulties in the latter, and a direct proof that Christianity has the same Author as the physical and moral world. But the force of this, to me ineffably cogent argument, I cannot hope to convey to another.
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia applies this analysis to the subject of eucharistic sacrifice:
Harnack is of opinion that the early Church up to the time of Cyprian (d. 258) the
contented itself with the purely spiritual sacrifices of adoration and thanksgiving and that it did not possess the sacrifice of the Mass, as Catholicism now understands it . . . . .
Were this assertion correct, the doctrine of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII, c. ii), according to which in the Mass "the priests offer up, in obedience to the command of
Christ, His Body and Blood" (see Denzinger, "Enchir", n. 949), could hardly take its stand on Apostolic tradition; the bridge between antiquity and the present would thus have broken by the abrupt intrusion of a completely contrary view. An impartial study of the earliest texts seems indeed to make this much clear, that the early Church paid most attention to the spiritual and subjective side of sacrifice and laid chief stress on prayer and thanksgiving in the Eucharistic function.

This admission, however, is not identical with the statement that the early Church rejected out and out the objective sacrifice, and acknowledged as genuine only the
spiritual sacrifice as expressed in the "Eucharistic thanksgiving". That there has been an historical dogmatic development from the indefinite to the definite, from the
implicit to the explicit, from the seed to the fruit, no one familiar with the subject will deny. An assumption so reasonable, the only one in fact consistent with Christianity, is, however, fundamently different from the hypothesis that the Christian idea of
sacrifice has veered from one extreme to the other. This is a priori improbable
and unproved in fact.
Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, writing as a Lutheran (he is now Orthodox) essentially concurs:
The definitive and precise formulation of the crucial doctrinal issues concerning the Eucharist had to await that controversy and others that followed even later. This does not mean at all, however, that the church did not yet have a doctrine of the Eucharist; it does mean that the statements of the doctrine must not be sought in polemical and dogmatic treatises devoted to sacramental theology. It means also that the effort to cross-examine the fathers of the second or third century about where they stood in the controversies of the ninth or sixteenth century is both silly and futile.

. . . As Irenaeus's reference to the Eucharist as "not common bread" indicates, however, this doctrine of the real presence believed by the church and affirmed by its liturgy was closely tied to the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Many of the passages we have already cited concerning the recollection and the real presence spoke also of the sacrifice . . .

. . . Liturgical evidence suggests an understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, whose relation to the sacrifices of the Old Testament was one of archetype to type, and whose relation to the sacrifice of Calvary was one of "re-presentation," just as the bread of the Eucharist "re-presented" the body of Christ.

. . . Great theological refinement was needed before these modes of speaking could be built up into a eucharistic theology; above all, the doctrine of the person of Christ had to be clarified before there could be concepts that could bear the weight of eucharistic teaching.

(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press: 1971, 166-168, 170)


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