ECFs vs. WCF
Before we go any further in our series on the Eucharist, there’re a couple things I’d like to say. First, enough with the jumping from the theological or exegetical point under discussion to the whole throw-everything-at-the-Catholic-Church-but-the-kitchen-sink tactic, as if an appeal to lesbian nuns discredits the idea that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Last I checked, guitars have room for more than one string, but if all you want to talk about is liberalism, feel free to do it in a thread on that topic rather than here.
Secondofly, the classical Protestant position on the Eucharist is that their view comports with the views of the early church fathers, and it was the medieval Catholic Church that imported all the magic, priestcraft, and sacrificial overstatement. This post is intended to call that idea into question. Off we go, then. . . .
Protestant church historian J.N.D. Kelly:
[In the early church] the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice.… Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have “a pure offering” made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist.…
It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, “Do this” (touto poieite ), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, “Offer this.” … The bread and wine, moreover, are offered “for a memorial (eis anamnasin ) of the passion,” a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection (Early Christian Doctrines, 196–97).
Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid profaning your sacrifice [Mt 5:23–24]. For this is the offering of which the Lord said, “Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations”[Mal 1:11, 14] [Didache 14 (c. A.D. 50)].
St. Clement of Rome:
Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release [Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 (A.D. 70)].
St. Ignatius of Antioch:
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 [Letter to the Philadelphians 4 (c. A.D. 110)].
St. Justin Martyr:
Hence God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands: for, from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering: for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord: but you profane it” [Mal 1:10–12]. [So] he then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist [Dialogue with Trypho 41 (c. A.D. 155)].
St. Irenaeus of Lyon:
He took from among creation bread, and gave thanks, saying, “This is my body.” The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: “You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty” [Mal 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles [Against Heresies 4:17:5 (c. A.D. 189)].
St. Cyprian of Carthage:
For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates what Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ himself to have offered [Letters 62:14 (A.D. 253)].
St. Serapion of Thmuis:
Accept therewith our hallowing too, as we say, “Holy, holy, holy Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” Heaven is full, and full is the earth, with your magnificent glory, Lord of virtues. Full also is this sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to you we offer this living sacrifice, this unbloody oblation [Sacramentary of Serapion 13:3 (c. A.D. 350)].
St. Cyril of Jerusalem:
Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth his Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before him; that he may make the bread the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ; for whatever the Holy Spirit has touched is surely sanctified and changed. Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succor we all pray and offer this sacrifice [Catechetical Lectures 23:7–8 (c. A.D. 350)].
St. Gregory of Nazianz:
[C]ease not both to pray and to plead for me when you draw down the Word by your word, when with a bloodless cutting you sever the body and blood of the Lord, using your voice for the sword [Letter to Amphilochius 171 (c. A.D. 383)].
St. Ambrose of Milan:
We saw the prince of priests coming to us, we saw and heard him offering his blood for us. We follow, because we are able, being priests, and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. Even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. Even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is he himself who is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer himself he is made visible in us, he whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered [Commentaries on Twelve Psalms of David 38:25 (c. A.D. 389)].
St. John Chrysostom:
For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, immediately translated to heaven? [The Priesthood 3:4 (c. A.D. 388)].
Reverence now, oh reverence, this table of which we all are partakers! [1 Cor 10:16–18.] Christ, who was slain for us, the victim who is placed thereon! [Homilies on Romans 8 (c. A.D. 391)].
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?” Very persuasively spoke he, and awfully. For what he says is this: “This that is in the cup is what flowed from his side, and of that do we partake.” But he called it a cup of blessing, because holding it in our hands, we so exalt him in our hymn, wondering, astonished at his unspeakable gift, blessing him, among other things, for the pouring out of this self-same draught that we might not abide in error: and not only for the pouring it out, but also for imparting it to us all. “Wherefore if you desire blood,” says he, “redden not the altar of idols with the slaughter of brute beasts, but my altar with my blood.” Tell me, what can be more tremendous than this? [Homilies on First Corinthians 24:3 (c. A.D. 392)].
And in the old covenant, because they were in an imperfect state, the blood they used to offer to idols he himself submitted to receive, that he might separate them from those idols; which was a proof of his unspeakable affection: but here he transferred the service to what is far more awful and glorious, changing the very sacrifice itself, and instead of the slaughter of irrational creatures, commanding to offer up himself [ibid.].
What then? Do not we offer every day? We offer indeed, but making a remembrance of his death, and this [remembrance] is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because that [sacrifice] was once for all offered, [and] carried into the holy of holies. This is a figure of that [sacrifice] and a remembrance. For we always offer the same, not one sheep now and tomorrow another, but always the same thing: so that the sacrifice is one. And yet by this reasoning, since the offering is made in many places, are there many Christs? But Christ is one everywhere, being complete here and complete there also, one body. Even while offered in many places, he is one body and not many bodies; so also [he is] one sacrifice [Homilies on Hebrews 17:6 (c. A.D. 403)].
St. Augustine of Hippo:
Was not Christ once for all offered up in his own person as a sacrifice? And yet, is he not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations; so that the man who, being questioned, answers that he is offered as a sacrifice in that ordinance, declares what is strictly true? [Letters 98:9 (A.D. 408)].
For when he says in another book, which is called Ecclesiastes, “There is no good for a man except that he should eat and drink” [Qo 2:24], what can he be more credibly understood to say [prophetically] than what belongs to the participation of this table, which the mediator of the New Testament himself, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, furnishes with his own body and blood? For that sacrifice has succeeded all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were slain as a shadow of what was to come.… Because, instead of all these sacrifices and oblations, his body is offered and is served up to the partakers of it [City of God 17:20 (c. A.D. 419)].
Rather than list all of the (many) affirmations here that Protestants cannot accept, I’ll just cite from the most robust and mature expression of Reformation theology, the Westminster Confession of Faith:
In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect (xxix.2).
“Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all “! Talk about a statement that no church father cited would have recognized as orthodox!
According to the doctrinal standard of confessional Presbyterianism, there is no sense whatsoever in which Christ of offered to his Father or the Eucharist is a real sacrifice. Instead, it is a commemoration only of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. And let it be understood that from the standpoint of Reformed ecclesiology, no private statement of any theologian carries binding weight, for while the writings, theology texts, and commentaries of theologians are considered important, it is to the confessions and catechisms of Reformed churches that ministers in those churches are bound.
I consider it beyond dispute, therefore, that even if the Reformed view of Communion is correct, unless the one holding it can affirm that in the Eucharist (1) a priest (2) offers up to God (3) an unbloody true sacrifice (4) that is propitiatory in nature, then his position is not only fundamentally different from the one held by the church fathers, it is in direct opposition to it.