jump to navigation

In Defense of the Real Presence October 29, 2006

Posted by Seraphim in Eucharist.

I believe, o Lord, and I confess, that this is truly thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly thine own precious Blood…
–A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

Christ is in our midst!

Perhaps one of the most hotly debated and contentious issues amongst the various denominations is the question of the Eucharist: Is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a mere commemoration, or do the bread and wine really and truly become Christ’s Body and Blood? The ramifications of either view are immense. If the bread and wine remain bread and wine, then the Catholics, Orthodox, etc., err gravely and assign an incredible and undue veneration to material things that really ought not thus be venerated. On the other hand, if the ancient churches are correct in their interpretation, those who deny the Real Presence may well be placing their souls in grave danger. My object is to establish Christ’s undeniable presence in the Eucharist.

It behooves us to begin with Scripture, most of which is ground common to all who confess faith in Christ. What does Christ Himself have to say about Eucharist? Let us attend to the sixth chapter of John, in proper context, as is our custom:

When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

Now, what is “the food which endures to everlasting life?” Protestants would say it’s salvation, spiritual edification, etc.; Orthodox would say it’s Eucharist. Let us continue…

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

So, Christ is the Bread of God. Again, one side would say this is purely figurative, and another would say it has a much more literal meaning.

Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…”

Third reference to Christ’s identity as the Bread.

The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus therefore answered and said to them… “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

He who eats of Christ’s flesh shall not die. Now, the Protestants generally argue for a common-sense interpretation of the Bible, i.e., the most obvious interpretation is the correct one (no twisting of the words to say what you want it to say). The obvious interpretation of this passage is that those who eat Christ’s flesh will have eternal life, and that this is phrased in a context of eating bread. Now, I think everyone who reads this passage will agree on this, though there would be considerable debate as to what eating Christ entails.

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Shades of modern Protestantism? “With man this is not possible; but with God all things are possible.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven–not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

Here’s the real essence of the passage, black and white, plain as day. Given the context of the words spoken at the Last Supper, would not the logical interpretation seem to be Eucharistic in nature? The only way the Protestants can deal with this passage is to explain it away as an allegory for faith or reading the Bible or some such, but Christ has not talked a bit about eating as referential to faith or any such thing. Christ talks about the Israelites eating manna, which was a concrete, physical act, and contrasts it to the consumption of His flesh, which, in the context, would also appear to be a concrete, physical act. Again, the most open, obvious interpretation backs the Orthodox position, and the only way around it is to stretch the Scripture and twist it to conform to not a straight, objective reading of the text, but rather, so that it holds to the preexisting belief and notion.

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”

To no one’s surprise, a lot of people didn’t really like what Christ had to say. They didn’t want to believe they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to obtain immortal life. Now, note what Christ says: What if He were to return to heaven? It is the Spirit giving life, not his incarnate flesh. The Protestant interpretation is that Christ is basically negating all he said before and laughing it off as a non-literal metaphorical trick of words. The Orthodox interpretation is that Christ was saying the disciples where not to eat Him right then and there, but rather, to consume His spiritual gifts after such time as he returned to the right hand of the Father.

Now, having read all of this, how does the Last Supper relate?

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

First we hear “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me,” and then we see Christ take bread and wine and say, “Take, eat,” and “drink,” for “This is My body,” and “This is My blood.” Note the very specific correlation. We know God isn’t the author of confusion… so again, the logical inference is that the Eucharist is indeed Christ’s Body and Blood. If Christ had wanted to make a point about eating without causing any doubt that he was talking about the Eucharist, he could have, in John, simply said he was the Lamb of God and whoever ate His flesh would have life. Then there wouldn’t be any body/blood confusion, would there?

So, we now have a thesis. The Lord’s Supper does indeed consist of the true Body and Blood, mysteriously and sacramentally. If this is true, we would expect to find it confirmed elsewhere in Scripture, perhaps during an account of the Early Church… in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, let’s say, in the eleventh chapter…

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:

Important note: God-breathed doctrine ahead.

That the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

This is the sole communal ritual of worship mentioned as Christian practice in the New Testament… and it’s a reenactment of the Last Supper. Again, it’s emphasized that Christ said the bread and wine were His Body and Blood.

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

There it is, black and white, plain as day! If you partake of the Eucharist unworthily, you’ve sinned against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Why would it be that specific sin were the Eucharist not truly the Body and Blood? It wouldn’t, of course… and therefore we conclude the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Again! He who partakes of the Eucharist unworthily sins because he does not properly respect the Body of Christ. The only conceivable reason this would be so is because the Eucharist is really and truly Christ Himself, mysteriously present among us when we partake.

For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

“Sleep” (koimáo) in this case is a reference to death. It is used six times in 1 Corinthians, and every time as a euphemism for death. In the Early Church, therefore, those who partook unworthily of the Eucharist sickened and occasionally even died. Given the overwhelming evidence in favour of the Real Presence, this makes perfect sense; on the other side, it would be highly illogical for God to smite those partaking of a completely spiritually unnecessary symbol, if indeed it’s possible to partake of such a symbol in a manner sufficiently unworthy to provoke God’s ire. St. Paul puts it very succinctly in the preceding chapter:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

So here we have a compact, but complete Biblical proof of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Let’s go a step further, though to confirm our thesis even more solidly, and see if this belief is confirmed in the early Church. St. Ignatius, third bishop of Antioch, writing in Apostolic times, speaks out against a heresy plaguing the Church:

Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox [heretics] in regard to the grace of God which has come to us… They abstain from the Eucharist… because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.

A fairly clear-cut admission, would you not say? Quite interesting that one of the greatest early martyrs would consider Protestants out-and-out heretics, contrary to the mind of God. I don’t think I need do more than mention that the Church, for the first one thousand five hundred years of its history, universally held to the doctrine of the Real Presence.

Scripture alone supports the Real Presence. Tradition alone supports the Real Presence. Christ alone comes amongst us in the form of Eucharist.

Christ truly is in our midst. Let us rejoice and receive His Body.

In Joy,