Wednesday, February 21, 2007

St. Ignatius on the Real Presence

This is the final post in my mini-series on St. Ignatius of Antioch. I have attempted to establish a mindset of St. Ignatius through examining his writings in Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4.

To summarize, St. Ignatius views the Christian world in a clearly dichotomous fashion. (He is not an anomaly among the Church fathers of his time) There are two ways: one of orthodoxy, apostolic authority and nourishment and the other of heresy, individualism and poison.

All of his writings (I suggest) can best be understood through this lens. In his mind, the issues I have discussed from his writings (Church hierarchy, Christian unity and now the Real Presence) are all inseparably linked to this dichotomous world view. It is scarcely possible to have one without the other.

So while schismatics may today assert "well I believe in the Real Presence but I don't believe in Apostolic Succession". St. Ignatius would doubtlessly return a perplexed look at best. It's impossible to separate the two. We know the Real Presence is true because the Apostolic fathers unanimously affirmed it. We know that Church hierarchy is of God because the apostles themselves instituted it and their direct successors (like St. Ignatius) repeatedly stressed its importance. Therefore we know anyone who denies the hierarchy also denies the Apostolic truth. Anyone who denies Apostolic Succession also denies the Real Presence. Anyone who denies any of this, denies history.

To the Trallians:
For, since you are subject to the bishop as to in like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.
I have shown clearly, that St. Ignatius holds this sort of view. Whether its true or not, you can decide for yourself, but this early martyr and disciple of St. John undoubtedly viewed the early Christian world as such. Keep that in mind as we discuss the Real Presence.
To the Ephesians:
Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.
Again, this issue is inseparably linked with the idea of unity, and visible Church structure. He uses "the altar" as an image of the one true Church. If you are not in communion with that Church, you do not have the bread of God. This was a very real and tangible concept to his audience. There really was one visible Church started by the apostles. The last of them had only recently died off (possibly within a decade of this epistle). If you didn't belong and adhere to the Catholic Church, you were deprived of the bread of God which Jesus spoke of in John chapter 6. The alternative to the Apostolic Church, was schism / heresy / individualism. Such Christians were 'deceiving themselves'. This isn't so different from our present situation. In fact, not different at all.
Later in the same epistle: that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality,
Once again he links the Blessed Sacrament with his dichotomous world view.

Obedience = Unity = Christ (Real Presence)
Disobedience = Schism = Poison (Heresy)

And not only that, but he also affirms that the importance of the Bread of Life is immortality. This is in direct accord with what Christ said:
This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.


Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, 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 real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.
St. Ignatius, like all early Church fathers (and even the original reformers) believed in the Real Presence as taught by Christ, Scripture & the Apostles. There's really no way around that. Now if you read the discourse in John 6, Jesus speaks of faith as a necessary and salvific component of this whole mystery. St. Ignatius concurs.
Jesus (From John 6):
For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
St. Ignatius to the Trallians:
For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found.
I left St. Ignatius' quote in context to show that this isn't a plug for sola fide, but rather a de fide sandwhich. That is, by faith we are saved (as according to Scripture and Catholic dogma) but not by faith alone. Examine St. Ignatius in his context and see how he also exhorts obedience to the Apostolic hierarchy of the Church. Obedience to the Church cannot coexist with sola fide since the Church has always rejected that doctrine. Furthermore, we know from the quotes above that St. Ignatius considers the Eucharist to be 'the medicine of immortality'.

As for Christ, He also spoke of several things (not just faith) which lead to immortality in the John 6 discourse. It would be a grave error to reduce His teaching to that one point.

Moving right along, is it a mere coincidence that St. Ignatius wrote the following oft quoted passage to the church at Rome?
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.
And in my previous post on Christian unity, I explained that I had removed the following quote from it's context because we were not yet examining the doctrine of the Real Presence. Just be aware of (again) how interconnected this teaching is with his exhortations to unity and obedience (as if the quote itself weren't self sufficient).
To the Philadelphians:
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.
Why do we have Church hierarchy? To ensure that we do the will of God! How important is the Eucharist, how important is unity, how important is obedience to Apostolic authority? St. Ignatius considered it of utmost importance. That is why he has stressed all three repeatedly. There is only one way and only one Church.
And finally to the Smyrnaeans:
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
And so it is clear that some denied the Real Presence even in those days. It was a very hard teaching (it still is). When Jesus spoke openly about it, many of His disciples left. Here, St. Ignatius lumps those who deny the Real Presence in with the heretics and schismatics; those outside the one holy Catholic & apostolic Church. Do you see where I'm going with this?

And one final point that it is unrelated to the Real Presence but is yet one more agreement with exclusively orthodox tradition; from his martyrdom (considered by even Protestant scholars to be authentic):
Having ourselves been eye-witnesses of these things, and having spent the whole night in tears within the house, and having entreated the Lord, with bended knees and much prayer, that He would give us weak men full assurance respecting the things which were done, it came to pass, on our falling into a brief slumber, that some of us saw the blessed Ignatius suddenly standing by us and embracing us, while others beheld him again praying for us, and others still saw him dropping with sweat, as if he had just come from his great labour, and standing by the Lord.
The early Christians had visions of Saint Ignatius praying for them after his earthly death! I hope this mini-series has been of some use.


Tiber Jumper said...

great series GFF the connection between apostolicity and the real presence was neat and irrefutable (at least as we see it)

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for the comments. Yea I have a sneaking suspicion that you may be a tad biased!

Brian Culliton said...

Did the early church fathers of the earliest centuries believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

Check out my article at:

Tim A. Troutman said...

I read it (most of it). To be honest though it's not very convincing.

But anyway, even if all of those early Church fathers thought it should be taken in a non-literal sense I would still believe in The Real Presence as Jesus Himself explicitly said it was to be taken literally.

Neither you nor the early Church fathers nor even the pope have the authority to reverse Christ's words. The Catholic Church claims for herself the least authority of any branch of Christianity. We do not presume to have the authority to change the doctrines of Christ and the apostles. Peace.