Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cyprian on The Eucharistic Sacrifice

In the following passage St. Cyprian contrasts the sacrifice of the ancient mass with the pagan sacrifices:
That religious voice has named the name of Christ, in whom it has once confessed that it believed; those illustrious hands, which had only been accustomed to divine works, have resisted the sacrilegious sacrifices; those lips, sanctified by heavenly food after the body and blood of the Lord, have rejected the profane contacts and the leavings of the idols. - Treatise 3.1
In terms of competing theories on the Eucharist, as far as Cyprian goes, this passage alone rules out cccasionalism/receptionism and certainly memorialism. It is clear that Cyprian could say along with Justin Martyr "not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these". He cannot be speaking of a merely invisible reception of the Body & Blood because he says the Body and Blood have touched lips.

Here again, the sacrificial nature of the Christian liturgy is made explicit by contrasting it with the pagan rites which the oppressors had intended the Christians to forsake their faith by. But if that wasn't enough, he speaks perhaps more clearly in Epistle 62 while demanding that wine be used instead of water as was the illicit practice of some:
Whence it appears that the blood of Christ is not offered if there be no wine in the cup, nor the Lord's sacrifice celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our oblation and sacrifice respond to His passion.
And to Cyprian, this is far from a matter of liturgical preference - this is part of the apostolic deposit of faith. Whereas some think that certain 16th century innovations are what Paul had in mind when he demanded no alteration to the gospel delivered, Cyprian seems to hold the sacrificial Eucharistic cult (and even its particulars such as which elements are to be consecrated) as certain non-negotiable orthopraxy if not the very sine qua non of the gospel.
Since, then, neither the apostle himself nor an angel from heaven can preach or teach any otherwise than Christ has once taught and His apostles have announced, I wonder very much whence has originated this practice, that, contrary to evangelical and apostolical discipline, water is offered in some places in the Lord's cup, which water by itself cannot express the blood of Christ.
Having already demonstrated that Cyprian would clearly reject memorialism, we need only remind ourselves that the sacraments effect what they signify in case anyone would try the tired route of Schaff and other Protestant historians who want only to read their novel theology into the fathers. They say Cyprian means only to say that the wine "expresses the blood of Christ", using this loophole to wholly ignore the remaining passages which clearly prove otherwise. The wine offered is the sign of the Blood and he is arguing that water cannot be an effective sign and therefore cannot be used. This argument certainly does not amount to a reduction of the sacrament to a mere symbol. This is made clearer when we remind ourselves that he routinely refers to the Eucharistic species as the Body or the Blood (not bread or wine) as he does in this moving rhetoric regarding martyrdom:
But how can we shed our blood for Christ, who blush to drink the blood of Christ?
He speaks of bread or wine when it is necessary to speak of the proper elements to be used in the consecration and nothing less should be expected. We Catholics do so until this day. Even after the consecration, we may still, on occasion, refer the the Body and Blood as bread and wine but we do so then only figuratively. See here for more on rejecting memorialism in Cyprian.

In the following passage, he affirms the Bodily Presence in the Eucharist and the need for the Lapsed to be forgiven by a priest before receiving the sacrament:
All these warnings being scorned and contemned,— before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord.
Which demonstrates that for early Christians, absolution of sins was a proper faculty of the Church (which is already clear from earlier authors) but more specifically - by the hand of a priest (confession to a priest can be found even more explicitly in Treatise 3.28-29). Of course, Cyprian would not have allowed a Lapsed Catholic to merely confess to a priest and then receive the Blessed Sacrament - but this is a discussion for another time.

Furthermore, far from memorialism or occasionalism, it is with their "hand and mouth" that they defile the Body and Blood. That is, the Body of Christ cannot be profaned with the unworthy reception of a symbol.

Cyprian goes on to tell of a story of a baby girl who had unwittingly received food offered to idols under the care of a wet nurse. When her mother took her to receive, she refused the Sacrament and upon the deacon's persistence, she did receive and vomited the Body up because "In a profane body and mouth the Eucharist could not remain". This story is not hearsay, Cyprian himself was an eyewitness. He continues (take note of what the third century Bishop of Carthage thinks is happening during the sacred liturgy):
This much about an infant, which was not yet of an age to speak of the crime committed by others in respect of herself. But the woman who in advanced life and of more mature age secretly crept in among us when we were sacrificing, received not food, but a sword for herself.

...
And when one, who himself was defiled, dared with the rest to receive secretly a part of the sacrifice celebrated by the priest; he could not eat nor handle the holy of the Lord, but found in his hands when opened that he had a cinder.
Although sacrificial language regarding the sacred liturgy is by no means introduced here by Cyprian (i.e. it can be found in the earlier fathers), Cyprian makes this central tenant of the Christian faith more explicit than any of his predecessors. It is no surprise then that while the fathers before him had already affirmed the Church's Christ-given right to absolve sins, it is Cyprian who clarifies this charism especially in connection with the priestly vocation of the Catholic clergy. And for Cyprian, nothing is more central here than the Eucharist.

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