Dr Joe Mizzi on Ignatius and Transubstantiation

Dr Joe Mizzi has an interesting article (link to article) on the church fathers and transubstantiation, which includes the following:


Ignatius argued against the Gnostic Docetists. They denied the true physical existence of our Lord; thus they also denied his death and resurrection. Ignatius wrote:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.

The problem with the Gnostics concerned the person of Christ and not the nature of the Eucharist. The heretics did not participate in the Eucharist because they did not believe in what the Eucharist represents, namely the true, physical flesh of Jesus, who actually and really suffered on the cross, and who was really resurrected from the dead.

We do not have to take the phrase “the Eucharist is the flesh” in a literalistic manner. As in everyday speech, as well as in the Bible, it could simply mean that the Eucharist represents the flesh of Christ. To illustrate, take a similar argument by Tertullian. He is also using the Eucharist to combat Docetism:

Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, “This is my body,” that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body (Against Marcion, Bk 4).

Tertullian is even more emphatic than Ignatius. He says that Jesus made the bread his own body. But unlike Ignatius, Tertullian goes on to clarify what he meant. Rather than saying that the bread ceases to exist, he calls it the “the figure” of the body of Christ and maintains a clear distinction between the figure and what it represents, namely the “veritable body” of our Lord.

Mizzi is right. Ignatius was arguing against the Docetists, who denied that Jesus had flesh, who denied that he suffered, and denied that he was raised to life (because they denied he died). They said he only “seemed” to be a man. This explains, therefore, why they abstain from the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is a memorial specifically of Jesus body and blood.


One Response to “Dr Joe Mizzi on Ignatius and Transubstantiation”

  1. Byzas Says:

    Let's see. Firstly ignore all the ancient liturgies and anaphoras when discussing the Eucharist. Why bother looking at how groups understood the Eucharist in their collective worship when you can rely on random Patristic quotes.

    Secondly, Mizzi states “Some church fathers believed in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist; others considered the elements as signs of the body and blood of Christ, and that His presence is spiritual.” which basically admits the 'Real Presence' is an ancient belief.

    I agree that Transubstantiantion is not ancient but that does not follow that any of the Fathers support the modern Reformed understanding. Some Fathers use the word 'figure' as they acknowledge that the Eucharist is not the actual body of Jesus while others use more physical language but, in reality, they mean the same thing. Many Fathers use both types of language in their works. For example Augustine is often claimed as following a 'figurative' understanding but a look at his rather extensive corpus shows him using plenty of 'realistic' language for the Eucharist. It is another weak attempt by Protestants to make out that the Patristic consensus is divided so they can feel good about themselves.

    Looking at Ignatius his argument against the Docetists is pointless unless the Eucharist is 'Real'. You have him saying 'Hey Gnostics, you deny that Jesus had a physical body but check out this bread, it's totally ordinary bread but it makes a great metaphor. That will teach you!' As Ignatius calls the Eucharist the 'medicine of immortality' (a quote that Mizzi has conveniently failed to mention) he certainly thinks highly of the Eucharist, beyond some mundane memorial that is typical in most Evangelical and Reformed Churches.

    Calvin did have some 'spiritual' understanding of the Eucharist but, from what I have seen, the majority of Reformed Churches have adopted the Zwinglian approach.

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