Justin Martyr And The “Real Presence Doctrine”

 Of Justin’s extant writings, three are referenced here: the first and second portions of his apology written to Emperor Antoninus (138-161), referenced as first apology and second apology, and Justin’s Dialog with Trypho the Jew.  

In Justin’s first apology, he gives a rather detailed description of the celebration of the eucharist for the purpose of contrasting it with certain pagan distortions of truth. 

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.  And this food is called among us eukaristia [the eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (First Apology, 65-66)

Earlier in his apology Justin defended against accusations that Christians partake of human flesh and blood.  Here, in his description of the eucharist, he is making it clear that Christians do not partake of flesh and blood in any carnal way, but rather bread and wine mixed with water: “to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water.”  Justin then asserted that though Christians partake of bread and wine, it is not common bread or common wine, but that the bread and wine are connected to Christ who became incarnate and was sacrificed at Calvary for those who believe.  This food, i.e. bread and wine mixed with water, which by transmutation nourishes the body, is what the Christians call the flesh and blood of Christ.  The accusations that Christians partake of human flesh and blood are, therefore, refuted by Justin. 

Justin gives an example of what the pagan government did tolerate and even honor, while persecuting Christians for what appeared to them to be a similar behavior.  Among them were certain men who performed evil magic and were honored and revered by the pagan leaders.  Justin even names some of these men: a Samaritan named Simon for whom they erected a statue in his honor with the inscription, “To Simon the holy God.”  Another was Meander, a disciple of Simon who persuaded his followers that they would never die.  And also someone much more familiar to us today, Marcion, who, among other heresies, denied that God was the creator of the universe.

All these, Justin explained, are called Christians.  But only the true Christians who hold the apostolic teachings are persecuted by the authorities.  And in summing this up, Justin wrote:

And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds–the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh–we know not; but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions.” (ibid, 26)

To put it in context, Justin first referred to the eating of human flesh a shameful deed; then he explained that the eucharist celebration does not involve consuming human flesh in any way.  The bread and wine mixed with water are symbolically the body and blood of Christ.  The accusation that Christians ate human flesh was used to persecute Christians, while others who may have actually done that were not persecuted.  The purpose of Justin’s explanation of the eucharist was to counter the accusation that Christians ate human flesh.

Justin continues to make his point in his second apology.  Here Justin shows that feasting on human flesh is contrary to the Christian mindset. 

For what sensual or intemperate man, or who that counts it good to feast on human flesh, could welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments, and would not rather continue always the present life, and attempt to escape the observation of the rulers; and much less would he denounce himself when the consequence would be death? This also the wicked demons have now caused to be done by evil men. For having put some to death on account of the accusations falsely brought against us, they also dragged to the torture our domestics, either children or weak women, and by dreadful torments forced them to admit those fabulous actions which they themselves openly perpetrate; about which we are the less concerned, because none of these actions are really ours, and we have the unbegotten and ineffable God as witness both of our thoughts and deeds.” (2nd Apology, Chapter 12)

Justin thoroughly refuted the claim that the eucharist is literally flesh and blood in his apologies.  In a debate with a Jew named Trypho, Justin deals directly with the eucharist as he did in his first apology.  To Trypho he wrote about many Old Testament types and how they pointed to Christ and His church.  With regards to the eucharist, he said:

And the offering of fine flour, sirs, ‘I said,’ which was prescribed to be presented on behalf of those purified from leprosy, was a type of the bread of the eucharist, the celebration of which our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed, in remembrance of the suffering which He endured on behalf of those who are purified in soul from all iniquity, in order that we may at the same time thank God for having created the world, with all things therein, for the sake of man, and for delivering us from the evil in which we were, and for utterly overthrowing principalities and powers by Him who suffered according to His will.”

This is the very definition of the eucharist – a celebration of the remembrance of the Lord’s passion in which Christians offer thanks and prayer.  The offering of fine flour was part of what the cleansed leper was required to offer.  Justin tells Trypho that this offering was a type of the bread of the eucharist.  He goes on to explain what the bread of the eucharist represents, thus by similarity, what the fine flour presented by the leper represented.

The bread represents what Jesus offered in the past, that is, His suffering flesh, which He endured for the sake of those who believe on Him.  According to Justin, the fine flour presented by the leper pointed forward to the same thing.  But the Catholic Encyclopedia does not agree.  Under the topic of “The Sacrifice of the Mass,” they say this:

A heated controversy had raged round the conception of Justin Martyr (d. 166) from the fact that in his “Dialogue with Tryphon” (c. 117) he characterizes “prayer and thanksgiving” (euchai kai eucharistiai) as the “one perfect sacrifice acceptable to God” (teleiai monai kai euarestoi thysiai).” [i]

Unwilling to accept Justin’s definition, the Catholic encyclopedia continues with an objection: “Did he intend by thus emphasizing the interior spiritual sacrifice to exclude the exterior real sacrifice of the eucharist? Clearly he did not, for in the same “Dialogue” (c. 41) he says the “food offering” of the lepers, assuredly a real gift offering (cf. Leviticus 14), was a figure (typos) of the bread of the eucharist, which Jesus commanded to be offered (poiein) in commemoration of His sufferings.

The problem with this reasoning is Jesus never commanded the bread to be offered, but rather taken or received (lambano); “Take, eat, this is My body.”  He then commanded His disciples to do this (poiein) in remembrance of Him; that is, to break bread in remembrance of Him and offer the sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving, not offer the bread as a sacrifice.  The encyclopedia article continues to become more desperate as it goes on:

He [Justin] then goes on: ‘of the sacrifices which you (the Jews) formerly offered, God through Malachias said: ‘I have no pleasure, etc’. By the sacrifices (thysion), however, which we Gentiles present to Him in every place, that is (toutesti) of the bread of eucharist and likewise of the chalice eucharist, he then said that we glorify his name, while you dishonour him.’ Here ‘bread and chalice’ are by the use of toutesti clearly included as objective gift offerings in the idea of the Christian sacrifice.”

You know you are in trouble when you have to resort to defining common Greek words like toutesti (that is).  Perhaps the Catholic quire will believe it, but certainly not anyone seeking the truth.  Justin continues to develop his point as the dialog progresses.  Justin makes his point even more clear in chapter 70 where he connects a prophecy of Isaiah with the eucharist.

They [the words of Isaiah] are these: ‘Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; those that are near shall know my might. The sinners in Zion are removed; trembling shall seize the impious. Who shall announce to you the everlasting place? The man who walks in righteousness, speaks in the right way, hates sin and unrighteousness, and keeps his hands pure from bribes, stops the ears from hearing the unjust judgment of blood closes the eyes from seeing unrighteousness: he shall dwell in the lofty cave of the strong rock. Bread shall be given to him, and his water[shall be] sure. Ye shall see the King with glory, and your eyes shall look far off. Your soul shall pursue diligently the fear of the Lord. Where is the scribe? where are the counselors? where is he that numbers those who are nourished,–the small and great people? with whom they did not take counsel, nor knew the depth of the voices, so that they heard not. The people who are become depreciated, and there is no understanding in him who hears.’ Now it is evident, that in this prophecy[allusion is made] to the bread which our Christ gave us to eat, in remembrance of His being made flesh for the sake of His believers, for whom also He suffered; and to the cup which He gave us to drink, in remembrance of His own blood, with giving of thanks.”

Justin explicitly stated that bread (not the flesh) is given by Christ in remembrance of His flesh, and that the cup is in remembrance ofnot is – His own blood.  If Justin believed in transubstantiation i.e. the real presence, he would have certainly stated it here, instead he refutes it. 

In ending his exhortation to Trypho on the subject of sacrifice, Justin affirmed the definition of true Christian sacrifice in this statement:

Ezekiel says, ‘There shall be no other prince in the house but He.’ For He is the chosen Priest and eternal King, the Christ, inasmuch as He is the Son of God; and do not suppose that Isaiah or the other prophets speak of sacrifices of blood or libations being presented at the altar on His second advent, but of true and spiritual praises and giving of thanks.” (ibid, chapter 118)

Truly it is as Justin said, “giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God.” (ibid, chapter 117)


[i] Catholic Encyclopedia; Sacrifice of the Mass

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2 Responses to Justin Martyr And The “Real Presence Doctrine”

  1. Athelstan says:

    The real presence and transubstantiation are later expressions virtually foreign to neo-Platonic writings of the second century. They simply aren’t employed by the early church fathers, nor do they use the Cranmerian concept of sacrifice as simplsimply being the sacrifice of our prayers. Evangelicals are simply too quick to make Justin into a Zwinglian or a Calvinist. What is significant is not the use of “real presence”, but the idea of “change”.

    Justin does believe in the transformed bread and wine which is commonly attested to by virtually all of the early church writers. Have you read,

    “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by THE CHANGE of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

  2. onefold says:

    The article and others like it on this blog have nothing to do with the “expressions,” but rather the context of what they believed or did not believe. No early church father of the pre-Nicea era provide in their writings even a hint that they believed the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ. Never will you find in those writings the Eucharist being worshiped as it is in the Catholic Church today.

    This article on Justin Martyr was taken from a larger article that also appears on this blog. The parent article, “Early Church Evidence Refutes Real Presence,” explores other early church works regarding what they taught with respect to what is called the “real presence doctrine.”

    The quote you supplied in your comment is indeed in the article, but yours is obviously from a different editor. “The change” you are referring to is “transmutation.” Justin is referring to how the bread is absorbed into the body to give nourishment. Here is the portion of the article that follows the quote:

    Earlier in his apology Justin defended against accusations that Christians partake of human flesh and blood. Here, in his description of the eucharist, he is making it clear that Christians do not partake of flesh and blood in any carnal way, but rather bread and wine mixed with water: “to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water.“ Justin then asserted that though Christians partake of bread and wine, it is not common bread or common wine, but that the bread and wine are connected to Christ who became incarnate and was sacrificed at Calvary for those who believe. This food, i.e. bread and wine mixed with water, which by transmutation nourishes the body, is what the Christians call [or is to the Christians] the flesh and blood of Christ. The accusations that Christians partake of human flesh and blood are, therefore, refuted by Justin.

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