I was recently made aware of a website called, Called to Communion,” in particular to an article written by a gentleman named, Tim Troutman. The article is titled, “The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation.” Mr. Troutman’s objective was to prove that the early church fathers affirm a change in substance of the elements of the Eucharist into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, though admitting that it is not expressly stated in any patristic source.
In his introduction he points to a type of evidence which he states is a “simple identification of the consecrated species with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.” He goes on to explain, “Because unconsecrated bread is not called the Body, and consecrated is called the Body, this directly implies a belief that a supernatural change has taken place at the point of consecration.” It seems much could be implied from approaching the early church works from this viewpoint. I would say it implies that they referred to it as the Lord’s body and blood simply because the Lord Himself did, and for no other reason than that. In fact, we will see from the first quote used by Mr. Troutman, that this is exactly what we find. But Mr. Troutman’s first claim is the most important; the claim that the early church fathers affirmed a change in the elements.
Mr. Troutman is careful not to identify any supposed change with anything too specific. In fact, the first section of his article begins with a disclaimer:
“Any given Church father could no sooner express this doctrine precisely in its developed form than could any given ante-Nicene father express the Niceno-Constantinoplitan doctrine of the Trinity.”
He admits that the doctrine of transubstantiation did not exist in the early church, so he will attempt to show snippets from the patristic works that he believes demonstrates a belief in what will later be defined as transubstantiation. With the understanding that the evidence is weak, he begins by appealing to the notion that the doctrine of the Trinity was not fully developed until 325 A.D., yet evidence that it was believed prior to Nicea are found in the ante-Nicene church writings and the New Testament. Since Protestants accept the doctrine of the Trinity, it is logical to Mr. Troutman that if its development from a cloudy understanding to a well-defined dogma can be accepted by Protestants, by similarity the doctrine of transubstantiation ought to be accepted as well – notwithstanding the simple fact that the doctrine of transubstantiation was not defined until the council of Trent in the sixteenth century.
The Nicene Creed as it relates to the Trinity is ultimately derived from Scripture. The Ante-Nicene church had a firm biblical understanding of the Trinity, which was expressed on many occasions and in many ways. This is admitted by Mr. Troutman, but with an added qualifier.
“The Nicene doctrine of the Trinity can be detected not only in the early Christian writings and in the New Testament, it is an unavoidable development. That is, anything other than the Niceno-Constantinopolitan doctrine of the Trinity would be contrary to the Tradition of the church.” (Emphasis added)
It’s true that the doctrine was never before expressed exactly the way it was at Nicea, but the Nicene expression of the Trinity offers us nothing new in terms of how it was understood. If the Creed can be detected in the ante-Nicene fathers and the New Testament, not just in part but in whole, then how can it be said that the doctrine developed? The fact is the doctrine did not develop; it was merely expressed in a particular way at Nicea. The wording of the Nicene Creed was the result of careful collaboration and a conscience effort to define Christ to the Arians; no such collaboration was implemented in any patristic work.
Out of the gate, Mr. Troutman misdefined what Biblical Christians believe about the development of the Trinity. The only thing that developed was the term Trinity; the doctrine is clearly defined in Scripture and expressed clearly on several occasions in the ante-Nicene writings. Even the term Trinity itself appeared long before Nicea. It first appeared in a work by Tertullian at the turn of the third century – 100 years before Nicea.
In a very concise way, Mr. Troutman managed to put many of his readers in the “right” frame of mind. Before ever seeing the evidence he presents, many of his readers will already be preconditioned to accept weak evidence based on ideas that are not historically accurate. Those who are incisive will see the red flag being raised in his introduction, but many more will be lead into the snare of revisionist history and persuasive conjecture.
The first two bits of evidence offered by Mr. Troutman are quotes from the Roman Catholic era and thus have nothing to do with patristic evidence. However, his statement leading into the evidence is meant to influence his readers to believe an entirely false assumption. Here is what he said:
“But the fathers spoke of the bread differently after the consecration. They referred to it as “the Body” which is compatible only with a substantial change. Therefore, when the fathers spoke of a change in the Eucharist, they were speaking of a substantial change. Since Transubstantiation simply means “substantial change,” they were speaking of what we now call Transubstantiation.” (Emphasis added)
This is entirely false. The bread was also referred to as “bread” after consecration. This is certainly not compatible with substantial change, in fact, it is consistent with no change at all. And the body of believers was referred to as “His body” without any supposition of a change of substance in them. So why would Mr. Troutman expect his readers to accept the notion of change of substance on the basis of what the bread is called? And if we consider the New Testament narrative of the last Supper, we find that Jesus referred to the cup as His blood, but then afterword referred to it as the fruit of the vine. According to Mr. Troutman’s logic, the fruit of the vine experienced a change of substance to blood then back to the fruit of the vine. I don’t think anyone believes that happened, so the logic fails the test to say the least.
Mr. Troutman begins his patristic support by quoting the second century Christian philosopher, Justin Martyr.
“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 (transmutation) of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus. – St. Justin Martyr First Apology 66” (As it appears in the article)
The quote above has been edited for Catholic readers and does not capture the true essence of what Justin Martyr was saying. Here is the quote again from a direct translation by a historical scholar:
“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.” (Schaff)
I highlighted the same section of the quote as Mr. Troutman’s and the difference is astounding. In Mr. Troutman’s quote it appears as though Justin Martyr is saying a change takes place in the food after the prayer, but in the actual translation no such implication exists.
In context, Justin had just explained a typical Christian gathering where he described communion. He then announced that the food of communion is called “Eucharist,” which when directly translated means, “Thanksgiving.” So to associate the word Thanksgiving with the prayer is perfectly fine, but to say the food is “made into” the Thanksgiving, as if to say its substance changed, makes no sense. Americans celebrate a Thanksgiving every November, but the food is the feast; it is not changed into Thanksgiving. Likewise Justin did not imply that the food was changed into anything, but rather that it becomes sanctified and holy because of its purpose.
If Mr. Troutman had expanded the quote just one more sentence, his readers could have at least seen the purpose of the Eucharist Justin was explaining.
“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.”
We must keep in mind that Justin was writing to a pagan emperor who was not familiar with Christian doctrine. Had Justin not continued with the above explanation, his saying that we have been taught that the food is the flesh and blood of Christ, might have been suspicious to the emperor. But having explained that the food is bread and wine mixed with water that is received as Christ’s body and blood, the emperor would have understood that nothing obscene was occurring in the Christian gatherings as some had alleged.
The most interesting thing about the quote from Justin is the use of the word, “transmutation.” What Justin was referring to was the mutation, that takes place during the process of digestion. This process changes complex solid foods into simple soluble forms so that the body can absorb them. Imagine that Justin believed that the substance of the bread and wine actually changed into the body and blood of Christ. He would be saying in effect that Christ’s substance is changed, or mutated, into simple soluble food when it is consumed.
In other words, the physical substance of Christ is broken down and absorbed into the body and burned off as energy, stored as fat, and/or expelled as waste. Think about it. If this is what Justin believed then he would have been admitting cannibalism. Fortunately, that is not what Justin believed. Justin explained quite clearly that bread and wine are received as the body and blood of Christ thus refuting the charge some were making that Christians were involved in cannibalism.
Mr. Troutman continued with two quotes taken from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. The bold text is as it appears in the article.
“When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him? – St. Irenaeus Against Heresies5:3”
“For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, Is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. – Ibid. 4.18.5”
Mr. Troutman offered no commentary on these quotes, hoping, I suppose, that they would simply stand on their own. If one want’s to make a case against transubstantiation, as I am doing, then the second quote is an outright refutation of it. Look just past the bold text and you see what Irenaeus said the Eucharist consists of, two realities earthly and heavenly. This blows transubstantiation right out of the water especially when understood in context. The earthly Irenaeus was referring to is the creation. He argued at length on this topic leading up to this quote. Christ was not created and therefore cannot be the substance of the Eucharist in Irenaeus’ theology.
I also would like to point out that in the first quote Irenaeus associates the bread with the body of Christ only. This is a constant in the early church. The bread is only ever referred to as His body, and the cup only as His blood. There is never an instance where the bread or cup are referred to as the body and blood of Christ. Transubstantiation insists, by definition, that the whole Christ must be present in both elements. These means the idea of transubstantiation was completely foreign to the ante-Nicene church.
Next Mr. Troutman provides a quote from Origen. Again the bold text is as it appears in the article.
“We give thanks to the Creator of all, and, along with thanksgiving and prayer for the blessings we have received, we also eat the bread presented to us; and this bread becomes by prayer a sacred body, which sanctifies those who sincerely partake of it. – Origen Against Celsus 8:33”
Mr. Troutman might not be aware that Origen wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew where he talked specifically about this very thing. Here is what he said specifically about the nature of the bread and wine sanctified by prayer.
“That which is sanctified through the word of God and prayer does not, in its own nature, sanctify him who uses it” (Origen; Commentary on Matthew: 11:14)
From this we can see why he used the word, “sincerely” in the first quote. Origen believed and taught that the nature of the elements were unchanged and had no effect on those who received it in and of itself. According to Origen, any effect that occurred was because of conscience not substance.
The rest of Mr. Troutman’s references come from the fourth century or later and cannot be accepted as patristic evidence.
Section II of Mr. Troutman’s article is called, “The Simple Identification of the Species.” Here he takes an assertion made by the council of Trent and uses it as a litmus test against certain early church quotes. Basically what Mr. Troutman want’s his readers to believe is that any use of the words, “body” or “blood” will pass the test and somehow, in the depth of his imagination, means that they believed in transubstantiation. We’ll see.
In this section Mr. Troutman offers several ante-Nicene quotes which I will briefly address, but one in particular gives me the opportunity to demonstrate that Mr. Troutman never read the work from which he was quoting. But first let me say something about his introduction to this section that demonstrates backward logic. He made this statement:
“If the fathers were speaking (merely) in a symbolic manner, they would be able to call the bread the Body even before the consecration. That is, if nothing actually changed about the bread itself during the consecration, then it would not be wrong to call it the Body before the consecration.”
It makes no sense to call the bread the body before consecration under any circumstance. Why would anyone refer to the bread as Christ’s body before it has been blessed and set aside for the purpose of communion? So then part of the test must be that if the fathers do not refer to the bread as His body before the blessing then that must mean they believed in transubstantiation? On a scale of 1 to 10 for naivetivity (not a real word but I think you get it) Mr. Troutman must think his reader range from about seven to ten.
I remarked earlier that simple identification as defined by Mr. Troutman means absolutely nothing. He thinks that if a father refers to the bread as Christ’s body he therefore believes it to be His actual body as defined by Trent. This disregard for context is probably brought on by a severe lack of knowing the context. It is probably also why he offers very little in the way of commentary.
He begins with two quotes by Ignatius in succession, but I will deal with them independently. Here is the first:
“I take no pleasure in corruptible food or in the delights of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for drink I want his Blood which is incorruptible love. -St. Ignatius to the Romans 7:3”
It is not proper to tie this statement to the Eucharist, because Ignatius was not referring to the Eucharist as is clearly evident in the context. The following is the complete quote:
“For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that liveth and speaketh, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. 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.” (To the Romans, Chapter 7)
Ignatius’ letter to the Romans was very different than his other letters. Rome was where he was being taken to be martyred. The purpose of the letter was to convince the church in Rome not to intervene on his behalf, or interfere in any way with what was about to befall him. He wanted to die a martyr. When he said he desired the heavenly bread, the flesh of Jesus Christ, he was talking about his connection to the sacrifice of Christ with his own impending martyrdom. The blood he identified as incorruptible love and eternal life. It seems impossible to connect any literal interpretation of the Eucharist to this quote even on its face.
Here is his second Ignatius quote:
“They [those with heterodox opinions] 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 that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. – St. Ignatiusto the Smyrnaeans 7:1”
Here is Mr. Troutman’s comment on the quote:
“The Docetists denied that Christ had a physical Body. Naturally, they denied His metaphysical presence in the Eucharist. St. Ignatius is condemning their heresy.”
This is that persuasive conjecture I was talking about earlier. Since Mr. Troutman believes in transubstantiation he naturally assigns his belief to Ignatius. And why not, this quote is the cream of the crop for Catholic apologist. But the logic is flawed. Why would Ignatius bother to refute a denial of change in the Eucharist by people who didn’t believe Christ possessed a body in the first place? His criticism of the heretics was not because of their opinion of the Eucharist, it was because they had no Eucharist; they believed Christ had no body and that He did not suffer in any way.
The only way the quote can stand on its own in support of transubstantiation is if one already believes in transubstantiation or is willing to believe it based on other misinformation. In addition, the way in which Catholics understand the Eucharist is not historically accurate. Ironically, Ignatius provides the true meaning of Eucharist in the same quote expanded by just one sentence.
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.”
What gift of God was Ignatius referring to? Was it a change in the elements from created bread and wine to the actual body and blood of Christ? Or was it the passion and resurrection of Christ which brings eternal life? According to Scripture it’s the later. Not only does Scripture affirm this, but from a quote by Irenaeus used earlier in this post, we see him stating explicitly that the gift of God is eternal life.
Ignatius finished out his thought by saying, “Give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved.” Ignatius thus identifies the Eucharist as the celebration of Christ’s passion and resurrection by which we might receive eternal life. His remarks against the Docetists had nothing to do with a their denial of a change in the elements; it had everything to do with their denial of Christ’s passion and resurrection, which is why he said they incur death in the midst of their disputes.
Next Mr. Troutman quotes Irenaeus and then gives some commentary.
“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood? – St. Irenaeus Against Heresies 4:33–32
Mr. Troutman: If Christ was speaking metaphorically, there would be no difficulty in explaining what St. Irenaeus was attempting to explain. Either St. Irenaeus had not considered the idea that Christ might be referring to the bread as His Body metaphorically, or he (Irenaeus) was taking it for granted that Jesus spoke literally. Since St. Irenaeus refrained from explaining the matter, it is clear that he was asking the question rhetorically and was taking it for granted that Christ spoke literally and that his readers would have already known this.”
Mr. Troutman either is not familiar with the context of this quote, or he is and is therefore dishonest – I think it’s the former. Why would Irenaeus attempt to explain a metaphoric understanding of the bread of life discourse (which must be what he (Troutman) is had in mind) when the context of the quote has nothing whatsoever to do with it? I will explain by giving the quote again only with more context.
“Moreover, how could the Lord, with any justice, if He belonged to another father, have acknowledged the bread to be His body, while He took it from that creation to which we belong, and affirmed the mixed cup to be His blood? And why did He acknowledge Himself to be the Son of man, if He had not gone through that birth which belongs to a human being? How, too, could He forgive us those sins for which we are answerable to our Maker and God? And how, again, supposing that He was not flesh, but was a man merely in appearance, could He have been crucified, and could blood and water have issued from His pierced side? What body, moreover, was it that those who buried Him consigned to the tomb? And what was that which rose again from the dead?”
Irenaeus was arguing against Marcion’s doctrine of Christ being separate from the God of creation. He thus argues, “Why does he [Christ], indeed, seem to be good as respects men, but most unjust with regard to him who made men, inasmuch as he deprives him of his possessions?” Christ took the bread, which is from the creation, and affirmed it to be His body, meaning that if the God of creation is separate from Christ, why did Christ affirm something from creation to be His? If anything of our topic is to be understood from this it the fact that Irenaeus understood the bread and cup to be of the creation at the time Jesus announced them to be His body and blood. So again, if they are of the creation at the moment Jesus declared them to be His body and blood, it proves Irenaeus believed they remained unchanged in substance.
Mr. Troutman concludes with Irenaeus using this quote:
“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. – Ibid. 5:2”
Again, if Christ is holding the cup and declaring it to be His blood, and Irenaeus is arguing that the cup He is holding is of the creation, how can it be said that the cup is His actual blood since Christ was not created? The same goes for the bread and His body.
The next quote Mr. Troutman uses is more obscure and impossible to get a good sense of context. Here is the quote with Mr. Troutman’s comment, and then I will offer my comment.
“‘And she [Wisdom] has furnished her table’ refers to his [Christ’s] honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper – St. Hippolytus Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs
Mr. Troutman: It is not bread and wine that are offered as a memorial, but the actual Body and Blood.”
Here is a quote from which it is impossible to get the context or the true intent of Hippolytus. It comes to us through Andrea Gallendi, a seventeenth century Catholic scholar. It is common for devout Catholics to edit early church writings such that they make a stronger case in support of their doctrines. Interestingly, the proof of this is not found in Mr. Troutman’s quote because he apparently found it on the Catholic Answers website, which is famous for abusing the early church works. Here is the quote as it should appear:
“And she has furnished her table: that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honored and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper.” (Emphasis added)
The bold text is missing from Mr. Troutman’s quote. And unlike Catholic Answers version, Troutman’s quote omitted the […] which denotes that text has been removed from the quote. When we see what he omitted it becomes quite obvious why it was omitted. Mr. Troutman made the case that the Trinity was a developing doctrine in the Ante-Nicene church, and that it was not properly defined until Nicea in 325 A.D. So here we have a quote by an early third century bishop using the words, “holy Trinity” as though it were a specifically defined dogma. According to Mr. Troutman’s earlier assertion, a Trinity dogma could not have existed in Hippolytus’ time. The truth of the matter is the fragment is heavily edited to look Roman Catholic.
Mr. Troutman’s final Ante-Nicene quote comes from Origen.
“Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.’13 – Origen Homilies on Numbers 7:2
Mr. Troutman: Among the early fathers, Origen and the Alexandrian tradition in general favored allegorical interpretations and leaned heavily in that direction. On several other occasions, Origen referred to the Eucharist as a symbol, as did his predecessor, St. Clement of Alexandria. Yet he also referred to it as the “true Body,” associating the Eucharist with John 6 where Jesus Himself explicitly affirmed the same.”
And what did Origen learn from his teacher, Clement? I will finish my quoting with the answer to that question.
“Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat ye my flesh, and drink my blood; ” describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise” (Clement of Alexandria Paedagogus 1:6)
In conclusion, the contextual evidence from the ante-Nicene church demonstrates clearly that the post apostolic church did not believe in the concept of transubstantiation. On the contrary, the evidence produced from that era, when understood in its proper context, refutes the doctrine of transubstantiation. But that fact will never deter those who are hopelessly committed to Rome as evidenced by Mr. Troutman’s following comment:
“Even if it were shown that a Church father disbelieved in Transubstantiation, it would only prove that that particular father was in error on this point. As shown above, the Church authoritatively defined it as dogma on several occasions including no less than four ecumenical councils.” (Tim Troutman, Called to Communion author)
Prove? In other words, patristic evidence from the ante-Nicene era means absolutely nothing to a Roam Catholic, because the Roman Catholic Church defined the dogma centuries later in reaction to the Reformation. So then obviously the article was not written for Roman Catholics it was written for those who allow themselves to be fooled by lazy copy & paste apologetics written by people who have little to no knowledge of the patristic works from which they quote.
Mr. Troutman’s article has two additional sections which are really just more of the same. It is typical for Catholic apologists to simply rely on early church quotes as many are unfamiliar with the context of the works. I suppose it is a good thing that they are willing to publish their inadequate quote mining and shallow commentary, as doing so provides ample opportunity to expose their senseless tactics and weak understanding.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a simple message of good news that Christ conquered sin and death. By believing in Jesus and committing to repentance and true relationship with Him, we are promised eternal life. The life we live we live for God, because He dwells with us through faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no basis in Scripture for believing that Christ abides in us by physically eating His actual flesh and blood. Contrary to the Catholic understanding that Christ remains perpetually at the pentacle of His sacrifice to be offered over and over again, Scripture proclaims, He has risen!