Sunday, June 22, 2008

Eucharist, Episcopal Authority, Relics

I have encountered many a quote from a Church Father on the internet. I recently purchased William A. Jurgens' Faith of the Early Fathers, in the hopes that reading the Fathers in actual print would be more informative; reading ancient texts on an LCD screen somehow provides a disruptive contrast. I have not been disappointed.

I will share an especially meaningful quote here, but primarily want to note that if you've only ever read it on a computer screen, you may be missing something. Buy the Fathers in print!

St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Smyrnaean Church c. 110 A.D. In this letter, he says:

"Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ, which has come to us, and note how at variance they are with God's mind. They care nothing about love: they have no concern for widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or the thirsty. They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which, in his goodness, the Father raised. Consequently those who wrangle and dispute God's gift face death. They would have done better to love and so share in the resurrection. The right thing to do, then, is to avoid such people and to talk about them neither in private nor in public. Rather pay attention to the prophets and above all to the gospel. There we get a clear picture of the Passion and see that the resurrection has really happened."

I simply note that, if I am permitted to take this text at face value, it seems little concerned with a common critique of Catholic Eucharistic practice. I have read and heard Protestants explain that the sacrifice of the Mass is false because Christ can't be both on the altar and risen in heaven. Ignatius says that the Eucharist is the flesh, and the same flesh which was crucified and was raised. If the Protestant critique is valid, it seems unlikely that St. Ignatius of Antioch would not have thought of it within a century of Christ's resurrection.

He continues:

"Flee from schism as the source of mischief. You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbytery as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God's law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop's approval. You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Without the bishop's supervision, no baptisms or love feasts are permitted. On the other hand, whatever he approves pleases God as well. In that way everything you do will be on the safe side and valid. It is well for us to come to our senses at last, while we still have a chance to repent and turn to God. It is a fine thing to acknowledge God and the bishop. He who pays the bishop honor has been honored by God. But he who acts without the bishop's knowledge is in the devil's service."

Contrary to the common Protestant characterization of Church under the verse "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)", Ignatius characterizes Church and the validity of its practices by submission to a ruling Bishop (overseer).

Jurgens' compilation then goes to a later writing (The Colbertine Martyrdom of Saint Ignatius, see page 27), likely from the 4th or 5th centuries, which discusses Ignatius' death. Jurgens had already told us that Ignatius died during the reign of Emperor Trajan (likely 110 A.D. also), having been sentenced to the beasts in the arena in Rome, as a martyr. I did not realize the principle of Holy Relics went back so far:

"Only the harder parts of his holy relics were left, and these were conveyed to Antioch and wrapped in linen, as an inestimable treasure left to the holy Church, on account of the grace that was in the holy martyr."

Considering this quote, it has an odd (i.e., foreign to me) sensibility. Grace stays with the body of a holy Christian at their death. If we are both a body and a soul, and if God's grace is with us in life, then why would it evaporate from the body at death? Or, why do we believe that the grace of God that is with us, with what we are, is only with our soul? We do, after all believe that our very-same body will be reunited with our soul. We should expect positive authority before asserting that the grace of God does not inhere in physical matter.

These are my thoughts on Eucharist, Episcopal Authority and Relics, gleaned from an in-print reading of the Fathers.


Joseph said...

There are relics of St. Paul described in the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 19:11-12

And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.

Handkerchiefs and aprons, inanimate objects, blessed by St. Paul had the power to heal. Even St. Peter's mere shadow had the power to heal.

Acts 5:15

Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Glad you got Jurgen's "FEF" 3 Vol. One of the best resources on the Catholic fathers, especially the doctrinal and scripture indexes.

I wish there were more notations from Jurgens interacting with more of the secondary patristic literature, but on well, the notes he does give us are fascinating.

Quasten's Patrology is also important to study the fathers.

R.E Aguirre

Canadian said...

This goes well with your previous post, in my estimation. Salvation is not a commodity or a status to be lost or retained as much as it is our union with God in Christ by grace. Paul asked that our whole body, soul, and spirit be preserved blameless, so salvation of the body is not seen in only a future glorified sense--and this does seem to work out synergistically, as well.

Christ deified human nature including the body, not just through the resurrection but through the presence of deity. The physical can contain the divine...what mystery! This is also why the eucharist should not be so much trouble for protestants.
I was listening to a series by the guys from "Our life in Christ" podcast and they quoted someone who said that our goal in life is "to become relics". This treasure really is IN earthen vessels.

Joseph said...

During the days of Cromwell and beyond, one method of murdering Catholic priests that was employed by the Cromwellian Anglicans was to burn priests at the stake and, in one way or another, discard their ashes into the sea. That way they could completely obliterate the martyr. Leave no relics behind. Of course, that wasn't new, the pagans incinerated the remains of martyrs during the Early Church persecutions not only for the same reasons of the Crowellian murderers, but also in direct defiance to the Christian God.

That has nothing to do with your assessment in your post, which I agree with. I thought I'd add a historical element to the veneration of relics and the grace that God permits to come from them. Something that even persecutors of the Church believed in so much that they went out of their way to completely obliterate their victims.

Anonymous said...

"Ignatius says that the Eucharist is the flesh, and the same flesh which was crucified and was raised. If the Protestant critique is valid, it seems unlikely that St. Ignatius of Antioch would not have thought of it within a century of Christ's resurrection."

Absolutely flawless logic! I adore this wonderful blog of yours!

Thos said...

Mr. Aguirre,

Thanks for commenting. I benefit from Bryan Cross's recommended reading list. There is more there than I will be able to get through in this life, so I just chip away as best I can. I hvae not been disappointed. Well, once a book he recommended wasn't available on Amazon, so I got something that looked close -- I was disappointed then. But that was my own fault.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...

Thank you Joseph and Canadian for your comments. Neochalcedonian, thank you for the flattering comment, but please be kind to my weakness: pride. I hereby enlist you to serve in my effort to remain humble, so to refrain from such kind comments.

Peace in Christ,

contrarian 78 said...

Another passage that implicitly shows that Ignatius was asking for something biblical in urging submission to the bishops is found in I Corinthians 1:10, where Paul says:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

I must confess that until I gave Catholicism a chance I could not see any hope for Christians fulfilling Paul's appeal. With a principium unitatis, this ideal can be realized, albeit only to the extent that we imperfect, flawed humans can.

But that it is something that we can actually aim for is something that I cannot see being offered within the sectarian mindset.