The East and a Strict Sacrifice— (Continued).
Strange as it may seem, the great Alexandrian theologian, Origen, does but apply and extend the main principles of his teacher, Clement, just as the latter professes to be indebted for his intellectual system to some predecessors. The philosophical method, the allegorising principle of exegesis, the Discipline of the Secret, all so familiar in Clement's writings, meet us, like old acquaintances, in the pages of Origen. Because of the undefined character of certain doctrines since made clear, Origen was betrayed into some errors. Some baseless speculations of his singularly free mind were not the result of rashness, as is abundantly testified by his consciousness of his, absolutely speaking, limited theological researches, 1 his implicit belief in the clear points of the Creed, 2 his reverence for Tradition manifested in his secrecy about the Eucharistic mysteries.
Applying to Scriptural exegesis the philosophical principle of Plato concerning the three elements in man—body, soul, and spirit,—he distinguished a material, an animal, and a spiritual sense. In practice a two-fold distinction alone was used by Origen—the material or literal, and the spiritual or allegorical sense. According to him all things in Scripture bore a hidden, allegorical sense, but some matters, even in the Gospels, could not bear a literal sense, for, from a close examination even of separate words, he thought he was justified in concluding that certain things, taken in the literal sense, were impossible or irrational. 3 Fortunately he did not apply the latter principle to the texts bearing on the Eucharist. But he included in the Eucharistic texts an allegorical sense which he conceived to be higher, and apparently, more valuable. He asserts that "this Bread and Wine maybe understood by the simple people according to the received interpretation in the subject of the Eucharist, but those who have learned to listen more closely will understand according to the more Divine promise of the Word which nourishes us with the truth." 4 Origen, accordingly, compares the Scriptures to a field containing a hidden treasure; as the surface of the field contains all manners of common grasses, while beneath one might find the more valuable deposit of gold or jewels, so too was it the business of more profound minds to penetrate beneath the superficial sense to the deeper meaning. It was their duty to see in the material type the spiritual antitype. 5 But, it will be seen, this higher knowledge did not of necessity exclude the more simple.
The Discipline of the Secret sometimes made Origen obscure when speaking in the presence even of Church congregations, and as his spoken homilies were afterwards printed, they exhibit some vagueness, containing merely a hint or fragment of his whole doctrine. He says that the more secret things are passed over in silence when the hearers appear to be unsophisticated and to have need of doctrinal milk. 6 Even in those written hints of the Eucharist, we can with perfect safety read between the lines the doctrine of a strict sacrifice of the Eucharist.
" Again, Celsus," Origen writes, " wishes us to be thankful to these demons, imagining that we owe them thanks-offerings. . . . And we have a symbol of gratitude to God in the Bread which we call the Eucharist." 7
Again, " For you who are joined to the Lord, to Jesus Christ, the true High Priest, who by His blood has recovered for you the grace of God, and has reconciled you to the Father, do not hold on any longer to the blood of sacrificed animals, but recognise the blood of the Word, and hear Him saying : ' This is My blood which is shed for you unto the remission of sins '; however, he that is initiated knows already the body and blood of the Word. We do not long dwell on what is known sufficiently by those who know and cannot be explained to those who do not know." 8
Also, " As for us who return thanks to the Creator of all things, we eat the breads which are offered with prayers and thanksgivings, because we have received these breads which by prayer become a holy body which sanctifies those who receive it with a pure heart." 9
The only difficulty here is to show that Origen speaks of a sacrifice of the Eucharist in the strict and material sense. Now, in the first passage, in the very context where his opponent, Celsus, is speaking of the necessity of offering literal sacrifices, Origen speaks of the Eucharist as also a symbol of thanksgiving to God, Who is superior to angels. If we couple this statement with that in the last-quoted passage, it will be evident that the Bread forms an offering of thanksgiving—a thanks-offering. But, perhaps, to Origen's allegorising mind it is only a purely spiritual offering of prayer or the like. That it cannot be a purely spiritual offering, however, is evident from the fact that the Eucharist is called a symbol. What else can a symbol be but a visible, material sign ? The Eucharist, therefore, is not a purely spiritual but a material and visible offering.
Besides, that Origen regarded the Eucharist as a sacrifice in a literal and material sense is clear from the last-quoted passage alone. He speaks of breads offered, which became a holy body. Surely, breads offered constitute a visible, palpable offering. Nor could a merely spiritual offering, a subjective sacrifice, a creation of the mind, be said with any propriety to become a " holy body." "Holy body" is a cryptic expression of Origen when influenced by the Discipline of the Secret, and means the holy body of the Lord.
In the remaining passage, or the second passage above cited, Origen speaks of the repudiation of the blood of sacrificed animals, and, at once, directs the Christian to the blood of the Word, shed unto the remission of sins. Surely, therefore, that blood is sacrificial. But where ? In the Cross alone, or in the Eucharist also ? In the Eucharist, for Origen says that the initiated know already the body and blood of the Lord, while the uninitiated are to be kept in ignorance. Why should the Discipline of the Secret show its influence here, unless Origen is speaking of the sacrificial nature of the real blood of Christ in the august Sacrament of the Eucharist itself. He has written numerous discourses on purely spiritual interpretations, and here he is unusually secret. The only reasonable explanation is the one given.
Hence, the elements of the Eucharist are sacrificial even as early as Origen's epoch. The unconsecrated bread is explicitly said to be part of the offering or. sacrifice; the Consecrated Wine or blood of Christ appears, from what has been said, to be expressly believed by Origen to be sacrificial and to be the term of the offering. Lest it may be said that Origen did not believe in the real presence of Christ's blood, lest he may be thought to believe in pure symbolism in the doctrine of the Eucharist, I shall consider what, in other passages, is at least implied as the thing offered.
The Object Offered.
Again, " we are said to drink the blood of Christ, not alone in the rite of the mysteries, 11 but also when we receive His discourses in which consists life, just as He himself says : ' The words I have spoken are spirit and life."' 12
But he writes : " That bread with which the Divine Word declared His body to be identical is the word nourishing souls, the word proceeding from the Divine Word, and the bread proceeding from the Heavenly Bread. . . And the drink with which the Divine Word declared His blood to be identical, is the word which saturates and wonderfully inebriates the hearts of the drinkers. . . . For the Divine Word did not declare His body to be that visible bread which he held in His hands, but (He declared it to be rather) the word in whose mystery that bread was to be broken. Nor did He declare His blood to be that visible drink, but (rather) the word in whose mystery that drink was to be poured out. For what else can the body or blood of the Divine Word be but the word that nourishes and the word that gladdens the heart." 13
It has been already remarked how Origen pauses, and becomes silent concerning certain aspects of the Eucharist, though he is diffuse in speaking of its symbolic interpretation, for example, in the sense of doctrine. Why should there be this observance of the Discipline of the Secret, unless there was a literal acceptation of the Eucharist, which might be exposed to profanation ?
Accordingly, Origen, in the second passage quoted, shows expressly that he includes the literal acceptation; he says that the blood of Christ is drunk not merely in the sacramental rite, but also when His doctrine is received. There is a drinking of the blood of Christ, not merely mental but corporal.
To this it may be objected, from the third passage quoted, that he speaks exclusively of the symbolical sense of the Eucharist, that he declares that Christ did not equate His body with the visible bread which He held in His hands : Nan enim pattern ilium visibilem quern tenebat in manibus corpus suum dicebat Deus Verbum. Before we can intelligently solve this apparent contradiction in Origen—his inclusion of the literal sense in one place and his apparent exclusion of it in another—we must state that Origen was so far inaccurate as to believe in the remaining of the bread after the Consecration. He says that " even the food consecrated by the word of God and prayer, according to its material element, goes into the belly and is cast into the privy." 14 Here Origen cannot reasonably be interpreted as meaning the species or material appearances of the Sacrament. For how could appearances be cast into the privy ? You may say that it is a new substance supervening which is cast forth. But Origen does not give so neat a distinction, but speaks of the material element of the consecrated food as completely following the ordinary process of digestion.
Now, in the difficult passage quoted, Origen is commenting on the very texts dealing with the institution of the Eucharist. He conceived, according to what has been said, the bread as remaining after the Consecration. If this is remembered, there is no difficulty. Origen, then, says that Christ did not declare His body to be visible, substantial bread, which He held in His hands. What then ? He declared it to be the word proceeding from the Divine Word, or doctrine. He declared His body to be this metaphorical bread. He declared His blood to be, not the visible substantial wine, but the doctrine which gladdens the heart. Origen is but repeating the teaching of his master, Clement, who has been quoted as declaring, even in a passage devoted to the Eucharist, that the word is metaphorically wine or the holy stream of gladness. 15
We are justified in construing the body and blood of Christ as subjects and not the predicates of the clause. For the Latin sentence last quoted will show plainly that these are meant to be the subjects of the discourse. It is only if bread were the subject and the body of Christ the predicate, it is only if it were meant that Christ did not declare the visible bread to be His body —it is only then there would be a serious difficulty against the Real Presence ; only then, with any show of reason, could it be said that Origen here speaks of the Eucharist in an exclusively symbolical sense. But such a mode of translating the text of Origen, as it has come down to us in Latin, is seen to be inadmissible.
It is fortunate that Origen is singularly explicit about one effect of this oblation containing the real body and blood of Christ—its propitiatory effect. His development of this aspect of the Eucharist is an added proof of his belief in its sacrificial character. Other writers, before his time, may express themselves merely on the propitiatory effect wrought by subjective dispositions, for example, by prayer and a good life. Irenaeus, for instance, may only say that the mind of the giver hallows the gift. But it is a special development in Origen's teaching—his giving a propitiatory value to the objective Eucharistic commemoration.
Propitiatory Effect of the Sacrifice.
" But if these things (the twelve loaves of proposition) " he writes, " are referred to their great mystic signification, you will find that that commemoration, (mystically understood) has the effect of a mighty propitiation. If you return to that Bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to this world: that Bread of Proposition, which God set forth as a propitiation in His blood through faith ; and if you look to that commemoration, about which the Lord says : ' Do this in commemoration of Me,' you will find that that is the only commemoration which makes God propitious to men. If therefore you recall more intently the Church mysteries you will see in what is written by the Law an image formed beforehand of the future truth. But about these things we must not discourse further, since the matter can be understood by a mere mention thereof." 16
Origen, in the context, proposes to give the antitype of the twelve showbreads, or loaves of proposition, mentioned in Leviticus. 17 These breads, which were ordered to be set forth on a most clean table, which were called a commemoration of the " oblation of the Lord," which were to be renewed every Sabbath, which were received from the children of Israel according to an "everlasting covenant," which were eaten only in the Holy Place, and by Aaron and his sons alone, which were called the most holy of the sacrifices—these, it can be seen, had many aspects which rightly recalled to Origen's mind the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
He represented their literal meaning as comparatively insignificant. But taken in the mystic sense, they, or rather their antitype, must be held to have the effect of an " immense propitiation." The antitype, however, is a rather multiple object : it is the Bread which comes down from heaven and gives the life of grace to the world (note the present tense suggesting the continued descent in the Eucharist); it is the Bread which God set forth as a propitiation in His blood, evidently on the Cross; it is the commemorative act which was ordered by the words : " Do this in remembrance of Me."
In the description of the antitype, the mention of the commemoration contained in the Eucharist, immediately after the reference to the sacrifice of the Cross, suggests at once to any careful observer that Origen regarded the Eucharist as a commemoration of the offering on Calvary, as, to use St. Paul's word, "a showing forth of the death of the Lord." 18
Speaking of the Eucharist, he says that this mystery, the objective thing, namely, is the only commemoration which makes God propitious to humanity. But, surely, he must not be forgetting the sacrifice of the Cross, to which he had just referred. Was not that, too, an extraordinary work of propitiation ? Yes, but it was not a commemoration, and its atoning efficacy, therefore, is not excluded.
Origen is not new in the development of the idea that the Eucharist is a commemoration of the sacrifice of the Cross. But he was new in explicitly mentioning the sacrificial character of the Consecrated Elements, of the Saviour's body and blood really present, as I endeavoured to show already. His singular service in, at least, the expression of the doctrine is his teaching that the objective Eucharistic commemoration was propitiatory, was, indeed, the propitiatory instrument par excellence. These teachings that there is an offering of the Divine Victim really present, that the Eucharist is a representation of the death of Christ, that it has a propitiatory effect, that it is a strict sacrifice, contain the essence of the present-day Catholic definitions on the Mass.
1 See: " On the Inspiration of Scripture.''
2 Be Principiis, Preface.
3 See " On the Inspiration of Scripture."
4 In Joann. Comment xxxii. 24.
5 See : " On the Inspiration of Scripture."
6 Contra Celsum, iii. 52.
7 Ibid., vii., 57.
8 Hom. In Levit, ix., n. 1C.
9 In Levit, Hom. 13, p. 176.
10 In Exod. Horn. xiii. 3,
11 Non solum sacramentorum ritu.
12 In Num, Horn, xt, N. 9. See also Horn, xvi,
13 Panis iste quern Deus Verbum corpus suum esse fatetur, verburu est nutritorium animarum, verbum de Deo Verbo procedens, et panis de pane coelesti. Et potus quern Deus Verbum sanguinem suum fatetur, verbum est potans et inebrians praeclare cordabibentiurr..
Non enim panem ilium visibilem quern tenebat in manibus, corpus suum dicebat Deus Verbum, sed verbum in cujus mysterio fuerat panis ille fraugendus. Nee potum ilium visibilem sanguimem suum dicebat, sed verbum in cujus mysterio potus ille fuerat effun dendus. Nam corpus Dei Verbiaut sanguis, quid aliud esse potest nisi verbum quod nutrit et verbum quod laetificat cor. (In Mat. Comment Series 85).
15 Paed ii. 2.
17 Ch, xxiv.
18 1. Cor. xi.