Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev. Garrett Pierse Part 1

Impression Of The Eucharistic Sacrifice found in The Catacombs
The aim of this treatise on " The Mass in the Infant Church " is not a one-sided defence of any thesis, nor an equally one-sided attack on any other. The writer has tried not to bring a decided judgment to his task ; he has endeavoured not to read into early writers his own concepts, but, hearkening to all the witnesses, listening to investigators on both sides, leaving aside opinions heard " outside the court," to draw his conclusion after a full examination of the evidence. Whether he has discharged the duty of a faithful narrator, whether he has given all the facts as he claims to have done, whether he has suppressed anything that might tell against his own interests, of this the reader is the judge.

To some it may seem a bold programme, or even a rash undertaking, to search for the Mass in the infant Church. But the inquiry is worth the effort. For the Protestant it is a momentous question whether the Mass existed in the early Church. For the Catholic it is not less important.

One of the motives that induced the writer to select this aspect of Eucharistic doctrine is that it presents a new field for research. He could find in print no English work directly bearing on this precise subject, nor any French works, but in this matter, as in many others, Germans have been pioneers of Theological investigation. With their results, which will be briefly summarised at the outset, he must, however, disagree almost entirely, but he is grateful for the suggestiveness and stimulus of works whose conclusions he generally rejects.

But the principal motive in treating the present question is the vast importance which Catholics claim for the Mass. The Eucharist was the centre of religious worship in the beginning ; it is so to-day. Then, as now, the Eucharistic celebration was the soul of the religious life. The Mass is the most distinctive of Catholic doctrines. Catholics advance for it a sublime claim : It is an offering of God, by God, to God. To sketch the lineaments of this great dogma in its infancy is surely of some importance. If the investigation gives the reader a keener appreciation of the essential Catholic claims for the Mass, it will have served a purpose. Incidentally it may stimulate thought as to whether there are any variations in the teachings of early writers, and whether there was a progress from obscurity to clearness in certain aspects of their doctrine.

The drawings in this treatise are reproduced with the kind permission of Monsignor Wilpert, author of Fractio Pants and Die Katakombengemalde, and of Mr. Herder, Publisher. Freiburg im Breisgau.


Dunboyne House, Maynooth College,

March 31st, 1909.


CHAPTER I. Introductory.

The Subject

At the beginning of a historical inquiry it is well to determine with all possible accuracy the exact point at issue. The question with which I purpose to deal is whether the doctrine of the Mass can be found in the infant Church. But the thought of the Mass 1 calls forth different ideas. It may excite a fairly definite concept in the mind of every Catholic, while there are some non-Catholics to whom the mention of the Mass conveys none but the vaguest notions, but both the former and the latter have a right to ask in what sense I use the term in the present inquiry. My task is not to determine whether the varying opinions of modern Catholic writers on the Mass are found in distant antiquity. I speak only of definitive and authoritative teaching. The principal doctrines of the Mass, as set forth in the Council of Trent, 2 are that it is a true and strict sacrifice, that in it priests offer the body and blood of Christ, that it is not a sacrifice merely of praise and thanksgiving, that it is not a nude commemoration of the sacrifice of the Cross, that it produces a propitiatory effect, that it may be offered for the living and the dead. Stated briefly, and in a manner that may be easily grasped, the Mass is the offering of the real body and blood of Christ under the external appearances of bread and wine. This is the characteristic, distinguishing note of Catholic doctrine. Other systems may admit that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, but they fall short of the test doctrine of Catholicity that it is an offering of the real body and blood of Christ.

If it is found that the early Church teaches an offering of the body and blood of Christ, it would contain expressly the chief doctrine concerning the Mass, and at least from that view-point,—should the hypothesis be true,—the early Christians would feel more at home with the Catholic doctrine than with that of her rivals. On the other hand, teachings about the Mass may be conceived to be implicitly found in early Christianity. If that alone were true, Catholics could reasonably affirm the substantial identity of later and earlier doctrines. The man is the same person as the child, though the limbs of the latter are not so well-developed as those of the former.

Investigating the doctrine of the early Church, I have limited myself to the period, roughly speaking, from 150 to 250 a.d. The study of that period has the advantage of concentrating attention on the interval about which the controversy rages fiercest at the present day. St. Justin Martyr, who was living in the first year of the period, is a centre of controversy. By non-Catholics he is regarded as the representative of the sub-Apostolic period, during which, as in Apostolic times, they contend that no objective sacrifice was taught. By Catholics this position has been stoutly contested. Again, the epoch of St. Cyprian, who was living in the last year of my period, is a pivot about which a great portion of the controversy turns. Non-Catholics, in recent times, state that he introduced a new doctrine concerning an objective sacrifice in the Eucharist, thereby altering the teaching of his predecessors, while Catholics have traditionally maintained that he did but express more explicitly what was really held by his forerunners. It is important to investigate whether the period under discussion gave rise to a reversal of the previous doctrine concerning the Eucharist. Apart from this controversial aspect, it is interesting to enquire whether in this interval there was a development of sacrificial doctrine in the sense of Cardinal Newman, whether there was greater explicitness in certain matters, whether there was any variety or alteration in other aspects, the whole always maintaining a substantial identity.

A writer cannot pretend to know directly what was the doctrine of the Church itself. He can testify only to the opinions of the Fathers, or to monumental evidence. The fact that there are only about a dozen authorities in the period, that these did not write express treatises on the subject, that their remarks, when bearing on the point, are often merely incidental, that the doctrine under discussion was not yet questioned, and therefore required no definite formulation, that it was an age of persecution combined with an ardently Christian life, and not a time of peace and intellectual inquiry, such as produced the more exact doctrine of later days,—these considerations should make one cautious about dogmatising concerning the mind of the Church. But insufficient as may be our guides in some respects, and however cautiously they must be employed, they give us the only presumption we can form concerning the Church of the period, and the marshalling of their early testimonies raises various questions of profound interest. Was, then, the Mass in the sense of an offering of the body and blood of Christ in the infant Church from 150 to 250 A.D. ?

Harnack's Solution.

In regard to the beginning of this period, Professor Adolf Harnack 3 denies that the Church was conscious of a strict, objective sacrifice in the Eucharist. According to him, in the sub-Apostolic age there were various notions of sacrifice. In a general sense, obedience and the consecration of body and soul to God in religious service were regarded as sacrifices ; in a more special sense, prayers and thanksgiving were regarded as such. In a most special sense, prayers and the gifts from which were taken the Eucharistic elements and the materials for the Christian Agape and alms for the poor,—all these, considered collectively, were regarded as forming a sacrifice, but not one in a strict sense. This was a " spiritualised Semitic idea of sacrifice." 4

In Justin's time and for some years afterwards, the Lord's Supper was a sacrifice offered up by the whole community, not by distinct priests. Various influences according to Harnack contributed to the association of this loose idea of sacrifice with the Sacrament of the Eucharist, such as the fact that prayers of all kinds—and the Eucharist was connected with prayer—were called sacrifices, that the prophecy of Malachy demanded a solemn sacrifice, that the command of Christ—" Do this, &c."—in connection with the Last Supper, though in itself meaning only a religious act, naturally suggested to a Greek mind the idea of sacrificing, that, in fine, the materials for the Agape came in the course of time to be regarded as sacrificial gifts.

The sacrifice in the Eucharist consists merely of prayers, according to Justin's idea and that of his contemporaries. Since this is the essence of the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the sacred elements are only " gifts" obtaining value solely from the prayers. Prayer is the pure sacrifice of Malachy offered to God while the u Christians place before Him what He has bestowed in order to receive it back with thanks and praise." The sacrificial act is one of thanksgiving, whereby the common bread becomes the Eucharistic Bread. The body of Christ is not, therefore, the object of this sacrificial act; there is no trace of this explicit concept in Justin. It is true—Harnack will admit—that this Father calls the Eucharist a sacrifice, and sees in the Eucharistic Bread the actual flesh of Christ, but he does not connect the body of Christ with the act of sacrificing. Justin has the premises on which the later and altered idea of the sacrificial character of the elements will be based under the influence, to some extent, of a Hellenistic environment. Justin connects the Eucharist with the sacrifice of the Cross, a theological reflection which is not found previously.

In Justin there is no special relation between this kind of Eucharistic sacrifice and the forgiveness of sins. The only apparent effect of the elements which are called a spiritual nourishment is to give faith and a guarantee of eternal life.

After Justin's time, however, that is, about the latter part of the second century, there was an alteration in the idea of the priesthood. It was now a distinct, specific priesthood, the priesthood of a clique. This alteration of the doctrine of the priesthood reacted on the idea of sacrifice, but it would be superfluous to inquire which was first altered, as both terms are correlative. Though living in the latter part of the second century, Irenaeus and Tertullian have the old idea of Justin about sacrifice, that prayers are the Christian sacrifice, and that the disposition of the offerer hallows the offering. Tertullian, indeed, presents a slight modification, inasmuch as he gives a propitiatory and a meritorious value to sacrifices in this loose sense. Harnack regrets this development, which, according to him, was first definitely made by Tertullian, because it gave to outward forms, as the discipline of fasting, a value which was afterwards utilized in cloaking a lax religious life. Tertullian's pupil, Cyprian, however, exhibits the altered idea of the Eucharistic sacrifice. According to this Father, there is a specific sacrifice connected with a specific priesthood; the Passion of the Lord, nay, the blood of Christ, the Lord as a victim 5 is the term of the act of sacrificing; the Eucharistic sacrifice causes an incorporation into Christ's mystic body, and a commemoration in this service has a special power of intercession for the living and the dead. Cyprian attributes to the Eucharist an expiatory effect. Harnack describes this teaching of St. Cyprian as a mere assertion, because the Berlin Professor does not understand how forgiveness of sins in the strict sense could be associated with the Eucharist, especially since there were two other instruments for this purpose already in existence—namely, Baptism and Penance. He rebukes the Catholic Church of the present day for the same doctrine, but speaks confusedly, without determining whether Catholicity authoritatively teaches an immediate atonement for sin, as an effect of the sacrifice, or a mediate expiation caused, for example, by means of a subsequent grace of contrition.

Harnack concedes that Cyprian most probably found in existence the alleged new concept of sacrifice, namely, the transference of the sacrificial idea to the consecrated elements. This doctrine is explained ultimately by the desire to associate some mysterious, magical function with the newly-formed distinct priesthood. Besides, Christianity was becoming secularised, and desired to absorb the worldly idea of a bloody sacrifice though in an invisible form. The immediate causes of the idea which was at least publicly expressed by Cyprian are alleged to have been that the Eucharist was a commemoration of the sacrifice of the Cross and gradually came to be regarded as the thing itself, and that it was an exact imitation of the Last Supper. Harnack offers no proof for the ultimate motives which he attributes to the Church in evolving her idea of sacrifice ; in support of the theory of the immediate causes of the new idea he asserts that Cyprian's view that the blood of Christ is offered in sacrifice is only a tendency of opinion, not exactly defined, inasmuch as the Carthaginian Father is alleged to regard as identical therewith the expression—to offer the Chalice in commemoration of the Passion. Although this new development is found in Cyprian, and presumably in the West generally, there is said to be no trace of a repeated sacrifice of Christ in Origen, or in the East.

The above is fairly representative of recent Protestant ideas concerning the early Christian concept of Sacrifice. St. Cyprian is alleged to have been the forerunner of Catholics in their theories of the Mass. He is said to have given a false turn to the previous doctrine. Such was the conclusion, before Adolf Harnack's time, of Hofling, 6 and of Theodore Harnack. 7 That this view, however, must be to some extent corrected is expressly stated by the Protestant, Loofs. 8 The latter admits that there are in Justin the elements of a sacrifice culminating in the consecration. He means apparently that Cyprian's idea is found implicitly in his predecessor. 9

Teaching of Wieland.

A recent Catholic writer, Dr. Wieland, of Dillingen, concedes 10 to the Protestant position,  that the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church was unacquainted with an objective sacrifice in the Eucharist. As the work from whatever reason does not contain an Imprimatur, it does not vouch for the opinion of any section of Catholics, but only for those of the author. Wieland maintains that the Church of the Apostolic faith identified the Eucharistic sacrifice with the Eucharistic prayer. At this time Christians were conscious of no objective offering of visible gifts.

In the first half of the second century, also, Apologists, like Aristides and Athenagoras, extol purely spiritual sacrifices to the exclusion of all visible gifts, It was not that they were merely unconscious of any offering of visible gifts, but they positively excluded them, thus placing themselves in opposition to the expounders of the later development of sacrificial doctrine. This is alleged to be the attitude of mind of Clement of Alexandria. According to him, if we must believe Wieland, the body and blood of Christ, the fruit of the once-offered sacrifice of Christ, are eaten, indeed, but not offered. Not His body and blood but the instrument producing them on the altar, namely, prayer, constitutes the Christian sacrifice. Though Minutius Felix has the purely subjective idea of sacrifice, he speaks of it as a good life rather than as prayer. Wieland places Justin's idea of sacrifice in the eating of the Eucharistic meal, which commemorates Christ's death, and in the accompanying prayers. This is interpreted to mean that Justin, too, had the purely subjective view of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

Irenaeus, however, is said to begin an extension of that sacrificial idea which prevailed in the Church down to Justin's death. He is alleged to add to the purely subjective concept of sacrifice an objective offering of a visible gift, namely, bread and wine, as a concrete expression of the spiritual idea of praise and thanksgiving. He was conscious that this theory was new, and explained how it could be reconciled with the principle dominating the earlier idea, namely, that God did not need gifts of any kind. After the time of Irenaeus, Tertullian exhibits both the earlier idea and its extension. While the more liberal portion of the East, represented by Origen, was influenced by the altered sacrificial concept—the great Alexandrian scholar speaking of the offered bread,—the conservative circle, represented by the Didascalia, still clung to the older and more spiritual idea. As a further development in the West, St. Cyprian spoke of the consecrated, as well as of the material elements as sacrificial. Differing from Harnack and a large Protestant section, Wieland traces this absolutely new idea of sacrifice not merely to Cyprian but as far back as Irenaeus. He, also, differs even from the reformed Protestant theory of Loofs in that he does not find the elements of the later idea in Justin, so that he does not give this Father the credit of teaching it implicitly, but associates him with the purely subjective idea of sacrifice.

Teaching of Renz.

Closely resembling Wieland's position, and consequently agreeing, in some respects, with the Protestant theory described in the beginning, is the solution offered by Dr. Renz. 11 Both concede to the Protestant view, that, down to the middle of the second century, there was in the Church no formal concept of an objective sacrificial gift connected with the Eucharist. Wieland refers to the book of Renz not a few times in support of his statements. In this matter he merely presented in more extreme form some fundamental views of Renz, which, stated moderately, did not excite hostile criticism, and were published with episcopal approbation. Renz teaches that Justin and his contemporaries had no concept of an objective sacrificial gift in the Eucharist; so does Wieland. Renz teaches that Irenaeus introduces a new explicit concept, namely, this idea of an objective sacrificial gift; in this he is followed by Wieland. Renz holds that the sub-Apostolic age understood the word, " altar," merely in a figurative sense, so as to mean God or the Christian community; so does Wieland. But Renz stops short of Wieland in not asserting that the Apologists excluded the later idea of objective sacrificial gifts; according to the former the doctrine, during all the period with which I deal, was the same, only the explicitness of the development was new.

According to Renz the Eucharist is considered by Justin to be a sacrifice only inasmuch as it is a representation of the Passion of Christ, and is accompanied by prayers. It was not yet considered as an objective sacrificial gift; this was the thought of Irenaeus. The sacrificial act according to Justin and other writers of our period is alleged to be thanksgiving which is effected through the representation of the Passion, which in turn is effected through the eating and drinking of the Consecrated Elements. The object of the sacrificial act is not the Eucharistic Bread and Chalice, but the representation of the sacrifice of the Cross. 12

The idea of Justin and the sub-Apostolic Fathers is propagated by Irenaeus, but the latter 13 exhibits a new concept. His development is that the thanksgiving, which forms the sacrificial act, is given concrete expression by means of visible gifts. In other words, there is in the Eucharist an objective sacrificial gift. The act of sacrificing is the act of thanking the Father for all His benefits, 14 not the consecration of bread and wine. The object of the sacrificial act is the body and blood of Christ. It must not be understood at once that Renz would say these are directly offered in a strict sense. He understands the offering of the body and blood of Christ, in St. Cyprian's doctrine, to mean merely that there is offered a representation of the sacrifice of the Cross, and he supposes the same theory to be held by his predecessors.

Clement of Alexandria is alleged to teach that the Logos is not offered in the Eucharist. His more famous pupil, Origen, is said to teach that the sacrificial activity of the Eucharist is centered in the praise of God for His goodness, not merely oral and spiritual praise, but praise finding concrete and visible expression in bread and wine in their natural and converted state. The act of offering is the prayer of thanksgiving. The object of the sacrificial act is the Eucharistic Bread. The peculiar thought or explicitness of Origen, as interpreted by Renz, is that the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ objectively reminds the Father of the great propitiation wrought by the bloody sacrifice of the Cross. 15

According to Tertullian, the Eucharist is a sacrifice because of its prayer and thanksgiving, because, further, there is an offering of bread and wine, and a consumption of the Lord's body and blood. Tertullian does not speak of the Eucharist as a sacrifice in a proper sense. 16 For the idea of a victim, with Tertullian, implies a suffering Christ 17 and Christ suffers no longer, but is glorified, and His glorified body it is which is eaten. But the eating is not sacrificial in a strict sense. Why, then, is the Eucharist called in Tertullian's phrase "the sacrifice?" Because, like Irenaeus and Origen, he represents the bread and wine, changed to the body and blood of the Lord, as the objective expression of the adoration of God. Tertullian, according to Renz, does not speak expressly of the Eucharist as a commemoration of the sacrifice of the Cross.

According to Tertullian's disciple, St. Cyprian, the sacrifice is a representation of the Passion.18 This explanation, however, does not mean that the sacrifice cannot be described from other view-points. Cyprian's idea of sacrifice is fully interpreted by Renz to be an offering to the Father of thanks and adoration—the very praise and thanks offered by Jesus on the Cross? —which is effected by the representation of the Passion, which, in turn, is effected by the drinking of the Chalice. The Eucharist is a repetition, not of the sacrifice of the Cross, but of the offering in the Last Supper. In a strict sense, Christ can be said to be offered only on the Cross. 19 The Chalice, in representing the Passion, represents the sacrificial act performed on the Cross.

The object of the sacrificial act is the body and blood of Christ according to Cyprian. What does Renz mean by the statement of Cyprian that the blood of Christ is offered ? He does not take it to mean a direct offering of the Saviour's blood, but rather a representation of the blood-shedding on the Cross, made by the flesh and blood of Christ really present under the appearances of bread and wine. 20 This interpretation of Renz is consistent with his other views that the new Testament writers did not speak of any offering of a living being in the Eucharist, and that the Scripture idea is really the same as that prevailing down to the death of Cyprian. 21 Cyprian's teaching would be admitted by Renz to be a new reality, and not a merely novel expression of the doctrine, if he taught —which is denied by his interpreter—the Eucharist to be a repetition of the sacrifice of the Cross.

Those researches of Renz in the literature of the early Church are supposed to be a part of a proof that Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages support his view of the sacrifice of the Mass. He holds that the Mass is, in essence, a representation of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross. It is a true and proper sacrifice since the body and blood of Christ are really present-Renz vehemently opposes the theory that there is any destruction in the sacrifice of the Mass. 22 The peculiar circumstance about the theory of Renz, as distinct from the kindred and older view of Vasquez, is that the former, just as he admits in the Eucharist only a representation of Christ's destruction, maintains only a representation of the real offering of Christ. The expression of Trent concerning the Eucharist, " Christ offers Himself in an unbloody manner," is declared, in this unusual exegesis, to be equivalent to the phrase, 11 Christ figuratively represents the offering on the Cross." 23

If it be asked in what consists this representation of the bloody sacrifice, the answer given by Renz is uncommon. The representation is effected by the eating and drinking of the Consecrated Species. The idea was advanced by the late Bishop Bellord under the name of the Banquet theory, and, as had been done by Renz, the theory of a destruction in the Mass was strenuously opposed. 24 Sometimes Renz places the essence of the sacrificial act in the drinking of the Chalice, sometimes in the whole meal including its preparation by means of the Consecration, though never in the Consecration alone. In short, he places the essence of the sacrificial act in the Eucharistic banquet. This view is alleged to be supported by the testimonies of our period.

The question raised at the beginning has received these various replies. They call for careful scrutiny. Was there, as Harnack implies, no doctrine of the Mass down to the time of Cyprian ? Was the idea of an objective sacrificial gift excluded by certain Fathers before the time of Irenaeus, as Wieland would have us believe ? Is there truth in the uncommon interpretation of certain Fathers by Renz ? The following pages are the outcome of an effort to furnish an answer. They are not intended, primarily, to refute any of these writers. But a calm examination of the evidence alone may incidentally contain the best refutation of erroneous views.

The word, Missa. from which Mass is derived, is not found in any certainly genuine passage of our period. It is used by Ambrose in the 4th century (Ep. xx. 4). The Latin word, Missa, is most probably derived from missio, meaning dismissal. Post sermonem -jit missa Catechumenis (St. Aug.)

Sess xxii. Cann. 1, 2, 3.

Dogmengeschichte I., 37 and II., 3 Addenda.

4 Ibid.

Dominica hostia.

Die Lehre der altesten Kirche vom Opfer.

7 Der Christl. Gemeindegottesdienst im apost. und cdtkath, Zeitalter, 1854, s. 411.

8 Realenzyk. fur prot. Theol. I., b. 45.

Ibid. I , 44.

10 Mensa und Confessio I. 8. 48 sq. "Die Urkirche kannte keiue materielle Opferdarbringung; ihr sacrificium war das Eucharistiegebet aelbst. . . . Mit Irenaeus aber beginnt eine Erweiterung des Opferbegriffs, indem die sichtbaren Objecte selbst Gegenstand einer formlichen Darbringung werden" : Inhalt. xi.

11 Die Geschichte des Messopfer-Begrifs l., Freising, 1901.

12 Ibid., S. 154.

13 Ibid., S. 179.

14 Ibid,, S, 192.

15 Ibid., S. 209.

16 Ibid., p. 217.

17 Ibid., p. 209

18 Ibid., S. 221,

19 Im eigentlichen Sinne hat aber nur Christus am Kreuze Passion jiehalten, also auch nur da irn eigentlichen Sinne geopfert, S. 222.

20 Neu ist bei Cyprian nur der Ausdruck " offerre corpus et sanguinem," " offerre Christum," aber die Erklarung dieses Ansdruckes durch mentio passionis beweist, dass Cyprian darunter nichts andere verstand als Justin mit seinerdie den Vater verherrlichende mittels des wirklichen Fleisches und Blutes in den Crestalteu des Brotes und Weines sich vollziehende Darstellung der Blutvergiessung Christi am Kreuze, Ibid., S. 235-236.

21 Von einem "offerre, immoiare," Opfern Christi oder seines Leibes und Blutes bei der Feier der Eucharistie weiss die Schrift noch nichta zu sagen, Ibid., I. S. 141.

22 Redet man in der Zeit nach dem Tode Christi von einer Sakri-ficierung Christi, so kaun diese keine wirkliche, sondern nur die Darstellung der wirklichen sein, Ibid,, II., 484,

23 Ibid., II, S. 490,

24 American Ecclesiastical Review, July and September, 1905.