Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev Garrett Pierse Part 3

Roman Catacombs

The East and a Strict Sacrifice.

Appreciation  of Irenaeus as a Witness. 

The emphasis on the subjective side of sacrifices, so prominent in the writers just considered, is repeated by Irenaeus,(flourished A.D. 177.) Though he visited Rome, and became, later on, Bishop of Lyons, having been reared in Asia Minor he was a representative of the East rather than of the West. As he testified to having seen Poly carp, the disciple of John the Apostle, he is not far removed from the Apostolic era. Of special value in indicating that his doctrine was that of the Church, his was a strikingly conservative mind which relied on Tradition alone, which regarded the tenets of Gnosticism—then the religious philosophy of the world— as " old wives' tales," and which, unlike the genius of Clement and of Origen, was unwilling to make any compromise with the science of the day owing to his over-exclusive attention to its baseless speculations. Notwithstanding, he is an intelligent witness of doctrine, displaying in his treatise against heresies rare skill in exactly comprehending his opponents' positions, in tracing them back to old forms of error, in recognising novelties of doctrine under the cloak of Catholic terminology, and in showing up inconsistencies. His object in treating of sacrifices is to combat the Gnostic doctrine that there is a different author for the Old and the New Testament, by showing that, in particular, the sacrificial doctrine of both is substantially the same. This purpose of Irenaeus will be seen after an impartial examination of the testimonies that may be cited for and against the doctrine of a strict sacrifice in the Eucharist.

Character of the Sacrifice

"And again," he writes, " that God needed not their sacrifice (but merely demanded it) on account of man himself who offers it, Jehovah taught distinctly." 1 "Again, giving direction to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own created things—not as if He stood in need of them but that they themselves might be neither unfruitful nor ungrateful—He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, ' This is My body.' And the cup likewise, which is part of the creation to which we belong, He confesses to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant—which the Church, receiving from the Apostles, offers to God throughout all the world, to Him who gives us the means of sustenance—the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachy . . . spoke beforehand." 2

" And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside, for there were both oblations there (among the Jews), and there are oblations here (among the Christians). Sacrifices there were among the people, sacrifices there are too in the Church, but the species alone has been changed, inasmuch as the offering is now made, not by slaves, but by free-men." 3

" Inasmuch then as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God." 4

In his teaching, Irenaeus, like Justin Martyr, lays a very special stress on the spiritual aspect of sacrifice. Although it is a tendency of the human mind to conclude, because an idea is emphasized, that this alone is considered worth while, his emphasis does not mean that Irenaeus taught a purely spiritual sacrifice. As his teaching so closely resembles that of the other writers of the period, it is fortunate that he gives a full exposition of his doctrine; it is well, too, to examine it closely as it will cast much light on parallel statements of other teachers. One may fully admit the spiritual teaching concerning sacrifice, found in Irenaeus. In the context he is arguing against certain Gnostics, who, from a consideration of the material doctrines of the Old Testament, concluded that its author was the evil creator of matter, and a being different from the Father. It is natural, then, that he should be intent on one aspect of the question, namely, the spirituality of the sacrificial doctrine in both Testaments. This being his scope, it was not his duty to touch on the material side of sacrifice, and, even if he did not do so, his silence could not in all fairness be regarded as equivalent to denial; but a full examination of his testimonies will show that he also refers to the material aspect of sacrifices.

Explaining the spiritual teaching of the Old Testament, he narrates how Samuel declares that obedience is better than the fat of rams, how David says that God did not desire sacrifice but opened his ears to hear the Divine commands, that He does not delight in holocausts but in a broken and contrite spirit, that His are the beasts of the earth and the fowls of heaven, and He has no need to petition man in case of His being hungry, that He counsels man to offer the sacrifice of praise and to pay his vows to the Most High; how Isaiah declares that the multitude of Jewish sacrifices is a superfluity, that instead of these the Jews should wash away the wickedness of their hearts, cease from their evil ways, relieve the oppressed, judge the orphans, and plead for the widow, that what God chooses is to have the bonds of unjust contracts dissolved, to have bread given willingly to the hungry, to have the roofless stranger admitted, to have the naked covered, and that the result will be that the Lord will hear them even before they have finished their request. 5 Irenaeus declares that God repudiated the Jewish sacrifices in order to suggest the true sacrifice, namely, an afflicted heart, a heart magnifying its Creator; he explains how Jeremiah, also, said that incense from Saba and cinnamon from a distant country were useless, but, rather, the people should rectify their conduct, that God did not command sacrifices on their return from Egypt but the hearing of His voice for the purpose of gaining His intimate friendship, that God is pleased by loving-kindness, righteousness and justice, and not by sacrifices, holocausts, and oblations ; how Zachary declared the true will of God to be the execution of true justice, and not the oppression of the widow, the orphan, the proselyte, and the poor, nor the devising of evil against one's brother ; how Hosea said that God desired mercy rather than sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings ; how, in fine, in the New Testament, quite similarly, the Lord approved of Hosea's idea of sacrifice, quoting the prophet's words already mentioned. 6 Can Irenaeus entertain all these beautiful ideas of spiritual doctrine, and admit also a sensible sacrifice ? Can he, like Athenagoras, quote the very thought of Hosea about the superiority of the knowledge of God over mere sacrifices, and yet admit a visible sacrifice ? Fortunately, Irenaeus himself gives an express answer. He says in the passage first quoted that, though God does not need sacrifice, He seeks it for man's sake. He shows clearly that the fact that God does not need a thing does not prove its inutility. " God did not," he says, " need Adam," 7 yet Adam existed. God does not need even the love of man, yet that is required. It is sometimes said that, since Irenaeus dwells on the fact that God does not need visible sacrifices, he was conscious of some novelty and inconsistency in the doctrine of a visible sacrifice in the New Testament. As well might we argue that, because he admitted that God did not need Adam, he was conscious of some inconsistency in speaking of the existence of Adam. Irenaeus gives a true reconciliation of the independence of God and the need of sacrifices by saying that the need is based on human nature, that man is bound to be grateful, that fruitfulness is found in man by means of sacrifice since it obtains for him the privilege and glory of God's friendship.

Again, he reconciles the spirituality of the doctrine of the Old Testament with its requirement of visible sacrifices by declaring that the spiritual commands are of primary importance, the command to offer sacrifice of a secondary character. That God did not, as Jeremiah said, command sacrifices on the departure of the Jews from Egypt is explained by Irenaeus to mean that He did not primarily demand these rites.

Finally, that Irenaeus did not exclude the material aspect of sacrifices is clear from his mention of the New Testament oblation in the context where he shows that the same ideas of spirituality existed in both Testaments. After giving the character of the Old Testament sacrifices, he prefaces his remarks, above quoted, about the New Testament oblation by the word " Again." Surely, this citation does not favour the idea that the Eucharistic sacrifice is one of mere prayer. Is not the offering of the Eucharistic Bread something visible ? For the same reason the citation shows that the New Testament offering is not one of mere prayer. That it is a strict sacrifice in the same generic, though not specific, sense as those of the Old Testament is expressly stated by Irenaeus himself. " Sacrifices there were there; sacrifices there are here." If it is objected that the Eucharistic sacrifice, according to Irenaeus, is merely symbolic, it is enough for us to know from himself that it is a sacrifice in the same sense as the Jewish oblations. And even though the Old Testament sacrifices were symbolic, they could still be, in themselves, true objective sacrifices.

Besides, if the New Testament sacrifice is not a visible one, the whole scope of Irenaeus, which is to show that the sacrificial doctrine in both Testaments is identical, fails to be realized. A Gnostic could reply that the Old Testament idea of sacrifice is, at least to some extent, material while the New Testament idea is purely spiritual, and that this fundamental difference is an indication of diversity of authorship. Consistently with his set object, Irenaeus is bound to admit that, as the sacrifice of the Old Law was to some extent material, so is that of the New Law. In this matter, too, our Saviour is seen to perfect, not to reverse the old sacrificial doctrine. The perfection or the extension of the old ideas consisted in the fact that the hints of spirituality, connected with the Old Testament sacrifice, developed into the predominantly spiritual doctrine of the New Testament oblation.

Oblations, holocausts, sacrifices are, with Irenaeus, only types of what is heavenly, and material things round about us are meant to symbolise and body forth the spiritual things, which he declares to be congruous since one God made both classes of objects. 9 According to this principle we may suppose that Irenaeus would hold that even the sacrifice of the Eucharist is subordinate to the spirituality or righteousness of man. Nor is there anything inconsistent in the principle, since sacrifices, like the Sacraments, exist for the sake of men.

Led, perhaps, by a desire to show that the spirituality of the New Testament oblation is identical with that of the Old Testament and knowing that the spirituality of the Old consists in something subjective, he interprets the purity of the New Testament oblation as resulting also from righteousness. In other words, the pure oblation of Malachy is understood to mean an oblation offered by a pure Church. Thus, in the last passage quoted above in the evidence, he traces the purity of the oblation to the single-mindedness of the Church. He is inaccurate—if we accept the interpretation of modern Theology, as we have reason to do—in tracing the purity or " cleanness " of the oblation to the subjective dispositions, and not to the objective value of the offering of the sinless Christ, an offering which is unstained by any unworthiness of the secondary offerer. That he inaccurately gives this exclusively subjective interpretation to the aspect of purity in the oblation is clear from the method of reasoning in the context. Thus, he concludes that Gnostic heretics do not offer the pure oblation simply because of their unrighteous way of thinking. 10 If he believed in the purity of the oblation independently of the human offerer, he could not reason in this wise. But the fact that he puts a purely spiritual interpretation on the aspect of " cleanness " in the sacrifice predicted by Malachy does not, of course, prove that he regarded the whole oblation as merely subjective. The fact that he admits an offering of Eucharistic Bread, successfully combats so broad a conclusion.

The antiquity of this visible sacrifice is expressly mentioned by Irenaeus. It is strikingly significant that Irenaeus, a man of conservative mind, one who had seen Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, one whose doctrine, therefore, was presumably handed down from Apostolic times, should in the passage quoted above in the evidence assert that Christ taught the New Testament sacrifice, and that the Church received it from the Apostles themselves. Having satisfied ourselves that Irenaeus teaches on the ground of tradition a strict sacrifice in the Eucharist, it is well to inquire if he taught the substance of the present-day doctrine of the Mass, namely, an offering of the body and blood of Christ.

The Object Offered.

"The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with thanksgiving, (the things taken) from His creation. But the Jews do not offer this, for their hands are full of blood ; for they have not received the Word through whom it is offered to God (or Who is offered to God.)" 11

" For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. 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,holding the hope of resurrection to eternity." 12

"Then, again, how can they (the Gnostics) say that the flesh which is nourished with the Lord's body and with His blood goes to corruption, and does not participate in life ? " 13

In the first passage quoted here there is question of an offering of the things taken from creation. In another passage, which had been previously quoted, there was reference to an offering of the first-fruits. It is fairly clear that, so far, Irenaeus merely speaks of the Offertory, and by him we find enunciated for the first time the different parts of the function, namely, the Offertory, the Communion, 14 and the Consecration. 15 The first-fruits cannot be taken by Irenaeus as referring to Christ whom in other passages he describes not as the " first-fruit of creation " but as " the first-begotten of the dead." Besides, Irenaeus speaks in the sentence in question 16 of the offering of that " created thing, bread." Irenaeus is the first to associate the ideas of the Old Testament concerning first-fruits with the Eucharist. He says that this rite includes the same offering as Moses prescribed, 17 which shows that Irenaeus is talking as yet merely of the offering of bread, for, surely, Moses did not prescribe an offering of Christ.

But does Irenaeus teach more than an offering of mere bread ? If one reading, given in some MSS. for the first passage quoted here, were genuine—and this is quite possible—then the solution would be easy. For it would be expressly stated that the Word is offered to God. But such a reading is rendered doubtful, not alone because such explicitness is nowhere found amongst the contemporaries of Irenaeus, but because in another passage, whose genuineness is unquestioned, it is said that the Eucharist is offered through the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, 18 and of doubtful readings, that which is less plain is more likely to be genuine, and less likely to have been retouched.

Hence, in no unquestionably genuine passage is it explicitly stated that the body and blood of Christ are the object of the offering. But this is, I think, implied, as the mind of Irenaeus, for, in the second passage quoted above, he speaks of offering His own to God, namely, the bread. But in the next sentence he says, like Justin, that the Bread (after consecration) is not common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of a heavenly and earthly reality. Could Irenaeus, almost in the same breath in which he speaks of the offering of the elements not yet consecrated, explain the Eucharistic Bread as a heavenly reality as well as an earthly, and yet be ignorant that there is an offering in the Eucharist of the heavenly reality ? It seems he could not. Hence, whatever be said as to the exactness of his knowledge of Transubstantiation, a question with which I am not concerned, he may be reasonably presumed to hold in the Eucharist an offering of the "heavenly and earthly realities." What the heavenly reality is may be known from the fact that he admits the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Our flesh is said, in the passage last quoted, to be nourished with the body and blood of Christ. Surely our flesh cannot be nourished with anything ideal, with a virtual presence of Christ, or with a presence by means of the influence of His doctrine ; it cannot, in a word, be said to be nourished with anything less substantial than the Saviour's body and blood really present.

1 Adv, Haer, iv., 17. 1.

2 Ibid., iv. 17. 5.

3 Adv. Haer., iv. 18, 2.

4 Ibid. iv„ 18. i.

5 Adv. Haer., iv. 17.

6 Adv. Haer., iv. 17.

7 Ibid., iv. 14, 1.

8 Adv. Haer., iv, 17, 3.

9 Adv, Haer., iv, 19. 1.

10 Adv, Haer, iv., 18. 4.

11 Adv. Haer., iv, 18, 4.

12 Ibid., iv, 18. 5.

13 Ibid,, iv. 18, 5.

14 Adv. Haer., iv, 18, 5,

15 Ibid., iv. 18. 4,

16 Ibid,, iv, 17,5.

17 Ibid.. iv. 18, 1.

18 Adv. Haer., iv. 17, 6.