We have heard the different testimonies of different witnesses concerning the existence of the Mass in the early Church. We have considered the words of advocates of opposing theories regarding that evidence. We know the law that is to guide us in determining the authentic doctrines of the Mass ; the Council of Trent says that it is a strict sacrifice, an offering of the body and blood of Christ, a propitiatory oblation. We have to decide the question of fact : Is that, which the early Fathers announce, substantially the same as the Mass, understood by Trent. We have been investigating particular instances all through this inquiry; we have now to consider the evidence in general, and draw our conclusions. These are the very words of the authorities.
Under the head of a strict sacrifice, the Council of Trent anathematizes one who says that in the Mass there is not offered a true and strict sacrifice. 1 Justin speaks concerning those sacrifices which are offered to God in every place by us Gentiles, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and similarly the cup of the Eucharist 2 ; Irenaeus testifies that the class of oblations in general has not been set aside, for " there are oblations there, among the Jews, and oblations here, among the Christians" ; Clement of Alexandria says that Moses speaks of Melchisedech, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who gave bread and wine, consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist ; Origen testifies 3 that the Christians eat the Bread which is offered with prayers and thanksgivings 4 ; Tertullian says that Mithra also (like the Church) celebrates the oblation of bread 5 ; Hippolytus of Rome says that, on the appearance of the anti-Christ, the food and drink offering will be removed which already is offered by the Gentiles to God in all parts 6 ; Cyprian, in fine, asks who is more a priest than Jesus Christ who offered a sacrifice to God, the Father, and offered that very same thing which Melchisedech had offered, that is, bread and wine, to wit, His own body and blood, and Cyprian further states that priests do the same thing which Jesus did in the Last Supper. 7
In regard to the object offered. Trent excommunicates one who says that Christ did not ordain that the Apostles and other priests should offer His body and blood. 8 Justin contains the premises, that the Sacrifice is the bread and the chalice of the Eucharist 9 and that the Consecrated Food is the flesh and blood of Jesus ; Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen, as we have already elaborated, and it would be too tedious to do so again, give similar implicit testimonies ; Tertullian says ironically that for the benefit of the apostate, Christ will be slain again in the Eucharist; 10 Hippolytus states that God's immaculate body and blood are sacrificed in memory of the Last Supper; 11 Cyprian expressly speaks of the offering of the blood of Christ. 12 As to the propitiatory effect, Trent anathematizes one who says that the sacrifice of the Mass is not propitiatory, or that it should not be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, penalties, satisfactions, and other needs. 13 Passing over Justin, Irenaeus, and Clement, who do not speak formally on the subject, Origen says that the Eucharist is the only commemoration which makes God propitious to men; 14 Cyprian speaks of celebrating the sacrifice for the repose of the dead, and of mentioning their names at God's altar in the prayers of the priests. 15
After a consideration of all these testimonies, which we have here briefly condensed, and which cannot but lose some force in a short summary, I have no hesitation in concluding that what these Fathers announce presents a striking identity with the Mass as understood by the Council of Trent. Sometimes, it is implicitly announced; sometimes, as in Cyprian, it is marvellously expressed even in the same explicit manner as it was defined after several centuries of close investigation. The testimonies are in agreement concerning the essential aspects of the Mass. What matters it, then, if there be some accidental inexactness in the doctrines of individual Fathers ? The declaration of this only serves to emphasise their agreement about essentials. Justin may use inexact terms, saying that Christians generally offer prayers alone in their Eucharistic commemoration, but mean, as we know from other passages, that the president's offering is not mere prayer. Clement may have even inexact doctrine concerning a mixture of the Logos and drink in the Eucharist. 16 Origen may say that the material element of the Eucharist partakes of the ultimate fate of ordinary digested food. 17 In a minor aspect of the doctrine, Clement of Alexandria, Justin, Irenaeus, and Firmilian may not define precisely the formula causing the Consecration, but say that it is effected through the word of God and the invocation. But these writers were seen to give testimony concerning the essential doctrines of the Mass.
Any reasonable critic, one who is able to admit ideas contrary to his preconceived opinions, can now decide whether the evidence of these writers may be interpreted as signifying the existence of a strict sacrifice in the Eucharist. Would Irenaeus, who believed in an offering of first-fruits, and in a new oblation, taught by the Apostles and identified with the undefiled oblation announced by Malachy, feel at home with the declarations of Trent ? Would Tertullian, who spoke of anniversary offerings in connection with the dead ? Would St. Cyprian, who, according to his own words, saw in the Eucharist a true and full sacrifice, taught and founded by Jesus Christ, who saw therein an immolated, a Lordly Victim, who believed it to be a commemoration of the Lord's Passion, in some J sense His Passion itself, who believed that the Eucharist contains an offering of the blood of Christ, and that the sacrifice is offered for the repose of the dead whose names are mentioned at the altar,—would he feel less at home with the sacrificial doctrine of the Catholic Church than with that of her rivals ?
We have seen the progress from comparative indefiniteness to clearness in what these early writers express concerning the doctrine. From the saying of Irenaeus about the "offering of the first-fruits" or of Tertullian about the offering of bread, to Cyprian's expression about the offering of the blood of Christ, there is a notable advance in definiteness. But, what Cyprian expresses, is really the same as the statement of Irenaeus that there is an offering of the Eucharistic Bread which is elsewhere identified by the latter with the body and blood of Christ; even the explicitness of Cyprian about the sacrificial character of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist is not new, but is found expressed already by Origen when he writes: " 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.'" 18 Hence,Cyprian'swords do not shape his own conclusion; he found his expressions already formulated. Early writers, indeed, fall short of some theories of recent theologians. But the continuity is not broken. Thus a view of Tertullian was seen to be not unlike the modern theory of mystic destruction. I must, therefore, disagree with the results of the investigators whose opinions were mentioned at the beginning. It was not my intention to make a direct and bitter onslaught upon them personally, but what I have written, while primarily intended to positively set forth the truth, was meant to contain incidentally an answer to their theories. I reject totally the views of Renz, that the Eucharist is not a real and immediate offering of the body and blood of Christ but a representation of the former offering, that Justin Martyr did not explicitly speak of an objective sacrificial gift in the Eucharist, and that certain early writers meant to give the essence of the sacrifice and, in the last analysis, placed it in prayer. I totally reject the view of Wieland, that Justin and his contemporaries of the sub-Apostolic age, as well as Apologists like Clement, are contradicted by the later sacrificial teaching of I renaeus and his successors, the former writers placing the essence of the sacrifice in pure prayer, the latter introducing the idea of an objective sacrifice. I reject the theory of Harnack that all until Cyprian's time had the idea of a subjective sacrifice of pure prayer, and that the latter was the first to give expression to the germ of the present-day Catholic doctrine of the Mass. I regret, moreover, Harnack's expressing an unworthy and unfounded idea of the Church of Cyprian's time —that its application of a sacrificial character to the Consecrated Elements was due to an effort to give a magical character to the specifically sacerdotal action and to the desire of a secularised Christianity for an invisible bloody sacrifice. 19
If the Mass, then, is with the early Fathers, who have more reliability, these or their critics ? Irenaeus, the second writer of our period, writes about a half century after the death of the last Apostle; Cyprian, the last witness, writes a century and a half after the same point of time. Both are strictly conservative writers ; Cyprian becomes solemn and impressive tracing the Eucharistic doctrine from the remotest source. They do not teach their own thoughts, but the early, even the Divine tradition. Irenaeus says that the Church received the oblation from the Apostles ; Cyprian testifies that the Lord is its Teacher. Concerning the purity of the tradition these are strong words. Are we not to prefer the Fathers of the second and third centuries, as guides concerning the earliest and purest doctrine, to critics of the far-off twentieth.
1 Sess. 22, can. l.
2 Dial. 41.
3 Str. iv., 25.
4 In Levit, hom. xiii.
5 Be Praescrip, xv.
6 Fragm. Dan,, I, 22. Migne Gr., 10.
7 Ep. 63.
8 Sess. 22, can. 2.
9 Dial. 41.
10 De Pud., c. 9.
11 Prov. ix., 1.
12 Ep. 63.
13Sess. 22, can, 3.
14 In Levit, Hom. xiii. 3.
15 Ep. 1, 2.
16 Paed ii. 2.
17 In. Mat. M. P. G., col. 940, note 37.
17 In. Mat. M. P. G., col. 940, note 37.
18 In Levit., Hom,, ix., n, 10.
19 Dogmengesch, I,, 390.