Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning the holy and immaculate Mysteries of the Lord.
Chapter XIII.—Concerning the holy and immaculate Mysteries of the Lord.
God 2391 Who is good and altogether good and more than good, Who is goodness throughout, by reason of the exceeding riches of His goodness did not suffer Himself, that is His nature, only to be good, with no other to participate therein, but because of this He made first the spiritual and heavenly powers: next the visible and sensible universe: next man with his spiritual and sentient nature. All things, therefore, which he made, share in His goodness in respect of their existence. For He Himself is existence to all, since all things that are, are in Him 2392 , not only because it was He that brought them out of nothing into being, but because His energy preserves and maintains all that He made: and in especial the living creatures. For both in that they exist and in that they p. 82b enjoy life they share in His goodness. But in truth those of them that have reason have a still greater share in that, both because of what has been already said and also because of the very reason which they possess. For they are somehow more dearly akin to Him, even though He is incomparably higher than they.
Man, however, being endowed with reason and free will, received the power of continuous union with God through his own choice, if indeed he should abide in goodness, that is in obedience to his Maker. Since, however, he transgressed the command of his Creator and became liable to death and corruption, the Creator and Maker of our race, because of His bowels of compassion, took on our likeness, becoming man in all things but without sin, and was united to our nature 2393 . For since He bestowed on us His own image and His own spirit and we did not keep them safe, He took Himself a share in our poor and weak nature, in order that He might cleanse us and make us incorruptible, and establish us once more as partakers of His divinity.
For it was fitting that not only the first-fruits of our nature should partake in the higher good but every man who wished it, and that a second birth should take place and that the nourishment should be new and suitable to the birth and thus the measure of perfection be attained. Through His birth, that is, His incarnation, and baptism and passion and resurrection, He delivered our nature from the sin of our first parent and death and corruption, and became the first-fruits of the resurrection, and made Himself the way and image and pattern, in order that we, too, following in His footsteps, may become by adoption what He is Himself by nature 2394 , sons and heirs of God and joint heirs with Him 2395 . He gave us therefore, as I said, a second birth in order that, just as we who are born of Adam are in his image and are the heirs of the curse and corruption, so also being born of Him we may be in His likeness and heirs 2396 of His incorruption and blessing and glory.
Now seeing that this Adam is spiritual, it was meet that both the birth and likewise the food should be spiritual too, but since we are of a double and compound nature, it is meet that both the birth should be double and likewise the food compound. We were therefore given a birth by water and Spirit: I mean, by the holy baptism 2397 : and the food is the very bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven 2398 . For when He was about to take on Himself a voluntary death for our sakes, on the night on which He gave Himself up, He laid a new covenant on His holy disciples and apostles, and through them on all who believe on Him. In the upper chamber, then, of holy and illustrious Sion, after He had eaten the ancient Passover with His disciples and had fulfilled the ancient covenant, He washed His disciples feet 2399 in token of the holy baptism. Then having broken bread He gave it to them saying, Take, eat, this is My body broken for you for the remission of sins 2400 . Likewise also He took the cup of wine and water and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it: for this is My blood, the blood of the New Testament which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do ye in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the death of the Son of man and confess His resurrection until He come 2401 .
If then the Word of God is quick and energising 2402 , and the Lord did all that He willed 2403 ; if He said, Let there be light and there was light, let there be a firmament and there was a firmament 2404 ; if the heavens were established by the Word of the Lord and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth 2405 ; if the heaven and the earth, water and fire and air and the whole glory of these, and, in sooth, this most noble creature, man, were perfected by the Word of the Lord; if God the Word of His own will became man and the pure and undefiled blood of the holy and ever-virginal One made His flesh without the aid of seed 2406 , can He not then make the bread His body and the wine and water His blood? He said in the beginning, Let the earth bring forth grass 2407 , and even until this present day, when the rain comes it brings forth its proper fruits, urged on and strengthened by the divine command. God said, This is My body, and This is My blood, and this do ye in remembrance of Me. And so it is at His omnipotent command until He come: for it was in this sense that He said until He come: and the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit becomes through the invocation the rain to this new tillage 2408 . For just as God made all that He made by the energy of the Holy Spirit, so also now the energy of the p. 83b Spirit performs those things that are supernatural and which it is not possible to comprehend unless by faith alone. How shall this be, said the holy Virgin, seeing I know not a man? And the archangel Gabriel answered her: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee 2409 . And now you ask, how the bread became Christs body and the wine and water Christs blood. And I say unto thee, “The Holy Spirit is present and does those things which surpass reason and thought.”
Further, bread and wine 2410 are employed: for God knoweth mans infirmity: for in general man turns away discontentedly from what is not well-worn by custom: and so with His usual indulgence He performs His supernatural works through familiar objects: and just as, in the case of baptism, since it is mans custom to wash himself with water and anoint himself with oil, He connected the grace of the Spirit with the oil and the water and made it the water of regeneration, in like manner since it is mans custom to eat and to drink water and wine 2411 , He connected His divinity with these and made them His body and blood in order that we may rise to what is supernatural through what is familiar and natural.
The body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into Gods body and blood 2412 . But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit. And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energises and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out 2413 . But one can put it well thus, that just as in nature the bread by the eating and the wine and the water by the drinking are changed into the body and blood of the eater and drinker, and do not 2414 become a different body from the former one, so the bread of the table 2415 and the wine and water are supernaturally changed by the invocation and presence of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Christ, and are not two but one 2416 and the same.
Wherefore to those who partake worthily with faith, it is for the remission of sins and for life everlasting and for the safeguarding of soul and body; but to those who partake unworthily without faith, it is for chastisement and punishment, just as also the death of the Lord became to those who believe life and incorruption for the enjoyment of eternal blessedness, while to those who do not believe and to the murderers of the Lord it is for everlasting chastisement and punishment.
The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!) but the deified body of the Lord itself: for the Lord has said, “This is My body,” not, this is a figure of My body: and “My blood,” not, a figure of My blood. And on a previous occasion He had said to the Jews, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. For My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed. And again, He that eateth Me, shall live 2417 2418 .
Wherefore with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near and it will assuredly be to us as we believe, doubting nothing. Let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body: for it is twofold. Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross 2419 let us receive the body of the Crucified One: and let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, and that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal 2420 . But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire: in like manner also the bread of the communion 2421 is not plain bread but bread united with divinity. But a body 2422 which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two.
With bread and wine Melchisedek, the priest of the most high God, received Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the Gentiles 2423 . That table pre-imaged this mystical table, just as that priest was a type and image of Christ, the true high-priest 2424 . For thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek 2425 . Of this p. 84b bread the show-bread was an image 2426 . This surely is that pure and bloodless sacrifice which the Lord through the prophet said is offered to Him from the rising to the setting of the sun 2427 .
The body and blood of Christ are making for the support of our soul and body, without being consumed or suffering corruption, not making for the draught (God forbid!) but for our being and preservation, a protection against all kinds of injury, a purging from all uncleanness: should one receive base gold, they purify it by the critical burning lest in the future we be condemned with this world. They purify from diseases and all kinds of calamities; according to the words of the divine Apostle 2428 , For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. This too is what he says, So that he that partaketh of the body and blood of Christ unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself 2429 . Being purified by this, we are united to the body of Christ and to His Spirit and become the body of Christ.
This bread is the first-fruits 2430 of the future bread which is ἐπιούσιος, i.e. necessary for existence. For the word ἐπιούσιον signifies either the future, that is Him Who is for a future age, or else Him of Whom we partake for the preservation of our essence. Whether then it is in this sense or that, it is fitting to speak so of the Lords body. For the Lords flesh is life-giving spirit because it was conceived of the life-giving Spirit. For what is born of the Spirit is spirit. But I do not say this to take away the nature of the body, but I wish to make clear its life-giving and divine power 2431 .
But if some persons called the bread and the wine antitypes 2432 of the body and blood of the Lord, as did the divinely inspired Basil, they said so not after the consecration but before the consecration, so calling the offering itself.
Participation is spoken of; for through it we partake of the divinity of Jesus. Communion, too, is spoken of, and it is an actual communion, because through it we have communion with Christ and share in His flesh and His divinity: yea, we have communion and are united with one another through it. For since we partake of one bread, we all become one body of Christ and one blood, and members one of another, being of one body with Christ.
With all our strength, therefore, let us beware lest we receive communion from or grant it to heretics; Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, saith the Lord, neither cast ye your pearls before swine 2433 , lest we become partakers in their dishonour and condemnation. For if union is in truth with Christ and with one another, we are assuredly voluntarily united also with all those who partake with us. For this union is effected voluntarily and not against our inclination. For we are all one body because we partake of the one bread, as the divine Apostle says 2434 .
Further, antitypes of future things are spoken of, not as though they were not in reality Christs body and blood, but that now through them we partake of Christs divinity, while then we shall partake mentally 2435 through the vision alone.
Greg. Naz., Orat. 42; Dion. De div. nom., ch. 3.81b:2392
Rom. xi. 36.82b:2393
Heb. ii. 17.82b:2394
Rom. vii. 17.82b:2395
Variant, φύσει καὶ κληρονόμοι τῆς αὐτοῦ γενώμεθα χάριτος, και αὐτου υἰοι, καὶ συγκληρονόμοι.82b:2396
Text, κληρονομήσωμεν. Variant, κληρονομήσαντες.82b:2397
Chrys. in Matt., Hom. 83; St. John iii. 3.82b:2398
St. John vi. 48.82b:2399
St. Matt. xxvi. 26; Liturg. S. Jacobi.82b:2401
Matt. 26:27, 28, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 20, 1 Cor. 11:24.82b:2402
Heb. iv. 12.82b:2403
Ps. cxxxv. 6.82b:2404
Gen. 1:3, 6.82b:2405
Ps. xxxiii. 6.82b:2406
Text, καὶ τὰ τῆς...καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμώμητα αἵματα ἑαυτῷ. Variant, καὶ ἐκ τῶν τῆς...καθαρῶν καὶ ἀμωμήτων αἱμάτων ἑαυτῳ.82b:2407
Gen. i. 11.82b:2408
Iren.,bk. iv., ch. 35; Fulg., Ad Monim., bk. ii., ch. 6; Chrys., De prod. Judæ; Greg. Nyss., Catech., &c.83b:2409
St. Luke 1:34, 35.83b:2410
Nyss., Orat., Catech., ch. 37.83b:2411
Clem., Constit., bk. viii.; Justin Martyr., Apol. i.; Iren., v. 2.83b:2412
Greg. Nyss., Orat. Catech., c. 37.83b:2413
Simile Nyss. loc. cit.83b:2414
οὐ is absent in some mss.83b:2415
The Greek is ὁ τῆς προθέσεως οἶνος, the bread of the prothesis. It is rendered panis propositionis in the old translations. These phrases designate the Shewbread in the LXX. and the Vulgate. The πρόθεσις is explained as a smaller table placed on the right side of the altar, on which the priests make ready the bread and the cup for consecration. See the note in Migne.83b:2416
See Niceph., C.P., Antirr. ii. 3.83b:2417
St. John vi. 51-55.83b:2418
ζωὴν αἰ& 240·νιον is added in many mss.83b:2419
Cyril Hierosol., Cat. Mystag. 5; Chrys. Hom. 3 in Epist. ad Ephes.; Trull. can. 101.83b:2420
Is. vi. 6.83b:2421
See Cyril Alex. on Isaiah vi.83b:2422
Vide Basil, ibid.83b:2423
Gen. xiv. 18.83b:2424
Ps. cx. 4.84b:2426
Text, εἰκόνιζον. Variant, εἰκονίζουσι.84b:2427
Mal. i. 11.84b:2428
1 Cor. 11:31, 32.84b:2429
1 Cor. 11.29.84b:2430
Cyril, loc. cit.84b:2431
St. John vi. 63.84b:2432
Anastas., Hodegus, ch. 23.84b:2433
St. Matt. vii. 6.84b:2434
1 Cor. x. 17.84b:2435
Text, νοητῶς διὰ μόνῆς τῆς Θέας: νοητῶς is wanting in some Reg. 2928 having διὰ μόνης τῆς Θείας ἑνώσεως.
Next: Concerning our Lord's genealogy and concerning the holy Mother of God.
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