Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The First Ecumenical Council: The First Council of Nice.: Excursus on the Word Προσφέρειν.
Excursus on the Word Προσφέρειν .
(Dr. Adolph Harnack: Hist. of Dogma [Eng. Tr.] Vol. I. p. 209.)
The idea of the whole transaction of the Supper as a sacrifice, is plainly found in the Didache, (c. 14), in Ignatius, and above all, in Justin (I. 65f.) But even Clement of Rome presupposes it, when (in cc. 40–44) he draws a parallel between bishops and deacons and the p. 14 Priests and Levites of the Old Testament, describing as the chief function of the former (44.4) προσφέρειν τὰ δῶρα. This is not the place to enquire whether the first celebration had, in the mind of its founder, the character of a sacrificial meal; but, certainly, the idea, as it was already developed at the time of Justin, had been created by the churches. Various reasons tended towards seeing in the Supper a sacrifice. In the first place, Malachi i. 11, demanded a solemn Christian sacrifice: see my notes on Didache, 14.3. In the second place, all prayers were regarded as a sacrifice, and therefore the solemn prayers at the Supper must be specially considered as such. In the third place, the words of institution τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, contained a command with regard to a definite religious action. Such an action, however, could only be represented as a sacrifice, and this the more, that the Gentile Christians might suppose that they had to understand ποιεῖν in the sense of θύειν. In the fourth place, payments in kind were necessary for the “agapæ” connected with the Supper, out of which were taken the bread and wine for the Holy celebration; in what other aspect could these offerings in the worship be regarded than as προσφοραί for the purpose of a sacrifice? Yet the spiritual idea so prevailed that only the prayers were regarded as the θυσία proper, even in the case of Justin (Dial. 117). The elements are only δῶρα, προσφοραί, which obtain their value from the prayers, in which thanks are given for the gifts of creation and redemption, as well as for the holy meal, and entreaty is made for the introduction of the community into the Kingdom of God (see Didache, 9. 10). Therefore, even the sacred meal itself is called εὐχαριστία (Justin, Apol. I. 66: ἡ τροφὴ αὕτη καλεῖται παρ᾽ ἡμῖν εὐχαριστία . Didache, 9. 1: Ignat.), because it is τραφὴ εὐχαριστηθεῖσα. It is a mistake to suppose that Justin already understood the body of Christ to be the object of ποιεῖν, 60 and therefore thought of a sacrifice of this body (I. 66). The real sacrificial act in the Supper consists rather, according to Justin, only in the εὐχαριστίαν ποιεῖν whereby the κοινὸς ἄρτος becomes the ἄρτος τῆς εὐχαριστίας . 61 The sacrifice of the Supper in its essence, apart from the offering of alms, which in the practice of the Church was closely united with it, is nothing but a sacrifice of prayer: the sacrificial act of the Christian here also is nothing else than an act of prayer (See Apol. I. 14, 65–67; Dial. 28, 29, 41, 70, 116–118).
Harnack (lib. cit. Vol. II. chapter III. p. 136) says that “Cyprian was the first to associate the specific offering, i.e. the Lords Supper with the specific priesthood. Secondly, he was the first to designate the passio Domini, nay, the sanguis Christi and the dominica hostia as the object of the eucharistic offering.” In a foot-note (on the same page) he explains that “Sacrificare, Sacrificium celebrare in all passages where they are unaccompanied by any qualifying words, mean to celebrate the Lords Supper.” But Harnack is confronted by the very evident objection that if this was an invention of St. Cyprians, it is most extraordinary that it raised no protest, and he very frankly confesses (note 2, on same page) that “the transference of the sacrificial idea to the consecrated elements which in all probability Cyprian already found in existence, etc.” Harnack further on (in the same note on p. 137) notes that he has pointed out in his notes on the Didache that in the “Apostolic Church Order” occurs the expression ἥ προσφορὰ τοῦ σώματος καὶ τοῦ αἵματος.
Harnack seems to know only the printed (and almost certainly incorrect) reading of the modern texts of the I. Apology (Chapter LXVI) where τοῦτο ἐστι has taken the place of τούτεστι. The passage did read, τοῦτο ποιεῖτε, εἰς τὴν ἀνάμνησίν μου, τούτεστι τὸ σῶμά μου; in which it is evident that the words “my body” are in apposition with τοῦτο and the object of ποιεῖτε, which has its sacrificial sense “to offer,” as in the Dialogue with Trypho, ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν παρέδωκε ποιεῖν (chapter xlj).14:61
Harnack evidently does not fully appreciate the Catholic doctrine of the Sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. No catholic theologian teaches that the essence of that sacrifice is to offer up the already present Body of Christ, but that the essence of the Sacrifice is the act of consecration; the “making the Eucharistic Sacrifice,” as he accurately says, “whereby the common bread becomes the Bread of the Eucharist.” Harnack says truly that “the sacrificial act of the Christian here also is nothing else than an act of prayer,” but he does not seem to know that this is the Catholic doctrine to-day, nor to appreciate at its Catholic value the “Prayer of Consecration.” The act of consecration is the essence of the Christian Sacrifice according to the teaching of all Catholics.
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