The Eucharist is the Sacrifice of Christ – Cyprian of Carthage (258 AD)

Cyprian of Carthage

In the 3rd century, there were a group of Christians who began to try and celebrate the Eucharist with water instead of wine, and they were known as the Hydroparastatae or Aquarians. During the Decian persecution, they would substitute water for wine. St. Cyprian’s refutation of this erroneous practice comes to us in a letter to a certain Caecilius and it affords us the opportunity to see a 3rd century Saint expose the realism of the sacrifice of the holy Mass. I strongly encourage the readers to visit the full letter at the link after the citation to read the whole thing. Its priceless. Notice, most particularly, two things: how Cyprian describes the priest who offers the Eucharist to be doing what Christ himself did during the Last Supper, and how drastically important it is to get the Eucharistic tradition right in all its particulars.

“Cyprian to Caecilius his brother, greeting. Although I know, dearest brother, that very many of the bishops who are set over the churches of the Lord by divine condescension, throughout the whole world, maintain the plan of evangelical truth, and of the tradition of the Lord, and do not by human and novel institution depart from that which Christ our Master both prescribed and did; yet since some, either by ignorance or simplicity in sanctifying the cup of the Lord, and in ministering to the people, do not do that which Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, the founder and teacher of this sacrifice, did and taught, I have thought it as well a religious as a necessary thing to write to you this letter, that, if any one is still kept in this error, he may behold the light of truth, and return to the root and origin of the tradition of the Lord…now then that I have been admonished that, in offering the cup, the tradition of the Lord must be observed, and that nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf, as that the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine. For when Christ says, I am the true vine, the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures……In which portion we find that the cup which the Lord offered was mixed, and that that was wine which He called His blood. Whence it appears that the blood of Christ is not offered if there be no wine in the cup, nor the Lord’s sacrifice celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our oblation and sacrifice respond to His passion…..There is then no reason, dearest brother, for any one to think that the custom of certain persons is to be followed, who have thought in you past that water alone should be offered in the cup of the Lord. For we must inquire whom they themselves have followed. For if in the sacrifice which Christ offered none is to be followed but Christ, assuredly it behooves us to obey and do that which Christ did, and what He commanded to be done….But if we may not break even the least of the Lord’s commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord’s passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered..…And because we make mention of His passion in all sacrifices (for the Lord’s passion is the sacrifice which we offer), we ought to do nothing else than what He did. For Scripture says, For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord’s death till He come.  As often, therefore, as we offer the cup in commemoration of the Lord and of His passion, let us do what it is known the Lord did. And let this conclusion be reached, dearest brother: if from among our predecessors any have either by ignorance or simplicity not observed and kept this which the Lord by His example and teaching has instructed us to do, he may, by the mercy of the Lord, have pardon granted to his simplicity. But we cannot be pardoned who are now admonished and instructed by the Lord to offer the cup of the Lord mingled with wine according to what the Lord offered, and to direct letters to our colleagues also about this, so that the evangelical law and the Lord’s tradition may be everywhere kept, and there be no departure from what Christ both taught and did…”  (Epistle 62)

4 thoughts on “The Eucharist is the Sacrifice of Christ – Cyprian of Carthage (258 AD)

  1. In 2 Timothy 4:6, St. Paul writes,

    “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.”

    Generally, the term used for “sacrifice” in Greek is “thusia”. However, St. Paul uses the first person singular passive verb “spendomai”, which translated means, to pour out, as in a libation (or a drink-offering). This expression is an allusion to the Jewish temple practice of pouring wine into the altar after the sacrificial animal had been burnt. He employs this metaphor to cast his own martyrdom in a liturgical light.Thus, his death becomes a public act of worship, whereby he offers himself both bodily and spiritually to God, much in the same way that Christ offers Himself to us in the Eucharist.

    We see these Eucharistic overtones more clearly in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who in his letter to the Romans, writes, “Do not seek to confer any greater favor upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared.” Here, St. Ignatius picks up on the apostle’s phrase, even employing the same verb. However, he expands on the sacrificial metaphor by referring to himself as the bread and wheat of Christ. He writes,

    “Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep, I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body.”

    Similarly, in the account of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the author depicts the entire martyrdom as liturgy. To quote Pope Benedict XVI,

    “What Paul briefly hints at here in a single short sentence has been fully thought out in the account of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp. The entire martyrdom is depicted as liturgy — indeed, as the process of the martyr’s becoming a Eucharist, as he enters into full fellowship with the Pascha of Jesus Christ and thus becomes a Eucharist with him. First we are told how the great bishop is fettered and his hands are tied behind his back. Thus he appeared “as a noble ram out of a great flock, for an oblation, a whole burnt offering made ready and acceptable to God.” The martyr, who has meanwhile been brought to the ready-laid fire and bound there, now utters a kind of Eucharistic prayer: he gives thanks for the knowledge of God that has been imparted to him through his beloved Son Jesus Christ. He praises God that he has been found worthy to come to share in the cup of Jesus Christ in the prospect of resurrection. Finally, using words from the Book of Daniel that were probably included in Christian liturgy at an early stage, he asks “may I, today, be received. . . before thee as a rich and acceptable sacrifice”. This passage ends with a great doxology, just like Eucharistic Prayers in the liturgy. After Polycarp has said “Amen”, the servants set fire to the woodpile, and now we are told of a triple miracle in which the liturgical character of the event is manifested in all its diversity.”

    rom these passages we can deduce two things, namely,

    (1) That the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper in sacrificial terms. For them, the Mass was primarily a sacrifice, and a meal second.

    And

    (2) The bodily suffering of the martyrs proves the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. For if the Eucharist were not the literal body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, then what sense would it make for the martyrs to suffer bodily? In his dispute with the Docetists (that is, those who denied that Christ possessed a physical body), St. Ignatius wrote,

    “But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound? And why have I also surrendered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ. I undergo all these things that I may suffer together with Him, He who became a perfect man inwardly strengthening me.”

    He continues in the same letter,

    “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”

    The article in Greek is neuter, so it’s not only merely that Jesus was raised, but that His flesh was raised. The flesh *which* suffered, and the flesh *which* was raised for our salvation.

    Quoting Catholic theologian, Servais Pinckaers,

    “Just as Christ truly suffered in his body, so Ignatius suffers in his own body to the point of shedding blood, and it is also the body and blood of Jesus that Christians receive in the Eucharist, as fortifying nourishment. It is for this reason that the Docetists, denying the reality of the Passion, did not participate in the celebration of the Eucharist and rendered the sufferings of the martyrs pointless.”(The Spirtiuality of Martyrdom)

  2. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, St. Paul writes, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers…”

    The Didache remarks,

    pasan oun aparchn gennhmatwn lhnou kai alwnov, bown te kai probatwn labwn dwseiv thn aparchn toiv profhtaiv, autoi gar eisin oi arciereiv umwn.

    “Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests.” (Didache 13:3)

    So the prophets (which is to say those who have the authority to speak for God) are Christian’s ἀρχιερεύς…our ‘arch-ἱερεύς’…our ‘arch-hiereus’

  3. Pingback: A Eucarístia como sacríficio do Senhor – Cipriano de Cartago (258 dC) – Apologistas da Fé Católica

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