Protestant Answer to Ignatius on the Eucharist

One of the things I find bizarre in Catholic/Protestant relations is the things which seem to be huge issues to Protestants (Catholics views on justification and our alleged over-devotion to Mary) compared to the things which are shrugged off (Catholics worshipping the Eucharist). I don’t see how someone can simultaneously think it’s so gravely sinful for us to honor the Mother of God as we do that they cannot worship God with us, and hold that our views on the Eucharist are insignificant. After all, of the two, we only worship One, and it’s not our Mother.

Case in point: this seemingly Evangelical Protestant blog has done a series on St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Eucharist. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s what the author is up against: St. Ignatius, a student of St. John the Apostle, writes things like:

  • “They [heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered four our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Symrnaeans Ch. VII).
  • “Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Mat_18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians Ch.V).
  • Also, “It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect18 has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth” (Ch. VI).

These writings date no later than 110 A.D., when he’s put to death for the Faith. So this passionate Christian, defender of the Faith, student of a Gospel writer and Apostle, thinks these things. How, from an Evangelical perspective, to explain how that happened?

Here’s how it breaks down.

  1. In part one, the blogger argues that Ignatius’ opponents deny Christ, not just the Eucharist. This is sort of true – at the least, they deny the Incarnation. But he uses their heretical views on the Eucharist as proof of their heresy! And even if you give full weight to this argument, that the Eucharist is so taken for granted as true that all orthodox Christians believe in it, how does that help the Protestant position, which rejects this view?
  2. In part two, the blogger tries to show how John’s Gospel doesn’t require a believe in transubstantiation. Even if that were true, who would know what John meant, and believed? His student of many years, who learned Christianity from him? Or a blogger taking a position held by not more than 25% of Christians today, and held by far fewer throughout history? Even if both views are possible from Scripture, wouldn’t John’s student have a pretty good idea which he believed?
  3. In part three, he makes a bizarre claim: “In the case of John, it would seem as though he makes the reality of the matter evident without overstating it. After all, considering the context, attacking any minor misunderstanding of this kind might detour from John’s purpose.”

John’s purpose is to draw people to belief in Christ. If he sees a heresy catching on that encourages the worship of bread rather than Christ, he’s supposed to write this off simply as a “minor misunderstanding”? Let’s assume that John is this crazy. Would he then write a Gospel which provided fuel for the fire (see John 6)? Let’s assume John (and the Holy Spirit) is this reckless. Would John not at least clarify this “minor misunderstanding” with his own student? I understand not attacking other Christians for minor misunderstandings (although the Eucharist, if false, isn’t minor); but shouldn’t you correct even minor misunderstandings in your students? And particularly in the first generation of Christianity! If John doesn’t stop this “minor misunderstanding,” he knows no one will, and that it’ll carry the weight of his name and authority if it’s parroted by his disciple.

At the end of the day, I’m left with this: the students of the Apostles, this blogger has all but admitted, held to Catholic views on the authority of bishops within the Church, and on the Reality of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This view can find Biblical support, but so, perhaps, can a contrary view, a view which apparently isn’t held by any even remotely orthodox Christians in the first millenium of the Faith (at least, none that anyone I’ve read can find). Who would you believe?

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