In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” involving the disappearance of a thoroughbred racehorse, Holmes points out a major clue:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
Had it been a stranger, the dog would have sensed alarm, and barked. Thus, Sherlock Holmes is able to deduce that the horse-thief is someone that the dog knows well. In reading the Church Fathers, there are at least two areas where we find dogs that didn’t bark.
I. The First Dog that Didn’t Bark: Non-Catholic Eucharistic Theology
I noticed the first of these two non-barking dogs while listening to Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Passio Jesu Christi.
It’s transcendentally beautiful (especially track 25, Meine Laster sind die Stricke
), and I’ve been listening to repeatedly for the last few weeks. But Fasch was a Lutheran, from a family of Lutheran theologians, and his account of the Last Supper reflects Lutheran Eucharistic theology. After the consecration, one of the singers (representing the daughters of Zion) proclaims:
God, for whom the infinite heavens,
and all space as space is too small,
is present here, in an unfathomable way,
with, and as bread and wine.
He would be the spiritual food of sinners,
oh love, oh grace, oh wonder.
Catholics can’t affirm this without denying the Real Presence. Christ doesn’t come to us with bread and wine in the Eucharist. The bread and wine become His Body and Blood. He’s not just present: they become Him. It’s possible that Fasch wrote this to get a potshot in at Catholics, but I doubt it. I think instead that he was expressing, as a devout Lutheran, his understanding of the Last Supper. Had Fasch been a Calvinist, he’d have described the Eucharist in Calvinistic terms.
But this got me thinking about the early Church Fathers. If the early Church Fathers had non-Catholic Eucharistic theology, why do we never see them affirm something Catholics deny? That is, why do we never see them say things like Christ is “with, and as bread and wine”? Where do we see them saying that the bread and wine remain bread and wine after the consecration?
It’s not as if the Church Fathers were quiet on the Eucharist. I’ve compiled a list of some select quotations from the first and second century
, third century
, and fourth century
. Entire books have been written on this subject. Yet everything I’ve read from every Church Father is compatible with Catholic Eucharistic theology, and in many cases, compatible only
with Catholic Eucharistic theology.
For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch, a student of the Apostle John, wrote
sometime between 103-110 A.D. to stay away from the Gnostics, since they “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.
” But of course, most Protestants likewise “confess not” the Eucharist to be the Flesh of our Savior, taking It to be a mere symbol, instead. So we hear the Patristic dog barking, warning us that the symbolic (or merely spiritual) view of the Eucharist was not
the view known to the students of the Apostles.
Likewise, as discussed here
, Lutherans have historically denied that the Eucharist could be taken to the sick, believing that the Real Presence of Jesus only exists during the Liturgy. Yet there’s no question from Justin Martyr’s First Apology
(written between 150-155 A.D.), that after the consecration, “to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
” There’s that Patristic dog barking again, warning us that the Lutheran view of the Eucharist was not the view of the Church of 150 A.D.
Yet when it comes to Catholics, the Patristic dog never barks. That’s not to say that you can’t cherry-pick some Patristic quotations, of course. As Catholics, we believe both that (a) the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord, and (b) that the Eucharist is full of Christological symbolism (Christ chose bread and wine for a reason, after all). So you can find plenty of Fathers talking about (b). This doesn’t contradict Catholic Eucharistic theology, and you’ll find plenty of Fathers who talk about both (a) and (b).
But what you can’t find — or at least, what I haven’t found — are any Fathers who say something that Catholics deny. There aren’t any Fathers saying the sort of things that Fasch’s Daughters of Zion say, for example: no one affirming that Christ is “with, and as bread and wine.” That lack of evidence is telling.
II. The Second Dog that Didn’t Bark: Outcry at Catholic Eucharistic Theology
As I mentioned above, there are plenty of Patristic citations that are incredibly Catholic. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes
back in about 350 A.D., “You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the Body and the Blood of Christ.
” That’s almost everything that Catholicism teaches about the Eucharist, summed up in a single sentence. And nearly all Protestants would deny that statement as false, even idolatrous.
Likewise, St. Ambrose (St. Augustine’s mentor) writes in the late 380s that the Eucharist “is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.” These aren’t isolated claims: there are countless Fathers you can point to making these (and other similarly clear) statements about the Eucharist. And in every case, the vast majority of Protestants would deny these statements as heretically, even diabolically, wrong.
So assume that the early Church agreed with what these Protestants now claim. When people like Cyril and Ambrose start making these claims, what should we expect?
The answer is obvious. We should expect to see a lot of outrage on this point. The pure Gospel is being diluted with pagan nonsense, right? We should see epistles and tracts written decrying this paganism, we should see Councils condemning this as idolatrous nonsense, and if the early Church is really Protestant, we should see some schisms. After all, what would happen if, instead of Ambrose and Cyril, it was Billy Graham, John MacArthur or John Piper proclaiming this from the pulpit?
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that’s the second dog that doesn’t bark. When Cyril and Ambrose refer to the Eucharist in unambiguously Catholic terms, no one objects. There’s no outrage, not even a hint of disagreement. Not a bark, not even a whimper.
But maybe there’s something wrong with the dog, right? Maybe the Fathers just weren’t the barking type, and would look over the rank heresy their peers were preaching because everybody means well? Here’s just the beginning of St. Jerome’s Apology Against Rufinus
(c. 402 A.D.):
I have learned not only from your letter but from those of many others that cavils are raised against me in the school of Tyrannus, by the tongue of my dogs from the enemies by himself because I have translated the books Περὶ ᾿Αρχῶν into Latin. What unprecedented shamelessness is this! They accuse the physician for detecting the poison: and this in order to protect their vendor of drugs, not in obtaining the reward of innocence but in his partnership with the criminal; as if the number of the offenders diminished the crime, or as if the accusation depended on our personal feelings not on the facts. Pamphlets are written against me; they are forced on every one’s attention; and yet they are not openly published, so that the hearts of the simple are disturbed, and no opportunity is given me of answering. This is a new way of injuring a man, to make accusations which you are afraid of sending abroad, to write what you are obliged to hide.
If you couldn’t figure it out from the quotation, Jerome was being denounced by Tyrannus Rufinus and others simply for having translated some of Origen’s works into Latin (something that Rufinus would later do himself).
There was a wild outrage over this, with pamphlets published and nasty personal attacks both against Jerome, and later, by Jerome against his accusers. My point is this: the fourth century Church was ready to go into conniptions about whether or not to translate Origen’s works into Latin, and then whether Jerome or Rufinus had done it more accurately. And we’re to think that this same Church knew that idolatry and heresy was being taught, but just couldn’t get themselves worked up over it?
But I anticipate a second objection: maybe it’s because this is the fourth century, and Roman Catholicism has already choked out the true Gospel. Well, then, find the origin of the Catholic “heresy” of the Real Presence, and show me where the Christians living at that time were outraged, as modern Protestant would be. The simple fact is, we don’t see this outrage in the fourth century, or the third, or the second, or the first. The dog never barked.
The Catholic position on history is that She represents the full and complete Gospel, as handed down by the Church Fathers. Her views on the Eucharist today (and justification, Mary, the papacy and the structure of the Church, indulgences, etc., etc., etc.) are all consistent with the views of the Church at any point in history, going back to the time of the Apostles, and thus, back to Christ.
Protestantism denies this, claiming that the Church believed what modern Protestants believed first, but that Catholic errors crept in over time. The Eucharist is a single, albeit critically important, example here. My point in this post is two-fold: (1) we don’t see any clear instances of the early Church proclaiming anything inconsistent with the Catholic view on the Eucharist, and (2) we don’t see any objections when the Catholic view is explicitly proclaimed.
Certainly, we find both of those things easily in post-Reformation Protestantism: one need not look hard to find distinctively Protestant Eucharistic theology, and denunciations of the Catholic view. If Protestantism were true, we’d expect to see both of those things in the early Church, as well. As it is, we should take a clue from Sherlock Holmes: the reason the Patristic dog didn’t bark is that she recognized the Catholic Church as her owner, not a stranger coming in the night.