Teachings from the Ancient Church Fathers


The purpose of this study is NOT to prove one point or disprove another. Rather, as the apostles left them writings which proved authoritative, they also left behind practices which were preserved by the ancient church and which, therefore, should be as authoritative as the writings they left behind. The particular study focuses on the Eucharist, from the Greek word eucharisteo, "to thank." As Christ gave thanks over the Lord's Supper, so the Eucharist is the thanksgiving for this Lord's Supper.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the AnteNicene/Nicene Fathers, volume, page #'s and section (if applicable).


Irenaeus (135-202): "When, therefore, teh mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? . . .that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives from the bread which is His body. . . .having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ" 1:3:528.


Justin Martyr (110-165): "For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh" (First Apology of Justin, chap. 66, or 1:66:185).

Ambrose of Milan (333-397): "But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? . . . Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? . . . the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? . . . Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? . . . The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: 'This is My Body.' Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. . . . Christ then feels His Church with these sacraments, by means of which the substance of the soul is strengthened, and seeing the continual progress of her grace" (On the Mysteries PN10:324-325:52-55).

Leo the Great (440-461):

    "For in that mystic distribution of spiritual nournishment, that which is given and taken is of such akind that receiving the virtue of the celestial food we pass into the flesh of Him, Who became our flesh . . .For the Godhead of the Word is equal in all things, and consubstantial with the Father, and the power of the Begetter and the Begotten is one and the same eternally" (Letters LIX:II or PN12:59:II).

    "For when the Lord says, 'unless ye have eaten the flesh of teh Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye will not have life in you,' you ought so to be partakers at the Holy Table, as to have no doubt whatever concerning the reality of Christ's Body and Blood" (Sermons of Leo the Great XCI:III or PN12:202:XCI:III).


Tertullian (155-25 or 160-250?):

    "We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground" (De Corona or The Chaplet chap. III or 3:94:chap III).

    "But when the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people is made one with Christ, and teh assembly of believers is associated and conjoined with Him on whom it believes; which association and conjunction of water and wine is so mingled in the Lord's cup, that that mixture cannot any more be separated. Whence, moreover, nothing can separate teh Church--that is, the people established in the Church, faithfully and firmly persevering in that which they believed--from Christ, in such a way as to prevent their undivided love from always abiding and adhering" (The Epistles of Cyprian, LXII:13 or 5:362:LXII:13).

    "Besides even the Lord's sacrifices themselves declare that Christian unanimity is linked together with itself by a firm and inseparable charity. For when the Lord calls bread, which is combined by the union of many grains, He body, He indicates our people whom He bore as being united; and when He calls teh wine, which is pressed from many grapes and clusters and collected together, His blood, He also signifies our flock linked together by the mingling of a united multitude" (The Epistles of Cyprian, LXXV:6 or 5:398:LXXV:6).


The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles aka Didache (140): prayer to be offered at the Eucharist: "We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. And concerning the broken bread: "We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever" (chap. 9 or 7:380:9).


Gregory of Nyssa (335-394): "The bread again is at first common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ " (On the Baptism of Christ PN5:519).


Theodoret of Cyrrus (80 miles east of Syrian Antioch) 393-457: (regarding deaconesses) "For a lady remarkable for her devotion and admitted to the order of deaconesses was an intimate friend of his mother" (The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoretus III, chapter X or PN3:10:X).


Ignatius of Antioch (35-112):

    "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ . . . Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But is were better for them to treat it with respect" (Smyrnaeans, 7 or 1:89:7).

Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (375 AD, although Schaff places it within the first century of the Apostles):

    "but do not receive them in communion until they have received the seal of baptism, and are made complete Christians (Book II, chap. XXXIX or 7:414:Book II:chap. XXXIX).


Clement of Alexandria (150-215):

    "And the mixture of both--of the water and of the Word--is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul" (The Instructor, chap. II or 2:242:II).

    "As Moses says, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who gave bread and wine, furnishing consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist" )The Stromata, chap. 25 or 2:439:25.

Dionysius of Alexandria (d. ca 264): "But as I had commanded that persons at the point of death, if they requested it, and especially if they had asked for it previously, should receive remission that they might depart with a good hope, he gave the boy a small portion of the Eucharist, telling him to soak it and let the drops fall into the old man's mouth. The boy returned with it, and as he drew near, before he entered, Seapion again arousing, said, 'Thou art come, my child, and the presbyter could not come; but do quickly what he directed, and let me depart.' Then the boy soaked it and dropped it into his mouth. And when he had swallowed a little, immediately he gave up the ghost" (Eusebius, Church HistoryVI:XLIV:4 or PN1:290:XLIV:4). (PN means Post Nicene).

Athanasius (295-373)

    "But the cup which belongs to the mysteries, and which if it be broken intentionally, makes the perpetrator of the deed an impious person, is found only among those who lawfully preside. . . . this belongs only to those who preside over the Catholic Church, for to you only it appertains to administer the Blood of Christ, and to none besides. But as he who breaks the cup belong to the mysteries is an impious person, much more impious is he who treats the Blood of Christ with contumely; . . . he was not even numbered amongst them; and therefore did not receive ordination even from that quarter" (Defence Against the Arians PN4:106-107).

    "For it is written, 'Whosoever shall eat and drink unworthily, is guilty of the death of our Lord.' Wherefore, let us not merely proceed to perform the festal rites, but let us be prepared to draw near to the divine Lamb, and to touch heavenly food" (Letters of Athanasius Letter V, Easter 333, 5 or PN4:519:5).


Church Council of Nicea (325):

    Eucharist as the Viaticum: "if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of teh last and most indispensable Viaticum. . . . 'Viaticum' not only to denote the Eucharist which was given to the dying but also to denote the reconciliation, and imposition of penance, and in general, everything that could be conducive to the happy death of the person concerned, and this has been shown by Aubespine . . . . But this is so, the more usual sense of the word is the Eucharist. For this cannot be denied that the faithful of the first ages of the Church looked upon the Eucharist as the complement of Christian perfection, and as the last seal of hope and salvation. It was for this reason that at the beginning of life, after baptism and confirmation, the Eucharist was given to infants, and at the close of life the Eucharist followed reconciliation and extreme unction, so that properly and literally ti could be styled 'the last Viaticum'" (Canon XIII:Notes or PN14:29:Canon XIII:Notes).

    "The abstain from eucharist (thanksgiving) and prayer, because they allow not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness raised up" (Canon XVIII:Notes or PN14:39:Canon XVIII:Notes).

    Church Council of Ephesus (431): "we offer the Unbloody Sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received His Holy Flesh and the Precious Blood of Christ the Saviour of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid; nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the Life-giving and very flesh of the Word Himself" (PN14:203).