The Eucharist and Holy Tradition
A Commentary on an Article Condemning Tradition
In the previous segment of this commentary, the unknown Protestant writing against Holy Tradition makes a list of what he claims to be three proofs against Tradition. For this segment, the first of his proofs will be analyzed so see if his claims can be justified.
For convenience in reading, here is the first example of his list once again:
1) 1 Corinthians 11:23 says, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread." Here Paul states he is presenting in writing what he had previously taught them in person, "that which I also delivered unto you."
This pertains to the communion and how it is to be taken. So what he had taught orally was inscripturated, so there is no validation for oral tradition here. Paul most likely learned of the communion by the other apostles as they fellowshipped and broke bread each week. However Paul learned more of this from the Lord and is the only apostle to write in detail about it.
In this first example in his list, the unknown Protestant quotes 1 Corinthians 11:23, regarding how Paul had received from the oral Apostolic Tradition the account of the Lord's Last Supper, which Paul then had orally given to the Corinthians. So in the context of this passage Paul provides more detailed information than what had been written down in our four gospels about the Last Supper. The Protestant writer is aware of this, and yet he sees Paul's additional information not as evidence that there could be more oral teachings of this event beyond what Paul himself records, instead he sees it as proof that Paul had added in the final bits of information, so that everything that he and the Apostles had taught orally about this event had eventually been recorded to the fullest in Scripture, though there is no reason to make such an assumption. (He uses the word "inscripturated" as a term for this theory of oral teachings being incorporated into Scripture).
Now this is the problem with such a assumption: There is no Biblical doctrine stating that all the oral teachings, symbolism, concepts, and doctrines about the Last Supper had been fully written into the New Testament (NT). Indeed, Paul's additional facts about the Sacrament of Communion infers the existence of more information which he and the Apostles never wrote down. And in fact, that is precisely what Paul says at the end of this context, in 1 Corinthians 11:34, "If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement. And when I come I will give further directions." These "further directions" Paul was talking about were extra teachings in addition to what he had written about Communion in 1 Corinthians 11, particularly certain doctrines revolving around how to properly prepare the soul for Communion and how to treat it in the purest sacred manner. But these "further directions" cannot be found anywhere else in the NT, thereby proving that there are oral doctrines from the Apostles which were never recorded in the Bible.
Though the Bible is silent about Paul's "further directions", these extra-biblical oral doctrines from the Apostles concerning the most sacred method of practicing and interpreting Communion can be discovered in the writings of the Early Christians. According to their understanding of the Apostolic doctrine of the Eucharist, the Bread and Wine after being consecrated by the priest or bishop actually become the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This belief instilled the most sacred and spiritual manner of preparing the soul for the reception of the Lord's salvific grace, so that one may constantly work out his salvation, as taught in Philippians 2:12, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling", just as the water of Baptism by an apostolically-ordained priest was treated as the mystical infusion into the soul of God's salvific grace at the beginning of one's Christian life, as taught in Acts 2:38, "Be repenting, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven". In the oral Apostolic Tradition the Bread-Wine of Communion, like the Water of Baptism, have never been simple rituals nor mere symbolism after the priest or bishop consecrates them. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, writes in his Letter to the Smyrneans 7, "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer (of consecrating the Eucharist), because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes." What would Ignatius say about Protestants, who, though retaining the symbolism or presence of Christ in the Eucharist, reject the literal doctrine that the priest's consecration of the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus? Justin Martyr, who was born about the time the Apostle John died around A.D. 100, says in his First Apology 66, "We do not consume the Eucharistic Bread and Wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a Man of Flesh and Blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the Flesh and Blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of His own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving (which was done by a priest or bishop)." In the 2nd century Ireneus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of the Apostle John, says in his Against Heresies V, 2:1-3, "When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the Word of God (the consecration by a priest), the Eucharistic elements become the Body and Blood of Christ." Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures, written around AD 350, says, "Being fully convinced that the apparent Bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the apparent Wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so..." All these are not words for a spiritual presence of Jesus in the Bread and Wine of Communion, nor any kind of symbolism. These are oral doctrines from Apostolic times regarding a literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ being in the Bread and Wine of Communion after a priest consecrates it. Catholics and Orthodox continue to believe these teachings and they are associated with the "further directions" mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:34.
The Early Christian requirement that during the church service some prayer or consecration be offered to God for sanctifying the Bread-Wine of Communion was also common knowledge. Not only was a priest or bishop supposed to say this consecration, but it had to be done at a certain time during the church service, that is, right before the people took Communion. These doctrines too were universal and inseparable from the original Apostolic Faith. Nevertheless, they are totally extra-biblical, orally transmitted, and believed in by all right-believing Christians since Early Church times in accordance with the "further directions" spoken about in 1 Corinthians 11:34. Catholics and Orthodox continue to practice these Apostolic teachings to this day.
In addition to the belief that the Bread-Wine become the actual Body-Blood of Jesus, for Communion to be deemed Apostolic the Early Christians believed that a bishop or priest should first be consecrated according to the Apostolic doctrine and traditional succession of laying-on-of-hands, which signifies an acceptance of such an initiate's doctrinal obedience to both Scripture and the Holy Tradition. This is to ensure the quality and Apostolic spirituality of the Eucharist being practiced, since no Communion was accepted as Apostolic if these oral traditions were not adhered to and/or believed through this succession. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Apostles' most trustworthy preachers of the Truth, says in his Letter to the Smyrneans 8, "Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as where Christ is, there does all the heavenly host stand by....It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast." Moreover, the Early Christians also learned from the oral Apostolic Tradition that one must be baptized according to the traditional Apostolic succession of priests and that he must go to confession before being allowed to take Communion. The ancient book called the Didache, or the Teaching of the Twelve, which was considered Biblical by some Early Christians, and some scholars even today regard it as having been written during Apostolic times or very near to it, states, "Do not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized. On the Lord's Day, gather in community to break bread and offer thanks. But confess your sins first, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one." Cyprian in his book called the Lapsed, written around AD 250, adds, "Lapsed Christians will often take Communion before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest." As Cyprian relates, confession is not simply done through one's private prayers, but also "by the hand of the priest". These correlating doctrines of the Eucharist also conform to the "further directions" of 1 Corinthians 11:34.
All of the extra-biblical oral Apostolic teachings mentioned above satisfy the orally transmitted extra-biblical "further directions" for Communion which Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 11:34. There is no other explanation why every single Early Christian church practiced and believed in these same doctrines. Furthermore, the Early Christians were not in the habit of twisting Apostolic doctrines, nor were they easily deceived into changing them. They witnessed the Apostles and their disciples and/or they ardently followed what previous generations had heard the Apostles say, even fervently devoting themselves to preserving their words, if written into Scripture or if transmitted by the oral Tradition. This is not evidence of faulty spirituality; instead, it is evidence of being faithful to the original Apostolic Faith.
All doctrines surrounding Communion do have some correlation to NT teachings- that the Bread and Wine of Communion are Christ's Body and Blood, that the Apostles had appointed bishops and priests, and that Communion should be treated with the utmost holiness. However, Scripture does not directly state that at a certain point during church services, as when the priest consecrates the Bread and Wine, these two elements become the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in some mystical way for spiritual empowerment and to working out one's salvation. Nor does Scripture directly state that only a bishop and priest can do these things, men who were initiated into the traditional Apostolic succession of doctrinal beliefs. Nor does the Bible even state that only baptized Christians through this succession and only after going to confession can receive the Eucharist. Yet these doctrines are what the Early Christians recognized absolutely as being the words of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles, not from Scripture but from the Apostolic Tradition. Anyone who deviated from these beliefs was determined to be a follower of heretical teachings. And these things were believed in because of witnesses of witnesses through a succession of disciples of Apostles and a succession of bishops and priests, who were all preserving without change the spirituality and doctrines of the Apostles. Generation after generation of Christians recognized and believed the same Scriptures and oral Tradition without throwing out or adding anything to them. In fact, those who did try to change this arrangement were met with vehement opposition, causing disputes, debates, and many written accounts of their doctrinal errors. Nevertheless, the Early Church remained extremely faithful to the written and oral doctrines of the Apostles, contrary to modern theories that the Church had evolved, both in doctrine and in traditions. Ireneus comments on this extreme adherence to the original Faith in Against Heresies III, 3:3, "By this succession, the ecclesiastical Tradition from the Apostles, and the preaching of the Truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying Faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now, and handed down in Truth." And Ireneus is a witness from the 2nd century, being himself a student of at least one disciple of the Apostles. Similarly, Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century adds to this witness in his book the Commonitory 23:59, "The Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds." Those who sought to change, subtract, or add were immediately disputed with and branded as heretical. This was how the Early Christians practiced the Faith, and yet they believed that Scripture was equal to Tradition.
Protestants today dismiss much of the Early Church witness because they consider the Early Christians to be heretics for believing in oral traditions, which do not appeal to Protestants. But ironically, the Early Christians made clear pronouncements of heresy for people believing in the same or similar things that Protestants believe, such as rejecting the Early Church doctrine of a literal Body and Blood of Jesus being in the Bread-Wine of the Eucharist. Despite Protestant beliefs, the Bible does not state that the Bread-Wine of Communion are merely symbolic, nor does it allow for the ancient Apostolic succession of priests and bishops to be molded in modern times to fit into any spiritual convenience, hierarchical arrangements and church traditions as desired, nor does it even definitely say that Communion must be done every Sunday. There is thus no evidence of total inscripturation of every oral tradition from the Apostles, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 11. Indeed, quite the opposite has always been witnessed, that is, that Apostolic Tradition, also known as the Gospel, came first and then the NT appeared as a written expression of the Apostolic Tradition, though never recording all the doctrines of the oral Tradition. Like Baptism, there was no inscripturation of certain oral Eucharistic traditions, nor of many other Biblical and extra-biblical dogmas. Furthermore, the concept of inscripturation can mean anything anyone wants it to mean, as well as being interpreted into any Bible verses one wants or does not want. To the Catholics, inscripturation could mean that the oral traditions of the papacy had been in some way incorporated into the Bible. To the Protestants, inscripturation could mean that only their own oral traditions had been in some way included in Scripture. And there are countless other examples and variations like this. Whatever may be the case, the Early Christians had never once discussed the concept of inscripturation, and not even the heretics taught it, because the Apostles had never ordained such a doctrine. This doctrine has only come into existence because of Martin Luther's desire to reform Scripture and Tradition to fit his own opinions about the Gospel.
Regardless if or not certain oral traditions of the Early Church about Communion had come from the Apostles, the Bible does make a clear statement about oral Apostolic teachings which did not end up in Scripture, as indicated in 1 Corinthians 11:34. But not only does the end of 1 Corinthians 11 prove extra-biblical traditions from the Apostles, even the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, in verse 2, specifically mentions the oral Apostolic Tradition, "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you." Paul says nothing about a future total inscripturation of these oral traditions, and in fact, he expects his readers to preserve unwritten Apostolic doctrines, as he does at the end of 1 Corinthians 11. Since the Bible reveals the Apostles clearly telling the churches to hold firmly to the written and oral traditions of the Apostles, as also mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 ("So then, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter."), and the Early Church was known to be ultra-conservative in its faithfulness to Apostolic concepts, the only logical conclusion is to make the connection between Paul's unwritten, oral eucharistic doctrines in 1 Corinthians 11:34 with the Early Christians' orally inherited doctrines surrounding the Eucharist, just as one would make the connection between the NT teaching of Baptism and the Early Christian interpretation of it, or of the connection between the NT doctrine of the Trinity and the Early Church determination on it, and so on.
There is no reason other than doctrinal deviation and/or an arrogant belief of spiritual superiority over the Ancient Witnesses to deny such logical connections, especially when there is no competent evidence to the contrary. For instance, Protestants always insist that the Bible and the Early Christians had never believed that the Bread-Wine of the Eucharist could literally become the Body-Blood of Jesus until false interpretations of Scripture eventually forced this doctrine into popularity long after the Apostles' time. But that is not what the Early Church observed. Instead, the Early Christians witnessed attempts to deny these Eucharistic doctrines as later man-made beliefs seeking to force their way into the priesthood, and they wrote against such beliefs and their followers. According to Early Christian spirituality, it is the Protestants who are falsely interpreting Scripture and wrongly applying man-made teachings as Apostolic. The same is true concerning the succession of bishops-priests, confession before Communion, etc. But whatever Protestants want to believe about these things, they must admit that the Bible and the Early Christians never propagated the doctrine of inscripturation, the belief that every single oral tradition from the Prophets and Apostles had been miraculously incorporated into Scripture. Indeed, inscripturation itself is an impossibility, since even Protestants interpret and practice Scripture according to extra-biblical biases. There simply is no evidence of such a concept as inscripturation in Sacred History being presented as a credible dogma from the Prophets and Apostles, though the heretical Sadducees and some heretical Gnostics did teach it (nevertheless, they had to invent extra-biblical teachings in order to interpret the Bible). Thus, all the evidence points to a consistent reference to oral Apostolic traditions remaining outside the Bible and yet being preserved in the Church as Holy Spirit inspired, just as Scripture says.
As can be gathered from Scripture, Tradition, and Sacred History, the unknown Protestant writer against Tradition fails to read what the Bible openly says, even in passages which he claims deny an extra-biblical oral Apostolic Tradition, or which are interpreted to represent "inscripturation" according to his perception of what this involves. He quotes 1 Corinthians 11:23 as proof, yet at the end of its context in 1 Corinthians 11:34 Paul promises to reveal to them other Eucharistic doctrines which were never written into Scripture. Nevertheless, extra-biblical doctrines which reflect his promise were in existence in Early Christianity, all of which were treated as equal to Scripture, as Apostolic, and as genuine as any other doctrine, written and oral. The loyal Protestant may object to this connection between Paul's unwritten oral doctrines about Communion and the Early Church's eucharistic extra-biblical doctrines for it, but if or not Paul was able to fulfill his promise in completing his instructions about Communion to the Corinthians, the fact remains that there were Apostolic doctrines in the Oral Gospel which were never recorded in the Written Gospel, the NT. And even if 1 Corinthians 11:34 refers to doctrines not related to Communion, it does not prove that "inscripturation" had miraculously taken place in this passage and throughout the Bible. The Ancient Witnesses of the Apostles and their disciples had never heard of nor practiced such a concept, nor does Scripture even vaguely hint that its commands to obey an oral Apostolic Tradition should cease once the final book of the NT was recorded. Therefore, if the Apostles had taught the Early Church that all their oral traditions would one day be completely incorporated into Scripture, such a doctrine itself would have been an orally transmitted tradition not written in the Bible, thereby being a contradictory doctrine itself, a self-refuting statement, and therefore a ridiculous belief. But the Early Christians never witnessed nor observed inscripturation because they had learned from the Apostles and their disciples that the NT had come from Tradition, which is the means by which Scripture can be given its proper context and application.
Because of so many Biblical and historical factors, the unknown Protestant condemning Holy Tradition fails to prove his point that 1 Corinthians 11:23 is evidence against Tradition. Instead, the context of this passage, particularly in verses 2 and 34, demands all churches for all generations to follow and preserve an oral Apostolic Tradition in connection with Scripture. Hence, it is the unknown Protestant who is propagating an orally transmitted doctrine, which is thus changed into a doctrine of Christ, through two extra-biblical beliefs: 1) That Paul's description of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11 must be interpreted as being the last of the oral traditions from the Apostles regarding Communion, and 2) That Protestants themselves believe the Bread-Wine of Communion to be mere symbolism or an infused presence of Jesus Christ in the Bread-Wine (not His literal Body-Blood) or Christ's power breathed into it or whatever. Protestants who condemn the ancient Apostolic oral doctrines surrounding 1 Corinthians 11 are themselves guilty of inventing their own oral doctrines about it, replacing the original beliefs, and then claiming that they are Apostolic, when they are not. This is the height of absurdity, hypocrisy, and arrogance in believing that modern oral doctrines must be superior to the original Apostolic beliefs in the Early Church. 1 Corinthians 11:23 makes no direct or indirect statements supporting Protestant oral doctrines of so-called inscripturation, and indeed, the context of this passage, the context of Scripture, and the context of Sacred History all make it clear that Paul's statements about the Eucharist present no evidence that the Bible records all the Apostolic doctrines about Communion. Indeed, quite the opposite conclusion is presented, proving that Apostolic Tradition is authentic, divinely inspired, and faithfully preserved.
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