“Offer . . . the sacrifice of praise"
Some New Testament Texts: Hebrews 13:15; Romans 12:1; 15:27, 31; 2 Corinthians 9:12.
X.1CLEMENT OF ROME: God commanded that offerings and services be performed and that they not be done at random times and in a disorderly manner but at the appointed times and hours. He appointed by his supreme will both where and by whom he wishes to be served in order that all things may be done in a holy manner according to his good pleasure and may be acceptable to his will. Therefore those who make their offerings at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, for they follow the laws of the Master and do no sin. To the high priest the proper ministries have been given, and the proper place has been assigned to the priests, and their own services are imposed on the Levites; the layman has been bound by the regulations for the laymen. (40)
2JUSTIN: “The offering of fine flour, sirs,” I said, “which was commanded to be offered on behalf of those purified from leprosy was a type of the bread of the eucharist which our Lord Jesus Christ commanded to be made a memorial of the passion which he suffered on behalf of the people being purified in their souls from all evil. He commanded to do this in order that at the same time we might give thanks to God for having created the world with all things in it for the sake of human beings, for having freed us from the wickedness in which we were, and for having completely destroyed the principalities and powers by the one who accepted suffering according to his will. [There follows a quotation of Malachi 1:10-12.] He speaks beforehand then concerning us Gentiles who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is the bread of the eucharist and the cup similarly of the eucharist, since he said that we glorify his name but you profane it.” (Dialogue with Trypho 41)
3We [Christians] are the true high priestly race of God, as also God himself testifies when he said that “in every place among the Gentiles they offer pure and acceptable sacrifices to him.” God does not receive sacrifices from anyone except through his priests. Therefore, God in anticipation testifies that all the sacrifices through the name of Christ are well pleasing to him which Jesus Christ delivered to be done, namely at the eucharist of the bread and of the cup, the sacrifices which are done in all the earth by Christians. But he rejects those sacrifices performed through those priests of yours [Jews]. . . . I also agree that prayers and thanksgivings performed by worthy men are the only sacrifices perfect and well pleasing to God. For these alone Christians undertake to make, even at the memorial of their solid and liquid food in which also is brought to mind the suffering that the Son of God endured because of them. (Ibid. 116,117)
4IRENAEUS: Giving directions to his disciples to offer to God the first fruits from his creation, not as if he were in need but so that they would not be unfruitful nor ungrateful, he took bread which is from created things and gave thanks, saying, “This is my body.” And the cup likewise, which is out of the created things to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood, and he taught the new oblation of the new covenant. The church, receiving this from the apostles, offers in the whole world to God, who provides us with the means of sustenance, the first fruits of his own gifts in the new covenant. [Then follows Malachi 1:10f.] (Against Heresies 4.17.5)
5CYPRIAN: That priest truly discharges the office of Christ who imitates what Christ did. He then offers a true and full sacrifice in the church to God the Father, if he proceeds so to offer 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. . . . As often as we offer the cup in commemoration of the Lord and his passion, let us do what it is known the Lord did. (Epistle 63 .14, 17)
6CYRIL OF JERUSALEM: Then after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless worship, is completed, we entreat God over that sacrifice of propitiation for the common peace of the churches . . . . Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep . . . . We believe there will be a great benefit to the souls on behalf of whom the prayer is offered up while that holy and most awesome sacrifice is presented . . . . We offer up the Christ who was sacrificed for our sins, propitiating. . . the merciful God. (Lectures on the Mysteries 5.8-10 [=Catechetical Lectures 23.8-10])
7APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTIONS: Remembering now his passion, his death, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his approaching second appearance in which he is coming with glory and power to judge the living and dead and to recompense each person according to his works, we offer to you, our King and God, according to his constitution this bread and this cup. We give thanks to you through him because you have counted us worthy to stand before you and be priests before you. We beseech you that you will look favorably upon these gifts set forth before you, O All-sufficient God, and be pleased with them to the honor of your Christ. Send down your Holy Spirit upon this sacrifice, the testimony of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, that he may show this bread to be the body of your Christ and this cup the blood of your Christ. May he do so in order that those who partake may be strengthened for godliness, may attain remission of sins, may be delivered from the devil and all his error, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, may be worthy of your Christ, may attain eternal life when you are reconciled with them, O Lord Almighty. (8.2.12 )
Clement of Rome (X.1) uses the regulations in the Old Testament pertaining to sacrifice as an illustration of the good order which God expects in the church. God, according to the Law of Moses, had determined the times, place, and personnel of worship. Clement’s entire chapter forty, which we have quoted, is concerned with the Old Testament sacrificial system. Christ is now the “High Priest of our offerings” (36.1), which presumably are the “sacrifice of praise” (35.12). In keeping with his illustration, Clement can speak of the activity of Christian elders, especially it seems in the leadership of worship, as “offering the gifts” (XIV.2). By analogy with the Old Testament, Christian worship is described in the language of sacrifice. This was the universal language of worship in the ancient world (Jewish and pagan), and no other imagery was so readily understood or suitable.
The Didache is more explicit in the use of the Old Testament language of sacrifice in reference to the Christian ministry and Christian worship. The first fruits which formerly went to the priests are now to be given to the Christian prophets, “for they are your high priests” (Didache 13, and see our Ch. XIV). The prophets presided at the Lord’s supper, hence Christian worship (with special reference to the “breaking of bread”) is called a “sacrifice” (VIII.3). To be a pure sacrifice there must be reconciliation in the community. The author cites Malachi 1:11 as fulfilled in the Christian assemblies. This passage became the favorite Old Testament text in reference to the Lord’s supper. Justin twice used it as a proof that God rejected the worship of the Jews and now accepted instead the worship of Gentile Christians, centered in the Lord’s supper (X.2, 3).1 Irenaeus, too, quotes Malachi 1:10f. in reference to the eucharist (X.4). Although the writer of the Didache is not explicit about what aspects of sacrifice are in his mind, we may relate his statements to what finds expression later in the second century and to the Jewish background. Thus one may see in the gifts brought for the support of the teachers and the poor (Didache 13) an offering (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:1-15; Numbers 18:21-32), and in the prayers at the Lord’s supper a thank-offering (the sacrifice of thanksgiving-note the way thanksgiving dominates the prayers, VIII.3), and perhaps in the Lord’s supper itself the meal which the worshippers shared after bringing their offering (Leviticus 7:11-18).2
The church itself in early Christian thought was now God’s temple where acceptable worship was offered to him. Ignatius can speak of the church as the “altar” outside of which one “is deprived of the bread of God.”3 Similarly the widows and other objects of Christian charity are called the “altar of God,”4 because they devoted themselves to prayer and were supported out of the gifts brought to church at the assembly for worship (see Ch. XVII). The gifts brought by the faithful as a contribution to the church and especially for the poor continued to be referred to in the language of sacrifice-“gifts” and “offerings.”5 Thus Hippolytus used the same language about offering oil, cheese, and olives as he did about offering bread and wine to God.6 For these things, too, “eucharist is made” (thanks are given). To bring them to God (in church) is “to offer” them.
The eucharist is explicitly called a sacrifice for the first time in our sources by Justin (X.2), The pure sacrifice of Malachi is the “bread and cup of the eucharist.” The eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving and so it fulfills Malachi’s words. Justin, too, may be thinking of the bringing of the elements as the gift of the people.7 His main emphasis, however, is on the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The prayers are preeminently the sacrifice of Christians (X.3), for thanksgiving itself is a sacrifice. Thus Justin reverses his phrase and speaks of the “eucharist (thanksgiving) of the bread and cup” as the sacrifice of Christians. All Christians are priests, “the true high priestly race of God.” The sacrifice is that of the whole community. All worship is a sacrifice, and the nature of Christian worship finds its climax in the great thanksgiving for God’s gifts of creation and redemption pronounced in connection with the bread and wine. The Jews themselves had come to consider prayer the equivalent and then the substitute for animal sacrifices.8 Justin agrees with the sentiment that “prayers and thanksgivings” are the perfect sacrifices, the only kind acceptable to God now. And, he affirms that these are the only sacrifices which Christians offer, and this preeminently at the Lord’s supper.
For Justin the eucharist is a memorial of the passion of Christ.9 Jesus’ death was itself a sacrifice,10 but there seems to be no equivalence made by Justin between Jesus’ death and the sacrifice performed by thanksgiving. The remembrance is not a silent calling to mind; there is something “to do.” It has been urged that Justin’s language “do this memorial” should be translated “offer this memorial,”11 that the memorial is itself a sacrifice. Within the thanksgiving context this may be correct. “To do” may mean “to offer” in a sacrificial setting. On the other hand, we think that Justin’s use of “do” is influenced by the New Testament accounts more than by any Old Testament usage of “do” in a sacrificial context.12 The “doing” is for the purpose of the giving thanks (Ch. VIII).
In the earliest writers it would seem, therefore, that the eucharist is called a sacrifice only in connection with Old Testament types and by way of contrasting the spiritual service of thanksgiving by Christians with the bloody sacrifices of Jews and pagans. Athenagoras speaks of the “bloodless sacrifice,” the “rational service” of Christians, in contrast to the holocausts of the pagans.13 So essential to divine service in the ancient world was sacrifice that pagans could only conclude that Christians were “atheists” because they had no temple and ceremonial cult. The principal phenomenon with which Christianity could be compared was a philosophical school, and the views of some of the philosophers provided the main pagan analogy to the Christians’ idea of spiritual sacrifice. The Old Testament background and the surrounding religious world made the language of sacrifice inevitable in Christian usage, even when a different phenomenon was being expressed.
It was natural to move from the prayer as a sacrifice to the elements over which the prayer was said as a sacrifice. Particularly if, as seems likely, the bringing of the bread and wine as a contribution was described from the beginning as an offering, would it be easy to apply the language of sacrifice to the elements of the eucharist. The word eucharist itself also could have provided the bridge, as it was extended from the prayers to the whole action to the elements.
Irenaeus introduces a further development, for he speaks more explicitly of the bread and cup as an oblation (X.4). He identifies the sacrifice more closely with the elements by dwelling on the aspect of an offering of the first fruits of the earth (with which we may compare the Didache). That the bread and cup are themselves a sacrifice, “the new oblation of the new covenant,” is perhaps more a verbal than a conceptual novelty. The Christian altar is in heaven, and “toward it our prayers and oblations are directed.”14 The Christian oblation is contrasted with the Jewish: “There were sacrifices by the people [Jews] and there are sacrifices in the church; but the species is changed inasmuch as they are offered by free men and not by slaves.”15 The thought is still moving in the framework of the fulfillment of Malachi 1, and the sacrifice is the thanksgiving for the first fruits of the earth.16
Irenaeus’ attention to the elements themselves is due to his anti-heretical concern. Against Gnostics who considered the material creation evil, he brought forward the fruits of creation as intimately associated with the most sacred actions of the Christian religion (Ch. IX). He does connect the bread and cup with the body and blood (once more an anti-heretical insistence on the real, created humanity of Jesus), but with no suggestion that it is other than the first fruits which are being sacrificed to God. The ideas of sacrifice and real presence were to remain side by side for a long time before they were brought into closer relationship. Irenaeus has several passages on sacrifice, always the sacrifice of the church and not of a part of the church or by a special class.
Since worship as a whole was an act of spiritual sacrifice, it was natural to move from the prayers to the action of the eucharist as a whole as a sacrifice. This may be involved already in what the Didache and Justin say. On the other hand, the specific identification of the sacrificial act with what the celebrant did at the eucharist may not be in mind in even some of the later sources where it would be easy to assume this to be the case. Thus the eucharist in Hippolytus is dominated by the idea of sacrifice (VIII.5). The church offers bread and wine, gives thanks for this priestly privilege, and prays for the Holy Spirit to be sent into this food so that by partaking of the sacrificial food the church may partake of the Spirit. Hippolytus also uses this language freely in other contexts (see Ch. XI) that permit some precision in what he means by “offering” something: through prayer something becomes consecrated to God.17 The accompanying action may be laying the gift on the table, raising it heavenward, or laying on the hand in blessing. The offering to God of gifts in kind is combined with the conception that prayer is the spiritual Christian sacrifice. Thus the emphasis is upon the act as a whole and the range of ideas is still that of the second century. There is no identification of the church’s sacrifice with the sacrifice on the cross.
One may nonetheless see in Hippolytus connotations which point to the future. In the third century the language of sacrifice and priesthood was used more freely. Origen spoke often of the Christian ministers in terms of the Old Testament priesthood, especially in his allegorizing homilies, which drew spiritual lessons for the church from the Old Testament. Cyprian, the new convert become bishop, has both the language and concept of priesthood and sacrifice, He regularly uses “priest” for the Christian bishop, “altar” for the place of celebration of the eucharist, and “sacrifice” for the observance of it.18 Cyprian carries further the transference (or narrowing down) of sacrificial ideas from the service of prayer to the consecrated elements, and he opened up a whole new era by a closer association of the eucharistic sacrifice with the sacrifice on the cross (X.5). He associated the elements, the idea of sacrifice, and the passion of Christ. The insistence in his passage on “doing what Christ did” pertains to an argument against some who used water alone in the eucharist. Cyprian says there must be wine mixed with the water (IX.7; cf. VIII.4) because that is what Christ used when he instituted the communion. Since our act is a commemoration, we must do what he did. This accounts for the attention to the elements. The Christian bishop offers a “true and full sacrifice,” and this is the “sacrifice of his passion.” Mention is made of the passion of Christ in the prayer, and this presumably controls what is meant by saying that “the Lord’s passion is the sacrifice we offer.” It is still the bread and not the body which is offered, so no independent value is given to the bread or to the eucharistic sacrifice. The setting is still the thank offering in commemoration of the Lord’s passion. Nevertheless, such language may pass from the homiletical and polemical to the dogmatic.
Sacrificial ideas became more fully developed in the fourth century with Cyril of Jerusalem and the compiler of the Apostolic Constitutions (X.6, 7). The service had expanded from a sacrifice of thanksgiving to a sacrifice of propitiation and from the offering of the elements to an offering of Christ. The way to this propitiatory view of the eucharist had been opened by the actual combination in thought of those ideas which were at hand in the eucharistic developments of the preceding two centuries, namely the real presence of Christ in the elements and the association with the sacrifice on the cross. For Cyril “we offer up Christ.” In the clear sacrificial language of the consecration prayer in the Apostolic Constitutions, one of the blessings to participants is the remission of sins. It is indicative of the direction of doctrinal thought that the blessings earlier assigned to baptism are here ascribed to the eucharist. The offering is also made “on behalf of” all who have pleased God from the beginning of the world; the parallels, however, may indicate that the meaning is “pray for,” as in the remainder of the great intercession. Sacrificial language rivals the note of thanksgiving which prevailed earlier (Ch. VIII).
Fourth-century writers still spoke the language of commemoration: “It is evident to those educated in divine things that we do not offer another sacrifice, but we perform the memorial of that one saving sacrifice.”19 Or, they could speak of offering “the antitype” of the death on the cross.20 But we have carried our survey enough beyond our normal chronological limits to see the course which was set for the future. Early Christian ideas had been brought together in a new combination and sacrificial notions had been refocused.
Brilioth, Ynge. Eucharistic Faith and Practice. London: S.P.C.K., 1930.
Daly, R. J. Christian Sacrifice: The Judaeo-Christian Background Before Origen. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1978.
Ferguson, Everett. “Spiritual Sacrifice in Early Christianity and Its Environment.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980. Part II, Vol. 23.1, pp. 1151-1189.
Hanson, R.P.C. Eucharistic Offering in the Early Church (Bramcote, Notts.: Grove, 1979).
Stevenson, K. W. Eucharist and Offering. New York: Pueblo, 1986.
Young, Frances M. The Use of Sacrificial Ideas in Greek Christian Writers from the New Testament to John Chrysostom. Cambridge: Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, 1979.
1 He also cites the passage in Dialogue 28.
2 Paul seems to compare the Lord’s supper to the religious meal following the sacrifice-1 Corinthians 10:16-21.
3 Ephesians 5 (quoted VI.22); cf. Trallians 7. In Philadelphians 4 (quoted VIII. 1) Ignatius exhorts to “one eucharist,” for there is “one altar,” as part of his appeal for unity and thrust against those who held divisive assemblies apart from the main church.
4 Polycarp, Philippians 4.3. Carolyn Osiek, “The Widow as Altar: The Rise and Fall of a Symbol,” The Second Century, Vol. 3 (1983), pp. 160-169.
5 J. A. Jungmann, The Early Liturgy (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1958), pp. 41, 66f., 116-118,171f.
6 Apostolic Tradition 5,6.
7 Cf. VIII.4, “There is brought to the president,” where the verb is the same as the “offer” of X.2.
8 George Foot Moore, Judaism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), Vol. II, pp. 14f., 218.
10 For example, Dialogue 40, but Justin seems to use sacrifice about the cross only in connection with Old Testament prophecy.
11 Felix Cirlot, The Early Eucharist (London: S.P.C.K., 1939), Appendix IV.
12 Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11.24-25 have the same phrases.
13 Plea for the Christians 13; cf. Odes of Solomon 20; Justin, Apology I, 13 (quoted p. 83); Tertullian, On Prayer 28. Clement of Alexandria’s small treatise on prayer beginning in Miscellanies 7.6.30ff. disparages pagan sacrifice and characterizes prayer as the “best and holiest sacrifice” and calls the altar “the congregation of those who devote themselves to prayers.” The discussion has Hellenistic philosophical backgrounds but is set in a Christian context. In 220.127.116.11f. he lists giving teachings and money to the needy as sacrifices in addition to prayer.
14 Against Heresies 4-18.6.
15 Ibid. 4.18.2.
16 Thanksgiving continued to dominate Irenaeus’ sacrificial concept. Cf. “offering with giving of thanks” (Against Heresies 4.18.4), and at the beginning of that section he says that we make an offering, not because God needs it, but as a way of giving thanks for his gifts. Irenaeus does not define the act of sacrifice, but always connects it with thanksgiving.
17 Hans Lictzmann, Mass and Lord’s Supper (Leiden: E. J. Brill, n.d.), pp. 148-151.
18 For instance, On the Unity of the Church 17.
19 Theodoret, Interpretation of Hebrews 8.4, 5.
20 Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 2.95.