Did Justin Martyr Teach Transubstantiation in Apology 1.66?

Church Father Friday is the ongoing curation of Patristic texts. These short selections from church history remind us of where we’ve been, and what God has done throughout history for the Church. I pray these excerpts are a blessing to you.

 

Justin Martyr is often quoted in favor of Transubstantiation being the position of the early church (1). In his First Apology, he wrote that the Eucharist is only for those who have been regenerated and are in good standing in the church. He explains that it is “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… and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (2) He then goes on to summarize the Gospel accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. 

Did Justin Martyr Teach Transubstantiation? 

Justin’s phrase “…is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh”  is often presupposed to be one of the earliest Patristic sources affirming the transformation of the elements into the actual body and blood of Christ. Daly, Macy, and Raitt argue that “One can read here at least the background of what later could be expressed more precisely as the conversion of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ” (3). 

However, there are some problems with assuming this, namely, Justin did not explain what type of transformation of the elements takes place at the Eucharist, he was simply explaining an effect of it.  They are reading later understandings of the Eucharist back into Justin Martyr. Can one objectively show that Justin is speaking of the substantial change of the elements in this passage?  It can be more accurately interpreted that Justin Martyr is referring to a spiritual change in the believer after partaking of the Lord’s Table (4).  Besides this, no one in the Protestant tradition denies that Jesus Himself said that the bread was His body and the wine was His blood, therefore Protestants have no problem with Justin Martyrs language and the burden of proof is on supporters of Transubstantiation to show that he was speaking of an ontological change of the elements in Apology 1.66.

Simply assuming transubstantiation from this text is historically dubious because there is simply not enough context or evidence from this text to definitively declare it to teach Transubstantiation and it can just as easily be shown to support a spiritual understanding of Christ’s true presence. This selection from Justin Martyr doesn’t teach that the elements become the substance of Christ but rather was an attempt to highlight the spiritual blessings from the Lord’s Supper because when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup we “are nourished” (5). Proponents of Transubstantiation cannot assume that this section is an absolute 2nd-century confirmation of Transubstantiation because there is no reference to an ontological change in the elements, only observable changes in the believer.  

 

Bibliography

1 – The Roman Catholic Catechism 1345

2 – Justin Martyr Apology 1.66

3 – Daly, Robert J, Gary Macy, and Jill Raitt. The Ecumenical Significance of Eucharistic Conversion. (Theological Studies 77(1) 2016), 12

4 – Stoffer, Dale. The Lord’s Supper: Believers Church Perspectives. Scottdale, (PA: Herald Press, 1997), 23

5 –Schreiner, Thomas R., and Matthew R. Crawford. The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes. (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2010), 108

One thought on “Did Justin Martyr Teach Transubstantiation in Apology 1.66?

  1. Would a memorialist be willing to use this language without specifying that it’s a metaphor?

    “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]
    “He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” St. Irenaeus Against Heresies 5:2 [A.D. 189]

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