Ignatius on the Eucharist?

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Many times, apologists for Roman Catholicism will cite passages from various Fathers of the Church in order to prove that the earliest Christians believed in the doctrines taught by the Roman Catholic Church. But in at least some cases, these earliest fathers are misquoted.

For example, consider the following passage from Ignatius:

Ι take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. Ι want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink Ι want his blood, which is incorruptible love (Epistle to the Romans 7, 3).

Taken just like this, it sounds as if he is speaking about the Eucharist. But in context, he is not talking about that at all. This is the full passage:

The ruler of this age wants to take me captive and corrupt my godly intentions. Therefore none of you who are present must help him. Instead take my side, that is, God’s. Dο not talk about Jesus Christ while you desire the world. Dο not let envy dwell among you. And if upon my arrival Ι myself should appeal to you, do not be persuaded by me; believe instead these things that Ι am writing to you. For though Ι am still alive, Ι am passionately in love with death as Ι write to you. My passionate love has been crucified and there is no fire of material longing within me, but only water living and speaking in me, saying within me, “Come to the Father.” Ι take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. Ι want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink Ι want his blood, which is incorruptible love (Epistle to the Romans 7, 1–3).

The first seven chapters of Ignatius’s epistle to the Romans is a confession that he is ready for martyrdom, and he pleas that no one try to stop him or convince him otherwise. He says that being martyred will be pleasing to God (2, 1), that it will bring him to God (2, 2), that it will make him a real Christian (3, 2) and a true disciple (4, 2; 5, 3), will bring him to the presence of Christ in God (5, 3; 6, 1), and make him a real human being (6, 2). In other words, Ignatius sees his martyrdom as an opportunity to go into the presence of God and Christ and inherit the perfected condition which Christ has post-resurrection.

It is therefore obvious enough that when he says he wants “the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ” and “his blood, which is incorruptible love,” he is speaking about his own martyrdom and the benefits he thinks it will bring. He is using eucharistic language to speak about his own martyrdom. He wants to die like Christ out of love for God, so that he can be perfected as Christ was in His own resurrection. He wants to go to Christ and to inherit incorruption and perfection like Christ has. He wants to “consume” Christ by dying and becoming like Him. That is what he is talking about, not the Eucharist, which has not been mentioned thus far, nor is it mentioned at all in the rest of the epistle.

I have a PhD in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.