An Internet poster using the handle "Agomemnon" recently posted a list of apparently cut-n-paste quotations from the Early Church Fathers that Agomemnon alleged supported the Roman Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the "real absence." The first, and thus, presumptively, the strongest earliest support that Agomemnon provided was a quotation dreived from Ignatius' letter to the Romans, seventh chapter.
Agomemnon quoted Ignatius of Antioch (circa 110 a.d.) as saying, in his Letter to the Romans:
"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Letter to the Romans 7:3).
Accuracy of the Translation Challenged
I should point out that this is an inaccurate quotation. A more accurate quotation (from Philip Schaff's translation) reads:
"I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life." (boldface added to show the omissions in the translation Agomemnon was using)
If, however, Agomemnon disagrees with Schaff's translation (which is the most popular English translation of the ECF's) I invite Agomemnon, or any other Roman Catholic apologist, to identify the source of Agomemnon's translation, so that we can compare scholarly credentials between Schaff and Agomemnon's source.
Context of the Quotation Examined
Let's also look at this context. Chapter 7 is about the reason that Ignatius desires to die. In the preceding sentence, Ignatius writes:
"For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die for the sake of Christ. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me that loves anything; but there is living water springing up in me, and which says to me inwardly, Come to the Father."
And the following sentence, the first sentence of Chapter 8, reads:
"I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if ye consent."
Thus, in context, we can see that Ignatius is not speaking of an earthly experience that he desires, but a heavenly experience. This is reinforced by two of the portions Agomemnon's quotation omitted: "heavenly bread" and "eternal life."
Use of Metaphorical Language Seen in the Context and Quotation Itself
Furthermore, we can see from the context and quotation itself that Ignatius uses metaphorical language.
Use of Metaphorical Language in the Context
The preceding sentence speaks of his love (an intangible thing) being crucified. There is simply no way to take that literally. It must be understood in one figurative sense or another. For example, it may mean that the object of his love has been crucified (i.e. Christ), or more likely that his love of the world has been crucified (cf. Galatians 5:24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.)
Use of Metaphorical Language in the Quotation itself
Furthermore, the quotation itself uses figurative language:
(1) "I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham;"
In this portion of the quotation we see the flesh of Jesus referred to as (a) "bread of God" (b)"heavenly bread" and (c)"bread of life."
These (all of (a), (b), and (c)) seem most clearly to be drawn from the Gospel of John, sixth Chapter, where it reads:
31Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
Anyone can see how verse 35 concludes: "he that cometh ... and ... believeth ... ." Jesus spiritualizes the symbol of bread. It is not by physically eating physical bread that we are nourished, but by coming in faith to God. That Ignatius is aware of this symbolism can be seen from the preceding sentence which concluded that the spring within him was telling him to "Come to the Father."
(2)"I desire the drink, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."
This portion of Ignatius' statement is even more clearly figurative. To Ignatius the drink is not just the blood of Christ but (a) "incorruptible love" (an intangible) and (b) "eternal life" (another intangible).
The reference with regard to (b) seems to be again to the sixth chapter of John's Gospel:
53Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
Notice the figurative language in this passage.
For example, verse 56 indicates that whoever consumes Jesus' body and blood "dwelleth in me, and I in Him." If it were only "I in Him," we could imagine that Jesus was speaking literally and that he meant that his literal flesh was literally dwelling in the person. But Jesus says also that the person dwells in Him! What a strange idea! We can imagine eating a burger and having a cow in us, but we would not speak of being in the cow.
Furthermore, verse 57 provides an explanation by way of comparison: "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me." The "as ... so ..." provides the explanatory comparison.
But the Father is a Spirit, not flesh (See John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. and Cf. John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.). Thus, Christ's life by the Father is not through corporeal consumption, but by Spiritual nourishment.
By this comparison, therefore, we can see that our nourishment from Christ is also Spiritual nourishment. As it is written, 1 Peter 4:6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. And again, it is written, Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
For so it was prophesied: Ezekiel 37:14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.
Conclusion - Ignatius was simply using the Biblical metaphors, proving that he had read John's Gospel, and understood the sixth chapter
So then, in Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans, we do not see any deviation from the Scriptural teachings that we are nourished by the Spirit, nor any deviation from the metaphors of Scripture, but a repetition of the same metaphors that Christ taught his disciples, and which the disciple whom Jesus loved recorded in Scripture by inspiration of that same Spirit.
Praise Him who Proceeds from the Father and the Son!