Tertullian (155-240) on the Body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper


Here is a statement from Tertullian which speaks strongly in support of the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Supper. Protestants readers may find this interesting.

In his De Idolotaria , Tertullian laments that men who work in shops that build physical objects to be used as idols of pagan worship should be allowed to become clergy, and describes how their hands, defiled by their use to produce idols, abuse the “body of Christ”:

A whole day the zeal of faith will direct its pleadings to this quarter: bewailing that a Christian should come from idols into the Church; should come from an adversary workshop into the house of God; should raise to God the Father hands which are the mothers of idols; should pray to God with the hands which, out of doors, are prayed to in opposition to God; should apply to the Lord’s body those hands which confer bodies on demons. Nor is this sufficient. Grant that it be a small matter, if from other hands they receive what they contaminate; but even those very hands deliver to others what they have contaminated. Idol-artificers are chosen even into the ecclesiastical order. Oh wickedness! Once did the Jews lay hands on Christ; these mangle His body daily.(Chapter 7)

If the sort of  sort of body which the Jews laid hands on when devising our Lord’s execution was His real body, then Tertullian goes all the way in admitting that those in the ecclesiastical order daily lay hands on the real body of Christ (another hint towards a daily Eucharist). Of course, since the hands Tertullian speaks of are those defiled by idolatry, he speaks negatively about their handling the body of Christ. However, it is implied that holy hands would worthily handle the Lord’s body.


4 thoughts on “Tertullian (155-240) on the Body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

  1. Hi Erick,

    Perhaps it is a bit much of me to ask, but since you have posted on a number of occasions regarding the topic of the Eucharist, I was wondering if you could perhaps at some later point delve into the text written by Ratramnus of Corbie on the topic ( https://archive.org/details/bookratramnonbo00lfgoog/page/n10 ; also ignore the Anglican preface and summation of his arguments). Fr. Andrew Louth in his book Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 offers a pretty good summary of the work (pp. 146-148). In short, Ratramnus holds the Eucharist to be synonymous with the communion of the Church. However, at the literal level, he does not hold the Eucharist to be synonymous with the historical body of Christ. Rather, he at the spiritual level (which is often translated as symbol, but that has a lot of English connotations that do not apply to the Latin) argues that the Eucharist is synonymous with Christ himself. To be perfectly clear, Ratramnus does not think that this makes the Eucharist any less real or that it lacks the real presence. Louth, following the earlier arguments of Henri de Lubac argues that Ratramnus is roughly articulating the older view, whereas the later adopted views of Paschasius Rabertus, who argued that the historical body of Christ is synonymous with the Eucharist, is an early medieval development that becomes solidified in the High Middle Ages.

    Your thoughts?

    Many thanks.


    • Alura,

      I have not read it, and I wish I had that copy of Fr Louth’s book (ed. Meyendorff). Sooner or later I should get it. Anyhow, without knowing the text I could only say that, yes, this has strong patristic basis, such as when St Augustine said (I’m going off memory) that when the Catechumens look upon the Altar, they see both Christ and themselves.

    • This might be suggested from readings of Sts Irenaeus and Justin, Clement Alex. and others, but I think the more literal view wasn’t just the Latin West or just early medieval. Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan seem to speak of the Lord’s body in a very dynamic and literal way.

  2. At the Last Supper, Jesus taught the Apostles the sacramental Mass and said “do this in memory of me”. If one of the Apostles repeat this Mass at that time, when he raises the bread the memory that he have in mind does not include the scene in Calvary, so the Protestant had a valid argument. However, St.John the beloved was present At the Foot of the Cross, he was a witness to the Real Mass the bloody sacrificial offering of Christ own real body & blood, the High Solemn Real Mass that lasted for three hours, by “Beholding or gazing” the name of God “YHVH”, the tetragrammaton meaning of YHVH is “Behold the hands, behold the nails”, this is the meaning of the Real Mass gazing or beholding Jesus at the Foot of the Cross adoring and thanking the name of God which is Mercy.
    My simple question is, in the last supper Jesus was both the priest and the sacramental sacrifice. In Calvary, Jesus is the real sacrifice, who offer Jesus to Eternal Father, I mean who is the Priest who celebrate the Real Mass at Calvary?
    Mary Virgin Priest, pray for us. (St.Pius X, 1906)

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