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Eric Ewanco wrote:

Hi guys,

I have a question for the team. I got the following message (below) the other day from a Fathers-savvy Protestant who found my proof for the Real Presence of the Eucharist from the Fathers on the web somewhere. He was taking certain quotations from Augustine to refute the idea that the Fathers — or Augustine, anyway — believed in the Eucharist as we do.

The part I'm having difficulty with, is where Augustine calls the Eucharist a figure of the body and blood of Christ and in another place specifically rebukes anyone who takes anything that's a figure literally.

Now I can simply point out that he needs to refute what I've already written about where Augustine says that it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, but that doesn't really solve the issue — all that does is get us to a stalemate where he points to his text to support his view and I point to my text to support my view.

I can answer his point about the Eucharist being a sign.  Basically we agree that it is a sign, but being a sign is not the same as being a symbol, nor is it inconsistent with a literal understanding of the Eucharist.

Any brilliant insights on this topic will be gratefully received.



  { How can I rebut this guy's idea that Augustine didn't believe in the Real Presence as we do? }

Dear Eric,

From my study, I learned that some early Christians believed in physical presence of Jesus in Eucharist and some early Christians believed Eucharist as a sign, symbol, figure, likeness, and image of Jesus' Body.

I'm not an expert on early church fathers. I assume you have studied them thoroughly in order to put together a list of quotes from early Christians on Eucharist. I noticed that you quoted Tertullian and Augustine.

  • Are you aware of the following quotes of Tertullian and Augustine that proved they considered Eucharist as figure and sign?
"Then, having taken the bread and given it to His disciples, He made it His own body, by saying, "This is my body," that is, the figure of my body. A figure, however, there could not have been, unless there were first a veritable body."

Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.

"For the Lord did not hesitate to say: "This is My Body", when He wanted to give a sign of His body."

Augustine, Against Adimant.

"If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, "and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us."

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, III.

"He admitted him to the Supper in which He committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood."

Augustine, on Psalm 3.

"The Lord did not hesitate to say: "This is My Body", when He wanted to give a sign of His body."

Augustine, Against Adimant.

"He [Christ] committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood."

Augustine, on Psalm 3.

"[The sacraments] bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ's body is Christ's body, and the sacrament of Christ's blood is Christ's blood."

Augustine, Letter 98, From Augustine to Boniface.

"A sign is a thing which, over and above the impression it makes on the senses, causes something else to come into the mind as a consequence of itself."

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 2, 1.

"Now, as to follow the letter, and to take signs (such as the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord) for the things that are signified by them, is a mark of weakness and bondage; so to interpret signs wrongly is the result of being misled by error."

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 3,9.

I know there are a lot of writings by these Church fathers so it's easy to miss viewpoints that are different from what you personally believed. I hope you didn't intentionally exclude above quotes because of your own bias.

May I suggest that you add the above quotes and many other quotes of symbolic views of Eucharist to your page to give a more balanced views of what early Christians believed on Eucharist.

I would like to suggest that you visit [Website hidden.] on this subject to see other early influential Christian's viewpoint on the Eucharist as a symbol, likeness, image, figure, or sign of the Body of Jesus. [Name hidden] is very objective and balanced in his discussion on Eucharist. He showed that there are different viewpoints from early Christians.

  • Church Fathers on the Eucharistic Elements
    [Website hidden.]

  • Church Fathers on Transubstantiation
    [Website hidden.]

The symbolic view of Eucharist is not at all a recent view point. It is an ancient view as proved by many early Christians.

I personally see Eucharist as a symbol. I also believe in the real presence of Jesus in our midst during communion according to Matthew 18:20:

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them".

By the way, just like early Christians, I would agree the Eucharist is holy in the sense that it's used to represent the holy Body of Jesus.

I'm glad to learn from [Name hidden] that many early Christians correctly viewed the Eucharist as symbol and didn't subject themselves to bondage as Augustine pointed out.

Ruby McGrath
Hebrews 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us . . .

John replied:


Looking at the original attachment, this guy seems fixated on the words sign, figure or symbol without understanding the way the early Christians understood these words.

Also, the guy uses the word physical presence. Well, we loosely use the word, but it's not accurate. We mean sacramental presence. After all, if it were physical presence, there would be no accidents. Moreover, if Jesus were physically present on one altar, He would be limited by the laws of physics and could not be physically present on any other altar, so we have to be careful about using the word physical.

With respect to word sign, Jesus performed many signs. He healed people and turned water into wine.

  • Does that mean the healings were not real but symbolic?
  • Were those poor drunks at the wedding at Cana only drinking symbolic wine?

Circumcision was sign of the Old Covenant.

  • Does that mean those week-old babies shouldn't have felt any pain at the symbolic circumcision?

I'd talk to this guy about how the word, sign, needs to be understood.

A sign is a reality.


Mary Ann replied:

Hi Eric,

The forms of the bread and the wine — the physical properties and the appearance of the bread and the wine — are indeed the sign, the figure.  It is the substance that is changed. 

The philosophy wasn't there yet, so the most they could say was, It is the Body of Christ and It is the sign of the Body of Christ, to indicate that there are not many bodies, but one; not a material body, but a glorified living Christ. 

The bread and wine is indeed His Body and Blood, and the sign of His Body and Blood, at the same time, under different aspects.

  • As to its accidents, its physical properties; it is not the body of Christ. 
  • As to its substance; it is.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Dear visitors to our site,

I would discourage you from reading material on the web site Ruby has referenced.

Catholic Culture is a web site that has been providing Catholic Internet surfers with qualified reviews of Catholic web sites since 1996. As they noted, this is a Protestant web site, so obviously one cannot clear up misperceptions about the Catholic faith by going to a Protestant web site.

If you want more about the what the Early Church Fathers:

  • thought
  • taught, and
  • died for

check out my other web site:

If you want more about the accidents and the substance of the Eucharist check out this posting from an anti-Catholic, Bill Jackson, when we first created our knowledge base.

I hope this helps,


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