The Eucharistic perspective
occupation with knowledge and revelation, just like the question on the
importance of being, led the theologians of the word of the three first
centuries A.D. in the understanding of the truth as cosmology. In the time being,
the bishops were occupied in the life and the struggles of their community and
that led them to a completely different access into the sense of the truth.
Already in the works of St. Ignatius of Antioch[i],
the sense of truth has no obvious relation to the theory of knowledge, in the
strict sense of it, but is much more connected to the thing we could call life.
In our western education under the influence of the Greek culture the word
"life" is a personification and to this we name "practicality", in
contrast to the "mental" or the "theoretic". Thus we automatically come
to the old-testamental understanding of the truth as action. In this way we are
taken away from the ontological question concerning the truth and at the same
time the Gospel loses all relation to the Greek thought. And yet for what reason
must life be in contrast with being? Isn't it, much more, life and being
problem is put once again with the Greek understanding of being, as it has
infiltrated under the form of Aristotlism in our own western thinking. To
Aristotle life is a quality, which comes to be added to being, but is not the
very being. The truth of being does not lie in life but precedes it: a stone
without life projects the demand for the word "being" exactly like an animal.
But it is something different, when an animal has life and when a stone does not.
We link the existence with the verb "to be", while for life we use the verb
have: Life is occupied by being, just like a dynamics or an end of things in
Just because life is occupied by being and cannot precede it, becomes the truth
a characterization on being and is connected in the end to the being as such and
not with life. If a Greek intellectual could not talk about "being and life"
at the same time, a Christian should express them both at the same time. This
identification of being to life touches the sense of the truth decisively. This
is something that one can watch in the flow of the thought that, through the
Greek Fathers, reaches till the 2nd century A.D.
have already ascertained, that Ignatius of Antioch prefers to relate the truth
to life. So the definition of knowledge is continued in depth, just as it is
mentioned on the fourth Gospel, as "eternal life" or as "real life" (John
3,15; 36; 14,6; 17,3)[iii].
Even though all these exist, if John's understanding of knowledge approaches
the understanding of the truth as an action in an old-testament sense - a
consideration which sometimes in research one adapts hastily and neglecting the
differences between old-testament and new-testament thought - then the
connection of knowledge to life in Ignatius mush clearer aims at an ontological
approach of the truth. This can be seen in the interest of Ignatius on
immortality and incorruptibility. Life does not mean to Ignatius just an action
but exists for ever (eternal existence), that is not to die[iv].
With this we have here the first in depth identification of being and life. In a
much broader form appears this subject in the theology of St. Eirinaeus. The
Greek interest, on the being, remained completely in biblical confines.
Eirinaeus uses the term of incorruptibility as well[v].
He sees Christ as the Truth, but not of the mind – his contradiction to
Gnosticism, the reflectively demanding religious movement of each time stops him
from doing that – but of incorruptibility of the being. Here lies an extremely
deep simulation of the Greek understanding of the truth, as "nature" of
things, with John's and Ignatius' understanding of the truth, as life.
Christ is the truth, and this not as a beginning of a theoretical understanding
on the interpretation of the world, but because He is the life and the sum of
all beings finds its meaning in the incorruptible being in Christ[vi],
who summarizes in himself creation and history. Outside life the being is
inconceivable and for this reason the ontological understanding of the truth has
its place in the meaning of life.
simulation of being and life is decisive on the history of the Christian
theology and it seems that great decisions of the triadological theology of the
4th century A.D. just on this base can be estimated in their
depth. Therefore, it is important to examine precisely the causes on the
explanation of this appearance. What capabilities gave to the Greek Fathers the
simulation of being and life?
question cannot be answered with the indication of a spiritual flow alone, from
which the ideas of Ignatius and Eirinaeus emerged and to be answered in the
simplest way, because a flow like that does not exist. Both Fathers, obviously,
do not rely on a spiritual tradition but much more exist in a common experience
of the Church as a community and above all as a Eucharistic community. Eucharist
plays such a decisive role in the theology of Ignatius, that it would be amazing,
if it hadn't exercised a certain influence on it with the identification of
life and being. In action, the term of immortality lies in his works in
correlation to the Eucharist[vii]. In Eirinaeus, too, can be found this main place of
the Eucharist and undoubtedly this has influenced his idea concerning
in its ontological sense, as it emerges from the link of creation and Eucharist
how is it that a theology of the Eucharist could lead to such an identification
of being and life? The answer to this question can be found mainly in the
biblical sources of the connection of Eucharist and life. The fourth Gospel
offered in this relation an adequate basis. Secondarily, Ignatius and Eirinaeus
led a struggle on the truth of the Eucharist, one in contradiction to Docetism[x]
and the other with Gnosticism[xi].
If the Eucharist wasn't truly Christ, in the historical and materialistic
sense of the word truth, then the very truth would not have been at the same
time life and being, because naturally it is the Eucharist that gives life in
both of them. So, the truth should become historical, without stopping it being
ontological. There is also the view of community on the Eucharist[xii].
The life of the Eucharist is the life of God himself and naturally it is not a
life with the sense of the Aristotle dynamics, that flows mechanically from the
depths of being; it is much more the life of the divine communion, as it exists
in the Trinity and as it becomes reality among the members of the Eucharistic
community. Knowledge is identified with communion[xiii].
these lead directly to the theological developments of the 4th
century A.D. Of course we must emphatically underline that without the
foundation of the Eucharistic experience of the Church, as pointed out by
Ignatius and Eirinaeus, the triadological theology of the 4th century
remains obscure. So, we must insist a little more on this point before we pass
on to the 4th century A.D.
identification of being and life under the sense of immortality and
incorruptibility leads inevitably to the triadological theology. If
incorruptibility is possible just in the communion of the very life of God and
through Him, then the creation and the being cannot exist and live, in the
measure that the source of being, God, is the very life and communion. It
belongs to the Eucharistic experience, the fact that life just in the fact of
communion is given and realized[xiv]
and this is why creation and being as a sum can rely just upon God, who lives on
communion. Thus in Eirinaeus the divine act of creation includes at the same
time the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit[xv].
At this point Eirinaeus seems to stop. He is concerned just with the created
being and places the reality of the existence in the Trinity. But what is it
that happens with the un-created being? Wouldn't it also be possible for us to
say in the end - that in our relation to God as being - that being precedes life
and life comes from being? Wouldn't it be possible, in other words, to ask for
a divine nature (or substance) as the final ontological truth and at the same
time to base life and communion on it, under the form of the Trinity? The Greek
Fathers answered to this question with the historical effort to "boost" the
identification of being and life to communion as the final point of being, which
is God Himself. This is what takes place in the 4th century A.D.
of Antioch, Προς Μαγν.. 1, 2: Προς
3, 2; 7,2; 20,2; Προς
4, 1 and others.
a-b; 431b; 434b. Transl. by W. Theiler, Darmstadt 1959.
Also see among others Chr. Mauer,
Ignatius von Antiochien und das Johannesevangelium, Zuerich, 1949.
To Eph. 17,1. 20,2. Η
αλήθεια ταυτίζεται με τη «διδαχή
Κατά Αιρες. III,
19, 1; VI 38,4.
can be observed that there is a remarkable parallelism between the
understanding of the Eucharist as "medicine of immortality, antidote
against death" in Ignatius (as above) and its description in Eirinaeus as
"antidote of life" (Κατά
Κατά Αιρ. IV,
18,4-5; V,2,2; IV, 17,5; IV, 18,1; IV 18,4/ Also see A. Ziegler, Das Brot
von unseren Feldern. Ein Beitrag zur Eucharistielehre des hl. Irenaeus, in:
Pro mundi vita (Festschrift zum eucharistischen Weltkongress 1960), 1960,
IV, 20, 5.
On a more detailed conversation concerning the sources about this view of
the problem, also see I. D. Zizioulas, Η
Κατά Αιρ. IV,
This would be noted in relation to Ignatius and Eirinaeus. Both these
Fathers where presented, mainly through interpreters, just as if they more
or less had introduced in the Eucharist pagan terms. This would have
happened for example in the case with the expression of Ignatius "medicine
of immortality". The thorough study of the thought of Ignatius in its sum
reveals, that to him the Eucharist is a medicine of immortality, not because
it has in its nature a dynamic of life or a capability of life, in the sense
that the Greek term of nature suggests. What defines in Ignatius the
Eucharist is the fact of communion, which is expressed mainly through the
gathering of the community around the bishop. In this fact we must seek the
"immortality" of the Eucharist and not in the nature of the Eucharist as
As above, V, 28,4. Also
see IV, Προλ.