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Posted December 13, 2011

Book: The Beauty of the Eucharist: Voices from the Church Fathers
Author: Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R.
New City Press, Hyde Park, NY. 2010. pp. 252

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Someone once called tradition “the living faith of the dead,” not the “dead faith of the living.” This “living faith” has made the community of believers what it is today. If we cut ourselves off from this faith, we can easily forget our past and lose touch with what we are and where we are going. To ignore these distant voices would be like plugging up one of our ears with wax and acting as if we had perfect hearing. To hear God’s word today, we must listen carefully to what these voices from the past had to say. Merely listening to them, however, is only the first step. For the “living faith of the dead” to have a real impact on our lives today, we must also scrutinize, digest, and adapt what they say to our own circumstances. Either their faith lives on in us, or it does not live at all.

This book examines what some of the most prominent voices of Christianity’s distant past have taught about the Eucharist. It focuses not on the Scriptures, where a wealth of material has already been made available for popular consumption, but on twenty-three sources from the lat first century to the early seventh century C.E.

An Excerpt from the book:


Clement’s letter to the Corinthians provides us with important information about the earliest evidence pointing at least to the beginning of the theory of Roman primacy has to do with a controversy concerning the proper order in the liturgical assembly. For Christians, the liturgy lies at the very heart of their belief and practice. It shapes the community self-understanding, its way of seeing God, and its relationship to the world. In the late-first century, the Church of Rome saw the importance sound liturgy for the life of the entire community and was willing to take concrete steps to resolve conflicts even when they arose beyond its borders. It did so out of a sense of the universal scope of the liturgy, sensing that discord in any local community affected the life of the entire Church. Today, many Christian communities have lost this sense of the role liturgical worship plays in shaping their faith and providing them with their moral bearings. As in the case of the Church of Corinth, it sometimes takes an interested but outside onlooker to rekindle an appreciation of the central role the Eucharist plays in this regard.

Given the liturgical focus of the letter, Clement’s focus on the life of virtue in the early part of the letter should come as no surprise. In nourishing the Christian community through both Word and sacrament, the Eucharist enables those participating to share more deeply in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. In doing so, they gradually become conformed to the mind of Christ and exhibit in their own lives the very same virtues Christ embodied in his. Clement hints in his letter that the Corinthians don’t see the interconnection the proper liturgical order and their spiritual growth.

Table of Contents:

Clement of Rome: Evolving Structures

Ignatius of Antioch: Real discipleship

The Martyrdom of Polycarp: dying for Christ

The Didache: Church order

Justin Martyr: Explaining the faith

Irenaeus of Lyons: Correcting error

Clement of Alexandria: Christian Gnosis

Tertullian of Carthage: Emerging concepts

The Apostolic Tradition: A Eucharistic prayer

Origen of Alexandria: Spiritual meanings

Cyprian of Carthage: Mingling water with wine

Athanasius of Alexandria: countering the Arian threat

Cyril of Jerusalem: sharing the fullness of life

Hilary of Poitiers: Defending the faith

Ambrose of Milan: food for the journey

Basil the Great: loving service of God and others

Gregory of Nazianzus: receiving divine medicine

Gregory of Nyssa: restoring the divine image

John Chrysostom: real present and real sacrifice

Jerome: true sacrament of Passover

Augustine of Hippo: bread of love

Leo the Great: proclaiming the real presence

Gregory the Great: Holy sacrifice of Christ