On Sacraments in General

Augustine, Letter 55.11.21

For the feeding and fanning of that ardent love by which, like gravitational law, we are borne upwards or inwards to rest, the presentation of truth in figures has a great power. For, thus presented, things move and kindle our love much more than if they were set forth in bald statements, not clothed with sacramental symbols. Why this should be, it is hard to say. But it is the fact that anything that we are taught by allegorical signification affects us and pleases us more, and is more highly esteemed by us, than if it were stated clearly in plain terms. The reason for this seems to be that the emotions are less easily kindled when the soul is absorbed in earthly things. But if the soul encounters corporeal things that signify spiritual things, and then is led from these to the spiritual realities that they represent, it gathers strength by the mere act of passing from the one to the other, and then—like the flame of a lighted torch—is made by that motion to burn more brightly, and is carried away to rest by a more intensely glowing love.

On Baptism


Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catecheses 2.5

How strange and wonderful! We did not truly (ἀληθῶς) die, we were not truly buried, we did not truly rise after being crucified. All of this was an imitation by way of symbols (ἐν εἰκόνι ἡ μίμησις), but our salvation truly took place. Christ was really crucified and really buried and truly rose again. He bestowed on us all these things, so that by sharing his sufferings in imitation, we might attain salvation in truth.


Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40  

3. Illumination [baptism] is the splendor of souls, the conversion of the life, the question put to the Godward conscience. It is the aid to our weakness, the renunciation of the flesh, the following of the Spirit, the fellowship of the Word, the improvement of the creature, the overwhelming of sin, the participation of light, the dissolution of darkness. It is the carriage to God, the dying with Christ, the perfecting of the mind, the bulwark of Faith, the key of the Kingdom of heaven, the change of life, the removal of slavery, the loosing of chains, the remodeling of the whole man. Why should I go into further detail? Illumination is the greatest and most magnificent of the Gifts of God. For just as we speak of the Holy of Holies, and the Song of Songs, as more comprehensive and more excellent than others, so is this called Illumination, as being more holy than any other illumination which we possess.

4. And as Christ the Giver of it is called by many various names, so too is this Gift, whether it is from the exceeding gladness of its nature (as those who are very fond of a thing take pleasure in using its name), or that the great variety of its benefits has reacted for us upon its names. We call it, the Gift, the Grace, Baptism, Unction, Illumination, the Clothing of Immortality, the Laver of Regeneration, the Seal, and everything that is honorable. We call it the Gift, because it is given to us in return for nothing on our part; Grace, because it is conferred even on debtors; Baptism, because sin is buried with it in the water; Unction, as Priestly and Royal, for such were they who were anointed; Illumination, because of its splendor; Clothing, because it hides our shame; the Laver, because it washes us; the Seal because it preserves us, and is moreover the indication of Dominion. In it the heavens rejoice; it is glorified by Angels, because of its kindred splendor. It is the image of the heavenly bliss. We long indeed to sing out its praises, but we cannot worthily do so.

8. And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths. And this which comes to the aid of our first birth, makes us new instead of old, and like God instead of what we now are; recasting us without fire, and creating us anew without breaking us up. For, to say it all in one word, the virtue of Baptism is to be understood as a covenant with God for a second life and a purer conversation. And indeed all need to fear this very much, and to watch our own souls, each one of us, with all care, that we do not become liars in respect of this profession.


John Chrysostom, Baptismal Homilies 2.11

 As you know, baptism is a burial and a resurrection: the old self is buried with Christ to sin and the new nature rises from the dead. . . .We are stripped and we are clothed, stripped of the old garment which has been soiled by the multitude of our sins, clothed with the new that is free from all stain. What does this mean? We are clothed in Christ himself. St. Paul remarks, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Yarnold 1994: 155–156).

Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium

The actuality of deifying grace is present in potency in baptism

[In response to the question of how one who is “born of God” in baptism can continue to sin (cf. 1 John 3:7 and John 3:5–6)]

The manner of birth from God within us is two-fold: the one bestows the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency (dynamai) in those who are born of God; the other introduces, wholly by active exertion (kat’ energeian), that grace which deliberately reorients the entire free choice of the one being born of God toward the God who gives birth. The first bears the grace, present in potency, through faith alone; but the second, beyond faith, also engenders in the knower the sublimely divine likeness of the One known, that likeness being effected precisely through knowledge.

Therefore the first manner of birth is observed in some because their will, not yet fully detached from its propensity to the flesh, has yet to be wholly endowed with the Spirit by participation in the divine mysteries that are made known through active endeavor. The inclination to sin does not disappear as long as they will it. For the Spirit does not give birth to an unwilling will (gnome), but converts the willing will toward deification. . . .

With those undergoing the (second mode of) birth, the Holy Spirit takes the whole of their free choice and translates it completely from earth to heaven, and, through the true knowledge acquired by exertion, transfigures the mind with the blessed light-rays of our God and Father, such that the mind is deemed another “god,” insofar as in its habitude it experiences, by grace, that which God himself does not experience but “is” in his very essence. With those undergoing this second mode of baptism, their free choice clearly becomes sinless in virtue and knowledge, as they are unable to negate what they have actively discerned through experience.

So even if we have the Spirit of adoption, who is himself the Seed for enduing those begotten through baptism with the likeness of the Sower, but do not present him with a will cleansed of any inclination or disposition to something else, we therefore, even after being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5), willingly sin. But were we to prepare our will with knowledge to receive the operation of these agents—water and Spirit, I mean—then the mystical water would, through our practical life, cleanse our conscience, and the life-giving Spirit would bring about unchanging perfection of the good in us through knowledge acquired in experience. Precisely for that reason he leaves, to each of us who are still able to sin, the sheer desire to surrender our whole selves willingly to God. (Trans. Blowers and Wilken, 103–4).

On the Eucharist


Justin Martyr, First Apology 66.2

We receive these elements not as common bread and common drink. In the same manner as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the word of God and had flesh and blood for our salvation, even so we were taught that the food for which thanks have been given through the prayer of the word that is from him and from which our blood and flesh are nourished according to the bodily processes is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 75.6

Sacrament of unity

The Lord’s sacrifices themselves declare that Christian unanimity is linked together with itself by a firm and inseparable charity. For when the Lord calls bread, which is combined by the union of many grains, his body, he indicates our people whom he bore as being united. And when he calls the wine, which is pressed from many grapes and clusters and collected together, his blood, he also signifies our flock linked together by the mingling of a united multitude.


Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogic Catecheses 4

1. This teaching of blessed Paul is sufficient to give us assurance concerning the sacred mysteries to which you were admitted when you became “of one body” (Eph. 3.6) and one blood with Christ. For we heard Paul declare just now: “For on the night on which our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, taking bread and giving thanks he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ And taking the cup and giving thanks he said: ‘Take, drink, this is my blood.”’ Since then Christ himself taught us concerning the bread, saying: “This is my body,” who will dare to doubt any more? And since he has declared explicitly: “This is my blood,” who will ever hesitate and say it is not his blood?

2. Once at Cana in Galilee Jesus changed the water into wine by his own will. Isn’t it reasonable then to believe that he changed wine into blood? When he was invited to a human wedding he performed this marvelous miracle; isn’t it much more believable that he gave the “sons of the bridegroom” (Mark 2:19) the enjoyment of his own body and blood?

3. So we receive with full assurance that what we are receiving is a share in Christ’s body and blood. For in the form of bread you are given his body, and in the form of wine you are given his blood, so that by partaking of Christ’s body and blood you may become of one body and one blood with Christ. In this way we become Christ-bearers, as his body and blood are spread around our limbs. Thus we become in blessed Peter’s words “sharers of his divine nature” (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4).

9. You have learnt with full assurance that what looks like bread, despite its taste, is not bread but Christ’s body; that what looks like wine is not wine, despite what its taste suggests, but Christ’s blood” (trans. Yarnold, 181)

Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechetical Oration 37

For healing body as well as soul, both spiritual and bodily remedies are needed

Owing to man’s twofold nature, composed as it is of soul and body, those who come to salvation must be united with the Author of their life by means of both. In consequence, the soul, which has union with him by faith, derives the means of salvation by faith. For being united with life implies having a share in it. But it is in a different way that the body comes into intimate union with its Savior. Those who have been tricked into taking poison offset its harmful effect by another drug. The remedy, moreover, just like the poison, has to enter through the whole body. Similarly, having tasted the poison that dissolved our nature (cf. Gen. 3:6), we were necessarily in need of something to reunite it. Such a remedy had to enter into us, so that it might, by its counteraction, undo the harm the body had already encountered from the poison.

And what is this remedy? Nothing else than the body which proved itself superior to death and became the source of our life. For, as the apostle observes, a little yeast makes a whole lump of dough like itself (1 Cor. 5:16). In the same way, when the body that God made immortal enters ours, it entirely transforms it into itself. When a poison is combined with something wholesome, the whole admixture is rendered as useless as the poison. Conversely, the immortal body, by entering the one who receives it, transforms his entire being into its own nature.

How can Christ’s body be distributed universally without losing anything of itself?

Now nothing can enter the body unless it is assimilated in the system by eating and drinking. Hence the body must receive the life-giving power in the natural way. Now only that body in which God dwelt, acquired such life-giving grace; and we have already shown that our body cannot become immortal unless it shares in immortality by its association with what is immortal. We must, therefore, inquire how that one body can be perpetually distributed to so many thousands of the faithful throughout the world, and yet be received in its entirety in the portion each gets, and still remain whole in itself. In consequence, we must turn aside for a moment to discuss the physiology of the body, so that our faith, in its concern for what is reasonable, may entertain no doubts on this question.

[He goes on to explain that the body does not derive or regulate life by itself, but receives life from a source outside itself—namely, by food. Different creatures are nourished by different food, but humankind is especially nourished by bread and wine.] So when we look at [bread or wine], we are looking at the potential materials of our body. In my body, bread and wine are turned into blood and flesh, since in each case the food is changed by the power of assimilation into the form of the body. . . . All bodies, then, derive their subsistence from nourishment, that is, from food and drink. Now bread is food, and water sweetened with wine is drink.

Moreover, God’s Word, as we explained at the beginning, is both God and Word and was united with human nature. When he entered this body of ours, he did not innovate on human nature, but maintained his body in the usual and appropriate way, providing for its subsistence by food and drink, the food being bread. In our case, then, as we have frequently observed, when we see bread we see, in a way, the human body, for that is what bread becomes when it passes into it. It was the same in his case. The body in which God dwelt, by receiving bread as nourishment, was in a sense identical with it. For, as we have said, the food was changed into the nature of the body. What is recognized as a universal characteristic applied to his flesh too, i.e., that his body was maintained by bread. But by the indwelling of God the Word, that body was raised to divine dignity.

We have good reason, then, to believe that now too the the body of God the Word. For that body as well was once bread which is consecrated by God's Word is changed into virtually bread, though it was sanctified by the indwelling of the Word in the flesh. Therefore the means whereby the bread was changed in that body, and was converted into divine power, are identical with those which produce a similar result now. For, in the former case, the grace of the Word sanctified the body which derived its subsistence from bread, and which, in a way, was itself bread. In the latter case, similarly, the bread (as the apostle says) is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. It is not, however, by being eaten that it gradually becomes the body of the Word. Rather is it immediately changed by the Word into the body, as the Word himself declares: “This is my body.”

But all flesh is nourished by the element of moisture as well; for the earthly part in us could not continue to live unless it were combined with this. Just as we sustain the solid mass of the body by firm and solid food, so we supplement its moisture from what is akin to this. By entering us it is changed into blood by assimilation; and this is especially the case if it derives from wine the capacity of being changed into heat. Now the flesh in which God dwelt used this element too to maintain its existence.

The reason, moreover, that God, when he revealed himself, united himself with our mortal nature was to deify humanity by this close relation with Deity. In consequence, by means of his flesh, which is constituted by bread and wine, he implants himself in all believers, following out the plan of grace. He unites himself with their bodies so that mankind too, by its union with what is immortal, may share in incorruptibility. And this he confers on us by the power of the blessing, through which he changes the nature of the visible elements into that immortal body. (trans. Richardson, LCC, 318–321)

Hilary, On the Trinity 8.13

The real reception of Christ in the Eucharist is the basis for an argument about the consubstantial union of the Son and Father (against the “Arian” view that it was merely a union of will)

If the Word has indeed become flesh, and we indeed receive the Word as flesh in the Lord’s food, how are we not to believe that he dwells in us by his nature? For when he was born as man, he assumed the nature of our flesh—bound inseparably with himself—and has mingled the nature of his flesh to his eternal nature in the mystery of the flesh that was to be communicated to us.

All of us are one in this manner because the Father is in Christ and Christ is in us. Therefore, whoever will deny that the Father is not in Christ by his nature let him first deny that he is not in Christ by his nature, or that Christ is not present within him, because the Father in Christ and Christ in us cause us to be one in them. If, therefore, Christ has truly taken the flesh of our body, and that man who was born from Mary is truly Christ, and we truly receive the flesh of his body in the sacrament (and we are one, therefore, because the Father is in Him and He is in us), how can you assert that there is [merely] a unity of will, since the attribute of the nature in the sacrament is the mystery of the perfect unity?


Ephrem, Hymns on Faith 10.8–11

In your bread is hidden the Spirit which cannot be eaten.

In your wine dwells the fire that cannot be drunk.

Spirit in your bread, fire in your wine:

It is a distinct wonder that our lips have received!

[10:9] When the Lord came down to earth among mortals,

He made them a new creation, like the watchers,

Within which both fire and spirit mingle,

Since fire and spirit exist secretly.

[10:10] The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers.

It touched only the mouth of Isaiah (Is. 6:7).

[The Seraph] did not hold it, and [Isaiah] did not eat it. But to us our Lord has given both.

[10:11] Abraham offered bodily food

To the spiritual watchers, and they ate. A new marvel

Of our great Lord: for bodily ones

Fire and spirit to eat and drink!        

[10:12] Fire descended and consumed sinners in anger.

The fire of compassion has come down and dwelt within the bread.

Instead of the fire which consumed humanity,

The fire inside the bread you have consumed and lived.

[10:13] Fire came down and consumed the sacrifices of Elijah (1 Kg. 18:38)

The fire of mercy has become for us a living sacrifice.23 Fire consumed the offering:

Your fire, O our Lord, we have eaten in your offering.

. . . .

[10:17] Fire and the Holy Spirit are in the bread and the cup.

[10:18] Your bread has slain the greedy one, who made us his bread.

Your cup destroys death, which, lo, had swallowed us up.

We have eaten you, my Lord, and we have drunk you,

Not to nullify you, but to receive life in you.

(trans. Wickes, 121–125.


Ephrem, Hymns on Faith 19

[19:2] Who is worthy of your garment—the clothing of your humanity?

Who is worthy of your body—the clothing of your divinity?

Lord, you had two [sets of] clothes:

A garment and a body—the bread, the bread of life.

[19:3] Who does not wonder at the clothing of your transformation [i.e. the incarnate body]?

Look: the body hid your brightness—the awesome nature.

The garments hid the weak nature.

The bread hid the fire that dwelt in it.

. . . .

[19:8] Great it is that the small have hemmed in that Greatness,

So that it becomes smaller than their form, so that it becomes like them.13

Though difficult it is for them to imitate him,

It is easy for that [Greatness] to become like them.

[19:9] A hunter set a trap for a bird.

Since he could not go up to it, he called it to himself.

You, Lord, are the hunter. You came down to us,

Who were too weak to go up and live with you!

[19:10] This is an aberration: [while] someone weak covers

His soft body by putting on dense armor,

You, Lord, put upon your nature

An infirm body, to be able to suffer in it.

[19:11] Various drugs have issued from you to the needy,

Though all are one in power, undivided.

He has increased for the sick and spread out for the needy.

He has diminished and become one truth for the true.

[19:12] Your love has brought together [various] means because of our need,

For you to give each a path from your treasure.

With easy paths, Lord, you incited

Our necessity to approach your treasury.

(trans. Wickes)


Ambrose, On the Sacraments 4.14

You perhaps say: ‘My bread is usual.’ That bread is indeed just bread before the words of the sacraments. But when the consecration has been added, from bread it becomes the flesh of Christ. So let us explain how it is possible that what is bread is the body of Christ.

By what words, then, is the consecration and by whose expressions? By those of the Lord Jesus. For all the rest that are said in the preceding are said by the priest: praise to God, prayer is offered, there is a petition for the people, for kings, for the rest. When it comes to performing a venerable sacrament, then the priest uses not his own expressions, but he uses the expressions of Christ. Thus the expression of Christ performs this sacrament.

Therefore, to reply to you, there was no body of Christ before consecration, but after the consecration I say to you that now there is the body of Christ. He himself spoke and it was made. He himself commanded and it was created. You yourself were, but you were an old creature; after you were consecrated, you began to be a new creature. Do you wish to know how you became a new creature? It says: “Every creature is new in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).

(17) Accept, then, how Christ’s expression was accustomed to change every creature and changes the designs of nature when He wishes.


Theodore of Mopsuestia, Baptismal Homilies  

The most important point to grasp is that the food we take is a kind of sacrifice we perform . . . It is clearly a sacrifice, although it is not something that is new or accomplished by the efforts of the bishop: it is a recalling of this true offering” (trans. Yarnold 1994: 209)


Theophilus of Alexandria, Homily on the Mystical Supper

Come, then, all who feast on the sacraments, all who share in a heavenly calling (cf. Heb. 3:1). Let us with the utmost zeal put on the wedding garment of unblemished faith. Let us run together to the mystical supper. Christ today is our host at the feast. Christ today waits on us. Christ, the lover of humanity, offers us refreshment. What we are speaking of fills us with awe. What we are celebrating inspires us with fear. The fatted calf is sacrificed. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is slaughtered (Jn. 1:29). The Father rejoices. The Son of his own accord is offered as sacrifice—not today by the enemies of God but by himself, to demonstrate that his saving passion is voluntary. . . .

These things are the delights for you of the present banquet. The bountiful one is ready. The divine gifts are laid out, the mystical table has been prepared, the life-giving cup has been mixed. The King of Glory is summoning, the Son of God accepts, the incarnate Word of God invites. The substantive Wisdom of God the Father, who prepared for herself a temple not made by human hands, distributes her own body as bread, and gives her own life-giving blood as wine.

O fearful mystery! O unutterable dispensation! O inconceivable condescension! O unsearchable compassion! The Creator lays himself out for the enjoyment of the creature. Life-in-itself offers himself to mortal beings as their food and drink. Come, eat my bread, he exhorts, and drink the wine I have mixed for you. I have prepared myself as food. I have mixed myself for those who desire me. Although I am life, I willingly became flesh. Although I am Word and substantive impress of the Father, I voluntarily partook of flesh and blood for your salvation. “Taste and see that I, the Lord, am good” (Ps. 34:8). You have tasted the fruit of disobedience and learned that the food of a bitter counsellor is itself bitter. Taste now the fruit of obedience that wards off evil and know that it is good and indeed profitable to obey God. . . .

In complete contrast again with those who afflict you, I have given you a table that brings life and joy, that requites those who have borne ill-will against you not with sorrow but with inexpressible joy. Eat bread that restores your nature; drink wine that generates the exultation of immortality. Eat bread that cleanses you of the ancient bitterness; drink wine that soothes the pain of the wound. This is nature’s treatment room; this is the place of punishment of him who wounded you. For your sake I became as you are, though without changing my nature, that you might become through me “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Change yourselves, then, for the good. Beautified, turn from the world to God, and from the flesh to spirit. . . .

May the divine grace be merciful to us for having referred to polluted things in this most holy celebration. Therefore let us partake of the body of life-in-itself, which for our sake tabernacled in our own nature. As the divine John says, “The life was made manifest” (1 John 1:2). And again, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:4), who is Christ the Son of the living God (cf. Matt. 16:16), one of the Holy Trinity. And let us drink his holy blood in remission of our sins and as participation in the immortality it contains. We should believe that he remains simultaneously priest and victim, that he is both the one who offers and the one who is offered, that he receives and is distributed. For we should not divide the divine and indissoluble, yet at the same time unconfused, union of one of the all-honourable Trinity into two persons. To him be glory and worship with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. Amen. (trans. Norman Russell, 53–55, 59–60)


Augustine, Sermon 272

Become the body of Christ that you see on the altar

One thing is seen, another is to be understood. What you can see on the altar, you also saw last night. But what it was, what it meant, of what great reality it contained the sacrament, you had not yet heard. So what you can see, then, is bread and a cup; that’s what even your eyes tell you; but as for what your faith asks to be instructed about, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup the blood of Christ. It took no time to say that indeed, and that, perhaps, may be enough for faith; but faith desires instruction. The prophet says, you see, Unless you believe, you shall not understand (Is. 7:9). I mean, you can now say to me, “You’ve bidden us believe; now explain, so that we may understand.” . . .

The reason these things, brothers and sisters, are called sacraments is that in them one thing is seen, another is to be understood. What can be seen has a bodily appearance, what is to be understood provides spiritual fruit. So if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful, You, though, are the body of Christ and its members (1 Cor. 12:27). So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply “Amen,” and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, then, is the body of Christ, and you answer, “Amen.” So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that Amen true.

So why in bread? Let’s not bring anything of our own to bear here, let’s go on listening to the apostle himself, who said, when speaking of this sacrament, One bread, one body, we being many are (1 Cor. 10:17). Understand and rejoice. Unity, truth, piety, love. One bread; what is this one bread? The one body which we, being many, are. Remember that bread is not made from one grain, but from many. When you were being exorcised, it’s as though you were being ground. When you were baptized it’s as though you were mixed into dough. When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s as though you were baked. Be what you can see, and receive what you are. . . .

So too with the wine. Brothers and sisters, just remind yourselves what wine is made from; many grapes hang in the bunch, but the juice of the grapes is poured together in one vessel. That too is how the Lord Christ signified us, how he wished us to belong to him, how he consecrated the sacrament of our peace and unity on his table. Any who receive the sacrament of unity, and do not hold the bond of peace, do not receive the sacrament for their benefit, but a testimony against themselves. (trans. WSA 3/7: 300–1)


Maximus the Confessor, Mystagogy 24  

The grace of the Holy Spirit (which is always invisibly present, but in a special way at the time of the holy synaxis) transforms and changes each person who is found there and in fact remolds him in proportion to what is more divine in him and leads him to what is revealed through the mysteries which are celebrated, even if he does not himself feel this because he is still among those who are children in Christ, unable to see either into the depths of the reality or the grace operating in it, which is revealed through each of the divine symbols of salvation being accomplished, and which proceeds according to the order and progression from preliminaries to the end of everything. (CWS 206–7)