Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XXXVII.

But since the human being is a twofold creature, compounded of soul and body, it is necessary that the saved should lay hold of 2036 the Author of the new life through both their component parts. Accordingly, the soul being fused into Him through faith derives from that the means and occasion of salvation; for the act of union with the life implies a fellowship with the life. But the body comes into fellowship and blending with the Author of our salvation in another way. For as they who owing to some act of treachery have taken poison, allay its deadly influence by means of some other drug (for it is necessary that the antidote should enter the human vitals in the same way as the deadly poison, in order to secure, through them, that the effect of the remedy may be distributed through the entire system), in like manner we, who have tasted the solvent of our nature 2037 , necessarily need something that may combine what has been so dissolved, so that such an antidote entering within us may, by its own counter-influence, undo the mischief introduced into the body by the poison. What, then, is this remedy to be? Nothing else than that very Body which has been shown to be superior to death, and has been the First-fruits of our life. For, in the manner that, as the Apostle says 2038 , a little leaven assimilates to itself the whole lump, so in like manner that body to which immortality has been given it by God, when it is in ours, p. 505 translates and transmutes the whole into itself. For as by the admixture of a poisonous liquid with a wholesome one the whole drought is deprived of its deadly effect, so too the immortal Body, by being within that which receives it, changes the whole to its own nature. Yet in no other way can anything enter within the body but by being transfused through the vitals by eating and drinking. It is, therefore, incumbent on the body to admit this life-producing power in the one way that its constitution makes possible. And since that Body only which was the receptacle of the Deity received this grace of immortality, and since it has been shown that in no other way was it possible for our body to become immortal, but by participating in incorruption through its fellowship with that immortal Body, it will be necessary to consider how it was possible that that one Body, being for ever portioned to so many myriads of the faithful throughout the whole world, enters through that portion, whole into each individual, and yet remains whole in itself. In order, therefore, that our faith, with eyes fixed on logical probability, may harbour no doubt on the subject before us, it is fitting to make a slight digression in our argument, to consider the physiology of the body. Who is there that does not know that our bodily frame, taken by itself, possesses no life in its own proper subsistence, but that it is by the influx of a force or power from without that it holds itself together and continues in existence, and by a ceaseless motion that it draws to itself what it wants, and repels what is superfluous? When a leathern bottle is full of some liquid, and then the contents leak out at the bottom, it would not retain the contour of its full bulk unless there entered in at the top something else to fill up the vacuum; and thus a person, seeing the circumference of this bottle swollen to its full size, would know that this circumference did not really belong to the object which he sees, but that what was being poured in, by being in it, gave shape and roundness to the bulk. In the same way the mere framework of our body possesses nothing belonging to itself that is cognizable by us, to hold it together, but remains in existence owing to a force that is introduced into it. Now this power or force both is, and is called, nourishment. But it is not the same in all bodies that require aliment, but to each of them has been assigned a food adapted to its condition by Him who governs Nature. Some animals feed on roots which they dig up. Of others grass is the food, of others different kinds of flesh, but for man above all things bread; and, in order to continue and preserve the moisture of his body, drink, not simply water, but water frequently sweetened with wine, to join forces with our internal heat. He, therefore, who thinks of these things, thinks by implication 2039 of the particular bulk of our body. For those things by being within me became my blood and flesh, the corresponding nutriment by its power of adaptation being changed into the form of my body. With these distinctions we must return to the consideration of the question before us. The question was, how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished? Perhaps, then, we are now not far from the probable explanation. If the subsistence of every body depends on nourishment, and this is eating and drinking, and in the case of our eating there is bread and in the case of our drinking water sweetened with wine, and if, as was explained at the beginning, the Word of God, Who is both God and the Word, coalesced with man’s nature, and when He came in a body such as ours did not innovate on man’s physical constitution so as to make it other than it was, but secured continuance for His own body by the customary and proper means, and controlled its subsistence by meat and drink, the former of which was bread,—just, then, as in the case of ourselves, as has been repeatedly said already, if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle 2040 , “is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer”; not that it advances by the process of eating 2041 p. 506 to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, “This is My Body.” Seeing, too, that all flesh is nourished by what is moist (for without this combination our earthly part would not continue to live), just as we support by food which is firm and solid the solid part of our body, in like manner we supplement the moist part from the kindred element; and this, when within us, by its faculty of being transmitted, is changed to blood, and especially if through the wine it receives the faculty of being transmuted into heat. Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements 2042 the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.



φάπτεσθαι. Krabinger prefers this to φέπεσθαι (Paris Edit.), as more suitable to what follows.


Gregory seems here to refer to Eve’s eating the apple, which introduced a moral and physical poison into our nature. General Gordon’s thoughts (“in Palestine”) took the same direction as the whole of this passage; which Fronto Ducæus (as quoted by Krabinger) would even regard as a proof of transubstantiation.


1 Cor. v. 6.




1 Tim. iv. 5.


by the process of eating, διὰ βρώσεως. There is very little authority for καὶ πόσεως which follows in some Codd. If Krabinger’s text is here correct, Gregory distinctly teaches a transmutation of the elements very like the later transubstantiation: he also distinctly teaches that the words of consecration effect the change. There seems no reason to doubt that the text is correct. The three Latin interpretations, “a verbo transmutatus,” “statim a verbo transmutatus,” “per verbum mutatus,” of Hervetus, Morell, and Zinus, all point to their having found πρὸς τὸ σῶμα διὰ τοῦ λόγου μεταποιούμενος in the text: and this is the reading of Cod. Reg. (the other reading is πρὸς τὸ σῶμα τοῦ λόγου). A passage from Justin Mart., Apol. ii. p. 77, also supports Krabinger’s text. Justin says, “so we are taught that that food which has been blessed by the pronouncing of the word that came from Him, which food by changing nourishes our blood and flesh, is the flesh and blood of that Incarnate Jesus.” As to the nature of the change (πρὸς τὸ σῶμα μεταποιούμενος), another passage in Gregory (In Baptism. Christi, 370 A) should be compared: “The bread again, was for a while common bread, but when the mystic word shall have consecrated it (ερουργήσῃ), it is called, and moreover is, the body of Christ.” He says also at the end of this chapter, “He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements (μεταστοιχειώσας) the natural quality (φύσιν) of these visible things to that immortal thing.” Harnack does not attempt to weaken the force of these and other passages, but only points out that the idea of this change does not exactly correspond (how could it?) with the mediæval scholastically-philosophical “transubstantiation.” Gregory’s belief is that, just as the Word, when Christ was here in the flesh, rendered holy His body that assimilated bread, which still in a manner remained bread, so now the bread is sanctified by the Word of God and by prayer. “The idea,” says Neander, “of the repetition of the consecration of the Λόγος had taken hold of his mind.” The construction is προϊ& 241·ν (ὥστε) γενέσθαι εἰς τὸ σῶμα τοῦ λόγου, “eo progrediens, ut verbi corpus evadat.”


μεταστοιχειώσας. Suicer labours, without success, to show that the word is not equivalent to transelementare or μετουσιοῦν, but only to substantiam convertere, i.e. to change by an addition of grace into another mode or use. In the passages from Epiphanius which Suicer adduces for “figure,” “mode,” as a meaning of στοιχεῖον itself, that word means a sign of the zodiac (as in our Gregory’s De Animâ et Resurr., it means the moon), only because the heavenly bodies are the elements or first principles as it were of the celestial alphabet. The other meaning of μεταστοιχειοῦν which he gives, i.e. to unteach, with a view to obscure the literal meaning here, is quite inapplicable. Gregory defines more clearly than Chrysostom (μεταρρυθμίζεσθαι), Theophylact (μεταποιεῖσθαι), and John Damascene (μεταβάλλεσθαι), the change that takes place: but all go beyond Theodoret’s (Dial. ii), “not changing nature, but adding grace to the nature,” which Suicer endeavours to read into this word of Gregory’s. It is to be noticed, too, that in Philo the word is used of Xerxes changing in his march one element into another, i.e. earth into water, not the mere use of the one into the use of the other.

Next: Chapter XXXVIII