Eucharist and Trinity – an Excerpt from The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church

The following is an excerpt from The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church, edited by Khaled Anatolios.


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As we, from the vantage point of contemporary eucharistic theology, look back to what was happening from Jesus’s apparent practice of open table fellowship up to the theologically nuanced eucharistic prayers that were taking shape by the beginning of the fifth century, we become aware of an extraordinary theological development.

The earliest eucharistic prayers in Didache 9 and 10 were, by later standards, not only prechristological but also, to a large extent, binitarian rather than trinitarian. To the extent that we can conclude anything from meager historical evidence, this situation apparently lasted until well into the third century, when Origen became the first to point out the specific role of the Holy Spirit in the unfolding of the eucharistic event.

In sum, the historical evidence suggests not only an apparent wide diversity of eucharistic practice and praying but also the absence of any original form of the epiclesis.

However, by the end of the fourth century—when the earlier practice of relatively extemporaneous eucharistic praying had been replaced by the recitation of carefully crafted “set” eucharistic prayers, in which, in contrast to apparent pre-Nicene practice, Jesus’s words of institution also now held a central place.

….The Eucharist was an ecclesial event. Its purpose was, as became increasingly clear (and as Augustine later put it), the transformation of the participants into the ecclesial body of Christ.

The transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, seen as the means and ground of this transformation of the participants, while expressed with varying degrees of explicitness in various of these prayers, was not an issue that had to be argued about. The Eucharist itself was not a battleground.

This held true at least until the end of the fifth century, when Pope St. Gelasius felt free to assume what was basically a theory of eucharistic consubstantiation in his fight against the (for him much more threatening) Monophysite denial of the two natures of Christ.

©2014 by Khaled Anatolios. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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  1. Esteban Vázquez says:

    Thank you for posting this excerpt! Please note, however, that the text in question comes from chapter 2, “Eucharist and Trinity in the Liturgies of the Early Church,” authored by Fr Robert J. Daly, SJ.