Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, “Chapter 5. Christian Worship” (Includes an introduction and sections 59-74).
§69. The Doctrine of the Eucharist.
Schaff asserts, “The doctrine concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not coming into special discussion, remained indefinite and obscure” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15310). In early Christianity there was a good deal of discussion about who would participate. However, the significance of the sacrament was not a subject of much comment. The Church went “without inquiring into the mode of Christ’s presence, nor into the relation of the sensible signs to his flesh and blood” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15317).
Ignatius speaks of the sacrament in mystic terms as a medicine to work immortality and as an antidote to death. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus speak in similar terms (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15322). Schaff takes the typical early Christian use of the word “antitype” and turns it into a symbolic antithesis. In this way he says the bread and wine work as a copy, and in Peter, the baptism as a copy of the flood of Noah (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15331). However, he says the arguments of the African Fathers which turn the words of institution into a purely figurative statement as “approaching nearer the Calvinistic or Reformed” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15337). Spotts finds this a strangely weak argument. The examples given are strikingly physical, rather than spiritual and symbolic. Alexandrians, on the other hand, tend to speak in symbolic terms, as well as speaking of reception of spiritual life, rather than physical life (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15344).
At the same time, the Lord’s Supper was also regarded as a sacrifice. It would be taken to fill the place of a Passover sacrifice, as well as any other of Israel’s sacrifices (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15351). However, unlike later scholarship which pointed out an unbloody re-sacrifice of Christ, the ante-Nicene fathers saw a memorial appropriation of Christ’s sacrifice (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15358).
The elements were normally viewed as simultaneously a gift from God and an offering of the Christians, who give their gifts and their lives to God (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15365). Schaff notes that in more recent times the element of the Christians giving a thank offering has become more of a sin offering. This concept of the sacrifice has separated Roman Catholic from Protestant practice. In the second century, the offering of the people was seen strictly as a giving of thanks (Schaff 2014, Loc. 15374).