Bread of Life

Saint Augustine

He says, "I am the bread of life". And what were they proud about? "Your fathers," he says, "ate manna in the desert, and have died". What is about which you are proud? "They ate manna, and have died". Why did they eat and die? Because they believed what they saw, but did not understand what they did not see. For that reason they are your fathers because you are like them. For, my brothers, as far as pertains to this visible and corporeal death, do not we who eat the bread coming down from heaven die? So they, too, have died, as we shall die, as far as concerns, as I said, the visible and fleshy death of this body. But as far as pertains to that death with which the Lord frightens, by which their father died, Moses, too, ate manna, Aaron ate manna, Phinees, too, ate manna, many there who pleased the Lord ate it, and they have not died. Why? Because they understood the visible food spiritually, they hungered spiritually, they tasted spiritually, that they might be filled spiritually.

 

For we too, today receive visible food; but the sacrament is one thing, the efficacy of the sacrament another. How many receive from the alter and die, and by receiving die? For this reason the Apostle says, "He eats and drinks judgement to himself" (1 Cor 11). For the morsel of the Lord was not poison to Judas. And yet he received it; and when he received it, the enemy entered into him, not because he received an evil thing, but because an evil man received a good thing evilly. See to it, therefore, brothers; eat the heavenly bread spiritually. Carry innocence to the altar. Even if there are daily sins, at least let them not be mortal. Before you approach the altar, observe what you are to say, "Forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors". You forgive; you will be forgiven. Approach without anxiety; it is bread, not poison. But see to it that you forgive; for if you not forgive, you lie, and you lie to him whom you do not deceive. You can lie to God; you cannot deceive God. He knows what you do. He sees you within, he examines you within, he inspects you within, he judges you within, he either damns or crown you within.

 

But they were the fathers of these men, that is, the evil father of evil men, the unbelieving father of unbelievers, the murmuring fathers of murmurers. For that people was said to have offended the Lord in no way mote than by murmuring against God. And so the Lord too, wishing to show that they were sons of such men, began to speak to them with this, "Why are you murmuring among yourselves", murmurers sons of murmurers? "Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and have died", not because the manna was an evil thing, but because they ate it evilly.

 

"This is the bread which comes down from heaven". Manna signifies this bread; the alter of God signified this bread. Those were mysteries, in signs they are different, in the thing which is signified they are alike. Hear the apostle: He says, "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our father were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea. And all ate the same spiritual food" (1 Cor 10). The same spiritual food, of course; for corporeally it was another thing, because they ate manna, we something else, but they ate the spiritual food which we eat. But our fathers, not those men's fathers, those to whom we are like, not those to whom they were like.

 

And he added, "And all drank the same spiritual drink". They, one thing, we another, but in its visible aspect, but which, nevertheless, would signify this same thing in spiritual efficacy. For how "the same drink"? He says, "They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them, and the rock was Christ". From there the bread, from there the drink. The rock is Christ in a sign, the true Christ in the Word and in the flesh. And how did they drink? The rock was struck twice with a rod. (Num 20). The double striking signifies the two pieces of wood on the cross.

 

Therefore, "this is the bread coming down from heaven, that if anyone eat of it, he will not die". But as pertains to the efficacy of the sacrament, not as pertains to the visible sacrament: he who eats within, not without; he who eats with his heart, not he who crushes with this teeth.

 

"I am the living bread, who have come down from heaven". Living for the reason that I have come down from heaven. The manna also came down from heaven; but the manna was shadow, he is truth. "If anyone eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world". When would flesh comprehend flesh - that which he said was bread? It is called flesh, that which flesh does not comprehend; and flesh does not comprehend it, therefore, all the more because it is called flesh. For they  were horrified at this; they said that this was too much for them, they thought this could not be. "It is my flesh", he said, "for the life of the world". The faithful know the body of Christ, if they should not neglect to be the body of Christ. Let them become the body of Christ , if they want to live from the Spirit of Christ. Nothing lives from the Spirit of Christ except the body of Christ.

 

Understand, my brothers, what I have said. You are a man; you have a spirit, and you have a body. I say spirit which is called the soul, because of which it is substantiated that you are a human being; for you are a substance composed of body and soul. Tell me what lives from what. Does you spirit live from your body, or your body from your spirit? Everyone who lives answers; what does everyone who lives answer? "My body, of course, lives from my spirit". Do you therefore also wish to live from the Spirit of Christ? Be in the body of Christ. For does my body lives from your spirit? Mine lives from my spirit, your from your spirit. The body of Christ can only live from the Spirit of Christ. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul, explaining this bread to us, says, "We though many, are one, bread, one body" (1 Cor 10).

 

O mystery of true faith! O sign of unity! O bond of love! He who wishes to live has the place to live, has the means to live. Let him approach, let him believe, let him be embodied, that he may be given life. Let him not shrink back from the coalition of members, let him not be a rotten limb which deserves to be cut off, let him not be a deformed one on account of which there is embarrassment. Let him be a beautiful limb, let him be a fitting one, let him be a healthy one, let him adhere to the body, let him live for God from God. Let him now labour on earth that afterwards he may reign in heaven.

 

"The Jews therefore argued with one another, saying "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?". Of course, they argued with one another because they did not understand the bread of concord, neither did they want to take it. For they who eat such bread do not argue with one another, because "we though many, are one bread, one body" (1 Cor 10). And through it "God makes those of one kind to dwell in a house". (Ps 76).

 

But what they are seeking in arguing with one another, how the Lord can give his own flesh to eat, they do not hear at once, but it is still said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you". You do not, indeed, know how it is eaten and what is the manner of eating this bread; nevertheless "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you will not have life in you". He was speaking these things, of course, not to corpses, but to living men. Wherefore, that they might not also argue about this matter, understanding it as this life, he continued and added, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting". Therefore, he who does not eat the bread nor drink this blood does not have this life; for men can have temporal life without the bread, but they cannot at all have eternal life. Therefore he who does not eat his flesh nor drink his blood doe snot have life in him; and he who eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life. But to both he answers what he said, "everlasting".

 

For it is not so in the case of this food which we take for the sake of sustaining this temporal life. For he who does not take it will not live, yet neither will he who does take it live. For very many even who take it die possibly of old age, or disease, or some accident. But in this true food and drink, that is, the body and blood of the Lord, it is not so. For both he who does not take it does not have life; and he who takes it does have life which is, of course, everlasting.

 

And so he wants this food and drink to be understood as the society of his body and his members, that which is the holy Church in its saints who were predestined, and called, and justified, and glorified, and in its believers. The first of these things has already happened, that is, predestination. The second and third have happened, are happening, and will happen, that is, vocation and justification. But the fourth exists in hope now, but will be in fact, that is, glorification. The sacrament of this reality, that is, of the unity of the body and the blood of Christ, is provided at the Lord's table: for some, for life, for some, for destruction. But the reality of which it is the sacrament is for every man for life, for no man for destruction, whoever shall have been a sharer in it.

 

But that they might not think that eternal life is promised in this food and drink in such a way that they who take it would not even now die in body, he deigned to come to grips with this thought. For when he had said, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting", immediately he added, "and I will raise him up on the last day". He said this that he may meanwhile have eternal life according to the spirit in the rest which receives the spirits of the saints; but as pertains to the body, that he may not be cheated of his eternal life, but be in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. 

 

He says, "For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed". For although by food and drink men strive for this; for it makes those by whom it is taken immortal and incorruptible, that is, the very society of saints, where there will be peace and full and perfect unity. For this reason, indeed, even as men of God knew this before us, our Lord, Jesus Christ, manifested his body and blood in those things which are reduced from many to some one thing. For the one is made into one thing from many grains, the other flows together into one thing from many grapes.

 

Now, finally, he explains how what he is saying happens and what it is to eat his body and to drink his blood. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him". Therefore, to eat that food and to drink that drink is to abide in Christ and to have him abiding in oneself. And, as a result, he who does not abide in Christ and in whom Christ does not abide, beyond doubt neither eats his flesh nor drinks his blood spiritually (although he crushes carnally with his teeth the sacrament of the body and the blood of Christ), but rather eats and drinks the sacrament of so great  a thing to judgement for himself, because he presumed to approach unclean to the sacraments of Christ which one takes worthily only if he is clean. And about these it is said, "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God".

 

Reference: The Fathers of the Church Series, Volume 79, Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John

 

 

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