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When the doctrine of godliness had thus been battered, and the foundation of the Christian bulwarks was almost shaken, we sought for the support of abundant arguments. Then we set up a fortified tower, so to speak, against the enemy, and trusting in this, we remained un-wounded, although we had to face many wordy arrows, and we bore many an emptied quiver of cunning sophistry. And indeed when he who possessed his full armour at length began to grow weary from directing his bow against us with its sharpened darts and their rushing noise, we quietly directed our array against him and sharpened our weapons. We made our first letting-go, so to speak, by speaking to him and those with him about the flesh of Christ, showing that it was not strange or horrible when the Saviour said : "Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life."
Consider, I pray you, and let us speak of the new-born child, and the babe that is brought forth on leaving its dark and humid abode. Except it eats the flesh and drinks the blood of its mother, it has no life, nor takes its place among men, but departs into the darkness of death. But if it receives a share of those natural springs and has abundant enjoyment of that kindred flesh, it is brought subsequently to full growth and becomes worthy |81 of a better food and position, being enrolled among men, receiving its share of education and learning the marks of a noble citizenship. Later it sometimes takes its place among men who are great and famous, gaining experience as a general or an admiral or in many a council-chamber. And the reason of all these great blessings is the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the mother who bore it.
[It is true that the nourishment comes in the form of milk, but milk is really the same as blood; it is only its proximity to the air that gives it its lighter colour. Even so frost will make water white, without changing its nature. Just as the Creator makes the foul waters of the abyss trickle out in a clear fountain, so do a woman's breasts, by an elaborate mechanism, gather blood from the veins, and send it forth in a palatable form.]
If then even boys tell us these things with persuasion as coming from physiologists, and learn the real truth about such matters (and you value these things highly as well as we), what is there that seems to you disturbing if the Gospel saying of Christ may be set beside them ? For what was there horrible or strange in His teaching (as you seem to think), when He said : "Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in you" ? For tell me, whereby is that nourished which is coming to the birth ? Is it not by the blood of her that bears it, and the flesh, as has been demonstrated? This is through the cunning discovery of persuasive words, and yet it is by the same rule of truth. For if indeed Christ gave power to as many as received Him to become children of God, bringing them to their birth by some mystic word and then wrapping them in divine swaddling-clothes which cannot be described, pray tell me, whence will these children of God live and be nourished when they are just born ? Will it not certainly be by tasting the mystic flesh and drinking the mystic blood of her that bore them ? And it is none other than the wisdom of God that is constituted their mother, for she prepared her own table for her own children, and mingled her own wine for her own offspring, pouring forth richly from the two Testaments |82 as it were from two breasts. It is indeed she who nourishes her recent offspring with her own flesh and blood, makes them comrades and renders them disciples of the heavenly kingdom, and then enrols them in the assembly of the Angels on high, bringing them into their pure council chamber, and, filling them with immortality and all blessedness, makes them like unto the Father, giving to them eternal life.
Now the flesh and blood of Christ, or of Wisdom (for Christ and Wisdom are the same), are the words of the Old and New Testaments spoken with allegorical meaning, which men must devour with care and digest by calling them to mind with the understanding, and win from them not temporal but eternal life. Thus did Jeremiah eat when he received the words from the hand of Wisdom, and by eating he had life; thus did Ezekiel feel sweetness when he ate the roll of the words (Ezek. iii. 3), and the bitterness of this present life was cast away. Thus did the saints one by one, once long ago, and again and again, by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Wisdom, that is, by receiving in themselves the knowledge and revelation of her, live for aye with a life that will never cease. It was not only to the disciples that He gave His own flesh to eat and likewise His own blood to drink (for He would not have done right in thus offering the life eternal to some at a certain season, but not supplying it to others); but it was to all men alike in whom was holiness and the spirit of prophecy, that He gave allegorically this supply of food.
But at the end of the times He gave to the Apostles bread and a cup, and said, "This is my body and my blood." And in order that I may unfold the tale more clearly, and make plain the question of the passage, I will reveal to you the physiological side of eating (if indeed you are ready to put aside your preconceived views), for you may apprehend the mystery by that means. How then do we state the case ? It is from the earth that we men have all come into being in our bodies, and it is by eating, in a certain sense, not the earth but its flesh, and drinking its blood, that we are prevented |83 from perishing. For the dry and wet products of the earth are its flesh and blood. We live by eating and drinking of these to our full satisfaction, but doing no harm to the earth when we use up its flesh and blood. For as we gladly gather the corn and the wine from it, we enjoy ourselves by living on it. And now, for the rest, lend me your ear with regard to the dispensation of the mystery, and turn your understanding to the hearing of it. How shall we express it then? In the beginning the Only Begotten Son created the earth, and from the earth He took man and wrought him, and from man He took His body and became incarnate. If therefore the body signifies the earth when simply stated,157 and the earth is Christ's creation through His operative word, as being truly the result of His own making, and from this earth were given in later time both corn and 158 wine and also the body of man, and moreover it was this body that Christ took upon Him, it was natural that when He took the bread and the cup, He said, "This is my body and my blood." It is no mere symbol of body nor symbol of blood, as some have protested in the hardness of their mind, but in very truth the body and blood of Christ, since the body is from the earth, and the bread and wine are from the earth likewise. How is it then that no one else dared to say, "My flesh is food and my blood is drink" (John vi. 55) ? It is because no one else has been made manifest as the maker and creator of the earth, nor is it the individual creation and handiwork of any one else, but it is the peculiar work of the Son of God alone. It is for this reason that He likewise said, "this is Mine, for the creation of the earth belongs to Me and none other. For all men have come into being by receiving their body from Me after the earth, but I, before the earth was, wrought it, receiving it from no one. And I became incarnate by taking a body from it, or from what was My creation; for certainly it is from |84 Myself that I offer you My bounty; for it is from the earth that the bread is ordained as a food for you, and the earth is of My manufacture. It is from the earth likewise that the body comes, and so it is My mingling. Therefore I give the bread and the cup, having sealed it as a result of the union wherein I the Holy One was linked with that which is earthly, declaring that this is my flesh and blood."
If it were Abraham, or any other righteous man, who had said, "My flesh is meat and my blood is drink," it would have been a great and impudent lie, for he would have been offering what was another's as if it were his own, and he would have been punished greatly for recklessly giving the bread and the cup to any and saying, "This is my body, and this is my blood." For it is not his, but belongs to the One who supplied it. Neither would the things eaten impart life to them who ate, as not having the living Word in combination with them. But the earthly body which is named the body of God led those who ate into life eternal, and Christ gave indeed His own body and blood to those who believe, by inserting the life-giving medicine of His Godhead. Therefore when He spoke of the flesh as "bread and the blood as wine, He taught us plainly that the body is from the earth and the blood likewise, and that both possess the same essence.
But the common bread which is tilled on the earth, even though it be the flesh of the earth, has no promise that it contains eternal life, but it only grants those who eat it a temporary satisfaction, and soon vanishes, as being without share of divine spirit. But the bread that is tilled in the blessed land of Christ, being joined with the power of the Holy Spirit, at one taste gives a man immortality. For the mystic bread that hath inseparably acquired the Saviour's Name,159 bestowed upon His body and His blood, joins him who eats it to the body of Christ, and makes him a member of the Saviour. |85
For just as the letter delta in the alphabet takes the force of the teacher and conveys it to him who is taught, and by its means leads him up to the teacher by putting him in touch with him, even so the body, that is to say, the bread, and the blood, which is the same as the wine, drawing the immortality of the immaculate Godhead, gives thereof to him that shares it, and by its means leads him up to the Creator's pure abode itself.
We conclude then that the Saviour's flesh is not wasted, neither is His blood used up by being drunk, but while he that eats it arrives at an increase of heavenly powers, that which is eaten is not exhausted, since it is akin to the nature which is inexhaustible, and cannot be divided from it.