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Against the Calvinists

Pope Matthew IV of Alexandria

Pope Matthew IV of Alexandria, writing to the churches, defends the Orthodox Church and its teachings on Holy Communion, against false claims made by the protestant followers of Calvinism, who claimed that Orthodox Christians do not believe in the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.

1. Invocation and Blessing

In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate. Glory to the eternal God. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and by the Lord comes salvation. This house loves God.

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the grace of His living Holy Spirit, Who resided in His pure disciples, and in His holy, righteous apostles on holy and revered Mount Zion— that divine peace and that blessing itself— may they reside always within our venerable and blessed Christian brothers. May the blessing of God be upon them all, with all the heavenly blessings— amen. We will teach them, after the renewal of blessings upon them, and I will bestow spiritual peace upon them.

2. Concerning Why, and to Whom, This is Written

It has come to our ears, that the enemy speaks, among you, concerning the faith; we have already sent you a document, especially concerning that. We write to you, this correspondence, also. It is from me, Matthew the Poor, the servant of Jesus Christ by the grace of God, the one for whom it is inconceivable, he who is unworthy to be called Patriarch over the great city of Alexandria and its surrounding areas, along with the cities of the Copts in Egypt, and the towns in Ethiopia, Nubia, Africa, and Nicaea. I have written this, out of love, for everyone who sees this letter and reads it.

3. On the Protestants and their Lies

We already know that the heretics, from among the Europeans, oppose with special stubbornness, the great mystery— the body of Christ— which is the holy eucharistic offering, and they deny its truth, saying that Jesus Christ is not present in it, in His Essence, but only in His likeness. They also say, about us, that we do not believe in that holy mystery— that is, that we have not believed that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, neither that He is truly present on the holy altar in the eucharistic offering after the consecration.

They also say that the holy eucharistic offering is not the true body of Jesus Christ under the species of the bread, which is called “Christ’s body,” on account of the power of the Holy Spirit that is present in it. And they say that the eucharistic offering, which we call the body of Christ, is not the same body that is in heaven. They say that Christ is only in heaven, and not on the earth in His Essence, and that the thing that we see is not the true body, but only bread. Thus, they say about us that we do not, in fact, bow down to the body of Jesus Christ in the eucharistic offering, by a special act of worship devoted to God. They also say that the sinners who partake of the eucharistic offering have not partaken of the body of Christ.

Because of these words that we have heard, we have requested forgiveness from God, for their sake. However, we advise them with the following counsel: Why have they spoken about us with these inappropriate words? Indeed, it is not correct, but a lie and a falsehood. Why do they see the small piece of straw in our eye, while the large plank of wood is in their eyes? For this reason, let us take away the doubt from people’s hearts.

4. Confession of Faith, Concerning Holy Communion

We will now clarify for them our belief, and we will say to them, and before all people, that the Jacobite communion of the Copts accepts and confesses this true faith: it was the body of Christ, Himself, that rose to heaven, and that is seated on the right hand of the Father on high. That body, in its very essence and substance, is present in the holy eucharistic offering. He is not visible, on account of the presence of His very own body on the altar, sanctified to Him, by an act of special worship devoted to God, just as the communion of the Latin church believes. And we are with them in this particular matter, but we are divided with them in another matter. These heretics lie about us, saying that after the consecration, we do not worship or bow down to it.

We believe, and we say, that evil persons partake of the body of Christ with their mouths, just as good persons do. The former do so, to their eternal damnation; but the latter do so, for the sake of their salvation.

We say and believe that the bread and the wine have been truly changed into the substance of Jesus Christ’s body, and into the substance of his noble blood, so that, after the consecration, the substance of the bread and the substance of the wine do not remain; and that the holy mystery is given to the sick, in order that they may die in the grace of God, in order that their provisions may be in the kingdom of heaven.

Now, do we say that it is incredible and improper to accept that one body can be in many places, at one moment in time? For the One who created the world, with a Word, is able to do this wondrous thing. He enacts His body, by His Word, when He says through the mouth of the priest, “This is My body,” and He gave His body to His disciples in Emmaus, while being nowhere. And just as His Divinity was concealed in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the same way it is concealed under the accidents of the bread and wine. The matter is the same, because this was necessary for God to put our faithfulness to the test, so that we might be. For when Jesus Christ instructed us to ‘Eat My body,’ it was difficult for us.

5. Opposers Have Been Excommunicated

We also believe, and firmly hold, that this faith— which has continued from the command of Jesus Christ our Lord, until today, through the transmission of our fathers, the chaste apostles and saints— is the faith which we will preserve, until our death. We have excommunicated all who have opposed the apostolic trust, when they have spoken about this belief regarding the holy eucharistic offering mentioned above, and have opposed the transformation of the substance of the bread into the substance of Christ.

This, we have demonstrated to everyone who has read this document, and to everyone who has opposed it, saying that we do not accept the transformation of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the body and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, they speak falsely, and they oppose the truth, with respect to this holy mystery; because in this respect, we hold fast to it, along with the Latin church. We have clarified and taught it, and have put our seal on it. This has come to your knowledge, so receive it in Christian love.

6. Closing

I will bring this letter to a close. This poor one asks the One who possesses the treasures of mercy, to illuminate your minds and to lead you to all good and heavenly things that please Him, so that you may be sons of the Orthodox Church whose reputation has spread to the furthest parts of the inhabited world, by the blessings of the pure and chaste lady, the Virgin Mary, the angels and archangels, all the martyrs and saints, and all who have pleased the Lord with their good works, now and always, until the end of the ages. Amen. Amen. Amen.