Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"He excluded from the altar all who had perpetrated crime or formed evil resolutions" — A 5th century account of participation in Holy Communion

Last Communion of St. Mary of Egypt by Sebastiano Ricci, ca. 1695.
There is an interesting passage in the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, written about AD 445, regarding two priest-monks in Egypt. These two, Dioscorus and Eulogius, appear as part of a list of holy men who flourished during the reign of the emperor Valens (AD 364-378) who “devoted themselves to a life of philosophy.” (Note that when Sozomen says, “philosophy”, he means ascetic Christian theology.)

For each holy man on the list, Sozomen provides a brief anecdote detailing his most notable virtue. For Dioscorus, Sozomen says:
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Dioscorus had not more than a hundred disciples. He was a presbyter, and applied himself with great exactness to the duties of his priesthood. He examined and carefully questioned those who presented themselves as candidates for participation in the holy mysteries, so that they might purify their minds and not be without a consciousness of any evil they might have committed.
It is fairly clear that Sozomen is talking here about candidates for Holy Communion, given that those being considered as catechumens would be purified by the waters of Baptism. The reference to the Eucharist is even more obvious in the next passage which follows immediately afterward:
The presbyter Eulogius was still more scrupulous in the dispensation of the Divine mysteries. It is said that, when he was officiating in the priestly office, he could discern what was in the minds of those who came to him, so that he could clearly detect sin, and the secret thoughts of each one of his audience. He excluded from the altar all who had perpetrated crime or formed evil resolutions, and publicly convicted them of sin, but, on their purifying themselves by repentance, he again received them into communion. 
Eulogius seems to possess the mystical charism known as the ability to read hearts. In more modern times, this gift was famously granted to Saint Jean Vianney (aka, the Curé of Ars) and Saint Padre Pio. It is worth noting that both of these great saints also had a deep and abiding love for the Holy Eucharist. Saint Jean Vianney, in his Eucharistic Meditations, warned:
"How many there are who have the temerity to come to the Holy Table with sins unconfessed or disguised in Confession. How many have not the contrition that the good God demands of them, and keep a secret will to commit sin again and not to make every effort to correct themselves. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they could do so, and bring to the Holy Table enmities in their heart! If ever you have been in these dispositions when going to Holy Communion, you have been guilty of sacrilege." [Eucharistic Meditations, page 20]
We moderns would do well to heed these warnings. Indeed, in our time we do not suffer from an abundance of scrupulosity, but quite the opposite. We suffer from an unwillingness to properly form our consciences and a subsequent inability to discern and condemn our own faults.

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