In two previous articles, we covered why those conversant in ancient Greek would have simply presumed that the bread used in the Last Supper was leavened. Further, we showed that the Last Supper was not necessarily an orthodox Jewish Passover seder with unleavened bread, due to the competing Judaisms of the first century and clues in the chronology in the Gospel relevant to differing Jewish liturgical calendars. In this article, I will address additional points in favor of the usage of leavened bread in the Eucharist and responses to some arguments made against it.
The Issue of Melchizedek. For reasons discussed in our previous article, proponents of the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist would agree that something compelling in the context of a passage would be necessary to change the standard meaning of the Greek term ἄρτον or Hebrew term לֶ֔חֶם from that of its standard rendering, leavened bread, to unleavened bread. As we saw, the terms always employed adjectives to modify their meanings and in one exception, relied upon the reader seeing the words “unleavened bread” a few verses previously, in order to render ἄρτον and לֶ֔חֶם as unleavened bread. Context always modified the meaning of the words at issue.
For this reason, taking the Last Supper passages and employing the same sort of logic (i.e. that the day of unleavened bread means any mention of the word bread during that day must refer to the unleavened kind) are absolutely stretching the modification of the terms ἄρτον and לֶ֔חֶם to the absolute limit context would allow.
Acknowledging the preceding, how are we to understand Gen 14:18? “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread (ἄρτους) and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.” Without exhaustively quoting the fathers, even Protestants would admit that clearly there is typology at work. Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek and, at the very least, the Last Supper symbolizes Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. That being said, being that the Melchizedek used ἄρτους, with nothing in the context demanding otherwise, the interpreter has no choice but to understand that Melchizedek was using leavened bread.
And, if Jesus is a great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek and He likewise offers bread and wine, does it not stand in reason He offers leavened bread in the same fashion? Under what priestly constraint, being that His priestly line is not Aaronic, would He offer otherwise? Gen 14:18, linguistically, may be the strongest passage that Orthodox have to employ that the Scriptures endorse the usage of leavened bread for the Eucharist.
Don’t we have early historical evidence of the Church using unleavened bread? Not that I’m aware of. We do not know for certain the practice of ancient Syria and Armenia (though we have reason to believe their practice of using unleavened bread arose after the writing of the Diatessaron) existed within the confines of the non-schismatic Church. Some have cited a passage from Origen. It is falsely attributed as documenting early church resistance against using leavened bread for the Eucharist or that leavened bread was used infrequently. The following is the passage at question:
[W]hen Jesus said,
Beware of the leaven, that He did not tell them to beware of the loaves but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, you will understand that whenever leaven is named it is put figuratively for teaching, whether in the law, or in the Scriptures which come after the law; and so perhaps leaven is not offered upon the altar; for it is not right that prayers should take the form of teaching, but should only be supplications of good things from God (Commentary on Matthew, Book 12, Chap 6).
Clearly, the use of bread is not being discussed here but rather prayers that “take the form of [Pharisaical] teaching” because “whenever leaven is named it is put figuratively for teaching.”
It appears that those take the passage “so perhaps leaven is not offered upon the altar” and arrive at the conclusion that this is 1. the Christian altar and 2. “leaven” is a reference to ἄρτου. The first point is not clear at all and the second is completely unjustified, as in the New Testament the term is always used to mean literally yeast or a metaphor for evil. (It is worth noting that in six Old Testament usages, it merely refers to leavened bread or yeast itself.) Clearly, Origen is employing its figurative usage as he literally states himself in the previous sentence.
Were First Century Jews Loose In Their Usage of ἄρτον? Some may say that the interpretation here of the etymology is too wooden and a first century Jew would have recognized the usage of ἄρτον without any stigma or leaps of the imagination. However, it has been convincingly argued that no Jew on the Passover would have been so loosey goosey as to call unleavened bread ἄρτον or לֶ֔חֶם (the Hebrew equivalent).
Why? Because of this, if anyone heard you were eating ἄρτον, the punishment would have been flogging:
A high-priest who was unclean and partook of things belonging to the sanctuary or entered the sanctuary while unclean; and he who consumed illegal fat, blood, or meat left overnight from the sacrifice, or piggul, or unclean meat, and also of such which was slaughtered and brought outside of the Temple; he who ate leaven on Passover, ate or labored on the Day of Atonement; who compounded oil similar to that of the Temple, or compounded the frankincense of the Temple, or anointed himself with the oil used in the Temple; who ate carcasses or animals preyed by beasts, or reptiles–to all of them stripes apply (Mishna I, Tract Maccoth, Chapter 3).
Conclusion. We finally finished our three article saga on the usage of leavened bread in the Eucharist. While we have certainly answered that is almost beyond question that the usage of leavened bread is Apostolic, and that every historical and etymological argument against it is rather weak, but understandably so. A lot of the arguments made here would have not been possible without recent archaeological discoveries made in the 20th century.
Thomas Aquinas, employing simple logic from Chrysostom’s commentaries, understandably would have concluded that the Last Supper was a Passover seder. Nevertheless, now that we have computer programs and improved lexicons, we can understand the original text more. Furthermore, we are understanding this text not in isolation, but against the backdrop of archaeologists and scholars that affirm that leavened bread was the universal custom of the (non-schismatic) Church. If Thomas Aquinas was able to pull out a quote from a father that justified the usage of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, he would have. But he did not, and the one he pulled from St Gregory the Great appears to be apocryphal.
Yet, the preceding cannot answer bigger questions. Can Roman Catholics reunite with Orthodox without employing the usage of leavened bread? Is unleavened bread unable to become the Eucharist? Is it a blasphemy to employ such bread? I will leave that for others to answer.