Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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The First Use of the Word ‘Eucharist’

Of the following individuals, which one was the first to use the term Eucharist to refer to the Communion portion of a church service?

No, it was not Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582).
Teresa was born into an influential family in Spain and received her education from Augustinian nuns. She later entered a Carmelite convent, but had to withdraw because of serious illness. She returned, and during her devotions began to receive her calling. She founded a number of reformed Carmelite convents. She wrote many spiritual and devotional classics, which are studied even in Protestant seminaries today, and which you might find helpful. She was a devotional writer, not a theologian, so she did not articulate any new views on the Eucharist. She spoke Spanish, so she didn’t coin the word Eucharist or use it for the first time. The Roman Catholic Church considers her a saint and a ‘doctor of the church.’
No, it was not Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
Thomas Aquinas was a major scholar during the scholastic period. His systematic theology is a masterpiece that is still very influential, not just in the Roman Catholic Church, but in Orthodox and Protestant seminaries as well. John Calvin is the closest Protestant counterpart to Thomas Aquinas, but he didn’t have anywhere near as much genius. Aquinas spoke and wrote in Latin, thus he did not invent the Greek word Eucharist or use it for the first time.
No, it was not Jerome (340-420).
By the end of the fourth century, the language of the people in the western Roman Empire had become Latin rather than Greek. There were a lot of bad translations of the scriptures into Latin, so the bishop of Rome commissioned Jerome to translate the scriptures into Latin for western use. Jerome traveled to Palestine and even studied Hebrew under the Jews to translate the Old Testament more faithfully. His translation is called the Vulgate. It was very good and it became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church for over 1,000 years. He was the first person to dispute the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the Old Testament and refused to translate it into Latin. The Roman Catholic Church augmented Jerome’s translation with the apocrypha from earlier Latin translations. Jerome was a cranky old man in his later years. However, he had a woman disciple who taught in the west and whom he supported when her credentials were attacked. Jerome was not the first person in this list to use the term the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word, so if anything he probably would have wanted to use a Latin equivalent. The Roman Catholic Church considers him a saint and a ‘doctor of the church.’
No, it was not the Emperor Constantine the Great (280-337).
For some reason that I cannot figure out, Constantine is a major bad guy among certain Protestants. Most of the bad things he is accused of doing were actually done by Theodosius, eighty years after his death. Roman Catholics consider him an important historical figure, and the Eastern Orthodox consider him a saint because he was the first Christian Emperor, he instituted freedom of religion in the Roman Empire (which ended persecutions of Christians), he instituted legislation to help children, women, and single people, he paid the expenses of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicæa, and he gave large bequests to build and restore Christian churches and holy sites. However—and this is a big however—he was an Army man and a politician. Depending on political expediency, he supported the orthodox against the heretics, or the heretics against the orthodox. The term Eucharist predated Constantine and he had no particular or consistent theological views. He was not the first person to use the word Eucharist.
Yes, it was Justin Martyr (114-165).
Justin was born into a well-to-do pagan family in Samaria. He dabbled in philosophy, studying all the major schools of thought in his day. He came across an old man who told him that Christianity was the one true philosophy, and as a result, he was converted in about 132. He wrote a number of apologetic works to the Roman Emperor in attempt to ease the distress of Christians, but he himself was martyred for his testimony to Jesus Christ. He spoke and wrote in Greek. Of the people in this list, he was the first person to use the word Eucharist to refer to the Communion service. However, he was an apologist, not a theologian. He was referring to usage that was common in his day. So it is very likely that Eucharist was the original, first-century term for the Communion service.

The word Eucharist is Greek and means no more and no less than Thanksgiving. In modern Greek, ευχαριστώ (eucharistō) is still the ordinary word for thanks. It is the ancient and original term for the sharing of bread and wine in a church service. The theological significance is that the Eucharistic feast is a great thanksgiving to God for our redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The term Eucharist is used by churches with differing views on the nature of the Communion elements.