Barry Newman's Blog

November 26, 2011

The Agape [Feasts] (part III)

Filed under: Agape meals,Christian Community Meals,Love Feasts — barrynewman @ 8:55 pm

Early Christian Meals

In addition to the references to “agape” meals, such as those above, the early literature post New Testament also contains references to the christians having meals, without the meals being explicitly labelled as either “agape” or “Eucharistic” in character.

The letter of Pliny the younger, the governor of the Province of Bithynia, written around 112 A.D. to the emperor Trajan, reports on some of the behaviour of early believers.  In it he writes “It was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as god; and that they bound themselves with an oath [sacramentum], not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word and not to deny a deposit when demanded.  After this was done, their custom was to depart, and to meet again to take food, but ordinary and harmless food.”[1]  One might want to call the meal these believers shared an “agape” meal but that would be to write that into the text.

Cyprian of Carthage, around the middle of the 3rd century A.D. wrote, “since this is a holiday rest, and a time of leisure, whatever remains of the day, now that the sun is sloping towards the evening, let us spend it in gladness, nor let even the hour of repast be without heavenly grace.  Let the temperate meal resound with psalms; and as your memory is tenacious and your voice musical, undertake this office, as is your wont.  You will provide a better entertainment for your dearest friends, if while we have something spiritual to listen to, the sweetness of religious music charms our ears.”[2]  While the “holiday rest” may be a reference to a Sabbath of one sort or another, there is no explicit reference to the meal being either “agape” or “eucharistic”.

Minucius Felix (somewhere between 2nd to late 3rd century A.D.) writes of christian banquets being not only temperate but modest unlike those of the gentiles where sexual immorality was not uncommon.[3]  The mention of “christian banquets” could be a reference to “agape” meals though such is not explicit.

Whatever the relationship between the eucharist and the “agape” meals, however this relationship developed and changed over time, whatever the nature of these “agape” meals and how this might have been different in different places and at different times, and whatever connection existed between these and other meals, the important question remains, how does any of this relate to the text in Jude 12?


[1] Pliny, Epistolae, X. 96.7, 8 in A New Eusebius, Stevenson, J. (ed.), S.P.C.K., London, 1965, p. 14

[3] Minucius Felix, Octavius, Ch. XXXI, see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anfo4.iv.iii.xxxi.htm

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