Agape Love Feast
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica: The agape love feast was from the first a survival, under Christian and Jewish forms, of the old sacrificial systems of a pre-Christian age. Sheep, rams, bullocks, fowls are given sacrificial salt to lick, and then sacrificed by the priest and deacon, who has the levitical portions of the victim as his perquisite.
AGAPE (" Love"), the early Christian love-feast. The word seems to be used in this sense in the epistle of Jude 12:
"These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they banquet with you." But this is not certain, for in 2 Pet. ii. 13 the verse is cited, but reading axdrais (" deceits ") for aya-rais, and the oldest MSS. hesitate.
But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; 2 Peter 2:12
And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; 2 Peter 2:13
Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: 2 Peter 2:14
Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 2 Peter 2:15
That is, their feasting during the times of feeding the poor was proof that they were professionals.
The history of the agape love feasts coincides, until the end of the 2nd century, with that of the eucharist (q.v.), and it is doubtful whether the following detailed account of the agape given in Tertullian's Apology (c. 39) is to be regarded as exclusive of an accompanying eucharist:
"It is the banquet (triclinium) alone of the Christians that is criticised. Our supper (coena) shows its character by its name. It is called by a word which in Greek signifies love (i.e. agape). Whatever it costs, it is anyhow a clear gain that it is incurred on the score of piety,
seeing that we succour the poorest by such entertainments (refrigerio). We do not lie down at table until prayer has been offered to God, as it were a first taste. We eat only to appease our hunger, we drink only so much as it is good for temperate persons to do. If we satisfy our appetites, we do so without forgetting that throughout the night we must say our prayers to God.
If we converse, it is with the knowledge that the Lord is listening. After washing our hands and lighting the lamps, each is invited to sing a hymn before all to God, either taken from holy writ or of his own composition. So we prove him, and see how well he has drunk.
Prayer ends, as it began, the banquet; and we break up not in bands of brigands, nor in groups of vagabonds, nor do we burst out into debauchery. . . . This meeting of Christians we admit deserves to be made illicit, if it resembles illicit acts; it deserves to be condemned, if any complain of it on the same score on which complaints are levelled at factious meetings. But to do harm to whom do we ever thus come together ? "
The evidence of Tertullian is good for Africa. But in Egypt about the same time (180-210),
Clement of Alexandria in his Pedagogus (ii. i) condemns the " little suppers which were called, not without presumption, agape."
This word, he complains, should denote the heavenly food, the reasonable feast alone, and the Lord never used it of mere junketings. Clement wished the name to be reserved for the eucharist, because the love-feasts of the church had degenerated,
as Tertullian too discovered, as soon as he turned Montanist. For in his tract on fasting (ch. xvii.) he complains that the young men misbehaved with the sisters after the agape.
Among the spurious works of Athanasius is printed a tract entitled About Virginity, ch. xiii. of which directs how the sisters after the synaxis of the ninth hour (3 P.M.) are to dine:
"When you sit down at a table and come to break bread, seal it thrice with the sign of the cross and thus give thanks :
' We thank thee, our Father, for thy holy resurrection; for through Jesus thy servant thou hast shewn it unto us. And as this bread on this table was scattered, but has been brought together and become one, so may thy church be brought together into thy kingdom. For thine is the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.'
This prayer as you break the bread, and are about to eat, you must say. And when you lay it on the table and desire to eat it, repeat the ' Our Father ' entire. But after dinner (or breakfast), and when we rise from table, we use the prayer given above, viz.
' Blessed be God, who hath pity and nourisheth us from our infancy, who giveth food to all flesh. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness, that ever having of all things a sufficiency, we may superabound in all good works, in Christ Jesus our Lord, &c.;' "
The writer then enjoins that, "if two or three other virgins are present, they also shall give thanks over the bread set out, and join in the prayers.
But if a catechumen be found at the table, she shall not be suffered to join with the full believers in their prayers, nor shall the latter sit with her to eat the morsel " (\f/can6v, used specially of the sanctified bread). "Nor shall they sit with frivolous and joking women, if they can help it, for they are sanctified to God, and their food and drink have been hallowed by the prayers and holy words used over them. ...
If a rich woman sits down with them at table, and they see a poor woman, they shall invite her also to eat with them, and not put her to shame because of the rich one."
The last words echo i Cor. x., and the prayer is nearly the same as that which the teaching of the Apostles assigns for the eucharistic rite. Here, then, we have pictured as late as the 4th century a Lord's supper, which like the one described in i Cor. x.
is agape and eucharist in one,
and it is held in a private house and not in church, and the celebrants are holy women!
The historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl. v. 22) testifies to the survival in Egypt of such Lord's suppers as were love-feasts and eucharists in one. Around Alexandria and in the Thebaid, he says,
they hold services on the sabbath, and unlike other Christians partake of the mysteries (i.e. sacrament):
For after holding good cheer and filling themselves with meats of all kinds,
they at eventide make the offering (xpew^opa) and partake of it.
So Basil of Cappadocia (Epistle 93), about the year 350; records that in Egypt the laity, as a rule, celebrated the communion in their own houses,
and partook of the sacrament by themselves whenever they chose.
In the old Egyptian church order, known as the Canons of Hippolytus, there are numerous directions for the service of the agape, held 'on Sundays,' saints' days or at commemorations of the dead.
The 74th canon of the council of Trullo (A.D. 692) forbade the holding of symposia known as agapes in church.
In his S4*h homily (torn. v. p. 365) Chrysostom describes how after the eucharistic synaxis was over, the faithful remained in church, while the rich! brought out meats and 'drink from their houses, and invited the poor, and furnished " common tables, common banquets, common symposia in the church itself."
The council of Gangra (A.D. 355) anathematized the over-ascetic people who despised " the agapes based on faith."
Only a few years later, however, the council of Laodicea forbade the holding of agapes in churches.
The 42nd canon of the council of Carthage under Aurelius likewise forbade them, but these were only local councils. In the age of Chrysostom and Augustine the agape was frequent.
In the east Syrian, the Armenian and the Georgian churches, respectively Nestorian, Monophysite and Greek Orthodox in their tenets,
the agape was from the first a survival, under Christian and Jewish forms, of the old sacrificial systems of a pre-Christian age. Sheep, rams, bullocks, fowls are given sacrificial salt to lick, and then sacrificed by the priest and deacon, who has the levitical portions of the victim as his perquisite.
In Armenia the Greek word agape love feast has been used ever since the 4th century to indicate these sacrificial meals, which either began or ended with a eucharistic celebration. The earlier usage of the Armenians is expressed in the two following rules recorded against them by a renegade Armenian prelate named Isaac, who in the 8th century went over to the Byzantine
In discussion of proper restraint and mutual regard in celebrating the Lord's Supper, Paul seemed to presuppose a prior common meal (possibly an agape love feast meal) as part of the eucharistic celebration. This common meal,
however, had apparently been devalued because of the interest of the enthusiasts in the sacrament itself.
As a result, the communal aspect showed up social differences in the community; and some brought ample food, whereas others, of lower station, had nothing. In view of this, Paul again used the criterion of love and suggested that people eat their meal at home and then come together, being sensitive to each other's needs. The Lord's Supper would then be what it is, a proclamation of the death of Christ in anticipation of his return; mutual and corporate concern and responsibility thus become a part of the Eucharist.
Similarly, mutual edification and love are linked in chapter 13 as the appropriate centre of the discussion of spiritual gifts, manifested particularly in public worship (chapter 14).
Greek Agape, in the New Testament, the fatherly love of God for man, as well as man's reciprocal love for God. The term necessarily extends to the love of one's fellow man. The Church Fathers used agape in the sense of "love feast" to designate both a rite (using bread and wine) and a meal of fellowship to which the poor were invited. The historical relationship between the agape, the Lord's Supper, and the Eucharist is still uncertain. Some scholars believe the agape was a form of the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist the sacramental aspect of that celebration. Others interpret agape as a fellowship meal held in imitation of gatherings attended by Jesus and his disciples; the Eucharist (emphasizing Christ's death) is believed to have been joined to this meal later but eventually to have become totally separated from it. The possibility that Jesus may have given a new significance to Jewish ritual gatherings of his day has complicated the problem of interpretation.