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4. Testimony of the Apostolical Fathers

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVI. Of the Lord's Supper

4. Testimony of the Apostolical Fathers

Neither Barnabas, nor Polycarp, nor Clement of Rome make any mention of the Lord's supper. This omission is the more remarkable in the latter, inasmuch as he wrote a long epistle to the Corinthians, whom the apostle so severely censures for their abuse of this ordinance. Ignatius is the only one of the apostolical fathers whose writings have any reference to the subject before us, and these passages from his epistles, even if their genuineness be admitted, are of little importance. In his epistle to the Ephesians, 4, he speaks of the breaking of one bread, the medicine of immortality. In his epistle to the Philadelphians, c. 5, with evident allusion to Eph. 4:2–7, he speaks of one faith, one preaching, one eucharist – one loaf or bread broken for all. There is another passage in his epistle to the Smyrniotes, c. 8, which is of a more doubtful authority than either of the foregoing.

It is even more remarkable that most of the early apologists for Christianity, such as Minucius Felix, Athenagoras, Talian, Theophilus of Antioch, and Arnobius do not make any mention of the sacrament, the most sacred ordinance of the christian religion. Justin Martyr, happily for us, has given two descriptions of this ordinance in nearly the same words, Apol. I. c. 61–67, the one probably relating to the celebration immediately after baptism – the other, to the ordinary administration of the sacrament, on the Lord's day, in connection with the agapae. "On Sunday we all assemble in one place," he says again, "both those who live in the city and they who dwell in the country, and the writings of apostles and prophets are read so long as the time permits. When the reader stops, the president of the assembly makes an address in which he recapitulates the glorious things that have been read, and exhorts the people to follow them. Then we all stand up together and pray. After prayer, bread, wine and water are brought in. The president of the meeting again prays according to his ability, and gives thanks, to which the people respond. Amen. After this, the bread, wine and water are distributed to those present, and the deacons carry portions to such as are necessarily detained from the meeting. Those who are able and willing, contribute what they please in money, which is given to the president of the meeting, and is appropriated to the support of widows and orphans, the sick, the poor, and whomsoever is necessitous."

It appears from an examination of both passages, that the consecration of the elements was made in the name of the three persons of the Godhead. He speaks of a "thanksgiving to the Father of the universe, through or in the name of his Son, and the Holy Ghost."

The dialogue with Trypho the Jew, usually ascribed to Justin, speaks of the "offering of the bread of thanksgiving, and of the cup of thanksgiving;" and of the "eucharistic meal of bread and wine;" of the "dry and liquid food with which Christians commemorate the sufferings once endured by the Son of God;" but gives no additional information respecting the celebration of the ordinance.

Irenaeus, in his controversial writings, brought into use the words *, and *, which Justin Martyr had introduced; his writings, however, are chiefly of a controversial character, and accordingly have little reference to the ritual of the church; he contends that the eucharist should be regarded as a sacrifice, in opposition to the Gnostics, who contended that all sacrifices had ceased. Irenaeus however distinguished this from the Jewish sacrifices, as of a higher and nobler character;. he appears to have been acquainted with the doctrine of the symbolical presence of Christ in the elements, and with the mixing of wine with water. 

Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, offer much important matter in regard to the doctrine of the eucharist, but very little relating to the rites of its celebration. The former speaks of the two-fold nature of the blood of Christ, bodily and spiritual, and of the mixing the wine with water. The latter is the first to commend the reverential custom of the church in guarding every particle of the consecrated bread from falling to the ground. "You who frequent our sacred mysteries know that when you receive the body of the Lord, you take care with all due caution and veneration that not even the smallest particle of the consecrated gift should fall to the ground and be wasted. If, through inattention, any part thus fall, you justly account yourselves guilty. If then, with good reason you use so much caution in preserving his body, how can you esteem it a lighter sin to slight the word of God than to neglect his body." 

From Tertullian we learn, that this ordinance was celebrated before daylight in the morning, "antelucanis coetitihus," and received only at the hands of the presiding minister, "nee de aliorum manu quam praesidentium sumimusy He also intimates that the sacred elements were strictly guarded from waste and accident; but expressly declares that all these usages are observed from tradition, and the force of custom, without any scriptural authority whatever. 

Cyprian treats at length of the types of the Lord's supper in the Old Testament, and of the elements; and censures severely the practice of administering water instead of wine. Certain sects at that time maintained that the use of wine, even at the sacrament, was sinful. It further appears from his writings, that the eucharist was administered daily, – that it was offered to children and on one occasion, was administered by a female enthusiast, – that the sacred elements were sent to the absent communicants, – and that the consecrated bread was carried by the communicants from the table of the Lord. According to the same author, they also received the sacred elements in communion from the officiating minister into their own hands. 

But the most important information in our possession respecting the point under consideration, is derived from the Apostolical Constitutions. This is the oldest liturgical document now extant in the church, and is evidently the basis of the formularies, and liturgies both of the Eastern and Western churches Brief descriptions of the eucharist, and of the agapae, are found in different parts of this work; and full descriptions of the liturgies and formularies connected with this service; from which the following particulars are collected.

  1. The agapae are distinguished from the eucharist
  2. The ordinance was celebrated with profound secresy as a sacred mystery; catechumens, penitents, and unbelievers of every description, being excluded with the greatest caution, and the doors carefully guarded.

    All believers in good and regular standing were expected to partake of the elements.

  3. The sexes were separated.
  4. The ordinance was administered in the usual time of public worship, in the morning, and in the ordinary place of assembly. No intimation is given of a celebration by night.
  5. The consecration of the elements was performed by the chief priest, *, this term is sometimes used as synonymous with that of bishop; but even if we do not admit the identity of presbyters and bishops, and of teaching and ruling bishops, we must still admit that the presbyter was permitted, at times, to consecrate the elements, especially in the absence of the bishop.
  6. The consecrating minister offered a prayer in his own behalf, as well as more general petitions; and then distributed the bread himself. The cup was distributed by the deacons.
  7. Mention is made of a splendid robe for the minister, and of his making the sign of the cross upon his forehead.
  8. The elements were presented simply in these words: "The body of Christ; the blood of Christ, the cup of life;" to which the communicant simply responded, "Amen!" The brevity of this form is strikingly contrasted with the prolonged prayers, and formalities of the other parts of this service.
  9. During the service, the 34th Psalm was sung. The 42d and 139th came into use at a later period. The attention of the assembly was called for with the usual form, * – sursum corda, hahemus ad Bominum.
  10. The three elements, bread, wine, and water, are mentioned; the two last being mixed in the same vessel. The bread was broken for distribution, and the fragments carefully preserved.
  11. The communicants were required sometimes to stand erect; and sometimes to kneel, and with the head inclining forward to receive the blessing.

Adv. Haer. lib. iv. c. 18. c. 17.

Munscher, ii. 380: Irenaei Fragmenta Anecdota: M. Pfaff. Hag. Com. 1715. 8: Fragment. 2, pp. 26–28: Innaeus, Adv. Haeres. lib. i. c. 13: v. c. 2.

Paedag. lib. ii.

Horn, in Exod. H. 13.

De Corona Militis. c. 3: De Resurrectione Carnis. c. 1: Comp. Apologet. c. 39.

Ep. 63, ad Caecilium De Sacrament. Domini calicis. Opp. ed. Obertb. torn. i. p. 185–96: De Orat. Domini, p. 147. ed. Brem.: De Lapsis, p. 132: Ep. 75: De bono patient, p. 216: Ep. 58. p. 125.

Cyril). Hieros. Catech. Mystag. v. c. 18: Ambros. De sacf. lib. iv. c. 5: De Init. c. 9: Augustin. c. Faust, xii. c. 10: Hieron. Ep. 62, etc. .

Lib. ii. c.28, 57: lib. iii. c. 10: lib. v. c. 19.

Lib. vii. c. 25: lib. viii. c. 12–15.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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