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
"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
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
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
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
That is, their feasting
during the times of feeding the poor was proof that they were
The sporting was the fatal musical idolatry at Mount
Sinai in which they acted out a ritual drama of feasting, dancing,
playing music and engaging in sexual activities.
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
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
"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
' 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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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