Distinguishing agape and eucharist in the Didache

In response to my recent article on Didache 14 in Questions liturgiques 93 (2012) 3-16 (I have tried to upload my copy but the publisher has put some kind of security control on it to prevent me doing precisely that!) Jonathan Draper, among others, has asked whether it is really possible to distinguish eucharist and agape in this earliest period.

That is the critical question, but I would argue strongly that a distinction is entirely possible.

Some riders however… In part it depends on the definition of the terms. I am not attempting to define eucharist with reference to the presence of any “words of institution” or any reference to the Last Supper tradition. Nor am I distinguishing it from an agape on the basis that the agape only was a Sättigungsmahl. Indeed the whole thrust of the argument in my article that takes it as axiomatic that chapters 9-10 are eucharistic indicate that I am not working with any such misleading or dated definition. Clearly chapters 9-10 legislate for eucharistic practice in the context of a meal and without reference to the Last Supper.

Rather I would suggest in the first instance that the term is generic… hence I speak consistently of eucharistic meals. The term agape should likewise be employed generically. We may define eucharistic meals as meals in which some communion with a divine or spiritual being is sought. Thus, quite apart from gatherings on Sabbath/Sunday we may class as eucharistic the annual gathering of the Quartodecimans and meals taken at martyr’s shrines. There may be others. Agapic meals are less easy to define, and less well attested, but may count as pretty well any meal at which early Christians gathered to enjoy communion with each other at table. We may count the cena pura kept by Marcionite communities as such, though again the genus may well include a number of species.

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