Making a mess of martyrs and the mass

I have just found Maxwell E. Johnson, “Martyrs and the mass: the interpolation of the narrative of institution into the anaphora” Worship 87 (2013), 2-22.

Johnson argues, principally on the basis of the prayer of Polycarp at his martyrdom, that the interpolation of an institution narrative in the anaphora resulted from martyrological prayer. The received answer that the inclusion of the narrative is catechetical in origin is accepted, and the point argued is that this catechesis, in the fourth century (the date to which Johnson would assign the interpolation of the institution narrative, including into the Apostolic tradition, a connection which gives me an excuse to blog this private rant here) was necessary to remind those for whom martyrdom was never a real experience of the sacrifice of Christ. “What better way to strongly emphasize and make clear [and to split infinitives ACS] this connection than to have the very words of Christ within the central prayer of the Eucharist itself?”(p. 19) Actually there are quite a few better ways, particularly since, in the fourth century, the martyria are themselves becoming the location of shrines, and we are soon into the period of the translation of relics.

I do not have the patience to deliver a full critique at this point. Sufficient to say that Johnson’s statement that the prayer of Polycarp at his martyrdom reflected a regular third-century Eucharistic prayer is to confuse the diverse roots of Eucharistic praying, and moreover to confuse distinct species of Eucharistic meal, one of which seeks communion with Christ through communion with a martyr, the other of which seeks direct communion with Christ. There is no doubt that there is some martyrological influence in the emergence of the eucharist in the third/fourth century, but it is not to be located in the inclusion of the institution narrative within the anaphora, and especially not conveyed through catechesis.

I have already dealt with much of this material in my contribution to Frances Young’s Festschrift and in my edition of Vita Polycarpi. I argue in the first for the inclusion of an institution narrative in the original stratum of the episcopal Eucharistic prayer of Traditio apostolica and treat the Eucharistic prayer of Polycarp in the latter. Johnson does not make reference to either. Of course, he is far too important to bother with the work of a poore parson of a town, but had he done so he might have been saved from some methodological clangers.

The last time I got seriously peeved by Johnson, the result was published in Questions liturgiques. If I get time I will see if I can knock out a more coherent and reasoned response fit for more conventional publication.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Apostolic Tradition

One response to “Making a mess of martyrs and the mass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s