Tag Archives: agape

Food for widows

The following passage appears in Traditio apostolica:

If anyone wishes that widows, who should have attained seniority in age, should have a supper, he should send them home before evening. If, however, he is unable because of the lot which has fallen to him, he should give them food and wine and send them away so that they can partake of the gifts at home when it suits them. TA 30

This is straightforward enough. Support for widows is widespread enough, as is the practice of providing a sportula.

This paragraph does not survive in Testamentum Domini, but is reworked in Canones Hippolyti.

If anyone wishes to feed widows, he should feed them and dismiss them before the sun sets. And if they are numerous, so that they should not become restive and unable to leave before evening, he should give them enough to eat and drink, and they should depart before the onset of the night. CH35

I have long, however, been puzzled by the appearance of the following passage in the Didascalia:

Those who wish to give an agapē, and to invite the widows, should send more frequently for her whom he knows to be in distress. And if anyone gives gifts to widows he should especially send to her whom he knows to be in need. And the portion which is to be set apart for the pastor should be set aside in accordance with the rule, even though he be not present at the agapē or the supper, in honour of Almighty God. DA 2.28.1-2

This is reworked lightly in Constitutiones apostolorum, the main change being that the deacons, rather than the individual patron, are those who ensure that those who in particular need should be invited.

The reason for the puzzle regarding the Didascalia is that it cuts across the fundamental aim of so much of the document to restrict the charity of the church to that provide through the agency of the bishop. I can therefore only assume that it derives from an independent source.

The question which then arises is whether this is the same source as Traditio apostolica. After much consideration I begin to think that it does not (although I do suggest, only suggest mind, that it might in my forthcoming Breaking bread.) There is nothing in Didascalia about dismissing the widows before nightfall, and nothing in Traditio apostolica about a sportula for the absent bishop.

But the very observation that these are probably independent is itself a point of interest. It demonstrates the widespread occurrence of agapic meals for widows provided by private patrons in the third century.


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Filed under Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Tradition, Canons of Hippolytus, Didascalia Apostolorum

Coming soon!


by | February 17, 2023 · 10:12 pm

Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft

I’m honored to be invited to speak at the upcoming Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft in the Netherlands, January 2nd-5th. I will be able to present some insights into my recent dissertation on Slavery in Early Christianity.

In particular, I will speak about the attendance of slaves at Christian congregations and meals (be it agape, Eucharist or funeral meals). Considering that there are barely any sources that mention slaves, we should ask whether they were really part of the Christian cult life.

What do we make of the anonymous Vita Polycarpi §26, that mentions slaves assisting the προσφορά of Polycarp when he was εὐχαριστῶν? If there are other sources directly mentioning slaves or giving hints, please don’t hesitate to comment and indicate them.

Please note, too, that Dr. Stewart will be speaking as well, on “Group Therapy and the Construction of Text and Community in the Church Order Tradition”.


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Distinguishing agape and eucharist in the Didache

In response to my recent article on Didache 14 in Questions liturgiques 93 (2012) 3-16 (a copy can be provided on request) 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 indicates 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.

Update April 2023: Seeing that this post is still receiving views, I may add at this point (ten years later!) that the argument above is foundational for my forthcoming book.

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