Tag Archives: eucharist

The epiklesis of the Testamentum Domini

I am glad to announce that my translation of Testamentum Domini is going through the processes of the press. At present we are proofing the ms before typesetting.

As a foretaste (and an encouragement to get the thing when it comes out) here is an appendix to the introduction, dealing with the epiklesis of the Testamentum.

Excursus: the “epiclesis”

Particular issues pertain to the Testament’s handling of the so-called epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition.

I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”

Before turning to the justification of the translation offered here we should discuss the history of interpretation.

The initial translation by Rahmani (1899), following the Mosul MS, read as follows: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, O Lord the Holy Spirit… Bring this drink and this food of your holiness, and cause that they may be for us….” The verb is ܐܬܐ which means “to come.” Here it is in what is called the aphel (causative), which may thus mean “bring” and Rahmani understands it in this sense. The form he understands as a feminine singular imperative (ܐܬܐܝ), which he takes as addressed to the Trinity.

For Cooper and McLean (1902) “this scarcely makes sense.” Thus, rather than beginning the request with “bring,” they adopt a reading from the Borgian Syriac MS, ܐܬܐܝܢ, a participle, rather than the imperative ܐܬܐܝ of the Mosul MS, and translate: “We have brought this drink and this food of thy Holiness to thee. Cause that it may be to us….” They find support for this in one Ethiopic version of the anaphora of the Testament, the so-called “Anaphora of Our Lord” published by Ludolf in 1691. The problem with this solution is that the Borgian Syriac text is generally poor.

Although Dix (1937) and Richardson (1947) commented briefly on this passage, in the context of an argument over the epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition, the next major contribution to the debate was that of Botte (1947), responding to Richardson’s brief comment. In particular Botte suggests that the verb ܐܬܐ in the aphel might equally well be a rendition of “send.” This is possible. As a feminine imperative he suggests it is addressed to the Spirit, but that the Syriac translator had failed to understand that in the Greek the word was accusative (the form would be the same in Greek) and that the petition to “send” was not originally addressed to the Spirit but to the Father, and that the Spirit was the object. Thus the original would have read: “Lord, send the Holy Spirit on this holy drink and this food….”

One merit of Botte’s suggestion is that an object is supplied; something, it seems, needs to come, or be sent, onto the gifts so that they may not be for condemnation, and the object is not the food and drink. Thus while it is tempting to accept Cooper and McLean’s adoption of the reading of B and so to make this passage a continuation of the oblation, making the food and drink the objects means that no account is taken of the word ܠ (“to” or “onto”) which precedes these words.

Richardson (1948), in response, found Botte’s suggestions entirely unconvincing. If the Syriac translator had so misunderstood the Greek accusative, he argues, then this would mean that he had completely missed the address to the Trinity, and the threefold “Lord” that it contains. Thus the Spirit cannot be an object, but is simply addressed as part of the Trinity. In seeking an object he turns his attention to the Syriac ܕ which is attached to the word translated “holiness”, and suggests that this represents a partitive genitive. Thus he translates: “Send (O Trinity) a portion of thy Holiness on this drink and food. Cause that it may be to us….” Bouyer (1968) similarly wonders whether the Syriac text is so obscure as to oblige us to have recourse to the suggestion of such a series of errors on the part of the Syriac translator, though in effect his suggestions return us to Rahmani’s reading.

White’s translation (1991) is interesting. He seems to accept the reading of B, with Cooper and McLean, but unlike them takes the whole phrase as addressed to the Holy Spirit: “Lord Holy Spirit, we have brought this food and drink of your holiness; make it be for us….” It seems odd to find an oblation to the Holy Spirit, but it is significant that he can see that the phrase might be addressed to the Spirit. This accounts for the feminine form of the imperative. It seems that he has accepted Botte’s suggestion that the translator had mistaken an accusative for a vocative, but unlike Botte translates the Syriac text as it stands, taking the feminine imperative as addressed to the (feminine) Spirit rather than correcting it (as Botte does) in accordance with a hypothetical Greek original.

More recent treatments have not advanced the debate. McKenna (2009) simply agrees with Botte without any discussion of the Syriac text, and McGowan (2014) likewise pays no mind to the Syriac text, or to any possible underlying Greek, offering us the following translation (in which the debt to Botte is evident), which she has derived from elsewhere:

We offer to you this act of thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Father, from whom all creation and all nature trembles as it flees into itself, Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon this drink and upon this your holy food. Grant that it may not be for us condemnation….

Before discussing the possibilities presented, the one contribution that I may make is to observe that the Arabic edited by Troupeau (2007) clearly understands that the Trinity is addressed. The Trinity is bidden: “make that this holy food and this drink of sanctification may not be condemnation for us…” thus missing out the verb in dispute. The imperative is masculine.

The question may perhaps be reopened in the light of our observation that the prayer as it stands is a result of combining two anaphoras.

We may recollect that Botte’s suggestion was criticized by Richardson on the basis of the violence it did to the address to the Trinity. However, it is possible that, in keeping with other prayers in the Testament, the Trinity as such was not addressed, but rather only the Father and the Son. This would explain the odd order found here, with the Son first. Thus the original, prior to the combination with Apostolic Tradition might have read:

To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling; send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….

The text of Apostolic Tradition facing the redactor is itself an uncertain matter, but it is highly probable that it read (as Botte suggested), “we ask that you should send your Holy Spirit….” As such it is possible that the mention of the Holy Spirit should be taken from Apostolic Tradition, and the words “Holy Spirit” supplied from that source. However much it may seem that the Trinity is addressed in the Testament, this is the result of the juncture of two sources.

The Holy Spirit in Apostolic tradition was the object. However, given the redactor’s freedom with the source, faced with the necessity of combining two prayers, and given that the sentence already had an object (the portion of holiness), I suggest that he deliberately turned this into a vocative, and thus addresses the Holy Spirit directly at this point. There are thus two addresses, one to the Father and the Son, and one to the Holy Spirit. The rightness of White’s translation becomes manifest when it is observed that this mention of the Spirit supplied from Apostolic Tradition has been inserted into an existing prayer. As such the change of case that results is also less significant than Richardson thought. He suggests, against Botte, that it is improbable that the translator would so misunderstand the original as to read an accusative as a vocative; the suggestion here is that there was no misreading, and that this is not the work of a later translator, but that the translator accurately rendered a deliberate change that had already been made by the redactor.

The result is thus a combination of the insights of Botte, who reconstructs the original of Apostolic Tradition, Richardson, who supplies an object by reading ܕ in the Syriac text as representing a partitive genitive, and White, who so punctuates that such that the address to the Spirit stands out, all understood through the lens of the redactor’s layering technique. The address is directed to the Holy Spirit (the mention of whom is supplied from Apostolic Tradition), the object is taken as “a portion of holiness” and the address to the Trinity recognized as an accident of redaction.

As a result of this I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”


Botte, Bernard (1947) “L’epiclèse de l’anaphore d’Hippolyte,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 14 (1947): 241–51

Bouyer, Louis (1968) Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame,)

Cooper, James, Arthur J. Maclean (1902) The Testament of Our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)

McGowan, Anne, (2014) Eucharistic Epicleses Ancient and Modern (London: SPCK)

McKenna, John H. (2009) The Eucharistic Epiclesis: A Detailed History, 2nd ed (Chicago: Hillenbrand)

Rahmani, Ignatius Ephraem II (1899) Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Mainz: Kirchheim)

Richardson, C.C.,(1948) « A Note on the Epicleses in Hippolytus and the Testamentum Domini,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 15 (1948): 357–59

Sperry-White, Grant (1991) The Testamentum Domini: A Text for Students (Bramcote: Grove)

Troupeau, Gérard, (2007) “Une version arabe de l’anaphore du Testamentum Domini” in Charles Chartouni, ed., Christianisme oriental: kérygme et histoire; mélanges offerts au père Michel Hayek (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner), 247–256


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A church order preserved in Nubian?

Looking for something else I come across the following from F. Ll. Griffith (ed.) The Nubian texts of the Christian period (Berlin: Verlag der Königl. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Commission bei Georg Reimer, 1913), 16-19 (text), 19-23 (translation.)

Griffith opines that these are “not a series of canons but a Sunday homily or exhortation on the offering of oblations and behaviour at the Eucharist.” (23) Perhaps we might see this as a church order. It is of gnomic character, and the title, appearing to enumerate 80 canons, is intriguing.

I provide Griffith’s translation to give a flavour of the work. Griffith supplies a text and some annotation.


These are the canons of the churches which the holy fathers, having assembled (?) in Nicaea, discussed (?), wrote, and established by authority (?), being eighty (?).

Beloved: when a certain man (?) hath spoken a vow (?), (namely) this Holy Feast which remains on the table: it is simply (?) bread and simply (?) wine (?) and comes out from (?) the church(?) by (?) the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in the time of presentation (?) and the arrival of the moment (?).

Verily when a man dedicates an oblation in the church, whether it be wine or whether it be wheat, and the priest docs not give one in return, and he says in his heart I have not eaten with the priest, I have not drunken with the priest, he hath not reward (?) from heaven in Jerusalem. And God, the possessor (?) of life, withdraweth (?) his light, because he hath desired that which is from earth and refused that which is from heaven, namely the mercies (?) which thy (?) God in his fullness (?) hath granted (?).

Verily a donor (?) having pronounced a vow, namely oblations dedicated in the church, the children of the church shall eat them (?), the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost come out from (?) the church.

Verily a man having repented (?) in his heart and dedicated an oblation in the church, whether it be wine or wheat or durra-seed down to green vegetable (?); then he, the Lord, will rejoice (?) in his heart and receive (it) through his holy angel.

Have ye not heard that which is written, …. gift … God, him that giveth cheerfully (?) God loveth (?)? All men who working for the name of God benefit themselves (?), they shall not find benefit (?) through God.

And now therefore (?) man that which ye do for the name of God, do ye cheerfully. And one was written men about to (?) become in that (?) … shall become (?) covetous (?), shall become (?) without …, shall become …, shall become man-hating, shall become . . ., shall become covetous (?) of the priesthood (?). And all this … beloved, enquire ye unwillingly (?); let us have friendship (?), let us seek peace; and when ye sit (?) enquire ye with desire (?), because coveting (?) ye are fearful of death. Without ceasing (?) let us pray to God that lie may give us remission of our sins.

Behold (?) hear ye a witness (?).

Verily a layman having … and eaten the food of the church, he shall … the priest … and shall … And now therefore (?). … enquire ye in … requital (?) … in desire (?) enquire ye.

And when thou hast sat down remain far (?) from the feast. And when thou hast (?) received the feast purify (?) thy heart and voice and come and receive the feast. And verily if not, it is destruction.

Verily if thou comest not at peace with a teaching man (?) thou art a feast-taker (?).

Verily when thou desirest to receive the feast come out first and come in good will (?) ; verily if thou art not in good will (?) remain outside (?) the church: wilt thou … through God be friendly? And if not, thus wilt thou … and … the laws of God?

And when thou hast received the feast, remain in the church till the dismissal. Remember what was done to Judas the betrayer: having taken the feast he went out of the church not having been dismissed (?), and Satan entered (?) into his heart and persuaded him(?) to betray.

In truth thou also, when the church has not been dismissed, art … It is that which God shall take as cause and requite upon thee. Be not condemned for eternity with Judas on account of the short moment after this (?).

I have seen many when they have received the sacrament eat when the church is not open: woe to their hearts! Shall they receive in exchange (?) remission of sin, because they were able (?) to … ?

Verily a donor (?) who has eaten when the church was not open, he hath cause in a great…

Verily a donor (?) who has eaten and received the sacrament loveth (?) light with the eater of the dead (?).

A donor (?) who not hearing the epistle and gospel hath received the sacrament, hath not received.

A donor (?) who hath not sung alleluia with the singers insulteth God his Maker. For Alleluia is Thelkath Marimath: and the saying being interpreted is “Let us glorify God who founded all (things), and let us love and worship (?) him.”

Woe be to the man who speaketh in the church at the time (?) of the sacrament! For he that speaketh in the church at the time (?) of the sacrament is negligent (?) more than (?) all the negligent (?) ones. For the man that speaketh in the church is the enemy of God. For these are like the Jews who having hanged the Saviour on the cross mocked him — they who speak when this sacrament is upon the table. He, the Lord it is who hath said “and the Jews alone (?) openly rejected (?) me.” And you who speak in the church at all times, behold (?), hearken ye to the warning (?).

Verily one in(?) dedicating an oblation in the church by means of (?) the act (?) of service of life he shall write his name in Jerusalem. And his reward with the priest here (?) is one loaf one finger (?) of wine: for this is what was taken by God.

Woe be to the priest who sitteth on the Lord’s day amongst …. one by … departing and eating (?) will requite (?) that one’s sin upon the scalp (?) of the head of the priest in the fulness of the ages.

And all persons, either having become a woman being 12 years old shall give (?) or having become a man being 13 years old shall give (?); and … and verily he who hath . . . one of these, is good (?) both in the … of the flesh and the … of the …; and God will trying try his soul in hell.

Therefore (?) praise (?) God: praise (?) be Thine! In the hand of the living God I will overcome and expel!

And the priest each (?) Lord’s day shall cause them to hear this: for (?) it hath been done, that we may (?) attain (?) resurrection and grace (?) with our Lord Jesus Christ; whose be the glory and the power unto ages of ages! Amen.


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The patristische Gemeinschaft again, and some terrible puns

As Dani Vaucher has already mentioned, we are both appearing at the patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft in January. See: http://ls0091.uvt.nl/wordpress4/. The theme of the conference is Sakramentsgemeinschaft in der frühen Kirche.

My contribution is called: ἐκ Βιῶν εἰς ζωήν: groups, therapy, and the construction of text and community in the Church Order Tradition.

Official abstract: With a particular concentration on the Didache and the Didascalia apostolorum, this paper attempts to utilize the insights of group psychology, pioneered by Bion in the 1940s and developed by Tuckman, to understand the workings of early Christian communities, exploring the psychagogic techniques employed to construct and maintain communities, and the purpose behind their sacramental celebrations.

In essence, rather than exploring what the communities did, sacramentally, I assume that the purpose of their existence is to sacramentalize, and that in order to do so they had to function as communities. Thus I seek to see how the processes of community building are betrayed in the literature. It is a somewhat experimental paper, as I am not sure that anyone has previously employed the material of clinical psychology to explore early Christian communities, but it is worth a try, not the least because early Christian groupings were of a similar size to T-groups. Hopefully somebody better equipped than I will pick up the baton. As somebody said at a seminar once (I think it was Bill Tabbernee), it is better to work as part of a Gemeinschaft than to fall down one. A better wordplay than that in my title, I think.

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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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What did the eucharistic celebrants of the Testamentum Domini “make”? The perils of pointing

In the eucharistic rite of Testamentum Domini (1.23) we read: “…taking bread, gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. When ye shall do this, ye make My resurrection.” (translation of MacLean in J. Cooper, A.J. Maclean, The Testament of our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902), 73. Other translations read the same.)

The relevant passage in Syriac reads:

ܩܝܡܬܐ ܕܝܠܝ ܥܒܕܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ (qymt) dyly (bdyn )ntwn.)

The critical word here is that translated as “resurrection”, ܩܝܡܬܐ. Translators have pointed this as ܩܝܵܡܬܵܐ . However, were the word pointed ܩܳܝܶܡܬܳܐ then it might be translated “memorial”, albeit in the sense more of a tombstone than a liturgical commemoration.

This is surely the translator’s intention. At the time of Rahmani’s initial translations of Testamentum Domini (1899) Hauler had not yet published the Latin fragments of Traditio apostolica, and at the time of Cooper and MacLean’s publication they were newly published, and so the relationship between the Testamentum and Traditio apostolica was not understood. But with the passage of a century since Connolly, surely we can improve the translation at this point.

Edit, 26th September: I had forgotten the suggestion of W. E. Pitt, “Anamnesis and Institution Narrative in the Liturgy of Apostolic ConstitutionsJEH 9 (1958), 1-7, at 5, that this came about through a misreading of anamnēsis (memorial) as anastasis (resurrection). Obviously this is now to be rejected,. but we may give due recognition to Pitt for seeing the issue.

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Docetism and the Didachistic Eucharist

A correspondence is occurring through academia.edu which may be of wider interest. Obviously my correspondent does not have the learning that I am sure is possessed of my usual readers, but there may be something here which is useful to somebody. It has certainly exposed a hole in my own knowledge.

It started with the question:

Why is there no mention of the death of Christ in the eucharistic passages of the Didache? Is there any gnostic influence here?

I replied:

A lot of people have asked that question over the years. The problem, as I see it, is that we have allowed Paul’s witness to determine what the Eucharist means, namely a concentration on Jesus’ death. This is one strand in the nest of meanings which the Eucharist had in the different early Christian communities, and one which, when the eucharist becomes fixed in meaning and form in the third and fourth centuries, comes to be prominent. But it was not how the Didache people understood the Eucharist. Rather they understood the presence of Jesus in the meal as being a foreshadowing of his presence on earth when he comes again as messiah and judge.

I do not think we can say that it is “Gnostic” influence, though that to an extent depends on when you think the Didache emerged. Most scholars, however, believe that it had been completed by the beginning of the second century (some would put it much earlier, some slightly later) whereas gnosticism does not really emerge until a bit later than that. “Gnostic”, like “Christian” and “Jewish” in the first and second century, is a bit of a vague category, and there were varying gnostic practices with regard to the eucharist, and varying beliefs and evaluations of it. Some, like the community of the Gospel of Judas, rather looked down on it, some, like that of the Gospel of Philip, had a very exalted understanding. But I don’t think any of them saw the eucharist as a “sneak preview” of Christ’s second coming as the Didache people apparently did.

One might have thought that the end of it but the reply came back:

Does not John refer to gnostic denial of Jesus in the flesh. Also gnosticism was strong in Syria where the Didache came from, and also there may be a quote from the Sentences of Sextus, a pythagorean work.

To which I slightly intemperately responded:

1: The passages in the Johannine epistles are capable of a number of interpretations (see Streett, They went out from us). Even if this refers to Cerinthus, there is a whole question of whether Cerinthus was actually gnostic. And what, in any case, is the relevance to the Didache?
2: So what if D and gnosis share geographical space?
3: Not sure that D quotes Sextus, and Sextus is not Pythagorean, though it has some intellectual overlap. And it is certainly not gnostic.

I am not an expert on gnostic systems, but I know enough to know that it is a difficult category to use.

My correspondent was undeterred by this display of petulance and came back twice.

Is it accurate to say that the idea Jesus did not come in the flesh or did not really physically die on the cross, would show up as an omission, especially in the docetic eucharistic liturgy that spotlights the death of Christ. Is that accurate to say?


Is this a reference to docetism?
“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” – 2 John 1:7
Does the Didache affirm the physicality of Christ or his sacrifice?

This time I responded at greater length and with greater patience:

The phrase you cite from John:

oἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί:

Can be interpreted as not confessing

a) Jesus to be the (same as) the Christ who actually came (Cerinthian separationism).
b) Jesus to be the Messiah, who actually came. (Judaism)
c) Jesus Christ coming in the flesh (i.e. he came some other way) (docetism).
or indeed,
d) That Jesus Christ did not come at all (grammatically possible but historically unlikely!)

The problem with docetism is that it is very hard to define, and in particular the kind of “docetism” that we know from the textbooks does not seem to appear until the third century, if then. Last year I wrote an essay for a collection on docetism in which I struggled to define Ignatius’ “docetists”. It made me realize the complexity of the question, which I had not myself appreciated before I started that project. I think John is anti Cerinthian separationism, and that that is effectively docetic, but not in the “textbook” sense.

So when you ask “Does the Didache affirm the physicality of Christ or his sacrifice?” I have to answer that it makes no reference to this issue, but that does not mean that it denied either tenet, simply that it is not working in the milieux in which such issues are being considered. The fact that is derived from a law-observant setting in, possibly, Syria, and that gnostic schools derive from the same setting is not really pertinent. Thus when you first suggested that the didachistic eucharist, not making reference to the death of Christ, might thereby hide some docetic tendencies, I suggested that we should not make the Pauline eucharist normative for first century eucharistic celebrations, and that the Didache contributes another strand to our understanding of the tangled skein of roots which go to making the later eucharist.

So you ask:

Is it accurate to say that the idea Jesus did not come in the flesh or did not really physically die on the cross, would show up as an omission, especially in the docetic eucharistic liturgy that spotlights the death of Christ. Is that accurate to say?

I am guessing that what you mean is that the eucharistic liturgy spotlights the death of Christ, and so if such a reference is absent that is an indication of docetism. However, at the risk of banging on on the same old drum, the problem is with the premiss. Why should the eucharistic liturgy spotlight the death of Christ? The Didachistic liturgy spotlights the messianic presence of Christ. What it made of the death we cannot tell, but we cannot say that the death was denied, simply that the Didachistic eucharist, unlike the Pauline, did not encode Christ’s death. We may suggest, beyond this, that since the Didache seems to envisage salvation as happening in the world (firstly through realizing eschatology and finally, with Christ’s return in judgement) then this is not salvation from the world, which, giving due acknowledgement to the distinction in gnostic systems, seems to be fundamental to them all.

I don’t know enough about gnostic eucharistic rites to comment on them. I need to read, Einar Thomassen, The spiritual seed and Herbert Schmid, Die Eucharistie ist Jesus at least. Maybe I need salvation from a thousand other responsibilities to do so.

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A gathering of some fragments… and the eschatological nature of the early Christian eucharist

Also from the Wiingaards site note http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/casey_02.asp. I would not like to comment at present on the author’s argument that the fourth century rediscovery of the eucharist as sacrifice “saw a subtle transformation in the Church’s eschatological imagination in which the expectation of the coming reign of God was assimilated into the present achievement of a Christian empire”, not least because I am very uncertain of the premiss that the fourth century radically altered the view of the eucharist as sacrificial. However, I do appreciate his comment regarding “the power of the eschatological symbolism that the Fractio Panis and other similar fresci present.”

I observe this contribution at this point to gather some fragments from recent posts, notably the issue of interpreting some of the material evidence for early Christian banquets (mentioned by Daniel Vaucher in his correspondence), the eschatological nature of the early Christian eucharist (as per my article on the fragment on the mountain) and indeed the ongoing work of the Wijngaards Institute in their attempt inwardly to reform the Roman church.

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