Tag Archives: Eucharistic meals

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by | February 17, 2023 · 10:12 pm

Oh deer! Some rambling thoughts on Christian animal sacrifice

In a conversation about something else Euthymios Rizos drew my attention to a Vita of St Athenogenes. I have now had the opportunity to read this in the edition of Pierre Maraval, La Passion inédite de S. Athénogène de Pédachthoé en Cappadoce (BHG 197b) (Brussels: Bollandistes, 1990).

What struck me most was the account of Athenogenes’ meeting a deer which he had raised; the saint promises that the deer will not be taken by hunters, but that its offspring will be offered to the glory of God each year. Subsequently we hear that a fawn is presented by its mother each year for sacrifice and consumption at the feast of the martyrs.

However, perhaps I should not be surprised; for all that we hear constantly of the cessation of animal sacrifice in Christianity (early Christians, as well as wearing open-toed sandals, being vegetarians and perhaps, UK readers will suspect, Guardian readers) the practice continued, particularly in Armenia, and continues still (see here for instance.) The surprise is that (as Andrew McGowan pointed out to me) the sacrifice should be of a deer, generally a wild animal. Canons attributed to Basil prohibit the offering of a hunted animal (see on these Fred C. Conybeare, “The Survival of Animal Sacrifices inside the Christian Church” American Journal of Theology 7 (1903), 62-90, at 79-80). But perhaps the point is that the deer on this occasion is not hunted, but is willingly offered by itself (thus I am unsure of the connection to a sacred hunt made by Franz Cumont, “L’ archevêché de Pédachtoé et le sacrifice du faon” Byzantion 6 (1931), 521-533.) However, we may also note that deer were reportedly offered by Justinian at the dedication of Hagia Sophia (at least according to a later account, on which see Kateryna Kovalchuk, “The Encaenia of St Sophia: Animal Sacrifice in a Christian Context” Scrinium 4 (2008), 161-203.)

Apart from being told that animal sacrifice was abandoned by Christians we are also frequently told that the eucharist, by becoming ritualized and by delivering food in token amounts, has lost its significance, and that it should once again take on the aspect of a meal. I do not cite extensively here, as the theme is surely familiar to all my readers, though I cannot resist referring to one contribution which suggests that, in rejection of the industrial meat-economy, the eucharist should be rediscovered as a “real vegetarian meal, and not just a token meal.” (Michael S. Northcott, “Eucharistic eating, and why many early Christians preferred fish” in Rachel Muers and David Grummet (ed.), Eating and believing: interdisciplinary perspectives on vegetarianism and theology (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 232-246, here at 243-244.) This essay exhibits such an astounding level of ignorance regarding both the early Christian eucharist and the pastoral reality of parishes that it comes as no surprise to learn that the contributor is a professor of practical theology.

In the spirit of “restoring” the meal-aspect to the eucharist I wonder whether I might start slaughtering animals at the church door during our parish mass; such has been considered seriously elsewhere (see here and here) but I think I will leave this to the Armenians (and to other cultures still familiar with acts of slaughtering) and allow the meal-logic which is already implicit in the mass we celebrate to speak for itself. This, after all, is why we keep a eucharistic fast, as Traditio apostolica 36 already reminds us. In its original context this provision intended that the eucharistic food should be consumed first in the meal; but who would eat a meal before going for a meal?

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Water is best… for breakfast

Now appeared in advance publication on the JTS website (prior to its appearance in print in the October (sic) issue) is my ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ: ancient breakfasts and the development of eucharistic foods.

Although there is evidence for eucharistic celebration in the context of an evening cena in the earliest period, this celebration comes to be transferred to the morning, particularly to Sunday morning. This might bring about significant change in the celebration, part of which might lie in the foods employed, and their quantities. On the basis of an examination of the evidence for daytime eating in Graeco-Roman antiquity, the suggestion is made that eucharistic foods employed in many circles subsequently seen as deviant were standard breakfast foods, and that abstinence from wine reflects this context. Thus the use of water in the eucharist, rather than denoting an ascetic bent in some early Christian circles, simply reflects the transfer of the eucharistic meal from the evening to the morning.

On the very day this was published the clergy of the Church of England had a letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York stating, among other things, that “The elements are to be bread and wine and no other substance.” I might wonder whether there is a connection… but doubt it. However, just to play safe, I have now removed the cheese and olives from the tabernacle.

Those unable to access the JTS site are invited to ask an offprint in the usual way.

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Libation and the “longer text” of Luke 22

Many years ago, in a seminar at Codrington College, I set a proverbial cat among the metaphorical pigeons by suggesting, only partly seriously, that the words over the (second) cup in the longer text of Luke implied that a libation had been offered. In the phrase τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐν τῷ αἵματί μου, τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐκχυννόμενον ἐκχυννόμενον properly refers not to the blood but to the cup.

One of my “lock-down” activities has been thinking about the two texts of Luke’s last supper, an issue which has intrigued me since student days. Thus I was interested to see that Matthias Klinghardt, a few years ago, made the same suggestion in all earnestness (“Der vergossene Becher: Ritual und Gemeinschaft im lukanischen Mahlbericht” Early Christianity 3 (2012), 33-58). Klinghardt suggests that Luke would not commit such a solecism as to use the wrong case here; of course Luke might not, but an interpolator might. This is thus an indication that the “longer text” is an interpolated text.

Klinghardt argues that Luke indeed means that a libation was poured, though he makes no reference to the textual issue. Nonetheless it is possible that an interpolator misunderstood the Pauline type material which he was handling (as I believe happened), which in turn would imply that libations were known in the cultic circle from which he came. As such, whether the participle refers to the blood or to the cup itself, this would be an interpolation deriving from liturgical practice, whether or not that practice included a libation. As evidence for the possibility that libations were poured in Christian eucharistic liturgy we may observe Traditio apostolica 38.2 which, in its current context, is strange but, if the argument that these chapters are reworked from material dealing with a eucharistic Sättigungsmahl is accepted, may readily be seen as a prohibition on the pouring of libations at the Eucharist, which is a sure sign in turn that such practice was known. A similar line is taken by M.J.C. Warren, “The cup of God’s wrath: libation and early Christian meal practice in Revelation” Religions 9 (2018), 413, n. 6.with regard to the Jewish texts apparently prohibiting libations, such as M.Avodah Zarah 5.1-6 and the corresponding passages in the Talmud, namely that the reason why there is such a careful attempt to guard against the possibility of wine being used for libations by gentiles is that this was also part of Jewish ritual. Warren (“Cup”, 9-10) suggests that the libation imagery of Revelation is negative, and directed against the practice of libations by Christians, again implying the possible practice of libation by Christians. This is possible, though her further suggestion that the seer is opposed to the Christian use of wine entirely is surely an overstatement.

The use of libations by Christians is thus possible; again, an early dating of Traditio apostolica reveals significant liturgical information lying just beneath its third-century surface.

Klinghardt actually suggests that the early Christian Eucharist was simply a regular Sättigungsmahl of religious significance, and was invariably marked by a libation. Although I have not excluded the possibility of the offering of libations at Christian eucharistic meals, it does not seem to have been a regular, or even a common, occurrence.

To return to the text of Luke, it is possible that we have interesting evidence here that libations were offered. However, given that we are dealing with a rather clumsy interpolator, it is also possible that our interpolator had a weak grasp of the Greek case system in relative clauses!

Edit (May 17th 2020): I now find, in further reading, that Klinghardt’s theory was proposed by O. Holtzmann “Das Abendmahl im Urchristentum” ZNW  5 (1904), 89-120. 


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