Ignatius of Antioch (c.35 or 50 - 98 to 117 AD)--It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid (or, firm).
Pliny (non-Christian, 111-113)--[Christians] asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215)--Elated, then, by vain opinion, they are incessantly wrangling, and plainly care more to seem than to be philosophers. Not laying as foundations the necessary first principles of things; and influenced by human opinions, then making the end to suit them, by compulsion; on account of being confuted, they spar with those who are engaged in the prosecution of the true philosophy, and undergo everything, and, as they say, ply every oar, even going the length of impiety, by disbelieving the Scriptures, rather than be removed from the honours of the heresy and the boasted first seat in their churches; on account of which also they eagerly embrace that convivial couch of honour in the Agape, falsely so called.
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215 AD)--Some men, in truth, live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, “whose life is their belly, and nothing else.” But the Instructor enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, nor is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. ...
But we who seek the heavenly bread must rule the belly, which is beneath heaven, and much more the things which are agreeable to it, which “God shall destroy,” (1 Cor. 6:13) says the apostle, justly execrating gluttonous desires. For “meats are for the belly,” (1 Cor. 6:13) for on them depends this truly carnal and destructive life; whence (Oden, an emendation for on) some, speaking with unbridled tongue, dare to apply the name agape (Love, or love-feast, a name applied by the ancients to public entertainments. [But surely he is here rebuking, with St. Jude (v. 12), abuses of the Christian agapae by heretics and others.]), to pitiful suppers, redolent of savour and sauces. Dishonouring the good and saving work of the Word, the consecrated agape, with pots and pouring of sauce; and by drink and delicacies and smoke desecrating that name, they are deceived in their idea, having expected that the promise of God might be bought with suppers.
Gatherings for the sake of mirth, and such entertainments as are called by ourselves, we name rightly suppers, dinners, and banquets, after the example of the Lord. But such entertainments the Lord has not called agapae. He says accordingly somewhere, “When thou art called to a wedding, recline not on the highest couch; but when thou art called, fall into the lowest place;” (Luke 14:8, 10) and elsewhere, “When thou makest a dinner or a supper;” and again, “But when thou makest an entertainment, call the poor,” (Luke 14:12, 13) for whose sake chiefly a supper ought to be made. And further, “A certain man made a great supper, and called many.” (Luke 14:16) But I perceive whence the specious appellation of suppers flowed: “from the gullets and furious love for suppers”--according to the comic poet. For, in truth, “to many, many things are on account of the supper.”
For they have not yet learned that God has provided for His creature (man I mean) food and drink, for sustenance, not for pleasure; since the body derives no advantage from extravagance in viands. For, quite the contrary, those who use the most frugal fare are the strongest and the healthiest, and the noblest; as domestics are healthier and stronger than their masters, and husbandmen than the proprietors; and not only more robust, but wiser, as philosophers are wiser than rich men. For they have not buried the mind beneath food, nor deceived it with pleasures.
But love (agape) is in truth celestial food, the banquet of reason. “It beareth all things, endureth all things, hopeth all things. Love never faileth.” (1 Cor. 13:7-8) “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 14:15) But the hardest of all cases is for charity, which faileth not, to be cast from heaven above to the ground into the midst of sauces. And do you imagine that I am thinking of a supper that is to be done away with? “For if,” it is said, “I bestow all my goods, and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3) On this love alone depend the law and the Word; and if “thou shalt love the Lord thy God and thy neighbour,” this is the celestial festival in the heavens. But the earthly is called a supper, as has been shown from Scripture. For the supper is made for love, but the supper is not love (agape); only a proof of mutual and reciprocal kindly feeling.
“Let not, then, your good be evil spoken of; for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” says the apostle, in order that the meal spoken of may not be conceived as ephemeral, “but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom 14:16, 17) He who eats of this meal, the best of all, shall possess the kingdom of God, fixing his regards here on the holy assembly of love, the heavenly Church. Love, then, is something pure and worthy of God, and its work is communication. “And the care of discipline is love,” as Wisdom says; “and love is the keeping of the law.” (Wisdom 6:17, 18) And these joys have an inspiration of love from the public nutriment, which accustoms to everlasting dainties.
Love (agape), then, is not a supper. But let the entertainment depend on love.
For it is said, “Let the children whom Thou hast loved, O Lord, learn that it is not the products of fruits that nourish man; but it is Thy word which preserves those who believe on Thee.” (Wisdom 16:26) “For the righteous shall not live by bread.” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) But let our diet be light and digestible, and suitable for keeping awake, unmixed with diverse varieties. Nor is this a point which is beyond the sphere of discipline. For love is a good nurse for communication; having as its rich provision sufficiency, which, presiding over diet measured in due quantity, and treating the body in a healthful way, distributes something from its resources to those near us. ...
For those that are absorbed in pots, and exquisitely prepared niceties of condiments, are they not plainly abject, earth-born, leading an ephemeral kind of life, as if they were not to live [hereafter]? Those the Holy Spirit, by Isaiah, denounces as wretched, depriving them tacitly of the name of love (agape), since their feasting was not in accordance with the word. ...
For it were not seemly that we, after the fashion of the rich man’s son in the Gospel, (Luke 15:11) should, as prodigals, abuse the Father’s gifts; but we should use them, without undue attachment to them, as having command over ourselves. For we are enjoined to reign and rule over meats, not to be slaves to them. It is an admirable thing, therefore, to raise our eyes aloft to what is true, to depend on that divine food above, and to satiate ourselves with the exhaustless contemplation of that which truly exists, and so taste of the only sure and pure delight. For such is the agape, which, the food that comes from Christ shows that we ought to partake of.
Tertullian (c.160-c.225)--What wonder if that great love of Christians towards one another is desecrated by you! For you abuse also our humble feasts, on the ground that they are extravagant as well as infamously wicked. To us, it seems, applies the saying of Diogenes: "The people of Megara feast as though they were going to die on the morrow; they build as though they were never to die!" But one sees more readily the mote in another’s eye than the beam in his own. Why, the very air is soured with the eructations of so many tribes, and curiae, and decuriae. The Salii cannot have their feast without going into debt; you must get the accountants to tell you what the tenths of Hercules and the sacrificial banquets cost; the choicest cook is appointed for the Apaturia, the Dionysia, the Attic mysteries; the smoke from the banquet of Serapis will call out the firemen. Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made.
Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment, -- but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly.
If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste. They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors. After manual ablution, and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the holy Scriptures or one of his own composing, -- a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.
Mark Minucius Felix (c.200)--“And of the incestuous banqueting, the plotting of demons has falsely devised an enormous fable against us, to stain the glory of our modesty, by the loathing excited by an outrageous infamy, that before inquiring into the truth it might turn men away from us by the terror of an abominable charge. ... For these things have rather originated from your own nations. Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. ...
Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all. We practise sharing in banquets, which are not only modest, but also sober: for we do not indulge in entertainments nor prolong our feasts with wine; but we temper our joyousness with gravity, with chaste discourse, and with body even more chaste (divers of us unviolated) enjoy rather than make a boast of a perpetual virginity of a body. So far, in fact, are they from indulging in incestuous desire, that with some even the (idea of a) modest intercourse of the sexes causes a blush.
Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas: (202-203)--While they were treated with more severity by the tribune, because, from the intimations of certain deceitful men, he feared lest they should be withdrawn from the prison by some sort of magic incantations, Perpetua answered to his face, and said, “Why do you not at least permit us to be refreshed, being as we are objectionable to the most noble Caesar, and having to fight on his birth-day? [A gentle banter, like that of St. Lawrence on the gridiron.] Or is it not your glory if we are brought forward fatter on that occasion?” The tribune shuddered and blushed, and commanded that they should be kept with more humanity, so that permission was given to their brethren and others to go in and be refreshed with them; even the keeper of the prison trusting them now himself.
Moreover, on the day before, when in that last meal, which they call the free meal, they were partaking as far as they could, not of a free supper, but of an agape.
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