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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter VII


IN the preceding chapters we have seen with what rapidity the Gospel was propagated and have followed the course of a persecution that was powerless to stifle it. Behind all that, we have caught glimpses, but glimpses only, of a group life, an intense life, that gathered power in the silence and, as it were, underground, until it shook the foundations of the empire. We have already seen enough to make it clear that this life was a profound religion, and we know that the essence of it was the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, of him who died and rose again, prince of the age to come. Our next task must be to study this worship, this cult, from the inner side and to see how it expressed its character in practice. In this chapter we shall have before us a Mystery of Salvation, figuratively presented in worship, and to some extent foreshadowed in the mystery of the Church, that strange Society of Friends which proved itself stronger than Rome and outlasted her empire. Then, in the chapter following this, we shall watch the Mystery taking form and crystallizing in a system of doctrines.


The Book of Acts, in an idealized picture which has become conventional, shows us the first believers in Jesus gravitating towards the temple and publicly frequenting it every day, like other Jews, but privately breaking bread together in their own houses (ii, 42, 46). They spoke of Jesus risen from the dead and about to come again; they healed the sick in his name; they even baptized, already perhaps in the name of their Christ, those who rallied to the hope of his coming (iv, 33; v, 42). Thus, at the very beginning of the Christian religion there existed a mystical faith in Christ Jesus, a mystical bond uniting the faithful, with a ritual of membership and communion in which their unity was expressed and fortified. Before it overflowed


into the pagan world, before it was officially and relentlessly repudiated by Judaism, the Jesus-sect had within it the seed of a faith and worship which soon would open the way for its growth into an independent religion.

From the very first, then, it had a faith all its own: the Master, Jesus the Nazorean, active no more on earth, was risen from the dead; he had become the Christ now at the right hand of God and ready to return with the Kingdom which he had declared would come immediately. The ardour of this faith, first kindled by Jesus himself, grew hotter in proportion as he himself became its object and its warrant, as his exaltation to heaven and glory seemed to make his coming in power to establish the Kingdom if one may dare to say it, a thing easy to accomplish. In the atmosphere thus created by faith were born the uncriticized visions and hopes which fanned the enthusiasm of the preachers into a fire that nothing could put out.

Thus it came to pass that Jewish hopes for a new and better world, hitherto varied in form and wavering in outline, were crystallized, centralized and systematized round a personal figure, but henceforth a transcendent figure above the danger of the shipwrecks which had inevitably overtaken the wild ventures of violent Messianism. Judas the Galilean, Theudas and the Egyptian mentioned by Josephus and the Book of Acts, the fanatics of the great revolt and Barkochba left no religious sects behind them to continue their work after they had met their end. But John the Baptist, Simon Magus and Jesus were all the founders of sects which lasted on, perpetuating and exalting the founder's memory after each had suffered a violent death, which, however, in no way disconcerted his followers, but served rather to quicken their faith. A success all its own awaited Christianity. It sprang, at bottom, from the faith and vigour of the human element in the heart of that religion. Viewed from the outside, success came to it from the concatenation of causes which, to all appearance, had brought it into being:

first, the tragic death of Jesus and his sudden removal from the scene had repercussions on the fortunes of his main idea which could not have happened if he had died a natural death after a long captivity; then the forcible dispersion of the hellenist believers had the effect of flinging the Gospel message into the


Mediterranean world; finally came persecution which gave the new sect a wide publicity and glorified it by the sufferings of its martyrs.

But the growth of faith in Jesus was not dependent on favourable external circumstances. Eager to magnify its Object with new dignity it soared to great heights by the sole force of its inner life. Once raised to the heavens, Jesus became immediately the Son of Man presently to come on the clouds. Up to that time it would have been a hard task for the historian to identify the Son of Man with a definable personality. But faith settled the matter: Jesus in heaven was the Son of Man making ready to come again. That the term could be applied to Jesus is proved by the fact that the application was realized; and it is not without analogies. The notion of "the Man" was easy to assimilate; a passage of the Book of Enoch applies it to Enoch himself (Ixxi, 14). The application to Jesus was made early and is found fully developed in the Jewish-Christian tradition of the apocryphal Clementines. It exalted Jesus in two ways: on the one hand it made him transcendent and pre-existent; on the other it gave to his death an intelligible place in his appearance as a man on earth, of which the chief object was to prepare the way for his Great Coming as the Christ. In the Synoptic Gospels, however, the idea of the Great Coming dominates the whole presentation.

There Jesus is not so much the Heavenly Man incarnate for the salvation of mortals as the Christ who is to die that he may come again in his glory. Such was the Christ of the first believers. He it was who had announced the coming Kingdom to the poor, promised pardon to repentant sinners and given his bond that the powers of God would soon be displayed on the side of the righteous. Conqueror of death, and already ruling in the heavenly places, he was about to come in his glory; "He who is Coming and we look for no other" (Matthew xi, 3) was their byword and formula in greeting the brethren. The oldest symbol of the Christian faith seems to be enshrined in the Aramean Maranatha "The Lord cometh," or "Come, Lord." [1]

They spoke of him as "the Lord" [2] as an alternative to "the Son of Man." The long continued employment of the Maranatha-formula, even in the liturgies of the Greek-speaking Christians, [3] proves the Jewish-Christian origin of "Lord" as a title applied


to the Christ. In its religious and ritual sense the use of the title was evidently applied to Jesus only as risen from the dead; but it was given him immediately when the belief arose that, after dying on earth as Jesus, he had risen to heaven as the Christ. The application of the term to Jesus was unpremeditated and entirely natural but it was big with consequences as no other title could have been. The title of "Lord" had a meaning for worship, a cult meaning, not carried, at least with the same force, by the theological title "Son of Man." To Christians speaking Greek, "Lord" would unquestionably be a divine name or, more strictly, it was a name that tended to deify the figure to whom it was applied; on the one hand it placed Jesus among the divinities worshipped in the mystery cults who were familiar to pagans as mediators of salvation, subordinate to the Supreme Being; on the other hand the hellenic Christians who read the Old Testament in the Greek version found there a multitude of texts when the word "Lord" is the substitute for Jahveh, [4] the unspeakable name of God Himself and, applying these to Jesus, inevitably raised him to the level of Deity.

The first of these results — the coupling of Jesus with the mystery gods — is clearly brought out as the following passage (i Corinthians viii, 5-6):

For if there be many named gods,
be they in heaven, be they on earth,
And as there is many a god
so there is many a lord,
For us there is no God but one, the Father,
of whom are all things, and we for him.
For us there is no Lord but one, Jesus Christ,
by whom are all things and we by him.

The paganism of that time was familiar with many lords and divine heroes and had placed Caesar among them in the first rank, even with the added attribute of Saviour. In the text cited above Jesus is not God absolutely, nor even one among many gods: he is a divine lord. [5] As "Lord" he is at once below the Supreme Deity and above all other created beings, possessing the maximum of godhead compatible with his nature as created, the fullness of the godhead belonging only to the uncreated Supreme.


Meditation on biblical texts led Christian thought towards the same result. Many a speculation of that early age sprang from meditation on a verse in the hundred-and-tenth Psalm:

The Lord (Jahveh) said to my Lord (master)
"Sit thou on my right
While I make thine enemies
a footstool under thy feet."

A picture, surely, of Jesus, risen from the dead and now seated by the side of God on his heavenly throne! Occasioned in the same way was the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God, but in a sense quite other than that of the sonship which every believer could claim.

The Lord said to me: Thou art my son;
This day I have begotten thee. [6]

Faith went far in magnifying and exalting Jesus but, however far it might go, he remained very near to his own and in the midst of them. Stephen, as the story relates, saw him standing at the right hand of God, a vision born in the ecstasy of the first martyr; it was his answer to the high priest. But others had seen him before Stephen, or saw him afterwards. Of these visions tradition, as we said before, has retained only a few, and these typical rather than real, presented as proofs of the resurrection. What they really prove is the faith of those who had them, the faith of the first believers in the perpetual presence of their Christ. When they prayed together in their meetings, he was there; when the bread was broken at the fraternal meal which prefigured the Kingdom they waited for, he was invisibly with them at the table. Some said that they had seen him break the bread and bless it, and when others of the company, hoping to see him, saw him not, they still had the impression of his presence and felt that he was with them in spirit. According to Acts the spirit of Jesus never failed to come to the help of Paul and his companions in their difficulties, now leading them away from this plan, now guiding them to that. In very truth Jesus was a guiding genius, a guardian spirit to his own.

Quite early a particular day was consecrated to Jesus, "the Lord's Day." This was the first day of the week honoured


among pagans as the day of the Sun. The day of the Sun was not consecrated to Jesus because the Christ rose on that day, but because it was the fitting day for his resurrection. In the beginning nobody knew either the day or the hour of the resurrection, for the sufficient reason that the resurrection was a matter of faith which nobody could witness as a sensible event and assign to a definite time and place. Long before the story was told of the tomb found empty on the Sunday, day but one after the passion, believers believed and preachers preached that Jesus, risen from the dead, was alive for ever with God. In a certain sense and measure the Gospel stories of the resurrection are the explanatory myth of the Christian Sunday. This at least is what the arrangement of the elements makes them: first, in all the Gospels, the discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday; then in the third and fourth, the report on Sunday of the apparitions. Sunday was also the usual day for the Christian Supper, which explains why some of the apparitions are both Sunday myths and Supper myths, jointly symbolizing the belief that the Christ was risen to heaven and yet present with his own at their common meal; for the myth of the risen Christ and the myth of the present Christ were, at bottom, one and the same. But why was the first day of the week chosen as the Lord's Day, birthday of the Christ in glory? This question remains to be answered.

We remark in the first place that the choice of a particular day could not be avoided. In the new communities, as in the first community at Jerusalem, the bond of union lay in the common meal of the brethren. It was of course impossible to maintain unbroken companionship at table; on the other hand the common meal would fail of its object unless it were held at fairly short intervals. The pattern of the week, established in Jewish custom and becoming generally adopted under the influence of the oriental cults, was bound to be followed as a matter of course needing no reflection. Once a week, then; but on which day of the week? Clearly the first day was indicated as the day most fitting for the Christians to come together, for the meal to be held in memory of Jesus and in celebration of his glory, and this, not because it followed the Jewish Sabbath or die least intention existed to link the two together, but quite


simply because it was the first of the seven, the Chief Day, the day of the Sun, honoured as such, and not by pagans only. And was there not an analogy perceptible to all, and spontaneously accepted by all, between the risen Christ in his glory, and the sun in heaven and the solar gods abounding throughout the East? Need it be added that the Essenes worshipped the rising sun and that Sunday would be to them also the most honourable of the seven? Little wonder if this analogy instantly suggested itself to pagan converts as well as to Jewish converts living in pagan countries, even if they had never heard of it in Palestine.

The Christ in his glory was thought of as a Being of Light; light was the substance of his being. We need to search no further than the pages of the New Testament for proof that the object of the earliest Christian worship and prayer — the dying Stephen renders back his soul to Jesus — the Lord, the King on high invested by God with a part of his power, clothed in divine majesty and soon to come in his glory to found the Reign of God on earth — for proof that this luminous Being belonged from the first, his Jewish traits notwithstanding, to the family of the celestial gods, especially to that of the solar deities. What likeness do we see in the Christ of the Apocalypse, riding on his white horse, with his name of mystery, his eyes of flame, the sword coming out of his mouth, his flashing diadems and mantle red with blood? [7] We see the likeness of a solar deity, of Mithra as he is depicted on horseback in bas-reliefs. In that connexion a long story might be told of the Christ of the Apocalypse with his seven Churches, his seven attendant stars, his seven Spirits — he who is the Holy, he who is the True. It is the figure of an astral divinity, presiding over the heavenly spheres, like Mithra, like Attis and many. another. These affinities are the natural \ consequence of faith's effort to see in Christ the Lord of the universe; they were felt in that effort and created by it. And so it came to pass that Jesus, prophet of the Kingdom, first becomes Messiah and rises from that to Lord of the Universe and Master of humanity. The communication to Jesus of attributes proper to the solar deities was all the easier inasmuch as they were gods of justice, gods of truth by the very fact that they were gods of light; all the easier because Jesus, identified with his own ideal of eternal justice and truth, was drawn into their company by


the moral values represented as divine in their character. To Christians of the first age Jesus was the sun of justice and salvation newly risen on earth and now reigning in heaven: "the day-spring from on high which has visited us."

So the day of the Sun became the Day of the Lord, and Sunday the day of the risen Christ. How easy it was, after that, to make Sunday the day on which he rose. Once adopted as the Christian Holy Day, the justification of the usage would be complete when the Christian believed that on that day, and none other of the seven, his Lord rose from the dead. It was bound to come to that as soon as the Christians had to justify their observance of Sunday, and the more inevitably perhaps, when, under pressure of a later demand for proofs that Jesus really rose from death, the attempt was made to construct a co-ordinated story of the apparitions under a scheme of time and place. Thus, when the editor of the second Gospel would prove the resurrection by revealing the circumstances of the burial with the clinching evidence of the empty tomb, he inevitably places the discovery on the morning of the day of the sun, a little after its rising (xvi, 2). Having thus formed the picture in his imagination, belief that matters happened thus was bound to follow. The editor of the third Gospel, governed by a preconceived perspective, dates all the apparitions on the Sunday of the resurrection and places them all in Jerusalem (xxiv). The editor of the fourth carries system yet further: he notes two apparitions of the Christ to the disciples gathered in the room of the Supper with the closed doors customary at the ritual meal of the Christian communities; both apparitions take place on a Sunday, the first on the Sunday of the resurrection, the second on the Sunday following (xx, 19-29). These doubtless are intended to be reckoned the first two Sundays of the Church, made holy by visible manifestations of the Christ and indicating that all Sundays thereafter are consecrated by his invisible presence. Finally, the seer of the Apocalypse has his vision on a Sunday (i, 10).

Simultaneously with these developments, the great festival of Christian salvation, the festival of Easter, yielded to the attraction of Sunday as the day for its celebration. At the beginning this festival was held, as was natural enough, on the same day


as the Jewish Passover which might fall on any day of the week, and with no difference except that it now commemorated the Christian's salvation, won for him by the death of Christ, the true pascal lamb, as the fourth Gospel teaches. The so-called quartodeciman usage, maintained by the congregations in Asia at the end of the second century and condemned by Pope Victor, was the primitive usage of all the Christian congregations and is indeed presupposed by the Gospel tradition. But the glory of the Sun's day proved irresistible, and this attraction, coupled with the growth of reaction against purely Jewish observances, soon shifted the Christian Passover to the Sunday following the Jewish celebration. Even the early Gospel of the Hebrews regards as canonical the observance of the Jewish Christians who celebrated Easter on Sunday morning after a fast lasting from the evening of Friday. [8] We are told of one great Sunday in the year when the final achievement of salvation was celebrated in the glory of the Christ rising from death to life. Thus the stories of the resurrection became simultaneously the myth of the institution of the Christian Easter and the myth of the Christian Sunday.

Let the apologist Justin bear witness. "On the day of the sun all our people come together for religious exercise, because that is the first of days, when God, having transformed darkness and matter, created the world," — he means the spring equinox, the birthday of the world being that on which God made the light [9]  — "and because, on that same day, Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead. For they crucified him on the evening of Saturday, and on the morrow of Saturday, that is on the day of the Sun, he appeared to his apostles and to his disciples and gave them the teaching which we have just submitted to your judgment." [10] Here, then, is clear evidence that in Justin's time, and in the Christian circle for which he speaks, Sunday and, among them all, the great Sunday of the Passover, [11] was chosen for the joint commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, the creation of light and of the world, and the revelation of saving truth made by the Christ to his apostles. In all senses, it was the Festival of Light. In keeping with this, Christians adopted quite early, if not from the very beginning, the custom of turning to the East when engaged in prayer. [12] That this custom,


explained as homage to the Christ as he rose to heaven, was borrowed from the Eastern solar cults admits of no doubt.


In texts relatively old, baptism is presented as an "illumination" (fwtismoV) of which Jesus, needless to say, is the sun. [13] A baptismal hymn quoted in the Epistle to the Ephesians (v, 14), and more completely by Clement of Alexandria {Protreptikos, viii, 84), contained the following apostrophe:

Awake, thou sleeper,
rise up from among the dead,
And he who is Christ the Lord shall enlighten thee,
the sun of the resurrection
Begotten before the dayspring
giving life by his beams.

Such were the hymns sung round candidates for initiation into the Christian mystery, but not in the earliest days of Christian religion. We have already seen how the little group of Galilean believers who, on returning to Jerusalem after the death of Jesus, announced that he was risen from the dead and coming with his kingdom — how this group baptized its recruits, as John the Baptist had done, and Jesus himself had probably done. This baptism was, before it became anything else, an act of purification, a cleansing of the whole body by immersion in water and, at the same time, a symbol of repentance, of a life changed in readiness for the Great Event expected from hour to hour. But, whether with or without first intention, it presently became the rite of admission to membership in the society of believers in Jesus and of union with Jesus himself, since it implied a profession of faith in him as the coming Messiah and as already glorified. In this way it created a kind of mystic bond between the believers and the Christ, although there was probably no thought as yet of assimilating the two, of identifying the one with the other, after the manner of the initiation rites of the pagan mystery religions which made the initiate one with his god. Its effect was that the believer belonged to Christ thence-forward and was in some way linked to him; he was baptized "in his name" and, as the name was being invoked, received the


sign of Jesus-Messiah that he might be recognized as one of his own on the Day of Judgment (Acts ii, 38-41; x, 48).

Whether to disguise the fact that the rite was borrowed by the Christian sect from John's, or to emphasize the difference between the two, or because Christian baptism soon acquired a character all its own, the idea arose that it was essentially different from John's, his being only a symbol, while Christian baptism was a sacrament, a baptism of spirit charged with mystical power. [14] Strange to say, the Book of Acts gives us to understand that there were some Christians who had been baptized only in John's way (xviii, 25, 26; xix, 1-7). Apparently the intention of these texts is to represent the rite practised by the Judaizing Christians as no other than John's way of baptizing and inferior to the true baptism of the Christ. The same book, in its myth of Pentecost, has the first group of believers baptized in spirit and made, by the gift of the Spirit, into apostles of the new-born faith. By this the editor would intimate that Christian baptism carries with it a supernatural power, the infusion of a Spirit, that of God or that of Christ, who takes possession of the believer, endows him with the gift of tongues, makes him a prophet and, at times, imparts the power to work miracles.

Such a conception of baptism is what we might expect in the outburst of religious enthusiasm characteristic of the first generations and in keeping with the psycho-physiological disturbances which are frequent accompaniments of these outbursts. Johannite baptism, taken over by the earliest Christians, still closely akin to the legal washings of Judaism, was retained in its primative sobriety by certain groups of Christians inclining the Jewish way , [15] but to the hellenizing groups, which formed the majority, it seemed a feeble rite that effected nothing and as powerless as the legal purifications were supposed, however wrongly, to have been deemed. The water in the urns at Cana, said to have been turned into wine by Jesus, tells the same tale.

The last step was to provide Cliristian baptism with a suitable institution-myth. For this purpose the best that could be invented was to fix the institution of spiritual baptism on the occasion of the water-baptism conferred by John on Jesus. The opening of the heavens takes place at the very moment when Jesus, coming out of the water, leaves water behind him to receive the


fullness of the Spirit and be consecrated Son of God. [16] This was intended to show that Jesus was there and then revealed as the firstborn of God, the direct offspring of the Spirit, and that, like him, the faithful underwent a mystical immersion in spirit which made them also the sons of God. Surely a naοve way of revealing the original identity of Christian baptism with John's by the very means taken to mark an essential difference between the two. Later on it was deemed advisable to attribute a command to confer baptism on all new believers to Jesus himself after he was risen from the dead (Matthew xxviii, 19; Mark xvi, I6). [17]


As baptism was not instituted by Jesus, [18] no more, in strictness of speech, was the Holy Supper. The daily meals of the first Christian groups in Jerusalem, necessarily taken in common under the conditions in which they found themselves, quickly took on a highly distinctive mystical character. The common daily meal was already established in Jewish custom as a religious function. If there is one thing certain in the history of the birth of the Christian rites it is that the point of departure for the development of the Eucharist, "the exercise of thanksgiving," the holy supper, characteristic of the Christian religion, is to be found in the prayers, recited in common, which accompanied the meals of the Jews, in the "grace said" to God for his bountiful gift of daily food, chiefly bread and wine: "blessed be He who caused the earth to bring forth bread" and "blessed be God who created the fruit of the vine." These are the prayers clearly referred to in the mystical stories of the multiplication of loaves (Mark vi, 41; viii, 6) and of the institution of the Supper. The former stories are in themselves myths of the institution of the Christian rite, but with this difference from the latter, that the stories of the multiplied loaves refer to a communion without wine, the "breaking of bread" of which Acts also speaks (ii, 42, 46), while the stories which relate the actual institution with bread and cup, with the attached symbolism of body and blood, refer to the mystical Supper commemorative of Jesus' death and the medium of communion with the Christ who died and rose again.

It is, moreover, clear that the Supper was not, in its first stage,


a sacrament in which the death of the Christ, his crucified body and his blood, were mystically represented. "The breaking of bread," the name used in Acts to designate the Supper, shows clearly enough that no special significance was at first attached to the food of which the meal consisted. The cup of wine was not in any sense a necessary part of it, and all the indications are to the effect that it was often dispensed with (later on we shall produce evidence that it was often absent even after the Supper became figuratively the death of the Christ). It is therefore with this primitive form of the Supper, in which the breaking of bread for the common meal was the essential and characteristic feature, that we must connect the story of the multiplied loaves. [19]

We have already seen how the chief apparition stories are also myths of the institution of the Supper, myths, we might say, of the Risen Christ's co-presence at table, his commensality, with his disciples and believers. The disciples at Emmaus recognize him "in the breaking of bread." In the supplement to John the Risen Christ offers bread and fish to the disciples, as in the multiplication of the loaves (xxi, 13). Here the fish is itself symbolic. The meaning lies in the symbol of eating together; the material of the meal is of secondary importance.

These myths reveal the original meaning of the Supper. In the first stage the only symbolism the meaning required was that implied by common participation in the same food eaten together under the belief that the Christ-to-come was invisibly present. We can see from the Didache (ix, 2) how thanksgiving for the spiritual gift of salvation, and for the hope of it, presently found its way into the thanks given for the food of the body, and how the former was substituted for the latter. Here is the "Eucharist," the formula of thanksgiving, to be pronounced before the holy meal began, and first of all over the wine cup:

We give thee thanks, O our Father,
for the holy vine of thy servant David,
which thou hast made known to us by thy servant Jesus.
To thee be glory for ever and ever {Didache, ix, 2).

"The holy vine of David" is clearly the vine in Psalm Ixxx, here taken mystically for the Spiritual Church, the vine of


Salvation. Follows the "Eucharist" over the broken bread (Didache, ix, 3, 4):

We give thee thanks, O our Father,
for life and knowledge [20]
which thou hast made known to us by thy servant Jesus.
To thee be glory for ever and ever.
As this bread was scattered on the mountains,
then, gathered in, became one,
Thus may thy Church be gathered in
from the ends of the earth in thy Kingdom.
For thine are glory and power,
by Jesus Christ, for ever and ever (ix, 3-4).

The couplet on the vine and the first couplet on the bread are counterparts respectively to the two Jewish prayers quoted above. But the gift of knowledge (gnosis) and of eternal life replace the gifts of food for the body. Moreover the Supper has now become a meal restricted to initiates in which those only may take part who have been baptized "in the name of the Lord," and it is "the holy thing which the Lord commanded not to be given to dogs" (Didache, ix, 5). Here then we find not only a mystical meaning but a mystical power attached to the elements, the bread and wine, of the holy spirit.

Other prayers are indicated for use at the end of the meal, which, be it noted, still has the character of an ordinary meal regarded as now finished {Didache, x, 1-5):

When you have eaten enough, this shall be your thanksgiving:
We thank thee, Holy Father,
for thy Holy name
which thou has caused to dwell in our hearts,
And for knowledge, faith and immortality
which thou hast made known to us by thy servant Jesus.
To thee be glory for ever and ever!
Thou, Master almighty,
Thou hast created all things to the honour of thy name.
Food and drink hast thou given for the making glad of man
for which they render thee thanks;
But thou hast also gladdened us with food and drink of the
spirit and of eternal life
by Jesus thy servant.
To thee glory for ever and ever!


Remember thou thy Church
to deliver it from all evil
and make it perfect in thy love;
Gather it from the four winds, make it holy
in thy Kingdom which thou hast prepared,
For thine are glory and power for ever and ever {Didache, x, 1-5).

In this chant it would seem that natural food and drink are recalled as a reminder that Christians have higher matters for thanksgiving than that for which the Jews offered theirs. Equal prominence is given to spiritual gifts and to the Church, but with the Great Event as the background of both. For there follows immediately a mystical dialogue of the highest interest between the president and the rest of the company:

Come thou Gracious One and let the world pass away!
Hosanna to the God of David
Whoso is holy, let him come;
Whoso is not, let him repent!
Amen {Didache, x, 6).

In this the president announces and prays for the coming of the Gracious One, who is apparently Christ himself, announcement and prayer being uttered together in the mysterious "Maranatha"; at the same time he invites every man to search his conscience, the crowd answering with Hosanna and Amen to him who is to come, nay, who is come already. For the mystical presence of Christ in the midst of the company anticipates the parousia. At this stage the Eucharist is already a mystery; but it is the mystery of the Christian's hopes and of the unity of all believers in Christ the Spirit. Not yet has it become the mystery which continues and communicates his redeeming death; not yet have the bread and the wine become, in mystery, the body and blood of Jesus.


In First Corinthians and in all the Gospels we find the bread and the wine charged with this mystical meaning and power as the body and blood of Jesus; [21] in the Epistle to the Romans


baptism has undergone an analogous transformation (vi, i-i i). This we shall consider first.

In all it has to say about the ceremonial of baptism, the Didache shows a marked sobriety. The moral part of the book (i-vi) is a body of instruction to be given to catechumens in preparation for receiving the baptismal sacrament. This instruction, which consists of rules of conduct only, may be relatively old, although the collection of Gospel texts which accompany the precepts seems to be an addition later than the precepts themselves. As to the ritual, there is only this simple direction:

"After expounding all that" — the moral precepts just mentioned which the candidate promises to follow — "baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in running water" (vii, i). But running water is not indispensable: "if you have no running water, baptize in other water, and, if you cannot obtain cold water, use warm" — the word baptize here understood in its proper sense as total immersion. This is made clear by what follows: "If you have neither cold water nor warm, in quantity sufficient for total immersion — pour what you have three times on the candidate's head in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Evidently this pouring out of a little water on the head as a substitute for the immersion of the whole body shows that the water is now symbolic. But a doubt may be permitted as to whether this Trinitarian formula goes back to the beginning of the second century.

Justin appears to be the oldest witness to the Trinitarian formula to whom a date can be assigned. "Those," says he (i Apology, 61), "who are persuaded of what we teach and believe it true undertake" — reminding us of the oath mentioned by Pliny — "and are instructed to pray to God and ask him, after fasting, to pardon their past sins, we praying and fasting with them." — The Didache (vii, 4) also enjoins the candidate to fast for one or two days before baptism, the minister of the rite and fellow-believers fasting with him. — "Afterwards the candidates are taken by us to a place where there is water, and are regenerated by the mode of regeneration by which we ourselves were born again; to wit they are then immersed in water in the name of God the Father and Master of all things, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." Justin


then proceeds to explain the spiritual nature of the new birth. He says that baptism is called "illumination" because the mind of the person baptized is illuminated by the doctrine he has learnt. His comment on the baptismal formula seems to turn it into a kind of symbol: The Son, he says, "is Jesus Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate" and the Holy Spirit he "who predicted by the prophets all that is told of Jesus." [22]

Although he never cites the fourth Gospel expressly, and is rarely inspired by it, he seems to have used it for his account of spiritual rebirth. In the discourse to Nicodemus he would read the theory of the sacrament stated thus :

In truth, in truth, I say to thee

Except a man be reborn of water and spirit

he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

In this theory of rebirth, water appears to be a principle or symbol of life rather than a purifying element. Elsewhere the fourth Gospel lays great stress on the virtue of running water as an element having eternal life and even represents the Christ as being, in his incarnation, the source of this running, life-giving water (iv, 14; vii, 37-39). It must not be forgotten that the fourth Gospel, like the others, was originally a catechism used in connexion with the rites of Christian initiation.


The Epistle to the Romans suggests a mystical symbolism somewhat different from the above, but one which had less influence on the subsequent course of Christian tradition (vi, 3-6):

All we who were baptized to Christ Jesus
to his death were we baptized.
Thus were we buried with him
by baptism in death
To the end, that as Christ is raised from the dead by the glory of the Father
we in like manner may walk in newness of life:
For if we were associated to his death, by imitation, [23]
we shall also be with him in his resurrection,


Knowing this:
that our old man was crucified with him
that the body of sin might be destroyed.

What does this mean? Evidently that the baptismal immersion is a mystical burial in the water whereby the Christian is made one with Christ dead and buried, the effect being that our sinful flesh is also crucified, done to death and consigned to the grave. But, just as Christ rose glorious from death by the power of God, so the Christian emerges reborn from his baptismal immersion and comes forth from the water as one rising from his grave, mystically, inwardly and morally risen from the dead in readiness for the glory of his resurrection to immortal life. Once baptized he is a new man, dead to sin that he may live henceforth to God. We shall see later how this conception of baptism is connected with a general and balanced system of mystical gnosis in its bearing on the scheme of sin-and-redemption. In contrast to the Johannine theory in which water appears as a principle and symbol of life, it is here to be understood rather as a symbol of death, figuring the tomb of the carnal man from which the spiritual man is to emerge, but without water being the agent of the spirit's action. In this version the baptismal immersion is not a sacrament effecting the regeneration of the sinner but, if we may say so, a sacramental condition of its being effected. We get a somewhat different result, however, if we try to adjust what is said in First Corinthians (xv, 29) about baptism for the dead to the theory just summarized. So adjusted, the sacramental condition is no less indispensable and efficacious in its own way than the sacrament of baptism in the water of eternal life: baptism undergone by proxy on behalf of a person deceased is able to produce the same effect on him as it would if performed on the living man. To insist on so peculiar a feature would here, perhaps, be out of place, though it had importance in its own day. The tradition of the Church does not retain it.

Elsewhere (in i Corinthians x, 1-5) a parallel is set up between the Christian Sacraments and the sacraments of the Desert — the baptism of the Israelites by Moses under the cloud and in the sea, and a kind of Eucharist in the heavenly manna and the water struck from the rock. This apparently belongs to another


gnosis probably not less ancient than the former and with closer affinities to the gnosis of the fourth Gospel.

For I would not have you ignorant, brethren.
That our fathers were all under the wet mist,
and that all went through the sea,
That all were baptized to Moses
in the wet mist and in the sea;
That all ate the same spiritual food
and all drank the same spiritual drink;
— For they drank of the spiritual rock [24] that followed them;
now the rock was the Christ, —
But that most of them pleased not God,
for they were destroyed in the desert.

Here is a warning that Christian sacraments will not preserve from reprobation those believers who sin as gravely as the Israelites sinned in the desert. But it would be a mistake to expect in this homiletical effort a system of sacramental theology neatly rounded off. What we here listen to are the lispings of Christian thought in its first attempts to understand the sacraments. But the movement of thought is not here towards the theory of baptism-burial as in Romans. The action of the spirit is introduced into all sacraments, even into those of the Desert, while care is taken to avoid too much magic by a warning that sacraments will not save those who offend against the Law of God. The chief interest of the passage lies in the way it links together the two sacraments of baptism and eucharist, and links them so closely that the two are carried back, in their connexion, to the Old Testament where, for our part, we should not expect to find them.

Justin gives explicit testimony that the two were thus linked together by his time {Apology, 65). Immediately after his bath of regeneration, the baptized person is conducted to the spot where the brethren are gathered. All then join in prayer, both for the individual baptized and for Christians in general, that their knowledge of truth may be joined to the practice of good and that eternal salvation may be theirs. "When the prayers are finished we kiss each other. Next in order, bread and a cup


of water [25] are brought to him who presides among the brethren, and he, taking them, praises and glorifies the Father of all things, in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, [26] and delivers a long thanksgiving for all the benefits wherewith he has blessed us." Evidently the exercise of thanksgiving over the elements of the repast has become much longer since the time of the Didache [27] and, equally evident, that this is not a meal that might satisfy hunger, except symbolically by the simple distribution and prompt consumption of the elements over which the prayers have been uttered. In other words we have now reached the stage when the meeting of the brethren has become wholly spiritual and nothing remains of their daily meal except the sacrament. "When the president has concluded his prayers and thanksgivings all the people answer by acclamation, saying: Amen." After which the "deacons" distribute the eucharistic elements among those present to be carried to the absent brethren (i Apology, 65).

Admission to communion thus became an essential part of Christian initiation: but communion itself was no more than one part of the ritual of initiation and, for yet stronger reason, was not, even in its origin, part of the baptismal rite or an appendix to it. It was rather, in strictness of language, the rite of those who had been initiated; it was as already made Christian by his baptism that the baptized person was introduced to the sacrament. Justin himself tells us (i, 67) that the ordinary service of the Sunday Communion was performed in the same manner as that which he has just described as proper to baptism, except that it began with a more or less lengthy reading from "the Memoirs of the Apostles," that is, from the Gospels, or perhaps from the prophetical writings; the president then delivers exhortation based on the passage read; after which all rise up for prayer, eucharist (thanksgiving) and communion {Apology, 67). Originally the religious meal of the community, but a meal in the ordinary sense and for the ordinary purpose, the Christian Communion became a purely religious and somewhat complicated exercise, the chief liturgy of the congregations, in which the symbolic and sacramental rite of common participation in the same food remained essential and dominant.

Justin dwells at some length on the eucharist (i, 66), explaining 


why only those are admitted to it who have been baptized and are living conformably to the precepts of Christ, the reason being that this is no ordinary repast. "Even as Jesus Christ took flesh and blood by the Word of God, so the nutriment which sustains our flesh and our blood, blessed by the prayer of the Word, becomes flesh and blood of Jesus incarnate." By "prayer of the Word" our author understands the blessing pronounced by Jesus on the bread and the cup at the last meal he took with his disciples [28] — not the so-called formula of institution, "This is my body. This is my blood." Not till much later than Justin was the idea born which sees in these words what has been named the "form" of the eucharistic sacrament.

In his Memoirs of the Apostles Justin read the instructions given by the Christ with regard to the Supper. "Jesus, having taken bread, gave thanks and said 'Do this in remembrance of me. This is my body.' Having also taken the cup, he gave thanks and said 'This is my blood.' And to them alone he made distribution." — Note that Justin makes no reference to First Corinthians. Not once does he quote from the Epistles. He would seem to be unacquainted with the work of Paul, though he cannot have been wholly ignorant about him, for he knew Marcion well enough. The words which he quotes as evangelical are in approximate agreement, for the bread, to the text of canonical Luke (xxii, 19) and, for the cup, to that of Matthew (xxvi, 28).

In his Dialogue with Trypho (41) Justin refers to the offering of wheaten flour prescribed by the Law (in Leviticus xiv) to a purified leper, and writes as follows: "This prefigured the bread of the eucharist which Jesus Christ our Lord bade us consecrate, in memory of the passion undergone by him for the purification of men's souls from perversity, to the end that we might render thanks to God for having created for man the world and all that it contains, for having delivered us from the evil into which we had fallen and for having finally broken the principalities and powers [29] by him who came to suffer according to his will." In another place (70), commenting on Isaiah xxxiii, 16 ("bread shall be given him and his water [30] shall be sure"), Justin notes that the prophecy refers to "the bread which our Christ bade us consecrate in memory of his


incarnation and of his sufferings for believers, and to the cup which he bade us consecrate in memory of his blood."

At this stage, then, the picture may be thus presented. The Christian Supper, in virtue of its institution as recorded in the Gospels, is a mystical commemoration of the death of Jesus, an exercise of thanksgiving for the redemption effected by his death, the thanks being added to those rendered to God for the gift of the created world, and a mystical participation and communion in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Word.

From a simple act of thanksgiving for an ordinary meal of bread and wine, when not of bread and water, Christian thought and practice has now arrived (circa 140) at a repast of which the meaning is purely religious. This has become a symbol, not very felicitous, of a unique sacrifice, an image of the Passion which saves the believer, a sacrament of communion with the dying Saviour, a communion which is the pledge of immortality. Such is the result at this stage, not arrived at all at once, but by long and complicated labour of Christian thought and as the outcome of a veritable evolution in Christian liturgy. The idea of the baptized person as made completely one with the dead Christ failed to take root in Christian tradition; but communion with the crucified Christ, by participating in the Lord's Supper, became the very centre of Christian worship. So Justin understood the matter, and this is what he found in existence, though the last step in the process cannot have been achieved long before his time.


In its bearing on the tradition reputed to be apostolic the Fourth Gospel has a position all its own. The account of the last meal taken by Jesus is here the account of a developed eucharist lacking the essential words in the tradition we have just analysed (xiii, 1-17, 20, 3i-xvii). With the sublimity fitting to his Person the Christ here holds the place of the presiding celebrant mentioned by Justin, but holds it as sovereign Master of the Mystery who, having himself accomplished the work of salvation, praises God that his work is done. He teaches, he prays, he offers thanks; he celebrates the banquet of divine love, of the union of the faithful in God and in the Christ who died for them; but says not


a word of the bread and the wine, nor of any commemorative act. The canonical edition of the Gospel contains a double series of his instructions, xiii-xiv and xv-xvii. Both are conceived in an atmosphere purely eucharistic, and this is especially marked in the long prayer at the end of the collection (xvii), spoken by the Christ as author of salvation and first celebrant of the eucharistic mystery which shows forth his saving death:

Holy Father, keep them in thy name,
those thou has given me,
that they may be one as we are ...
I ask thee not to take them out of the world,
but to guard them from the Evil One ...
For them I sanctify myself,
that they also may be sanctified in truth ...
And the glory thou gavest to me, yea to me,
I gave to them,
That they may be one
as we are one,
I in them
and thou in me
that they may be perfect in unity,
That the world may know
that thou hast sent me
And that thou hast loved them
as thou hast loved me.
Father, those whom thou hast given me,
I would that where I am
They too may be with me,
That they may see my glory,
which thou hast given me,
For thou hast loved me
before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world has known thee not,
but I, I knew thee;
And they too have known
that thou hast sent me.
And to them have I made known thy name,
and will make it known,
That the love wherewith thou lovest me may be
in them and I in them.

This utterance of sublime mysticism which we would willingly have cited in full — whence came it? Is it a vain imagination to think that one Easter Day a Christian seer, speaking in the name


of the Christ, chanted it for the first time to an assembly of the faithful in one of the churches of Asia where the Christian Easter,falling on the day of the Jewish Passover, celebrated theredeeming and triumphant death of him who was the Lamb of God?

It seems certain that, in the tradition of the fourth Gospel, the institution of the Supper goes back to the miracle of the multiplied loaves (vi, 1-14). Knowing, as we do, that this miracle is, in reality, one of the oldest of the Christian supper-myths, it is not surprising that the Ephesian Gospel presents it as the symbolic institution of the Eucharist. In the first part of the discourse on the bread of life (vi, 26-5ia) the symbolic bread is, in reality, Jesus himself, but notes being present mystically in the bread considered as his body. As bread is the life of the body, as manna was the life of the Israelites in the desert so Jesus, for those who believe in him, is life itself, and eternal life.

Verily, verily, I tell you,
Moses gave you not
the bread of heaven.
My father is he who gives you
the bread of heaven,
the true bread.
For the bread of God
is he who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world ...
'Tis I who am the bread of life,
who comes to me
shall have no hunger;
Who believes in me
shall never thirst...
'Tis I who am the living bread
which came down from heaven.
If any man eats of this bread
he shall live for ever.

Up to this point Jesus is supposed to be explaining in what sense he is the bread of life for those who believe in him. The bread is a figure, a figure of spiritual salvation as offered and guaranteed by Jesus. But far from being a mere figure of speech, the author of this commentary on the bread of life has in mind throughout the bread of the Supper, to which he gives the


mystical meaning of the Didache. There is a real bread of life; thanks are given for it in the Christian Supper: it is the Christ with the life that he gives to the believer. By this insistence on the reality of the bread the discourse is none the less a eucharistic utterance; but in the spirit of the Didache.

Now comes a sequel to this discourse, apparently a later addition (vi, 5ib-58) which connects with the tradition presented by Justin as that of the apostles:

And the bread I will give
'tis my flesh
for the life of the world ...
Verily, verily, I tell you,
If you eat not the flesh of the Son of Man
nor drink his blood,
you have no life in you.
Who eats my flesh
and drinks my blood
has eternal life . . , [31]
For my flesh is real nourishment
and my blood real beverage.
Who eats my flesh
and drinks my blood
abides in me and I in him . . .
'Tis the spirit that makes alive,
the flesh serves for naught:
The words I have spoken to you
are spirit, are life.

Here is a development presented as a commentary, or explanation given to the disciples, on the preceding passage, where the saying that bread is flesh is stated to have resulted in the amazement of the Jews (vi, 52; 59-62). It must, however, be the author of this assertion who speculates in the added passage on the mystic meaning of bread and wine as tantamount to flesh and blood. [32] According to tills author flesh and blood is what they truly are, but only in a mystical or spiritual sense. What the believer eats, as he commemorates the death of Christ in the Supper, is not flesh, and what he drinks is not blood. The spirit of God and of Christ — that is the sustenance of which he partakes. A great lesson which the theologians of the age of iron no longer understand!



The same process of superimposing a religious rite on a common meal may be clearly seen in the accounts of the eucharist given in First Corinthians [33] and in the Synoptic Gospels, [34] with the difference that the lesson on the Supper in Corinthians seems to come from a single source while in the Gospels the introduction of the symbolic words of institution is added by a second hand. Moreover the lesson in the Epistle appears to be the older of the two, and is completed in the same Epistle by another passage (x, 1-22) in which the Supper is compared with the pagan sacrifices and given the character of a sacrificial banquet. In this passage the underlying idea is the same as that suggested by the Gospel account of the institution. This we shall consider later.

It would seem that the Corinthians, professing to carry out what their apostle had taught them, treated the Supper as an ordinary meal at which everybody ate and drank as he pleased without respecting the common bond which held them together (xi, 17-22). To make them ashamed of such abuse Paul will now recall the conditions in which the Supper was established by the Christ himself (xi, 23-25):

I myself have from the Lord
that which I also passed on to you,
That the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread and, having given thanks, broke it and said:
"This is my body, which is for you;
do this in remembrance of me."
Likewise also the cup, after the meal, saying:
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
this do, as often as you drink it, in memory of me."

From this he draws the conclusion that the Supper is a solemn act commemorating the death of the Lord "till he come"; to partake of it in an unseemly manner is to eat and drink damnation; see to it, then, that everything is done in good order.

Some strange features confront us in this passage. It is strange that Paul, if he had really told all this to the Corinthians before, should here be obliged to recall it; strange that he should present it as a revelation received by him from the Lord; [35] strange that a doctrine implying the theory of redemption by the blood of the


Christ and linked artificially to the benediction of bread and wine customary at Jewish meals, should see the light in the first generation when Christians lived in expectation of an immediate parousia. On the other hand it is significant that regard is here paid to that expectation. Evidently the vision of the institution of the Supper which Paul professes to have had is conceived in the framework of a story relating the last meal of Jesus with his disciples in which preoccupation with the Great Event was the dominant feature. Mention of it accordingly is made as follows (xi,26):

For as often as this bread you eat
and this cup you drink
You proclaim the Lord's death
till he come. [36]

In the economy of the Supper as a mystic rite this reference to the parousia, made at a time when it was no longer thought of as imminent, is out of place. The mention of it is due to an old and firmly established tradition. There is ground therefore for saying that mystic commemoration of the saving death, the mystic communion with the crucified Christ, is superposed on a form of the Supper as an anticipation of the banquet of the elect in the Kingdom of God, a form clearly indicated in a saying embedded in the oldest tradition of the synoptic Gospels:

Verily, verily, I tell you
that I will drink no more
of the fruit of the vine,
Until that day
when I drink it new
in the Kingdom of God.

The account of the mystic Supper, in First Corinthians, belongs to the evolution of the Christian Mystery at a stage in the development of that mystery earlier than Justin, earlier even than the canonical edition of the first three Gospels but notably later than Paul and the apostolic age. It must be dated in the period when the common meal was in process of transformation into a simple liturgical act. The passage in question is a conscious attempt to further the transformation by giving it the apostolical authority of Paul. In Justin's time the transformation was fully effected; in


Marcion's time it was a thing of the recent past; so, too, in Bithynia in Pliny's time, but only just effected, the imperial orders regulating the religious fraternities having contributed to bring it about. We conclude that this lesson on the good ordering of the Supper was drawn up towards 140 in some circle where the memory of Paul was held in honour.

The mystical sense of the Supper as here understood is explained in a long passage which warns the Corinthians against taking part in the sacrificial meals of the pagans (x, 1-22); in it there occurs the following (16-17, 20-21):

The cup of blessing, which we bless
is it not communion in the blood of the Christ?
The bread which we break
is it not communion in the body of the Christ?
Being all one bread, all one body are we;
For of the one bread all we partake ...
That which pagans sacrifice,
to demons and not to God they sacrifice it.
Lo, I would not have you be
in communion with demons:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord
and the cup of demons,
You cannot have place at the table of the Lord
and at the table of demons.

In this text, assimilation of the Supper to the sacrificial meal is as complete as it could be. The Christ, in his attitude to Christians who would associate with pagans in their sacrificial meals, is like a god roused to anger on seeing his altar abandoned or defiled. The eucharistic elements are assimilated to the sacrificial victims and offerings of both Israelite and pagan cults. The Christian Supper, endlessly renewed, is conceived as related to the unique sacrifice — the death of Jesus on the cross — in the same way as any sacrificial meal would be related to the immolation of the victims that furnished viands for the feast. Unnatural as this conception of the Supper was, it rested nevertheless on an analogy, mystically apprehended as a reality, between the elements of the commemorative Supper and the remains of the victims that were eaten after being offered in sacrifice to the gods. A strange position would seem to be assigned to the Christ; he is at once the


divine president at the sacrificial banquet and the victim, served as meat and drink on the table. But the pagan gods, notably Dionysus and Osiris, were in the same position.

Our texts make much of the general idea of sacrificial communion which also implies the further notion of mystical communion between the victim slain and the god to whom it is offered; for, if the believer enters into communion with his god by eating the victim, the reason must be that there resides in the victim a certain mystic and divine power which acts as the medium in effecting communion between his god and him. In this respect the God of Israel, the gods of the pagans and the Christ stand on the same level: all three alike share a common table with their devotees and commune with them in the holy meal, united to them in partaking of the victim they all are eating. Although there is nothing divine in the sacrificial viands — at least so we are told (x, 19) — and nothing divine in the bread and wine of the Supper, a mystic union is nevertheless formed both in the sacrificial meals of the pagans and in the Christian Supper. But the union so formed is quite other than simple moral likemindedness between the divine beings, Jewish, pagan and Christian, on the one side, and on the other, their worshippers, be they Jews or pagans offering sacrifice, or Christians partaking of Eucharistic bread and wine. When the victim is eaten by the pagan, it is certainly not his god that he eats; neither is it the material body of the Christ that the Christian eats when he eats the bread, nor his blood that he drinks in the wine. (Let it be said in passing that this idea of communion with God by drinking the blood of a sacrificed victim was never born in the brain of a Jew.) No eating of the god's body is here, and no drinking of his blood; but a real communion of spirit is established between the god sacrificed, or sacrificed to, and those whose part in the sacrifice is to eat and drink the material of the oblation. This communion of spiritual power is in agreement with the common notion of the meaning of sacrifice, but not with the orthodox notion of Israelite sacrifice as a rendering of homage and mark of fidelity. In the texts before us it is intensely concrete and intensely alive. Not only is it a relation of reciprocal love but, more than that, a through-and-through penetration of the human by the divine in which the believer is completely possessed by the Christ-Spirit.



Many Protestant critics have maintained and many still maintain that the symbolic sayings "this is my body," "this is my blood" — at least the first of them — belong to the primitive tradition and are authentic words of Jesus, but spoken by him in a sense different from that given them by tradition and by Paul in the first instance. They contend that Jesus merely made a simple comparison between the bread broken, the wine poured out, and the fate that was awaiting him. An uncalled-for hypothesis and consequently a risky one. The sayings in question have a natural fitness to the mystical interpretation of the Supper, and to that only, and have to be teased before any meaning acceptable to reason can be got out of them — to the reason that is of those who insist on finding such a meaning.

These critics moreover overlook the hopeless incoherence in the account of the matter given in Mark (xiv, 22-25) on which Matthew and Luke are both dependent. This account is a kind of summary covering many implied meanings which the reader is supposed to understand without needing to have them mentioned In the first rank of what is thus taken for granted and left unexpressed is the idea, which should be attributed to Paul, that the last meal taken by Jesus is the first Eucharist, the prototype on which the Christian rite is founded. In reality the Gospel account has Paul's teaching in view, and purports to be in accord with that teaching alone. But the elements of which the account is composed are not all in accordance with that. They are not homogeneous. The two types of the Supper which we have distinguished above are both represented — the ordinary meal and the mystical rite. The same occasion cannot have produced them both at a single birth, and we have therefore to look for their historical relationship. Here is the passage to be considered:

And while they were eating,
he, taking bread, broke it after benediction;
He gave it to them, and said:
"Take; this is my body."
And taking the cup,
after giving thanks, he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.


And he said to them:
"This is my blood of the covenant,
shed for many.
Verily I say to you
I will drink no more," etc.

Let us examine this. We can see at once that the words "This is my body" would be utterly unintelligible for a reader unacquainted with the Christian Eucharist. Clearly then he is supposed to be acquainted with it. He knows — not indeed what Jesus, on the hypothesis of our Protestant critics, could not have failed to say in clearing up the enigma — but what was in the mind of the evangelist and what was thought about it all in the Christian group for which the second Gospel was written. The meaning of the mysterious saying "This is my body" [37] and of the mysterious saying "This is my blood" are co-ordinate to the same effect. They refer to the bruised and crucified body represented by the bread — not quite happily, the body of Jesus not having been broken in pieces — just as the wine (or water) of the cup represents the blood of Jesus (and not more happily, since the blood of Jesus was not poured out, as would have happened had he been, for example, executed by decapitation). All this would be intelligible enough to a Christian reader familiar with the developed eucharistic rite as practised in the group for which the Gospel was intended: but perfectly unintelligible on the occasion when the sayings are supposed to have been uttered. In short, it is hard to conceive or, rather, impossible to conceive why Jesus should resort to these dark sayings — for dark they then would be and there is no question of their being parable — instead of explaining in a few simple words why he was exposing himself to death. These mystic sayings have no natural sense except as referring to an established Christian sacrament, and as explaining it.

In the passage before us there is a difference in the manner of introducing the bread and the cup respectively, and it is important to note that the narrator hardly seems to have foreseen the mystic explanation of the latter. The mystic explanation of the bread is inserted at the appropriate moment when Jesus has given the broken loaf to the disciples. Coming to the cup the evangelist writes, "He gave it to them and they all drank of it" (Mark xiv, 23), whence it follows that the cup was empty when Jesus said "This


is my blood" (24). There was no more this. Clumsy editing, one would say. Yes, and the clumsiness so flagrant that Matthew has corrected it, writing, when he comes to the cup, "Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood" (xxvi, 27, 28). But the blunder would not have been made if the words "this is my blood" had been present in the fundamental document of Mark on which the editor of canonical Mark was working. On the contrary, the formula "he gave it to them and they all drank of it" would lead on quite naturally to the sequel "I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine," etc., and this is the sequel it demands. In this sequence the implied meaning would be that Jesus himself drank of the wine-cup with the rest of the company, just as he is supposed to have shared with them in the eating of the bread. But the mystic words "this is my body," "this is my blood" are inconsistent with the supposition that Jesus himself partook of the bread and wine, which would be tantamount to saying that he was mystically nourished by his own flesh and his own blood. What could more clearly confirm the impossibility of attributing these words to Jesus in his life on earth? Mystical participation in the body and blood of the Christ becomes intelligible only when understood as referring to the spiritual Jesus, and not as referring to Jesus present in the flesh and conversing with his disciples. Moreover one need not be a master in critical science to see that the saying about the eucharistic body and blood of the Christ belongs to a wholly different current of ideas from that of the words, "I will drink no more wine," etc.

The overlaying of an earlier by a later version which is so apparent in Mark has an interest for the history of the Supper as well as for the criticism of the second Gospel. The first evangelical account of the Supper was one in which the meal was conceived as foreshadowing the banquet of the elect in the coming Kingdom, and not as a mystic and symbolical participation in the body and blood of the Christ taking place there and then. It is an old conjecture that the original story contained, in the place now occupied by "this is my body," words analogous to those spoken over the wine: "I will eat no more bread," etc., words which seem to have been preserved, with the substitution of "passover" for bread, in canonical Luke (xxii, 15-16). [38] In the original story of the Supper, Jesus was not represented as formally instituting a


rite. The Supper was presented as a dutiful repetition of the last meal, in which was condensed, so to say, the memory of the many meals taken by Jesus with his disciples, together with a perpetual reminder of his death. This primitive Supper was no repetition of Jesus' death, but the recall of it in commemoration, and dominated throughout, as in the thought of Jesus himself, by an outlook towards the Great Event — in other words, an anticipation of the festival awaiting the elect in the Kingdom of heaven, accompanied by a lively sense of the invisible presence of Jesus who has died and was alive again. This type of the Supper was not confined to Jewish Christianity, but must have been the type common to both Hellenic and Jewish Christians for quite a long time. Needless to say this eschatological Supper did not suddenly give way to the mystical type outlined in First Corinthians. The approximate date would coincide with that of the modifications introduced into the Gospel books, or, let us say, the date when the Sunday Easter was substituted for the quartodeciman usage, and when the community meal ceased to be a meal and became a liturgy. This was not till after the year 70 and probably towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second.

To sum up. We may take it as established that the eucharistic prayer in the earliest time was an outpouring of gratitude, on the occasion of a community meal, for the gift of salvation, which consisted in participation in the Kingdom of God, a gift added to the blessing of creation. Christ was thought to come in person, but invisibly, at the simple call of his faithful ones, and the meal was holy, the elements being consecrated by the prayer of thanksgiving. Then, under the general influence of the mystery cults, there was born spontaneously the idea of a mystic communion with the Christ in the elements of the Supper, a communion understood in terms of the Christ dying for the justification of men that he might rise for their glorification: the meal now becomes a wholly ritual and symbolic act around which there grows up a genuine liturgy. Finally, the idea of sacrificial communion thus introduced issues, towards the end of the second century, in causing the elements of the Supper to be regarded as an oblation which God is asked to fill with spiritual power in virtue of its assimilation to the body and blood of Jesus — as in the


Liturgy of Hippolytus. But, vastly as the Supper has grown in significance, the ritual of it still always and essentially remains an act of thanksgiving over the bread and the cup. Thus, notwithstanding the long evolution of mystic faith and theological doctrine, it still holds fast to its point of departure — the prayers of the Jew giving thanks for meat and drink.


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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.