Christian House Meals
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Tertullian's Description 141

Agape before Martyrdom

Martyrdom of NicholasThe Acts of Perpetua and Echeitos as described by Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch in "Families in the New Testament World - Households and House Churches" and relate that on the eve of their martyrdom (see the stained glass depiction of the martyrdom of St Nicholas to the right), those in prison celebrated their last Christian house meals as an agape. Tertullian (160-220 AD), who was a prolific writer in Carthage in Roman North Africa, describes agape meals by name as what we later know it has become, a meal held out of familial duty to help those in need, that is, to feed the hungry of the community. This is in contrast to what we know is true about the later order of the Eucharist, reading and teaching.

Tertullian's Eucharist

Tertullian's description of the agape meal follows the order of the classical symposium, first the house meal, then drinking and conversation or entertainment. In Tertullian's description, there is prayer, then the meal with drinking, then the washing of hands, lights brought in, then recitation of scripture and singing, ending again with prayer. There is no indication that what he is describing is also the Eucharist. Rather, it is a true meal held in a private house, into which the less fortunate are brought to be nourished both physically and spiritually. As such, it probably took the form of an extended family festival.

"Christian House Meals"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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