Widow's House Meal
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32. Widow's House Meal

Apostolic Tradition

Hippolytus IconA charitable exercise appears in one aspect of the agape meal in the Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD) writing called "Apostolic Tradition." Hippolytus was considered one of the most influential theologians of his time and renowned for his preaching, eloquence, and learning. The "Apostolic Tradition" was described as "voluminous writings" and revealed that the church still practiced charitable patronal activity. Just after the discussion of the Lord's Supper, there was a brief treatment of the widow's house meal. It was legislative and dealt only with two specific points. First, anyone who wished to hold a meal for widows should observe propriety by sending them home before the evening was too advanced. Hippolytus of Rome also urged that when one would like to feed the widows but could not because of other responsibilities, they should give them a portion of food to take home and eat there. Usually, a small basket of food was regularly given by patrons to clients who were not lucky enough to be invited to the dinner itself. The text seems to indicate that more widows would arrive, perhaps uninvited, at the house than could be fed, like clients expecting a handout. Widows in Hippolytus' church who needed support or extra nourishment still came to private homes for dinner and gifts of food. The patron, though later losing the authority to the centralized power of the bishop, still held charitable meals to feed widows.

Scripture Reading Preaching

Lord's SupperScripture, reading, and preaching in the household of faith developed into the thanksgiving Eucharist in the Early Church. "Eucharistia" was the Greek word for "thanksgiving" in the Early Church. The celebrant began as Christ began, according to 1 Corinthians 11.24, by giving thanks. Saint Paul wrote, "and when he (Jesus) had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" Justin Martyr (100-160 AD), in about 155 AD, described the Eucharist, which he called "the crown of the Sunday worship," after the service of Scripture, reading, preaching, and prayers. John Foster describes this in "The First Advance - Church History 1: AD 29-500," "The President brought bread and wine mixed with water. He says a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as he is able, and the congregation say "Amen," which is Hebrew for 'May it be so.'" "The deacons give the bread and wine to all present and take it to those absent. Those who are well off, and who want to do so, give to the collection. It is placed with the President, and he takes care of orphans, widows, and those ill or otherwise in need, those in prison, and strangers who are staying here. He becomes the helper of all who are in need." We note with interest today that he gives all the gifts away!

"Widow's House Meal"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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