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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Love Feast

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LOVE FEAST (Agape). The Love Feast of the Christian Church in Apostolic times was a common meal of which all the brethren partook, and was still connected with the Eucharist . The ‘breaking of bread from house to house’ ( Acts 2:46 ) probably included both under the title ‘the Lord’s Supper’ ( 1 Corinthians 11:20 ). From Acts 20:7 we gather that the religious exercises of the Love Feast were prolonged till dawn, and ended with the Eucharist. The scandalous behaviour, which St. Paul was constrained to rebuke at Corinth in a.d. 57 58 ( 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 ), shows that not all who came to the Love Feast were in a fit condition to communicate. More serious evils still were introduced by false teachers described by Judges 1:12 : ‘they who are hidden rocks at your love feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves.’ The writer is dependent on 2 Peter 2:13 : ‘spots are they and blemishes, revelling in their love feasts, while they feast with you.’

In spite of the disorders, which marred the religious value of these social club-feasts and led in the end to their suppression, they lasted for a considerable period. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Smyrnæans ( c . 8): ‘It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love feast,’ in a context which proves that the Agape included the Eucharist. Tertullian ( Apol. c . xxxix.) gives a vivid description of the feast explained by its own name.

‘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. This is a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so it is closed with prayer.’

The food consisted of bread, fish, and vegetables. The pictures of the Love Feasts in the catacombs give fish a prominent place. Interesting specimens of prayers used at them are found in the Didache . The direction to give thanks ‘after ye are satisfied’ plainly associates the prayer with the Love Feast rather than the Eucharist ( c . 10):

‘We give Thee thanks, Holy Father, for Thy Holy Name which Thou hast made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou hast made known unto us through Thy Servant Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for Thy Name’s sake, and didst give food and drink unto men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to Thee; but didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Thy Servant.…’

The separation of the Love Feast from the Eucharist seems to have been due, in the first instance, to the action of the Roman Government, always jealous of secret societies. Pliny’s letter to Trajan speaks of the celebration of the Eucharist in the early morning as followed by a simple meal, which had been left off since the issue of the edict forhidding clubs. On the other hand, fear of calumnies regarding any more or less secret feast, and experience of disorders like those which prevailed at Corinth, were motives which from time to time hindered the practice in certain districts, and finally extinguished it.

A. E. Burn.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Love Feast'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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