Agape feast

Agape feast

The Agape feast, or love-feast, was an early Christian religious meal in close relation with the Eucharist. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3): article "agape"] It may have been separated from the Eucharist by the early second century, when Pliny the Younger reported that the Christians regularly met "on a stated day" in the early morning to "address a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity", and later in the day would "reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal". [ [ Pliny to Trajan, Book 10, Letter 97] ] The connection with the Eucharist had virtually ceased by the time of Cyprian (died 258).

Early Christianity

Such meals were widespread, though not universal, in the early Christian world. The earliest account of what can be seen as one of them is that in bibleverse|1|Corinthians|11:20-22, where it appears associated with, and given the name of, the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The service apparently involved a full meal, with the participants bringing their own food but eating in a common room. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community, as happened in Corinth, drawing the criticisms of Paul the Apostle in the passage mentioned.

Soon after the year 100, Ignatius of Antioch refers to the agape or love-feast. [ [ Smyrnaeans,] 8:2] In [ Letter 97] to Trajan, Pliny the Younger perhaps indicates, in about 112, that the meal was normally taken separately from the Eucharistic celebration: he speaks of the Christians separating after having offered prayer, on the morning of a fixed day, to Christ as to a god, and reassembling later for a common meal. ["They met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal".] The rescheduling of the agape meal was triggered by Corinthian selfishness and gluttony. [ Davies, JG "The Early Christian Church" p. 61, Holt Rinehart Winston 1965.] Tertullian too seems to write of these meals, [ [ Apology, 39] ; [ De Corona Militis, 3] ] though what he describes is not quite clear. Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216) distinguished so-called "Agape" meals of luxurious character from the "agape" (love) "which the food that comes from Christ shows that we ought to partake of". [ [ Paedagogus II, 1] ] Accusations of gross indecency were sometimes made against the form that these meals sometimes took. ["Sed majoris est Agape, quia per hanc adolescentes tui cum sororibus dormiunt, appendices scilicet gulae lascivia et luxuria" (Tertullian, "De Jejuniis", 17, quoted in [ Gibbons: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire] ).] Referring to Clement of Alexandria, [ "Stromata" III,2] , Philip Schaff commented: "The early disappearance of the Christian "agapæ" may probably be attributed to the terrible abuse of the word here referred to, by the licentious Carpocratians. The genuine "agapæ" were of apostolic origin (2 Pet. ii. 13; Jude 12), but were often abused by hypocrites, even under the apostolic eye (1 Corinthians 11:21). In the Gallican Church, a survival or relic of these feasts of charity is seen in the "pain béni"; and, in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the polytonic|ἀντίδωρον or "eulogiæ", also known as prosphora distributed to non-communicants at the close of the Eucharist, from the loaf out of which the bread of oblation is supposed to have been cut." [ [ Elucidations] ]

Augustine of Hippo also objected to the continuance in his native North Africa of the custom of such meals, in which some indulged to the point of drunkenness, and he distinguished them from proper celebration of the Eucharist: "Let us take the body of Christ in communion with those with whom we are forbidden to eat even the bread which sustains our bodies." [ [ Letter 22,] 1:3] He reports that even before the time of his stay in Milan, the custom had already been forbidden there. [ [ Confessions, 6.2.2] ]

Canons 27 and 28 of the Council of Laodicea (364) restricted the abuses. [ [ The Council of Laodicea in Phrygia Pacatiana] ] The Third Council of Carthage (393) and the Second Council of Orleans (541) reiterated this legislation, which prohibited feasting in churches, and the Trullan Council of 692 decreed that honey and milk were not to be offered on the altar (Canon 57), and that those who held love feasts in churches should be excommunicated (Canon 74).

Protestant revivals of the practice

After the Protestant Reformation there was a move amongst some groups of Christians to try to return to the practices of the New Testament Church. One such group were the Moravians led by Count Zinzendorf and they reinstituted the Love Feast. This was a simple sharing of Love Feast Buns and tea or punch, and then testimonies were given.

John Wesley the founder of Methodism travelled to America in the company of the Moravians and greatly admired their faith and practice. After his conversion in 1738 he introduced the Love Feast to the Methodist Church. Due to the lack of ordained ministers within Methodism, the Love Feast took on a life of its own, as there were few opportunities to take Communion.

The Primitive Methodists also celebrated the Love Feast, before it gradually died out again in the Nineteenth Century as the revival cooled.


Some contemporary Christians participate in "Agape" meals on rare occasions, to experience this historical form of the Eucharist. Many Christians, however, after celebrating the Eucharist, now routinely participate in a sharing of light refreshments and conversation in an informal gathering that is functionally an Agape. This post-Eucharistic gathering is often called "fellowship hour" or "coffee hour" and is regarded by many clergy as a particularly opportune time for engaging adults in Christian education. The Church of the Brethren is one which regularly practices Agape feasts (called "Love Feast"), generally including anywhere from a light to full meal eaten together, foot washing, and a short message.

Agape in Freemasonry

Agape is also the name given by some masonic traditions to the formal meals held after meetings. [] The meal always includes a joint of meat (normally beef) to be cut ceremonially by the master of the lodge. The meal is often accompanied with wine, normally supplied by senior members of the lodge. It has been a tradition in freemasonry since the late eighteenth century, though may have taken place previous to the Grand Lodge being formed in London in 1717.


External links

* [ Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [ Latter Rain Ministry]
* [ Seekers Church]
* [ Love Feast Links Page]

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