Agape plural AGAPAE (ἀγάπη, ἀγάπαι), the Greek term for love, used by ecclesiastical writers (most frequently in the plural) to signify the social meal of the primitive Christians, which generally accompanied the Eucharist. The New Testament does not appear to give it the sanction of a divine command: it seems to be attributable to the spirit of a religion which is a bond of brotherly union and concord among its professors. SEE EUCHARIST.
1. Much learned research has been spent in tracing the origin of this custom; but, though considerable obscurity may rest on the details, the general historical connection is tolerably obvious. It is true that the ἔρανοι and έταιρίαι, and other similar institutions of Greece and Rome, presented some points of resemblance which facilitated both the adoption and the abuse of the Agapae by the Gentile converts of Christianity; but we cannot consider them as the direct models of the latter. If we reflect on the profound impression which the transactions of "the night on which the Lord was betrayed" (1Co 11:23) must have made on the minds of the apostles, nothing can be conceived more natural, or in closer accordance with the genius of the new dispensation, than a wish to perpetuate the commemoration of his death in connection with their social meal (Neander, Leben Jesu, p. 643; Planting of the Christian Church, 1, 27). The primary celebration of the Eucharist had impressed a sacredness on the repast of which it formed a part (comp. Mt 26:26; Mr 14:22, with Lu 22:20; 1Co 11:25); and when to this consideration we add the ardent faith and love of the new converts on the one hand, and the loss of property with the disruption of old connections and attachments on the other, which must have heightened the feeling of brotherhood, we need not look farther to account for the institution of the Agapae, at once a symbol of Christian love and a striking exemplification of its benevolent energy. However soon its purity was soiled, at first it was not undeserving of the eulogy pronounced by Chrysostom: "A custom most beautiful and most beneficial; for it was a supporter of love, a solace of poverty, a moderator of wealth, and a discipline of humility." Thus the common meal and the Eucharist formed together one whole, and were conjointly denominated Lord's Supper (δεῖπνον τοῦ κυρίου, δεῖπνον κυριακόν) and feast of love (ἀγάπη ). They were also signified (according to Mosheim, Neander, and other eminent critics) by the phrase, breaking of bread (κλῶντες ἄρτον, Ac 2:46; κλάσις τοῦ ἄρτου, Ac 2:42; κλάσαι ἄρτον, Ac 20:7). We find the term ἀγάπαι thus applied once, at least, in the New Testament (Jude 1:12), "These are spots in your feasts of charity" (ἐν ταῖς ἀγάπαις ὑμῶν). The reading in 2Pe 2:13, is of doubtful authority: "Spots and blemishes, living luxuriously in their Agapae" (ἐντρυφῶντες ἐν ταῖς ἀγάπαις αὑτῶν); but the common reading is ἐν ταῖς ἀπάταις αὑτῶν, "in their own deceivings." The phrase ἀγάπην ποιεῖν was early employed in the sense of celebrating the Eucharist; thus in the epistle of Ignatius to the church at Smyrna, § 8. In § 7 ἀγαπᾶν appears to refer more especially to the Agapae.
By ecclesiastical writers several synonyms are used for the Agapae, such as συμπόσια (Balsamon, ad Can. 27, Concil. Laodicen.); κοιναὶ τράπεζαι, εὐωχία, κοιναὶ ἑστιάσεις, κοινὰ συμπόσια (Chrysostomn); δεῖπνα κοινά (Ecumenius); συσσιτία καὶ συμπόσια (Zonaras).
Though the Agapae usually succeeded the Eucharist, yet they are not alluded to in Justin Martyr's description of the latter (Apol. 1, § 65, 67); while Tertullian, on the contrary, in his account of the Agapae, makes no distinct mention of the Eucharist. "The nature of our Cana," he says, "may be gathered from its name, which is the Greek term for love (dilectio). However much it may cost us, it is real gain to incur such expense in the cause of piety; for we aid the poor by this refreshment; we do not sit down to it till we have first tasted of prayer to God; we eat to satisfy our hunger; we drink no more than befits the temperate; we feast as those who recollect that they are to spend the night in devotion; we converse as those who know that the Lord is an ear-witness. After water for washing hands, and lights have been brought in, every one is required to sing something to the praise of God, either from the Scriptures or from his own thoughts; by this means, if any one has indulged in excess, he is detected. The feast is closed with prayer." Contributions or oblations of provisions and money were made on these occasions, and the surplus was placed in the hands of the presiding elder (ὁ προεστώς — compare 1Ti 5:17, οἱ προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι), by whom it was applied to the relief of orphans and widows, the sick and destitute, prisoners and strangers (Justin, Apol. 1, 67).
Allusions to the κυριακὸν δεῖπνον are to be met with in heathen writers. Thus Pliny, in his celebrated epistle to the Emperor Trajan, after describing the meeting of the Christians for worship, represents them as assembling again at a later hour, "ad capiendum cibum, promiscuum tamen et innoxium." By the phrase "cibum promiscuum" (Augustine remarks) we are not to understand merely food partaken in common with others, but common food, such as is usually eaten; the term innoxium also intimates that it was perfectly wholesome and lawful, not consisting, for example, of human flesh (for, among other odious imputations, that of cannibalism had been cast upon the Christians, which, to prejudiced minds, might derive some apparent support from a misinterpretation of our Lord's language in Joh 6:53, "Unless ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man"), nor of herbs prepared with incantations and magical rites. Lucian also, in his account of the philosopher Peregrinus, tells us that, when imprisoned on the charge of being a Christian, he was visited by his brethren in the faith, who brought with them δεῖπνα ποικίλα, which is generally understood to mean the provisions which were reserved for the absent members of the church at the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Gesner remarks on this expression, "Agapas, offerente unoquoque aliquid, quod una consumerent; hinc ποικίλα, non a luxu.'"
2. The mode of celebrating the feast was simple. The bishop or presbyter presided. The food appears, to have been either dressed at the houses of the guests, or to have been prepared at the place of meeting, according to circumstances. Before eating, the guests. washed their hands, and prayer was offered. The Scriptures were read, and questions proposed by the person presiding. Then followed the recital of accounts respecting the affairs of other churches, such accounts being regularly transmitted from one church to another, so that a deep sympathy was produced; and, in many cases, assistance was furnished to churches in trouble. At the close of the feast, money was collected for orphans and widows, for the poor, and for prisoners. The kiss of charity was given, and the ceremony concluded with prayer (Ro 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 1Th 5:26; 1Pe 5:14).
3. Their Decline. — From the passages in the Epistles of Jude and Peter, already quoted, and more particularly from the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, it appears that at a very early period the Agapae were perverted from their original design; the rich frequently practiced a selfish indulgence, to the neglect of their poorer brethren: ἕκαστος τὸ ἴδιον δεῖπνον προλαμβάνει (1Co 11:21); i.e. the rich feasted on the provisions they brought, without waiting for the poorer members, or granting them a portion of their abundance. They appear to have imitated the Grecian mode of entertainment called δεῖπνον ἀπὸ σπυρίδος (see Xenophon's Memorabilia, 3, 14; Neander's Planting of the Christian Church, 1:292). On account of these and similar irregularities, and probably in part to elude the notice of their persecutors, the Christians, about the middle of the second century, frequently celebrated the Eucharist by itself and before daybreak (antelucanis coetibus) (Tertullian, De Cor. Militis, § 3). From Pliny's Epistle it also appears that the Agapae were suspected by the Roman authorities of belonging to the class of Hetaeriae (ἑταιρίαι), unions or secret societies, which were often employed for political purposes, and as such denounced by the imperial edicts; for he says (referring to the cibum promiscuum," etc.) "quod ipsum facere desiisse post edictum meum, quo secundum mandata tua Hetcerias esse vetueram" (Pliny Ep. 96 al. 97). At a still later period the Agapae were subjected to strict regulation by various councils. Thus by the 28th canon of the Council of Laodicea it was forbidden to hold them in churches. At the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) it was ordered (can. 29) that none should partake of the Eucharist unless they had previously abstained from food; but it is added, "excepto uno die anniversario, quo coena domini celebratur." This exception favors the supposition that the Agapae were originally held in close imitation of the Last Supper, i.e. before, instead of after, the Eucharist. The same prohibition was repeated in the sixth, seventh, and ninth centuries, at the Council of Orleans (can. 12), A.D. 533; in the Trullanian Council at Constantinople, A.D. 692; and in the council held at Aix-la-Chapelle, A.D. 816. Yet these regulations were not intended to set aside the Agapae altogether. In the Council of Gangra, in Paphlagonia (about A.D. 360), a curse was denounced on whoever despised the partakers of the Agapae or refused to join in them. When Christianity was introduced among the Anglo-Saxons by Austin (A.D. 596), Gregory the Great advised the celebration of the Agapae, in booths formed of the branches of trees, at the consecration of churches.
Few vestiges of this ancient usage can now be traced. In some few churches, however, may still be found what seem to be remnants of the old practice; thus it is usual, in every church in Rouen, on Easter-day, after mass, to distribute to the faithful, in the nave of the church, an Agape, in the shape of a cake and a cup of wine. It appears that it used to be done on all great festivals; for we read in the life of Ansbertus, archbishop of Rouen, that he gave an Agape to the people in his church "after communion, on solemn days, and himself waited at table especially upon the poor." Dr. King suggests, that the Benediction of the Loaves, observed in the Greek Church, is a remnant of the ancient Agapae. Suicer says that it is yet the custom in that Church on Easter-day, after the celebration of the holy mysteries, for the people to feast together in the churches; and this distribution panis benedicti et vini, he also seems to consider a vestige of the Agape. But the primitive love-feast, under a simpler and more expressly religious form, is retained in modern times by the Moravians and the Methodists. SEE LOVE-FEAST. Similar meetings are held in Scotland by the followers of Mr. Robert Sandeman (q.v.), and by a branch of them in Danbury, Conn. — Suicer, Thes. col. 23; Gieseler, Ch. Hist. 1:59, 104, 296; Lardner, Works, 7:280; Coleman, Anc. Christianity, ch. 21, § 13; Bingham, Orig. Eccl. 15:8; Discipline of the M. E. Church, pt. 2.
Besides the Eucharistic Agapae, three other kinds are mentioned by ecclesiastical writers:
(1.) Agapoe natalitioe, held in commemoration of the martyrs (Theodoret, Evang. Verit. 8, 923, 924, ed. Schulz);
(2.) Agapoe connubiales, or marriage-feasts (Greg. Naz. Epist. 1, 14);
(3.) Agapoe funerales, funeral-feasts (Greg.' Naz. Carm. X.), probably similar to the περίδειπνον or νεκρόδειπνον of the Greeks. — Kitto, s.v.
For further details, see Resenius, De Agapis Judoe Epistoloe (Havn. 1600); Oldecop, De Agapis (Helmst. 1656); Cabassutius, De Agapis, in his Notitia eccl. historiar. (Lugd. 1680), p. 31 sq.; Hoornbeck, De Agapis vett. in his Miscell. Sacr. (Ultraj. 1689), p. 587; Schurzfleisch, De vet. Agaparum ritu (Viteb. 1690, also in Walch's Compend. Antiq. Lips. 1733, p. 566); Same, De vett. Christ. Agapis (Regiom. 1701); Muratori, De Agapis sublatis (Patau. 1709); Bohmer, De Christ. capiendis cibum, in his Dissert. juris eccl. antiq. (Lips. 1711), p. 223; Hanzschel, De Agapis (Lips. 1729); Schlegel, De Agapar. etate apostolica (Lips. 1756); Schuberth, De Agapis vett. Judacor. (Gorlic. 1761); Bohn, D. Liebesmahle d. ersten Christen (Erf. 1762); Fruhauf, De Agapis (Littav. 1784); Drescher, De vett. Christ. Agapis (Giess. 1824); Augusti, Handb. d. Christlichen Arch. Sol. 1, pt. 1, 2; Neander, Church Hist. 1:325; 2:325; Bruns, Canones Apost. et Concil. (Berol. 1839); Kestner, Die Agapen, od. d. geheime Weltbund d. ersten Christen (Jena, 1819); Molin, De vett. Christianorum Agapis (Lips. 1730); Sahmen, id. (Regiom. 1701); Stolberg, id. (Viteb. 1693, and in Menthen. Thes. 2, 800 sq.); Duguet, Des anciennes Agapes (Par. 1743); Fronto, De φιλοτησίαις veterum, in his Dissert. Eccl. p. 468-488; Hilpert, De Agapis (Helmst. 1656); Quistorp, id. (Rosb. 1711); Tileman, id. (Marb. 1693); Sandelli, De Christianor. synaxibus (Venet. 1770); Sonntag, Ferice cereales Christianor. (Altdorf. 1704); Bender, De conviviis Hebroeor. eucharisticis (Brem. 1704). SEE FEAST.