Development of Christian Liturgy

The introduction to Handbook to the Christian Liturgy By James Norman, M.A., Archdeacon of the Herbert, North Queensland. First published by SPCK 1944.

When the Lord Jesus Christ, having gathered his disciples round him to supper on the night before he suffered death, solemnly broke bread before them and blessed a cup of wine and gave them to his disciples, he enjoined them to continue this thenceforward as a continual memorial of his death and passion undergone for the redemption of the world. This command was obeyed from the time that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church shortly after our Lord’s ascension into heaven. We are told, of those who were converted by the preaching of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost, that ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers’. [Acts ii. 42.]

The first liturgy of the type that later became universal does not appear, in the records that have come down to us, until two centuries after this. We have a certain number of notices in the literature of those centuries, from which it is possible to learn something of the nature of the prayers and ceremonies that accompanied the ‘breaking of the bread’; and these we must examine. The evidence is, however, at almost every point confused by the absence at that period of any clear definitions of religious ideas, and of the technical language in which they would at a later date be expressed. It is with the utmost caution that we should form conclusions based on words and phrases which have a very definite meaning to us, but which were probably used more loosely in a primitive age. The sentence quoted in the last paragraph is an example. We shall see later on that a great deal of uncertainty in the interpretation of evidence arises from doubt as to whether words like ‘prex‘, ‘orationes‘, &c., have in any particular case a specialized meaning such as they often acquired, or are used quite generally. In the Acts of the Apostles ‘ the prayers’ may mean, as it would later, the prayers that were used on the occasion of the breaking of the bread; on the other hand, with more probability, the writer may be referring to some other occasion on which the congregation met for prayer. This ambiguity will pursue us for some centuries.

The evidence about the Eucharist is also confused by the fact that at first it was sometimes, if not always, celebrated in connexion with, and following, a social meal known as the Agape or Love-feast, so that any description of the prayers used at the breaking of the bread may be taken to refer either to the Agape or material feast, or to the Eucharist or spiritual feast. This would not have much significance if it were not for the fact that before long – the date is difficult to determine – the two functions were separated, and we may suppose that any prayers belonging to the Agape, such, for instance, as the thanksgiving for the food consumed, would normally disappear, but might in some cases continue, probably with modifications adapting them to the liturgy. And indeed there are scholars, as we shall see, who hold that two of the prayers of the Didache are such, and that they do make sporadic appearances in the ancient liturgies.

The Agape

Two passages, one at the beginning of this primitive period and one near the end, when the Agape must have been near its extinction, will suffice to show its nature.

St. Paul, writing to the Church of Corinth [l Cor.xi.17 ff.], rebukes the brethren there for disorders which have happened at their religious gatherings. There are dissensions among them on these occasions. First he speaks at some length on improper customs among the women attending worship. Then he censures their differences, without indicating their cause, though they seem to be connected with the supper itself.

When ye come together in the congregation (ἐκκλησία – ekklesia)
I hear that dissensions (σχίσματα – schismata) prevail among you,
and I partly believe it.
Indeed there must be parties (αἱρέσεις – haireseias) among you,
that the trustworthy may be manifest.
When therefore ye assemble yourselves together,
it is not the Lord’s Supper that ye eat,
(οὐκ ἔστι κυριακὸν δεῖπνον φαγεῖν – ouk esti kyriakon deipnon phagein)
for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper,
and one is hungry and another drunken.
Have ye no houses in which to eat and drink?
Or do ye despise the congregation of God,
and humiliate the poor?
What am I to say to you?
Am I to praise you?
I cannot praise you in this;
for I myself received from the Lord that which I delivered to you, &c.

Here follows the account of the Institution of the Eucharist. Then there are warnings against unworthy partaking of the bread and the cup, ‘not discerning the body’, and a final exhortation:

Wherefore my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait one for another.
If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home;
so that your coming together may not bring judgment upon you.

In this passage the meeting of the faithful was for the purpose of celebrating the Eucharist. The language leaves no doubt about that. On the other hand, it is equally certain that it was also a social feast, held in close connexion with the Eucharist. The mention of the dissensions at this point must mean that they were caused by the inconsiderate and self-indulgent behaviour described. The most natural explanation is that resentment was caused by the fact that some had too much to eat and drink, while others went hungry and thirsty. There is an explicit reference to the poor (τοὺς μὴ ἔχοντας – tous me echontas). St. Paul does not discourage the holding of these meals, but suggests that those who have their own means should satisfy their hunger at home, in order, no doubt, that they should still participate, but as an expression of social fellowship, rather than for their bodily requirements. He does not indicate whether the feast or the sacrament came first, but the nature of the improper behaviour suggests that the Eucharist followed.

From this passage of St. Paul it will be as well to pass to the best account we have of the Agape, written by Tertullian in Africa at the end of the second century. It is in his Apology, where he is defending the Church to the heathen. After describing the charity and love that Christians show to one another, he proceeds:

Why wonder then if such love takes a social form (convivatur)?
For even our little suppers (cenulae) you revile as extravagant,
as well as scandalous from vice.

He then reminds them of the orgies which accompany heathen festivities, and continues:

It is only with the dining room of the Christians that men find fault.
Our feast shows its nature by its name;
it is called by the Greek word for ‘love’ (‘dilectio’, not ‘amor’).
Whatever it may cost, what is spent in the name of piety is well spent;
if by this refreshment we help a number of poor people, it is not, as with your parasites, for the satisfaction of enslaving their liberty through corrupting a belly by stuffing it to the accompaniment of insults, but by what is better in the eyes of God, consideration of the lowly…
Our people do not sit down to meat until prayer to God has been tasted.
That is eaten which hungry men need;
that drunk which is sufficient for the sober.
They are so filled, as men who remember that God is to be praised by them during the night;
they speak, as those who know that God is listening.
After water for the hands and lights have been brought,
each is called upon to sing in the company,
as well as he can, to God, either out of the Holy Scriptures, or that which is of his own composition.
This shows to what extent he is drunk!
In the same way the company dismisses with prayer

There is no reference to the Eucharist in Tertullian’s account of the Agape; they had perhaps been separated by this time, though the reserve Christians were bound to maintain concerning the mysteries would naturally account for his silence. But his description enables us to understand the conditions under which the Eucharist was celebrated at an earlier time.

There are reasons for supposing that there was not at first any other public Office than the Eucharist [Swete, J.T.S.iii (1902), 162. Others, however, hold that there was a meeting, corresponding to the Synagogue service, which later became the Mass of the Catechumens.]. The Didache prescribes the use of the Lord’s Prayer three times a day in private devotions [c.8.]. The ‘ Stations’ mentioned by Tertullian [De oratione, 19.] were not meetings, but half-day fasts.

The Eucharist in the first century

The New Testament gives us incidental information about the worship of the Church, but scarcely ever is it definitely related to any particular type of gathering. It is therefore only by analogy with the liturgy as later developed that we can conjecture whether any particular acts of worship mentioned were made in connexion with the Eucharist or on some other occasion. Such conjectural associations will be noted in the Commentary. It will be sufficient here to mention that the Scriptures were read, and also, on certain occasions, the letters of the Apostles; psalms and hymns were sung, sermons delivered, prayers offered for all sorts of men, sins publicly confessed, and open professions of faith made. There were also prophesyings, sometimes quite unintelligible, and acts of healing, and of course baptisms and confirmations. We read as well of some ceremonies. They prayed standing, with hands uplifted, and heads bared; except the women, who were veiled. The kiss of peace was exchanged.

There will be no need to notice incidental allusions to worship in the apostolic age, except such as throw light on the liturgy. Quite early, however, either towards the end of the first century, or perhaps as late as the end of the second century, as some scholars think, [It has generally been placed between 80 and 90, or not much later; Woolley, in its present form, 110-30; Harnack 131-60; J. A. Robinson and R. H. Connolly make it dependent on the Epistle of Barnabas and place it well on in the second century.] prayers of a eucharistic flavour are prescribed in the Didache, a little book in whose second half is a manual of Church life, the precursor of the Church Orders, which will have to be considered later on.

In chapter 7 of this work directions are given for baptism; then there is a short passage about prayer and fasting, after which comes the following:

Concerning the thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία – eucharistia)
thus shall ye give thanks:

First, concerning the cup:We give thee thanks, our Father,
for the holy Vine of David thy servant (παιδός),
which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy servant.
Thine is the glory for ever.

And concerning that which is broken:

We give thee thanks, our Father,
for the life and knowledge,
which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy servant.
Thine is the glory for ever.
For as this broken bread (τὸ κλάσμα – to klasma),
scattered over the mountains and gathered together, is one,
so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom;
for thine is the glory and the power,
through Jesus Christ for ever.

Let no one eat or drink of your thanksgiving (or Eucharist?)
but those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord.
For the Lord also has said about this:
‘Give not that which is holy to the dogs’.

And after ye are satisfied give thanks thus:We give thee thanks, Holy Father, for thy holy Name,
which thou hast made to dwell in our hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality,
which thou hast made known unto us through Jesus thy servant:
thine is the glory for 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 give thanks to thee;
but didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through thy servant.

Before all things we give thee thanks that thou art mighty;
thine is the glory forever.
Remember, Lord, thy Church,
to deliver it from all evil,
and to perfect it in thy love,
and gather it together ‘from the four winds’?
even thy Church which has been sanctified?
into thy Kingdom, which thou hast prepared for it;
for thine is the power and the glory for ever.May grace come and may this world pass away.
‘Hosanna to the God of David.’
If any man is holy let him come;
if any man is not, let him repent.

But permit the prophets to offer thanksgiving as much as they desire.

Chapters 11 to 13 are about apostles and prophets. Chapter 14 reads thus:

And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And if any man have a dispute with his fellow, let him not join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord: ‘In every place and in every time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord, and my Name is wonderful among the nations.’

At first sight these passages all seem to refer to the Eucharist, and so most scholars have taken them. Woolley says:’ That the forms given in chapters 9 and 10 are a form or part of a form of the Eucharistic liturgy can hardly be seriously doubted. The expression πνευματικὴ τροφή in chapter 10 cannot be used of anything but the Eucharist, and the compiler of Apostolic Constitutions certainly regarded these forms as liturgical [Liturgy of the Primitive Church, 49.]. Vernon Bartlet was so sure of it that he considered that the order of the cup and bread, agreeing with St. Luke against the other Gospels, was evidence that when this book was written St. Matthew’s Gospel could not have yet become well known in Syria. [Hastings, D.B. ext. vol. 448.]

Many scholars, however, have found difficulty about these prayers. Chapter 14 certainly speaks of the Eucharist, but 9 and 10 are at least doubtful. Duchesne, without questioning their eucharistic character, says that they have ‘altogether the aspect of an anomaly’, and ‘are outside the main stream’ [Christian Worship, 53.]. Fortescue thinks that they give ‘an incomplete description of an abnormal type of Eucharistic service’ [The Mass, 9.]. A German scholar, Greiff, considers that they are true eucharistic prayers, used only at the Paschal Eucharist, when the newly baptized communicated for the first time [Johanneische Studien, i (See J.T.S. Apr. 1931, p. 290).]. Dom Casel thinks they belong to the Eucharist, but that they are prayers to be said by the people [Jahrb. f. Lit. vi. 217 sqq.]. Drews and von der Goize took the earlier to be an old survival of a Eucharist-Agape, and the last a later eucharistic form. Lietzmann holds that they are an introductory celebration to an Agape. [Messe und Herrenmahl, 233.]

Some, however, look upon these passages as belonging to the Agape. Leclercq [D.A.C.L. xi. 539-52. But cf. art. ‘Agape’.], following Cagin [L’Euchologie latine, 2 ; ‘L’Eucharistia’, 259 f.; also Schuster, Sacr. i. 64.] and other writers, marshals a great array of evidence in favour of their being the ‘grace before and after meals’ of the Agape. The question depends very much on the date and circumstances of the writer of the book. Opinion seems to be moving in the direction of a late date, but in that case it cannot be considered a normal Christian document. It is full of anachronisms for the end of the second century, though it may have been that the community which produced it was itself an anachronism [F. E. Vokes in The Riddle of the Didache, following Connolly, considers it a Montanist work. This might explain its oddity.]. In this case all these prayers may be truly eucharistic, but eccentric. If, on the other hand, it comes from the end of the first century, the first two prayers seem to belong to the Agape.

This was still the age of the composition of the New Testament, which was hardly completed. In the books of the New Testament the word εὐχαριστία always means ‘thanksgiving’ in its general sense. In the Didache the thanksgiving is made, not for the life and death of our Lord, but for certain benefits made known to us through him. The ‘Vine of David’ seems to mean the Church throughout the ages. The ‘ spiritual food’ does not seem to be the body and blood of our Lord, but, as the parallel of the preceding sentence shows, ‘knowledge and faith and immortality’; the thanksgiving is quite general for bodily sustenance and spiritual food. When Apostolic Constitutions, which incorporates the whole of the Didache, applies this language to the Eucharist it has to supplement it with suitable terms. A hearty meal is also implied by the word ἐμπλησθῆναι – emplesthenai’after ye are satisfied (filled)’, for this is a plain direction, not a phrase of devotional rapture. More?over, these prayers are found in much the same form (given below) in a tract De Virginitate of the fourth century, often attributed to St. Athanasius, where they are prayers of ‘Grace’ at ordinary meals.

They are distinctly Jewish in type. The following blessings of the Jewish prayers before the Sabbath meal may be noted:

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God,
King of the universe,
who createst the fruit of the vine.

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God,
King eternal,
who bringest forth bread from the earth.

The prayers of the Didache are therefore, if its date is early, probably not eucharistic; from Chapter 14, moreover, we should expect some reference to the sacrifice.

These thanksgivings, however, have their own interest, and some of the language will be found in the later forms. The prayers in De Virginitate mentioned above are as follows:

We thank thee, our Father, for thy holy resurrection.
For through Jesus thy servant thou hast made it known to us.
And as this bread, having been scattered, is that which is upon this table,
and, having been gathered together, has become one,
so may thy Church be gathered together,
from the ends of the earth, into thy kingdom,
for thine is the power and the glory for ever.

(After the meal)
O God, the almighty, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Name that is above every name,
we thank thee and praise thee,
because thou hast considered us worthy to share thy good things, the material food.
We pray and beseech thee, O Lord, that thou wilt give us also the heavenly food.
[Ath. De Virg. 13, 14.]

The Didache is mentioned in this work, and these prayers may therefore have been adapted from it.

The question of the extent to which Jewish worship has influenced or moulded the Christian Liturgy is one to which much attention has been directed. Unfortunately most of the available information about the Jewish forms of worship comes from dates that are too late to give a safe indication of the prayers used in the time of the Apostles. That there was any conscious adoption or imita?tion of Jewish services can hardly be supposed, in view of the antipathy of the early Church to ‘Judaising’. On the other hand, the adherents of Christianity in the earliest days must have unconsciously formed their devotions according to the methods to which they were accustomed. The Eucharist may at first have been moulded somewhat on the lines of the Kiddush, a ceremonial meal held on the eve of the Sabbath and of festivals; if so, it is of little significance, for the Christian sacrament had an inspiration and ideal of its own. More certain is the relationship of the early part of the liturgy with the Sabbath morning Syna?gogue worship. The purposes and the materials at hand for these services of praise, instruction, and prayer were so similar that it was but natural that the Christian system should follow in the accustomed paths, as we shall see it did.

The second century

The writings of Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch give much interesting information about the Eucharist, but throw no light on the development of the rite. There is a long passage in St. Clement’s Epistle to the Romans (cc. 96-8) which has a general resemblance to the Great Thanksgiving of the liturgy, but there is no reason to sup?pose that it is anything more than a fervent prayer which the author composed for the purpose of the epistle, and it has no close affinity to any specifically liturgical formula [cc. 59-61.] (see Appendix A).


There is, however, a much quoted and important letter, written to the Emperor Trajan, about AD 112 by the Roman orator, Pliny the younger, governor at that time of Bithynia. In the course of this letter, in which he consults the Emperor on how he ought to treat the Christians, he describes their worship, as it has been reported to him by the Christians themselves.

But they declared that this was the extent of their crime or error, that they were accustomed on a regular day to meet before dawn to sing the praise (carmen dicere) of Christ as a god, and mutually to bind themselves by an oath (sacramentum), not to any crime, but to commit no theft or robbery or adultery, nor to break faith, and, ‘if challenged, not to deny that a trust has been committed to them’. After this they were accustomed to separate, and meet again later to take food, which however is of an ordinary and harmless kind (promiscuum et innoxium). Even this, however, they gave up after I published my edict, by which in accordance with your orders associations (hetaeriae) had been forbidden.
[Ep. x.96.]

Here there were two gatherings of the Christians, one in the early morning and another later in the day. Of the first we are only told that a hymn was sung and an oath made. The second meeting was for the purpose of a meal. It is impossible from the data to come to any definite conclusion as to what these meetings respectively were. The second certainly looks like the Agape rather than the Eucharist, though it may well be the Agape-Eucharist. The hymn of the morning is probably a psalm accompanied by Scripture reading, or a series of acts of worship. The interesting item is the ‘sacramentum‘; one is tempted to see here already the technical term ‘sacrament’, and to suppose that this is therefore the Eucharist already transferred to the morning. It is indeed quite possible that this morning service is the Eucharist, but the word is probably a coincidence, and we cannot say what was the feature that has thus impressed itself on Pliny’s mind. The fact that the Christians gave up the evening feast points to its being an Agape only. The Agape might well be described to a heathen as an ordinary meal; it is more than likely that the witnesses would have said nothing about the essential character of the Eucharist.

Justin Martyr

In the next piece of evidence, however, we find a writer, in defending the Church against the crimes attributed to it, revealing to the heathen something of the nature of the Eucharist, and here we find in Rome for the first time an outline of the liturgy in its main line of descent. St. Justin the Martyr, writing in Rome about AD 145, says:

But, after having washed (i.e. baptized) him who has believed and has been joined to us, we lead him to the place where those we call brethren are assembled, earnestly to offer common prayers for ourselves and for him who has been enlightened, and for all others everywhere, that having learned the truth, we may be accounted as men who practise good lives and keep the commandments, and thus may obtain everlasting salvation. Then breaking off the prayers we salute one another with a kiss. After that, bread is brought to him who presides over the brethren, and a cup of water mixed with wine (ὕδατος καὶ κράματος), And he, when he has received them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of all, through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and makes a thanksgiving (εὐχαριστίαν ποιεῖται) at some length, because God has deigned to give us these things. And when he has finished the prayers and the thanksgivings, all those present assent to what he has said by repeating ‘Amen‘, a Hebrew word signifying: ‘So be it’. When the president has given thanks, and all the people have assented, those who with us are called deacons give to each of those present a portion of the bread and wine and water, over which the thanksgiving has been made, to partake of them, and they carry away some for those who are not present.

And this food is called among us ‘Eucharist’. It is not lawful for any one to partake of it unless he believes that the things that are taught by us are true, and he has been washed in the washing that is for the forgiveness of sins and the new birth, and thus is living as Christ commanded. For we do not receive these things as ordinary bread and ordinary drink, but, as through the word of God Jesus Christ our Saviour became incarnate, and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food over which the thanksgiving has been made by a word of prayer which comes from him. (τὴν δι? εὐχῆς λόγου τοῦ παρ? αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστηθεῖσαν τροφήν), [The absence of articles makes the rendering of this phrase doubtful — It may mean ‘by a prayer of the word’.] The very food, that is, by which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, are the body and blood of the same incarnate Jesus. For the apostles, in the memoirs which have been made by them, and which are called ‘Gospels’, have thus handed down that Jesus gave them commandment: having taken bread he gave thanks and said: ‘This do in remembrance of me; this is my body’. Likewise also taking the cup and having given thanks he said: ‘This is my blood’, and he gave of it to them alone.

And from that time we always recall these things to memory among ourselves, and those of us that have take care of those that lack, and we always help one another. And in all the offerings we make we praise the Creator of all things through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And on the day which is called Sunday, there is an assembly (συνέλευσις) of all who live in the city and the country into one place, and the Memoirs of the Apostles and the Writings of the Prophets are read as long as there is time. Then, when the reader stops, the president admonishes and exhorts those present to the imitation of these good things. Then we all stand up together and send up prayers, and, as we have said before, when our prayers have ceased, bread is offered, and wine and water, and the president likewise sends up prayers and thanksgivings as much as he is able, and the people assent, saying ‘Amen’. And the distribution and reception is made for each from the things over which thanksgiving has been made, and some is sent by the deacons to those who are not present.
[Apol. i. 67.]

There is no doubt whatever that these two accounts are descriptions of the same rite, the former being for the communion of the newly baptized. If the prayers in the Didache are prayers for the baptismal love-feast, it is a striking fact that in Justin also we have first the neophytes’ Eucharist, and later that of the ordinary Sunday, but Justin makes no mention of the Agape, and the reception of the newly baptized might well have become attached to the eucharistic portion of the double feast instead of to the Agape.

There is now a distinct order of service:

  1. Readings (only mentioned for Sunday).
  2. Sermon
  3. Prayers.
  4. Kiss of Peace (only mentioned in the Baptismal Eucharist).
  5. The Offering of bread and wine mixed with water.
  6. The Prayers and Thanksgivings with Amen.
  7. Communion.

The Lections mentioned are ‘the Memoirs of the Apostles or the Writings of the Prophets’; but the ἤ can hardly be pressed, especially in view of μέχρις ἐγχωπεῖ. The ‘Memoirs’ are certainly the Gospels, as Justin explains this in chapter 66. It is a little unusual that the Prophet should follow the Gospel, but there is no reason for supposing that the phrase refers to Christian prophets, as we find the pro?phetic lection holding a place in the earliest liturgies. The expression probably indicates the Old Testament in general.

The Sermon is an explanation of the Lection and its application to the life of the congregation.

Prayers are mentioned twice; in the Baptismal Eucharist we are told that the first prayers (this account does not mention prayer with the thanksgiving) were for all Christian people, that they may live good lives. Indeed, the prayer is apparently not restricted to Christians, for elsewhere Justin says that the Church prayed for the Jews and for all men.

Next comes the Kiss of Peace; though only mentioned in the baptismal form, it was probably used in the general Eucharist also.

Here then we have in broad outline the substance of the later liturgy. Apparently the catechumens have as yet no part in the sacred mysteries, not even in the preparatory portions, so that we can only divide the rite into two parts; the first, down to the Kiss of Peace, is the Pre-Anaphora. containing the Lections, Prayers, Offertory, and Kiss of Peace; the Anaphora, as it will be called later, i.e. the central formula of Consecration, is represented by the ‘Thanksgiving’. What was the form of the Thanksgiving there is no indication. If the words, ‘ by a word of prayer which comes from him’, are to be pressed, it will mean the Lord’s Prayer, rather than the narrative of the Institution, for the latter interpretation is inconsistent with the next sentence, where our Lord’s words are a commandment and not a prayer. This is not to say that the account of the Institution was not included in the prayer, but it is un?likely that it was ‘the word of prayer’.

We may notice the early date of the mixed chalice, and the reservation for the absent. In the rite also the mention of the Holy Spirit in connexion with the offerings should be noted.

Other writers

St. Irenaeus also mentions the Readings, Sermon, Hymns, Offertory, Prayers, and Amen. Two important passages dealing with the consecration will be considered in connexion with the Epiclesis. He gives us none of the forms used in the liturgy, except short formulae like ‘for ever and ever’.

St. Clement of Alexandria has the same features, and in addition he may refer to the Sanctus: ‘We always give thanks to God, as do the creatures (ζῶα – Zoa) who sing to him hymns of praise’, referring to the Seraphim [strom, vii. 12.].

There are some apocryphal works, which must also be quoted, for they contain eucharistic prayers. The first of these is the Acts of John, the authorship of which was attributed by Eusebius, Epiphanius, and others to Leucius Charinus. It belongs to late in the second century, and seems to come from Encratite circles [Woolley dates it AD160.]. This has several eucharistic prayers, of which this is an example:

And having asked for bread he gave thanks thus:

What praise, or what offering (προσφορά)
or what thanksgiving shall we mention in breaking this bread,
but thee alone, Lord Jesus?
We glorify thy Name which was spoken by the Father.
We glorify thy Name, which was spoken by the Son.
We glorify thy opening of ‘the door’.
We glorify the Resurrection which has been manifested to us by thee.
We glorify thy ‘way’.
We glorify thy ‘sowing thy Word’,
thy grace, thy faith, thy ‘salt’, thy ‘pearl of great price’,
thy ‘treasure’, thy ‘plough’, thy ‘net’,
thy greatness, thy crown,
thy being called for us the ‘Son of Man’,
thy gift of truth, thy peace, thy knowledge,
thy power, thy commandment, thy confidence,
thy hope, thy love, thy freedom,
the refuge that there is in thee.
For thou, Lord, only art the root of immortality,
and the fountain of incorruption,
and the throne of eternity.
And thou hast been called all this for us now,
in order that we, calling thee by these names,
may know thy greatness un-perceived by us until now,
and recognized by the pure only,
and reflected in thy manhood alone.
[Acta Johannis, c. 109.]

This prayer, and the others given in the Acts of John [Ibid., cc. 85, 110.] have little relation to the later liturgy, except a faint resemblance to the Anamnesis; but its method has some likeness to similar prayers to be found in the Acts of Thomas, a Syriac Gnostic work, also used by the Encratites and other heretics. Its date is late second or early third century. Here the eucharistic conception is more developed.
He brought bread and wine and placed it on the table, and began to bless it and said:

‘Living bread’, the eaters of which die not,
bread that fillest hungry souls with thy blessing,
thou that art worthy to receive the gift,
and to be for the remission of sins,
that those who eat thee may not die,
we name the Name of the Father over thee.
We name the Name of the Son over thee.
We name the Name of the Spirit over thee,
the exalted Name that is hidden from all.

And he said:

In thy Name, Jesus,
may the power of the blessing and the thanksgiving come upon this bread,
that all the souls which take of it may be renewed,
and their sins forgiven them.
[Wright, Apoc. Acts of App. ii. 268.]

And he brake and gave to Sifur and to his wife and his daughter.

A further example from this book is interesting as providing an example of an Invocation.

And he began to say:

Come, gift of the exalted;
come, perfect mercy;
come, Holy Spirit;
come, revealer of the mysteries of the chosen among the prophets;
come, proclaimer by his Apostles of the combats of our victorious athlete;
come, treasure of majesty;
come, beloved of the mercy of the Most High;
come, thou silent one, revealer of the mysteries of the exalted;
come, utterer of hidden things and shewer of the works of our God;
come, giver of life in secret, and mani?fold in thy deeds;
come, giver of joy and rest to all who cleave unto thee;
come, power of the Father, and wisdom of the Son,
for ye are one in all;
come and communicate with us in this Eucharist which we celebrate,
and in this offering which we offer,
and in this commemoration which we make.

There are several forms of words of Administration:

Let it be unto thee for a remission of transgressions and sins,
and for the everlasting resurrection.
Let this Eucharist be unto you for life and rest,
and not for judgment and vengeance.
Let this Eucharist be unto you for grace and mercy,
and not for judgment and vengeance.
Let this Eucharist be to you for life and rest and joy and health
and for the healing of your souls and your bodies.
[These and other illustrative texts will be found in Woolley, Liturgy of the Primitive Church.]

It is evident that these forms, which differ considerably among themselves, are not in the regular line of development, for the Acts of Thomas was probably written in the early years of the third century, when the normal type of liturgy, still very flexible and adaptable, had already attained a general outline and substance which is recognizably the same as it has in its varying forms to-day. But, with the data at present available, it is impossible to say to what extent at this time those who celebrated the Eucharist in the orthodox Churches were at liberty to depart from the more usual type, and improvise their own prayers; nor can we say whether the type of rite which was ultimately to become universal was always predominant, or whether it was only one of several, and eventually ousted the others.

Woolley suggests that there were three or perhaps four forms current in the second century; one of the ordinary type, one based on Grace before meals, one based on the baptismal formula, blessing the bread and wine in the name of the Holy Trinity, and perhaps one based on the Lord’s Prayer.[Op. cit. 45.]

The third century

At the end of the second century and in the earlier part of the third century the information about the liturgy be?comes more abundant, and we can gather from Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, and other writers many details about the contents of the service. But in none of these are the texts of the rite given. The details derived from them will best be noticed when we consider the liturgy in its separate parts. It is early in the third century that we first come upon a text of at least the central portion of the liturgy, which is reinforced within a few years by other texts and commentaries, which make it clear that at the beginning of the century a certain uni?formity of plan had established itself in various parts of the world, and that that plan was a development of what we have already seen in Justin Martyr.

The ‘Apostolic Tradition’ of Hippolytus

The account referred to is that contained in what was till recently known as the Egyptian Church Order, but is now more suitably called the Apostolic Tradition. This is one of a number of manuals which existed in the early Church, of which the Didache may be considered the earliest; most of them were later than the ‘Apostolic Tradition’. They contain directions for carrying out the social and religious work of the Church, and some of them give the text of the rites to be used. The Apostolic Tradition is known in several forms.

  1. In the great Ethiopian law book called the Sinodos. This is usually known as the Ethiopic Church Ordinances or Statutes of the Apostles,
  2. In the Coptic Ecclesiastical Canons [Sahidic Ecc. Canons, and Bohairic Apost. Const. and Canons of App.] there is a section generally known as the Egyptian Church Ordinances, which corresponds to (a)
  3. A Latin translation, probably of the fourth century, of the same document, commonly referred to as the ‘Verona Latin Fragments’, is also known from a palimpsest of the late fifth century,
  4. There is an Arabic version of the Coptic edition. Closely connected with these are two other works, one
  5. which has only survived in Arabic, known as the Canons of Hippolytus, and
  6. Testamentum Domini, of which a Syriac and an Ethiopian version are known. [Dom Gregory Dix, The Apostolic Tradition, is now the most con?venient edition for English readers. He gives the Latin text as well as the English translation with variants of other versions.] There are other Orders of the same nature as these, and related to them, but only one, the Apostolic Constitutions, to be considered later, is of liturgical interest.

That these works were in some way dependent upon one another has long been known. It was at first thought that the Canons of Hippolytus was the earliest, and that the others derived from it. But of recent years, mainly as a result of the careful work of Dom R. H. Connolly [Camb. Texts and Studies, vol. viii: The so-called Eg. Ch. Order. Connolly was anticipated by Prof. E. Schwartz, but to him is due the conviction now general.R. Lorenz, De Eg. Kerkord. en Hipp. van Rome, challenges his conclusions.], it has become fairly well established that the original is the Apostolic Tradition mentioned above, and that this is the work of Hippolytus, a scholar of great renown in Rome early in the third century, who contributed many import?ant theological works, and whose own life is somewhat a mystery. Eusebius, who wrote about AD 325, says that he was ‘bishop of another Church (than Jerusalem) some?where ‘; but there is evidence that he himself claimed to be Bishop of Rome, though he is not mentioned in any of the lists of the Bishops of Rome. He was certainly in strong opposition to Popes Zephyrinus and Callistus, but he was exiled with Pope Pontianus, and apparently their bodies were brought back together to Rome. It is generally assumed that he was the first Roman Antipope, but it is hard to reconcile that with the fact that he was canonized by the Roman Church. In 1551 there was found in the cemetery of St. Hippolytus in Rome a marble statue of a man seated on a chair which, from the inscription on the chair, was learned to be that of Hippolytus. On the side of the chair is engraved a list of his works and the kalendar that he is known to have constructed. Among the works is included ἁποστολικὴ παράδοσις – apostilike paradosis, which is evidently the work we are now considering. The book must be dated not far from AD 217.

In view of the importance of the liturgy set out in this document it is given here in full. The Coptic and Arabic versions and Canons of Hippolytus do not preserve the liturgy, though the last refers to it. The following is from the Latin version. It immediately follows after the form for the Consecration of a bishop; but although it is the liturgy used in connexion with that function, it seems also to be the one used on ordinary occasions.

And when he has been made bishop all offer him the Kiss of Peace (os pacis), saluting him because of the dignity he has been given.
Then the deacons offer the oblation to him,
and he, laying his hands on it with the whole presbytery, giving thanks, says:

The Lord be with you. And all say: And with thy spirit.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord.
Let us give thanks unto the Lord. It is meet and right.

And so now he goes on:

We give thanks to thee, O God,
through thy beloved Servant,
[I have used the word ‘servant’ to translate ‘puer‘ as also παῖς – pais, to preserve the connexion with the many passages where ‘ servant’ is required; but here ‘son’ would be better.]
Jesus Christ,
whom in the last times thou didst send to us
as Saviour and Redeemer and Messenger (angelus) of thy will;
who is thine inseparable Word,
through whom thou hast made all things,
and in whom thou wast well pleased;
Whom thou didst send from heaven into the womb of the Virgin,
and who having been contained in the womb was incarnate,
and was manifested to be thy Son,
being born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin,
who fulfilling thy will and purchasing for thee a holy people,
stretched out his arms when he was to suffer,
that by his passion he might free those who believed in thee;
And when he was betrayed to a voluntary passion,
that he might end death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell,
and illuminate the righteous, and determine the end, and manifest the resurrection;
Taking bread and giving thanks to thee, he said:
Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you;
likewise also the cup saying:
this is my blood, which is shed for you;
as often as ye do this do it in remembrance of me:
Remembering therefore his death and resurrection,
we offer to thee the bread and the cup, giving thanks to thee,
because thou hast made us worthy to stand before thee and minister to thee;
And we pray that thou wilt send thy Holy Spirit upon the oblation of thy holy Church,
that uniting them into one (in unum congregans)
thou wouldst grant to all thy saints that receive it
the fulness of the Holy Spirit for the confirmation of faith in truth,
that we may praise and glorify thee;
Through thy servant Jesus Christ,
through whom be glory and honour to thee,
Father and Son with the Holy Spirit,
in thy holy Church,
now and ever,
[Dix, p.6, for Latin original.]

In the Latin version there is then a blessing of oil, cheese, and olives, and in the Ethiopian version a series of com?munion prayers follow, which are not part of the original, though probably early. These will be noticed in their proper place.

Connolly’s argument for assigning the authorship to Hippolytus chiefly depends on the frequent coincidences in language and thought between this and his other writings. This means that the wording is his own, but it may not be so in the Eucharistic prayer. The following passage, however, shows that the great importance Hippolytus attaches to the apostolic tradition concerns the general structure and contents of the rite, and not the mode of expression:

It is not altogether necessary for him to recite the same words as we gave before in his thanksgiving to God, as though he had learned to say them by heart; but let each one pray according to his ability. If indeed he is able to pray suitably a prayer of elevated style, that is well; but if he is only able to pray according to a fixed form (so Dix, lit. ‘ in measure’; cf.’ canonical’) no one may prevent him, so long as his prayer is doctrinally sound. [Eth. vers. Stat. 25. See Dix, 19.]

We shall see this modified liberty of improvisation echoed at a later date.

Baumstark thinks that Hippolytus was so reactionary as to turn back from current practice to a state of things prior to the fusion of the Jewish morning prayers (the Mass of the Catechumens) with the thanksgiving after a feast (the Anaphora), and that this was due to his opposition to the Pope [Irenikon, xi (May-June 1934), 146.]. The book does speak of a morning ‘instruction’ (catechizatio) which the faithful are to attend, when it is held, before going to work; but they are also told to partake of the Eucharist before eating anything else. There is no reason to suppose that there was no ‘ Mass of the Cate?chumens ‘ preceding Hippolytus’s Anaphora; it is naturally not mentioned in the Mass described, as that follows the bishop’s consecration. There are indeed slight indications of the ‘Mass of the Catechumens’.

There can be no doubt that this work of Hippolytus was widely known, at any rate in the fourth century. Its influence has, however, often been exaggerated; for, while it does probably represent fairly well the liturgy in use in both East and West at the end of the second century, and has formed the core of the chief Ethiopian Anaphora, it does not appear to have directly affected the other Eastern liturgies. It is a witness for them rather than a source.

An examination of the Consecration Prayer of the Apostolic Tradition shows a considerable advance on that of Justin. We have now:

  1. The Prayers (mentioned in xxii. 6, ‘after the prayers let them give the Kiss of Peace’).
  2. Kiss of Peace.
  3. Offertory.
  4. Sursum Corda.
  5. Thanksgiving.
  6. An account of the Incarnation.
  7. The Institution of the Sacrament.
  8. A Memorial of our Lord’s death and resurrection (Anamnesis).
  9. The Oblation of the bread and cup.
  10. The Invocation of the Holy Spirit.

It will be seen that 5-10 make only one compound sentence with the Oblation and the Invocation as the principal verbs (we offer… and we pray).

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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