AGAPE. Neologism from the classical Greek avgapa,w, initially appeared in the first translations of the OT from the Hebrew: indicated the notions of love and charity Eccl 9:1. Also used later by Philo Deus 9, and particularly in the NT 64 times to indicate the love of God for the Son, and that of the Son for human beings the church, as well as the fraternal love among believers 1 Cor 1:13. Contrasted with eros, which generally designated merely human and natural love Lk 11:42 and, in the classical tradition, its physical component. Also adopted to indicate the meetings and assemblies of the first Christian communities 2 Pet 2:13; 1 Cor 11:17; Jude 12. Later used by Christians to indicate concrete expressions of fraternal love within Christian communities, e.g., almsgiving and especially the sacred meals. In light of the NT testimony, the question arises of reference to the Eucharist, which we find increasingly in the Fathers beginning with the subapostolic age until the time when the Eucharist was established as a ritual meal entirely separate from the community’s common banquet. The use in the letter of Jude 12 clearly refers to a fraternal meal, whereas the sense of agape in Paul 1 Cor 11:17 is much discussed; there the meal and the Eucharist seem to correspond. Immediately afterward, the text contains the eucharistic account, which is the oldest non-Jewish anaphoric testimony. Beginning in the 2nd c., the two moments of the Christian community appear separately in various sources, on the one hand the Lord’s supper, and on the other the agape, which becomes the fraternal meal par excellence according to a ritual or semiliturgical type. In the first centuries these two practices were frequently so intertwined that they were not easily distinguishable; the agape was always a sort of secondary assembly in which a meal was shared, not just the bread, wine and water. Its close relation with the Eucharist in the 1st-2nd c. notwithstanding, the agape was also linked to the very common custom of meals in pagan religiosity, as well as Jewish. It is thought, therefore, to have been an autonomous custom that evolved with the Christian faith. From the 2nd c. on the practice began of a semiliturgical meeting to share the meal, especially with the most needy, and particularly among the most well-off Christian families, who in this way shared their goods. The specific purpose of the agape was to imitate the love of Christ for human beings in the attainment of fraternal love. In the 4th c. this meal took place at the tombs of the martyrs to honor their memory, without, however, losing the principal, social purpose of helping the most needy and thereby becoming a different practice see Refrigerium. After the 5th c. the agape became rare, with expressions of fraternal help taking different forms, such as almsgiving. The patristic sources attest with little clarity to the practice of the agape, and always as a practice of only some local churches, highly variable with time and place. In Africa, for example, the practice was very widespread Tert., Apo. 29 and was prohibited once abuses were reported; in Egypt the agape remained strictly joined to the Eucharist Clem. Alex., Strom 3,2,10; John Chrysostom Hom. 54, however, speaks of a fraternal meeting after the Eucharist, where the faithful met to eat. In the Armenian and Georgian churches, the custom remained of a liturgical meal that took place in the presence of the minister, following the rituals of Jewish meals. With the onset of abuses in the 4th c., the agape was prohibited in various local churches and prohibited by some conciliar canons, even under penalty of excommunication. The first condemnation was issued by the Council of Gangra 353 can. 9.11, then reiterated by the Council of Laodicea 363? can. 27.28. Later the prohibition was confirmed at Carthage in 397, Orlans 535, Tours 567 and Trullo 692, preventing its spread; it thus had to assume other expresssions, always maintaining its purpose of charity within the Christian communities. The agape as a practice toward the most needy has never disappeared from the Christian life, though there have been significant changes. The Eastern liturgy preserves it in the form of the antirodon at the end of the liturgical functions, and there are various remnants of it in modern liturgies. Sources. The following passages constitute some of the principal patristic sources: Ignatius Smyrn., Justin Apol. 65-67, Irenaeus Ad. haer. 29-31, Tertullian Apol. 39; De ieiu. adv. 17, Hippolytus Trad. Apost. 26-32, Clement of Alexandria Paed. 2,2,19;2,10,96; Miscell. 1,19,96; Strom. 6,4,13, Origen Adv. Cel. 8,33, Cyprian Ep. 63, Ad Don. 16. In legislative writings: Didache 9,10; Didasc. Apostol. 11,26,28; Epistol. Apostol. 15,25; Const. Apostol. 31. Other authors from the 4th c. onward: John Chrys. Hom. 22,27,54,57, Greg. of Naz. Ep. 1,14, Augustine Conf. 6,2; Ep. 22,2; Mor. eccl. 74. Studies. J.F. Keating, The Agape and the Eucharist, London 1901; E. Baumgartner, Eucharistie und Agape, Solothurn 1909; K. Vlker, Mysterium and Agape, Gotha 1927; J. M. Hanssens, L’agape et l’eucharistie: Ephem Liturg 41 1927 525-548; 42 1928 545-574; 43 1929 177-198, 520-529; B. Reicke, Diakonie, Festfreude und Zelos, Uppsala 1935; A. Hamman, Vie liturgique et vie sociale, Paris 1968; Id., Agape et repas de charit, Paris 1968; Id., La vie quotidienne en Afrique du Nord au temps de Saint Augustin, Paris 1979; E. Mazza, All’origine dell’eucaristia cristiana, in Segno di Unit , le pi¹ antiche eucaristie delle chiese, Community of Bose 1996; A. McGowan, Ascetic Eucharistics: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals, Oxford 1999.
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