What’s the difference between eucharist and agape? And how did each come to be?
The liturgies of early Christians are often obscure and variegated in the historical record. This is especially true of the eucharist, where the basic practice of communal eating is difficult to disentangle from other contemporary meals, whether Greco-Roman or Jewish practices—or the ill-defined agape meal.
In Breaking Bread, Alistair C. Stewart cuts through scholarly confusion about early Christian eating. Stewart pinpoints the split in agape and eucharist to the shift in celebrating the eucharist on Sunday morning, leading to the inception of agape as an evening meal. The former sought divine union, the latter, communal harmony. In the final chapter he explores a breadth of Syriac, Greek, and Latin primary sources on a variety of local eucharistic traditions, tracing their development into the familiar prayers and distribution of token amounts of bread and wine, which emerged in the third century.
Nuanced and well-researched, Breaking Bread clarifies the development of the blessed sacrament and its lesser-known counterpart. Theologians and historians of early Christianity will find Stewart’s work foundational in approaching a topic of enduring scholarly interest but elusive consensus.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
1. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: The Transfer of Christian Worship from Evening to Morning and Its Implications for the Eucharistic Liturgy
2. From Eucharist to Agape: Hunting an Elusive but Not Illusive Phenomenon Through Allusive Texts
3. Changing Course: The Hypothesis of the Separation of the Eucharist and the Agape and Its Recent Critique
4. Two Roots or a Tangled Mess? Going beyond Lietzmann in the Search of Eucharistic Origins
Conclusions: Historical, Theological, and Pastoral
“Although in the past Alistair and I have usually found ourselves on opposite sides of debates about early Christian worship, his latest book evokes nothing but praise from me for its comprehensive and highly detailed approach to the subject.”
—Paul F. Bradshaw, University of Notre Dame
“Alistair Stewart’s work is always rigorous as well as creative, and the deployment of his acute interpretive skills to the question of eucharistic origins in such a thorough way as this is very welcome. Even where we disagree, his probing analysis does not fail to shed new light, and this account will now be a necessary point of reference for the topic.”
Yale Divinity School
“This refreshing work bears all the hallmarks of Alistair Stewart’s impressive scholarship: attention to detail, comprehensive knowledge of the textual evidence, a critical stance toward previous scholarly conclusions, including his own, and the capacity to steer honest lines through the complexity and obscurity of the material. Thus he builds on an emerging consensus of multiple meal rites in early Christianity, with multiple roots contributing to what eventually became the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers good reasons for eschewing attempts to recreate early Christian practice in present parishes.”
University of Birmingham
“In the contested intersection of theological and historical studies, no issue is more problematic than how early community practices evolved into a very specific ritual: ‘the Eucharist.’ The debates are usually freighted with later theological concerns and historical ignorance in equal measure. Stewart shows there are no straight lines in this evolution: changing practices—such as shifting from evening to morning meal gatherings—along with changing cultural expectations present us with an unexpectedly complex legacy that has to be unpicked. This book will be welcomed by historians of Christian origins, but its greatest value lies in its being addressed to both theologians and liturgists. Both have to engage with the historical evidence regarding the Eucharist, and this book will bring before them a new, refreshing, and challenging paradigm of origins. It is a must-read for liturgists, historians, and theologians.”
University of Nottingham