If anyone shall despise those who out of faith make love-feasts and invite the brethren in honour of the Lord, and is not willing to accept these invitations because he despises what is done, let him be anathema.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XI.
Whoso spurns those who invite to the agape, and who when invited will not communicate with these, let him be anathema.
There are few subjects upon which there has been more difference of opinion than upon the history and significance of the Agape or Love-feasts of the Early Church. p. 97 To cite here any writers would only mislead the reader; I shall therefore merely state the main outline of the discussion and leave every man to study the matter for himself.
All agree that these feasts are referred to by St. Jude in his Epistle, and, although Dean Plumptre has denied it (Smith and Cheetham, Dict. Christ. Antiq., s.v. Agapæ), most writers add St. Paul in the 1 Cor. 11. Estius (in loc.) argues with great cogency that the expression “Lords Supper” in Holy Scripture never means the Holy Eucharist, but the love-feast, and in this view he has been followed by many moderns, but the prevalent opinion has been the opposite.
There is also much discussion as to the order in which the Agapæ and the celebrations of the Holy Sacrament were related, some holding that the love-feast preceded, others that it followed the Divine Mysteries. There seems no doubt that in early times the two became separated, the Holy Sacrament being celebrated in the morning and the Agapæ in the evening.
All agree that these feasts were at first copies of the religious feasts common to the Jews and to the heathen world, and that soon abuses of one sort or another came in, so that they fell into ill repute and were finally prohibited at the Council in Trullo. This canon of Gangra is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratians Decretum, Pars I., Dist. xlii., c. i.
Van Espen is of opinion that the Agapæ of our canon have no real connexion with the religious feasts of earlier days, but were merely meals provided by the rich for the poor, and with this view Hefele agrees. But the matter is by no means plain. In fact at every point we are met with difficulties and uncertainties.
There would seem to be little doubt that the “pain beni” of the French Church, and the “Antidoron” of the Eastern Church are remains of the ancient Agapæ.
The meaning, however, of this canon is plain enough, to wit, people must not despise, out of a false asceticism, feasts made for the poor by those of the faithful who are rich and liberal. 159
Most interesting literature on the whole subject will be found in connexion with the frescoes and cups, etc., found in the catacombs.