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Table Talk

If ever you want to pursue a long, fascinating, and ultimately inconclusive study, start to poke around in the ritual banquets of late antiquity. The Fathers speak of the Christian agape, the cena pura, and the refrigerium, among others; the Jewish chaburah and, of course, the sacrificial meals of the Passover and the Todah. Scholars debate whether the banquet Paul describes in First Corinthians is a eucharistic liturgy or connected with a eucharistic liturgy. Dennis Smith’s From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World is an interesting overview (though its low-church conclusions are puzzling). There’s endless and dazzling detail, much of it from primary sources, in the very rare volumes 5 and 6 of Erwin Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period: Fish, Bread, and Wine.

For a fast-food treatment of the subject, though, hop on over to N.S. Gill at She’s posted some excellent material on banquets: menus, ingredients, even etiquette.

4 thoughts on “Table Talk

  1. The first words my Priest spoke to me when I visited the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Byzantine Rite, were: “This is the worship of the first four centuries.” I devoutly believe it, and did previously. In our thirst to know the antecedents of the Chrysostom Divine Liturgy, let us not forget where it was when it was “new”—a history of art professor once told the class that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was a totally new architecture. That is not strictly true, but on a world-historical plane it really is true. I think the DL of St.Chrysostom was, and is, a most perfect synthesis, but also a perfect New Thing. In the excitement of the Western Church about Summorum Pontificum, let no one forget the other liturgy, which was never outlawed or downgraded. Every Catholic must experience it. Every Western, Roman, Catholic must remember that the Eastern Catholic Churches are just as Catholic, even if out of sight on certain Catholic TV networks. (smile) As for Low Church views of the early Church, why don’t you write a book just about that?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Philip. I love the eastern liturgies, and I live in a place where it’s easy to attend (western Pennsylvania). As for those television networks: You should write letters, and get your friends to write letters.

    Polemic’s not my thing, so the idea of writing a book dissecting “Low Church views of the early Church” doesn’t interest me. I’ve written at least six books, though, that show the early Church for all it was. I think The Mass of the Early Christians does the job.

    I do give a talk that touches on Harnack, Arnold, and others who find a catholicizing turning point at various stages of the patristic era (some within the lifetime of the Apostles; others at Nicaea).

  3. I’m in luck! The Pius XII Library at St. Louis University has all of Goodenough’s work on Jewish symbols! I love that library. If I didn’t have to make a living, I’s spend every day down there.

    Gee, Mike, you really know how to bring out the nerd in me!


  4. Goodenough was agnostic and overly influenced by Freud and Jung, but, gosh, he knew the sources. He seems to have been conventionally anti-Catholic, in a secularist sort of way, but, again, he’s honest about what’s in the sources.

    So it’s the job of any contemporary reader to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most of the time it’s as easy as separating the sources from the interpretation.

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