A Brief History of Communion: Contemporary Christianity

This post is the final in our series on the history of communion.

The Contemporary Church

In general, the five major Reformation views on Communion persist today, although with literally tens of thousands of denominations worldwide, explanations of Communion can vary greatly among contemporary churches. Adding further complexity is the “rediscovery” of worldwide Christianity in the 20th century, which has led to an influx of interest in and co-option of Eastern articulations of Communion. Particularly influential has been the Orthodox expression of Communion, where the Eucharist is confessed to mysteriously be the body and blood of Christ without reliance on philosophical categories. Similarly important has been the Catholic Church’s post-Vatican II shift to celebrating Mass in the vernacular, which has enlivened Catholic understanding of Communion and spurred on ecumenical dialogue on the sacraments. Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Five Reformation Views

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

The Reformation Church

Martin Luther

With the outbreak of theological reforms in the 16th century came considerable revisions and specifications of the theologies and practices of Communion. Essentially, five major views solidified: Tridentine, Consubstantial, Reformed, Via Media, and Memorialist. Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Medieval Christianity

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

The Medieval Church

During the medieval period, the Church began to use a common liturgy for Eucharistic celebration, with prescribed texts and traditions for services and practice. Some differences emerged between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, differences which were formalized following the Great Schism of 1054 CE.1 In the Roman West, the liturgy increasingly occurred in Latin, even in non-Latin speaking areas which were evangelized. In the Byzantine East, Greek liturgies were the most common, although in many locations liturgy continued to be held in vernacular languages. Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: 2nd to 5th Centuries

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

Second to Fifth Centuries

After Justin, we see a proliferation of Christian writers, many of whom speak about Communion, some with great regularity. These Christians come from all corners of the Roman Empire and beyond: Gaul (Irenaeus), Egypt (Clement of Alexandria and Origen), Carthage (Tertullian and Cyprian), Rome (Hippolytus), Jerusalem (Cyril), Syria (Aphraahat and Ephrem), Italy (Ambrose), North Africa (Augustine), and Asia Minor (Theodore and the Cappadocians). Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Justin’s Apology

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

Justin’s Apology

Justin Martyr, writing around 150 CE in Rome, provides a unique perspective into the weekly practice of Communion among second century Christians. Toward the end of his First Apology he outlines the liturgy of the Roman Church: Scripture readings followed by a sermon, prayers of intercession and kiss of peace, a flexible Eucharistic prayer with congregational “Amen,” the distribution of the elements via deacons to those present and absent, and finally a collection for the poor.5 Particularly interesting is Justin’s description of Communion (the Eucharist) in some detail: Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Apostolic Fathers

This post is part of an ongoing series on the history of communion.

The Apostolic Fathers

The earliest non-canonical references to Communion come in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, namely Ignatius of Antioch (c. 108 CE) and the Didache (c. 110 CE). Ignatius, much like Paul in 1 Corinthians, indicates that he is very concerned with proper Christian order at Communion, writing, “Give heed to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto union with His blood. There is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow servants; that whatsoever you do, you may do according unto God.”2 Continue reading

A Brief History of Communion: Origins

Christians of all sorts partake of some form of communion. Known by different names—the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Mass—and taken at different frequencies—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly—this practice involving bread and wine stands as a testament to both Christian unity as well as divisions. What do contemporary Christians believe about the Lord’s Supper? To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of communion, beginning today with what the early Church said about the practice and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

Engaging Pseudo-Dionysius

Dionysius the AreopagiteThe Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite forms part of a treatise which belongs to a corpus of works said to have derived from Dionysus the Areopagite from Acts 17:34.[1] This writer of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy also wrote treatises on a Christian Celestial Hierarchy (dealing with realms of angels and angelic beings), the Divine Names of God, and certain aspects of Mystical Theology.[2] Throughout his various treatises, Dionysius also claims to have witnessed the eclipse of the sun in Heliopolis following the death of Christ, and to have met with Peter and James.[3] However, the writer of these theological treatises is now referred to as Pseudo-Dionysius primarily because much of the philosophy behind the writings depends on the works of Proclus, a Neo-Platonist who died in c. 485 CE.[4] Many scholars now date the writing of this treatise to the early sixth century, primarily due to the fact that the work was first appealed to at a colloquy at Constantinople in 533 CE. [5] Even at its first presentation, the authenticity of this work was doubted by Hypatius of Ephesus (6th c.); however, for many years its validity was affirmed by the church, until in the late-Middle ages and the Protestant Reformation, when the doubts of Renaissance Humanists Erasmus of Rotterdam and Lorenzo Valla surfaced and the dependence on Neo-Platonist thought of Proclus was discovered.[6] Continue reading

Luther and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper

The Lord's SupperIt has been widely noted that few events in the history of the Christian Church have dramatically impacted the course of western culture and civilization as the Age of Theological Reformation in the 16th century. Within the myriad of events that transformed a relatively institutionally monolithic Catholic Church into a plethora of competing theological claims, few events stand out as clearly as the failure of the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, where Protestant leaders Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli failed to negotiate their respective differences concerning the Lord’s Supper. This disagreement was neither the first nor last disagreement among the various Protestant Reformation movements in 16th century Europe, but it stands out as one of the most impactful, as Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christian faith can still trace one of the key divergences back to this meeting. Here we will briefly examine the perspectives of Luther and Zwingli on Communion, noting that it was primarily philosophical, and not strictly theological, differences that kept them from seeing eye to eye on the doctrine of communion. Continue reading