Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev Garrett Pierse Part 11.

Section II. MONUMENTAL AND LITURGICAL EVIDENCE.

CHAPTER VIII. Monumental Evidence for the Mass. Part 2

A Cast Of The Inscription of Abercius
Two fragments of the stone bearing this inscription were found by Ramsay, who was a careful investigator of Eastern antiquities. It is attributed to a period anterior to 216 A.D.. Ficker was the first to deny its Christian interpretation. 1

His denial would not be so effective if he did not receive the support of another scholar, Adolf Harnack. 2 Ficker stated that Abercius was a priest of Cybele. But, if this were so, it would be exceedingly difficult to explain the prominent reference to the fish, which was denied as a food to the votaries of Cybele.

Harnack attacks the purely Christian interpretation of the inscription, and attributes to it an origin, partly pagan, partly Christian. He singles out the apparently insignificant facts in connection with it, and on these he bases his arguments. This method of selecting the small facts of the case is common with critics. It is much used in the investigation of internal evidence. Such a method has disadvantages as well as advantages. While it may tend in the direction of close observation, and may give an invaluable help to scholarship, it may also lead to undue emphasis on trifles. The latter I believe to be the hapless result of Harnack's close scrutiny of the inscription of Abercius. Against its purely Christian character it is urged that there is nothing specifically Christian about it, that, for example, there is no reference to such a dogma as the resurrection. But even if this were true, it would not prove much. There are a good many Christian inscriptions which are known to be such only from their surroundings. But can anything be more Christian than a request to pray for the dead Abercius ? It is argued that the form of the monumental stone is not Christian. But the argument does not hold in the face of facts adduced by Wilpert to show that there were several Christian monuments of similar shape. 3 Against its Christianity it is argued that there is in the inscription a reference to some king, reigning in Rome, but a more likely reading is "queenly Rome," a hint of the eminence of the Roman Church. It is, also, argued that the shepherd of Abercius is not the Christian shepherd. To this one may reply that there are two symbolical shepherds. The one has the pastoral staff for the purpose of driving back to the fold the erring sheep. This symbolises the conversion of a sinner. The other shepherd in Christian symbolism feeds, and tends assiduously his beloved flock. Sometimes he is represented as gladdening them with the strains of his pastoral lute. Such is, most likely, the meaning of the Orpheus depicted in the Catacombs; he is symbolical of Christ,. Who is, according to Clement of Alexandria, the Divine enchanter of souls. 4 In reference to this it has been said that the Christian pastor should be more ready with his lute than with his staff. Now the shepherd who feeds and tends his flock is the shepherd of the Abercius inscription.

If the epigraph were a pagan one, how can it be explained that the Christian Alexander saw nothing incongruous in adopting it for himself in a monument discovered by Ramsay? 5 Instead of saying with Harnack that the pastor is King Atis and the King and Queen Jupiter and Juno, I am forced to give it a Christian explanation. In this brief inscription there is reference to several features of Christianity, to Baptism, the Incarnation, the Virginity of Mary, the Eucharist, the Discipline of the Secret. The Pastor is the Good Shepherd. The Food, consisting of Bread and choice Wine, is the Holy Eucharist. The Fish, identified with this Food, is Christ, our Lord. The Fish was borne by the chaste Virgin Mary. In the mixed wine there is an allusion to the ritual of the mingled Eucharistic cup, which in this respect resembles the Passover Liturgy. There is a hint of an august mystery symbolically disclosed, when Abercius asks the spectator who understands to pray for him. Origen, dealing with the Eucharist, uses similar guarded expressions. He says that the initiated will understand the mystical expressions. 6 It is suggested, 7 with some likelihood, that this Abercius is the Avircius who is mentioned by Eusebius, 8 and who was the author of a treatise against the Montanists.

Somewhat similar to the inscription of Abercius is that of Pectorius of Autun. It was discovered in Autun, in 1839, and its meaning was explained by Pitra. 9 It belongs to the commencement of the third century. 10 In it there is a recommendation to the Christian to " take the sweet Food of the saints, holding the Fish in his hands." Its importance in connection with the doctrine of the Real Presence will be at once noted, while it also testifies to a liturgical circumstance of the early Church, the custom of taking the Eucharistic symbols in the hand. The Eucharist, it will be seen, was taken in the right hand, under which the left was placed as a kind of throne. 11

The Mass in the Catacombs

After viewing in their different parts the pictures of the Catacombs, bearing on the Mass, it may be well to inquire whether that function, which they represented, was held in the place itself. The celebration of the Eucharist in cemeteries would have a feeble parallel in Paganism itself. The resemblance threw a cloak of legality around the Christian practice, and proved of invaluable service in days of persecution. The Pagans had their funeral clubs. 12 They met in sepulchral chambers. Funerary Agapes were held in aid of their departed friends. It was believed that the spirits of the dead gained some advantage from the supply of food which was placed near their tombs. 13 In the beginning of the Christian era, this custom of celebrating funeral Agapes was common among the Gentiles, and had forced an entrance even among the conservative Jews. To the Roman rulers, therefore, the meetings of the Christians in the cemeteries of their dead did not, in the beginning, cause much alarm. The resemblance between these and the funeral Agapes of the Pagans was apparent. Was not the Lord's Supper, in its repetition, of a funerary character ? It was intended to commemorate the death of the Lord. Did Christ, giving it this funerary character, intend to utilise the good qualities of a Pagan and Jewish usage, in order to prolong indefinitely the anniversary celebration of His own death ? We know not. All that may be said is that the Eucharist resembled the funerary Agapes. For a long time, also,—until, at least, the end of the first century—the Eucharist included an Agape. It was but natural that the Romans should look on the Christian meetings as harmless, extend to them the same toleration as to funeral clubs, and only take measures against them in times of great anti-Christian fury. The Christians, too, saw their advantage, and used, in describing their meetings, language which resembles that of the non-Christian clubs. 14 Thus, the funeral clubs called themselves worshippers of Jupiter, of Venus, of Apollo and Diana; the Christians named themselves worshippers of God, or of the Word. De Rossi, therefore, appears to be right when he holds that the Christians, aided by the sanctity of cemeteries, and sheltered under the cloak of Heathenism itself, found a way to freely assemble for purpose of worship. 15

Those assemblies had a close connection with a renewal of the memory of the dead. Already, Tertullian could narrate as an established usage, that the Christians made anniversary offerings in behalf of the dead. 16 Two classes of the dead were commemorated, the martyrs and those who died a natural death. We see an example of honour for the martyred dead in the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a work which belongs to the middle of the second century. In this document we find the following interesting statement:—" We take his bones, more costly than precious jewels, and more valuable than gold, and we place them in a worthy place. Here we assemble according to our opportunity to celebrate his martyrdom in joyousness." 17 A recent writer, Dr. Wieland, has said that the worship of martyrs was only a late extension of the Eucharistic worship. 18 But could anyone at the present day express in stronger language than this the reverential feeling, not merely for the martyr's person, the martyr's body, but even for his relics ? The document is also useful, as giving us a glimpse of the great joyousness of those early liturgical gatherings. Just as the Eucharist, though a commemoration of the last, sad supper, has always about it the joyful ring of the Resurrection, so too those services in honour of the martyrs were of the most festive, gladsome character. These services, very probably, would not be regarded by Tertullian, at least, as giving any solace to the martyr's soul. He seems to state that the martyr's spirit entered at once into Heavenly repose. 19

In case of the ordinary dead, however, the liturgical service was intended to give solace and refreshment. The Council of Elvira supposes that the spirits of the dead tarried near the cemeteries, and prohibits, under severe penalty, the lighting of candles, lest these spirits should be thereby disturbed. 20 It may seem, at present, a crude idea for a local Council. Are we, however, decided as to the precise place where souls, in need of some purgation, are punished ? Even at present, is it not said that they may be punished by spending some time near the scene of their earthly crimes ? At any rate, the prohibition of the Council of Elvira showed the belief that the souls of some deceased persons had not yet entered blessedness, and needed the refreshment afforded by the Eucharistic offering. The apocryphal Acts of John may be cited in illustration of the practice of holding Eucharistic services at the graves of the dead. This document, indeed, is not a faithful witness of the times of St. John the Apostle, but, as no writer can forsake the ideas of his own time, the author may be presumed to betray the custom in the days of its composition, about the end of the second century. The work refers to a meeting at the grave of Drusiana, the third day after her death, for the purpose of breaking Bread. 21

Besides memorial services for the dead, were there in the Catacombs regular Sunday gatherings of the whole congregation ? Some would be inclined to hold that at least in times of persecution there were such meetings in the cemeteries of Rome and other places. Wieland 22 has denied this view, and confines the services to those of a purely memorial kind. These are the facts which, at least, will make it clear that gatherings did actually take place for liturgical purposes in the Catacombs.


1 Sitzungsberichten der Kgl, Preuss.Akademie der Wissensch,, 1 Feb., 1894. S. 87 ff.

2 Texte und Untersuchungen, Leipzig, 1895, txii, fasc. 4.

3 Fractio Panis, 105 sq.

4 Exhortation to the Heathen, c, 1.

5 Cf Marucchi. Elements d Archeol. Chret. i art. Eucharistie.

6 Novit qui mysteriis imbutus est. InLevit. ix., 10 Quae norunt qui initiati sunt. In Exod. viii., 4.

7 De Rossi. Inscrip, Christ., t ii, p. i, p. xviii., sq,

8 H. E. v., 16.

9 Cf: Pitrn, Spicil, Solesm. iii., p. 554-564.

10 Marucchi, Elements d'Archeol. Chret. i. p. 293.

11 Cf. Cyril of Jer ; Catech. xxiii., c. 22.

12 Cf. Wieland, Mensa und Confessio i, s. 76, sq.

13 Cf. Catholic Encyclopaedia, art, Agape by Leclerque.

14 Cf. Wieland Mensa und Confessio i, p. 76, sq.

15 Cf. De Rossi Bull. 1864, p. 28.

16 De Corona Militis c. 3 ; Oblationes pro defunctis, pro natalitiis annua die facimus.

17 Martyrium S. Polycarpi c. 18.

18 Mensa und Confessio i, p. 48.

19 Sed et interim sub altari martyrum animae placidum quiescunt; Scorpiace. 12.

20 Monumenta Ecclesiae Liturgica, t, 1., sect. 1, p. 218. par. 369,

21 Acta Joannis, H.E., V., I., 61.

22 Mensa und Confessio, I., S, 82 sq.