Monday, 22 June 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev Garrett Pierse Part 10.

Fractio Panis

CHAPTER VIII. Monumental Evidence for the Mass. Part 1

Concerning the banquet pictures so common in the Roman Catacombs, three theories have been suggested. One is that they are representations of the Heavenly feast alone,—the view of Liell in his book, Fractio Panis oder Coena Coelestis. It is based, in part, on the well-known Scripture parables, representing Heaven as a meal at which many will recline. A second theory-regards them as funeral Agapes, 1 which were quite common among the Pagans and even the Jews at the dawn of Christianity. 2 A third theory interprets those pictures as representing the Eucharist through the symbol of the multiplication of loaves. This is the view of Wilpert in his well-known work, Fractio Panis. That this opinion is the correct one, will be rightly concluded after an examination of the different pictures bearing on the question.

Fractio Panis.

The picture, Fractio Panis, is, according to Wilpert who discovered it, the most ancient representation of the Mass. He con siders that in all probability it belongs to the first decade of the second century. Other authorities concede its very early origin, though they do not ascribe to it quite as much antiquity as does Wilpert. 3 Thus it is variously attributed to the time of the Emperor Hadrian, or of Antoninus, or of Marcus Aurelius. 4 At the latest Wilpert would ascribe it, as a possible date, to the middle of the second century, or the period of the closing years of Justin Martyr. I believe the latter date to be as likely as the very early one. At least, one of the principal reasons proposed by Wilpert for the earlier date is really very slender. He maintains that the whole attitude of the principal personage in the picture signifies the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread, and that the latter action gave its technical name to the Eucharist at the beginning of the second century. Hence, he concludes that the picture was executed at a time when the Eucharist was called the breaking of bread, or the first decade of the second century. But all we can say with absolute certainty is that the personage in question is stretching out his hands towards the Eucharistic Elements. Now this might be given as a representation of the Eucharist at no matter what time the painting took place. In what other manner could a person well represent the Eucharistic meal ? Is it very differently represented in the Catacomb of Callistus in a scene which will be described, and which admittedly belongs to a later date ? One might reply that the Consecration could be represented. And, indeed, it seems to me to be a free question whether it is the Consecration or the breaking of Bread which is signified by the outstretching of hands in the Fractio Pan is. It is therefore likely enough that this picture belongs to about the middle of the second century, and represents the Eucharist as it was in the period I am considering.

Fractio Panis
Around an accubitorium, or dining cushion, there are depicted seven persons.  Six of these are seated behind it, and, of the six, one is a woman wearing a veil. At the head of the table, or cornu dextrum, is seated a bearded man, who from his venerable appearance and his position of vantage is concluded to be the President, or Bishop. Wilpert explains that at the decline of the Roman Empire the place of honour was changed from the lectus medius, or centre of the table, to the cornu dextrum. 5 The President's feet, owing to the artist's ignorance of perspective, are on the same level as the plane of the table. On the table, in front of the dining cushion, are to be seen a large plate containing two fishes and another containing five loaves; also, near the President's hands, a stemless chalice exhibiting two handles. Strewn on the floor in front, there are on one side four, and on the other, three baskets of loaves, forming altogether seven, a number suggestive of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves. If one may admit the explanation of Wilpert that the whole action of the President signifies the breaking of Bread y it would furnish a hint that the Elements were broken after the Consecration for the purpose of distribution, a practice which is crystallised in a liturgical action in the present-day Mass. The Fractio Panis is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla in the Greek chapel, so called from its numerous Greek inscriptions.

Mosaic rendering in the Benedictine Sisters' convent of the "Fractio Panis," or "Breaking of the Bread" fresco at the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.
The multiplication of the loaves is here represented by the five loaves 6 and two fishes. Contrary to what some imagine, there does not appear to be anything to show decisively that the Agape is here joined to the Eucharistic meal. But the multiplication of loaves is not the sole idea intended by the artist. Else why should there be a table ? Why should there be present a cup ? While the five loaves and two fishes, and the seven baskets of bread naturally symbolise the Eucharist to any Christian acquainted with the Gospel narrative of the multiplication of loaves, the table and the cup, though possibly implying a reference to the Agape, may be interpreted as a realistic representation of the Eucharist of that day. The Fractio Panis is at once symbolic and realistic.

The surrounding pictures in the Greek Chapel of the Catacomb of St. Priscilla supply the context, as it were, for the true interpretation of the Fractio Panis, To any student of the Catacombs it would appear that the different pictures have a truly logical connection. Near our picture, there is a representation of Noah in an ark of exceedingly small dimensions. One will remember how St. Peter saw in the Ark a type of the saving power of Baptism. 7 One sees also the cured paralytic, who waited near the pool of Bethsaida for the moving of the waters. This pool is understood by the Fathers as symbolic of Baptism. 8 One finds here St. Peter striking the rock of Baptism, from which flows the copious stream of sanctifying grace. Thus, in three pictures do we find representations of Baptism, which prepares the soul for the reception]of the Eucharist, and is the first link in the chain of justification.

The Incarnation, too, is readily suggested by the Real Presence. One is not, therefore, surprised to find represented here the wise men bearing gifts to the Virgin and Child. We shall see how the Incarnation will be mentioned in the inscription of Abercius in a context devoted to the Eucharist. One will remember, also, how St. Ignatius Martyr 9 proved against the Docetae the reality of the Incarnation from the reality of Christ's flesh in the Eucharist. The site of the Magi scene is directly over the Fractio Panis.

The resurrection is closely connected with the Eucharist both in St. John's Gospel and in the Didache. The Eucharist is in fact the pledge of the resurrection. Here in the Greek Chapel, it is represented by two pictures of Lazarus. Possibly it is also represented by the recurring of the seasons which is depicted, and which was understood by early writers in a symbolic sense.

We find near our Eucharistic picture what is probably a suggestion of the Passion. It is not a realistic drawing. Tertullian says that the Passion should be only figured. 10 Hence the picture of the sacrifice of Isaac,, accompanying the Fractio Panis, signifies at least the sacrifice of the Cross. 11 It is significant how frequently one finds painted in the Catacombs, in connection with the Eucharist, the bloodless sacrifice of Isaac by his father. I said that it signifies at least the sacrifice of the Cross, for it is possible that it may signify more, namely, the sacrificing of Christ in the Eucharist itself. But such explicitness of concept cannot be proved to be the dogmatic content of the picture, for it is in less accord with the theological expression at the time of the origin of these pictures. It is sufficient for my purpose if the logical sequence of the pictures insinuates that the Victim of Calvary is represented, and is really present in the Eucharist. These data, according to the theory of Vasquez which satisfies the requirements of Catholic dogma, imply the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. However unsafe it may be to cite the Fractio Panis as anything more than a suggestion of the sacrifice, that it symbolises at least the Eucharist itself is justly concluded from its intrinsic character, from the surrounding pictures, also from its analogy with a Carthaginian pyx and a fresco of an Alexandrian Catacomb, in both of which the multiplication of the loaves represents the Eucharist. 12 What has been said will receive confirmation from an examination of the pictures in the Catacomb of Callistus.

the cubicles of the Sacraments
The Chambers of the Sacraments. 

Certain apartments in the Catacomb of Callistus are called the Chambers of the Sacraments on account of their many decorations representing Baptism and the Eucharist. First of all, there is a scene which is generally supposed to have reference to the Eucharistic sacrifice.

This and the pictures immediately surrounding are dated back to the end of the second century, or the beginning of the third. 13 There is seen a table supported by three legs. The design is found in two places. In one place it is surrounded by seven baskets of bread. In the other it has, on one side, a man clothed with a pallium, or mantle, which covers the left side and shoulder, leaving the right shoulder and side, as far as the loins, entirely bare. On the opposite side stands a woman with hands raised as if in an attitude of prayer. On the table are a loaf of bread, and a plate containing a fish. The man with the mantle has his hand extended over the latter objects. Different interpretations have been given to the different parts of the picture, although there is a fair amount of concord in regard to its representing, as a whole, the Eucharistic Consecration. De Rossi said it represented the latter action to all except the prejudiced. 14 Whom does the figure of the man signify. According to Wilpert's latest researches, 15 it represents Christ multiplying a loaf and a fish,an action which further represents to the onlooker the Consecration of the Blessed Eucharist. It was a common idea that this man represented the Christian priest of the time 16 in the act of Consecrating. The mantle in the picture was, then, interpreted as meaning the pallium, which, according to Tertullian, was elevated to the dignity of an ecclesiastical garment, 17 and which,later, was repudiated by St. Cyprian as unbecoming. It is more likely that the garment in the picture, which leaves part of the body entirely nude, is not meant to be realistic representation' of a vestment used in such an august function as the Mass. The woman in the picture, also, has undergone various interpretations. Possibly, as some say, she represents the Church. Possibly, as in the inscription of Abercius, she signifies Faith. But judging from the analogy of several pictures in the Greek Chapel of St. Priscilla, she represents, rather, the soul in blessedness—a fruit of Holy Communion.

That the picture, as a whole, does not represent merely the multiplication of the loaves, is deduced from the presence of the tripod table. If it is a Eucharistic scene, it throws invaluable light on the form of the early Christian altar. Everything points to the fact that the imposing of hands by the man in the picture, directly, or at least indirectly, signifies the Consecration. In a fresco of an Alexandrian Catacomb 18 there is near a Eucharistic scene a representation of the multiplication of the loaves ; Christ by extending His hands signs the bread presented to him by the disciples. While the early priests, therefore, recited a consecratory prayer, they may be presumed to have imposed hands on the Eucharistic Elements, in imitation of Christ multiplying the loaves. This liturgical act is still performed in the Catholic Church, but we know that the Consecration is not effected precisely by this act and the accompanying prayer, but by the recital of the Words of Institution. Perhaps, too, this imposition of hands, signifying consecration, was the accompaniment of the Epiclesis found in the early Liturgies.

As in the case of the Fractio Panis, we must look at the surroundings of the tripod table to determine its true meaning. One will find that here, too, there is exhibited a perfectly logical sequence. In the very neighbourhood, there is a banquet scene which, owing to its surroundings, will be judged as Eucharistic. Seven men are seated at the back of a semicircular table. In front of them are eight baskets of loaves, and two plates, each of the latter containing a fish. The middle figure presents an attitude different from that of the rest. The hand of the man represented is stretched forth, as if to take the strange food. It is a hint that, unlike the case of the Fractio Panis, the middle place, and not the right-hand corner, is now the place of honour. Why are the guests seven in number ? Possibly there may be an allusion to the last chapter of St. John's Gospel. The seven disciples, it is written, dine with the risen Christ on the shore of the sea of Tiberias. Their fare consists of bread and roasted fish. This event is understood by the Fathers as a symbol of the Eucharistic meal. Another explanation of the number seven may be offered, and, indeed, it may be combined with the former one. The Constitutions of Clement, belonging to the end of the third century, explain that, on the right and left of the bishop, there sat near the altar an equal number of priests. 19 Thus, in this picture there would be three priests on either side of the bishop. Origen, also, says that the priests stand in the circle of the altar as a mirror for the spectators. 20 We shall understand the reference to the circle of the altar, if we advert to the circular altar tables then in vogue. It is likely that the eight baskets in front of the guests represented the Consecrated Loaves intended for distribution to the faithful.

On one wall of the chamber containing this last scene are represented scenes 'suggestive of Baptism. It would be in harmony with a scene representing the Eucharistic Consecration, and another signifying the Eucharistic meal to find some picture symbolising that which is the introductory step, preceding the reception of this Sacrament. There is painted Moses striking the rock. That Moses signifies St. Peter, is made evident from certain gold glasses which were taken from the Catacombs to the Lateran Museum, and which expressly describe the figure striking the rock as the Prince of the Apostles. The rock is Christ, St. Peter is producing a stream of grace, and, very likely, Baptism is before the artist's mind as one of the principal channels for the flow of grace into the soul. There is also a realistic representation of Baptism. A youth is standing in some water while another is evidently administering Baptism by infusion. Near at hand is another representation of the paralytic, whose name is connected with the pool of Bethsaida, a symbol of the same Divine Sacrament. 21 If Baptism is the preparation for the Eucharist, the resurrection to a blessed immortality is its result. On another wall of the same chamber of the Sacraments one sees the raising of Lazarus. Owing to a fault of perspective —the artist in the Catacombs was sometimes not over-exact—the tomb and Lazarus himself present a diminutive appearance in comparison with Christ, who holds a wand, emblematic of miraculous power.

As in the case of the Fractio Panis, there is in the immediate neighbourhood a drawing of the sacrifice of Isaac, who was " as if slain." We see Abraham and Isaac, both apparently in an attitude of prayer ; a lamb is close at hand, and a bundle of wood intended to supply fuel for the holocaust. The whole represents Christ, the sacrificial Victim.

Everything points to the fact that the Tripod Table with the person imposing hands, and the Banquet Scene, both of which belong to the Chambers of the Sacraments, are at least symbolical pictures of the august mystery of the Eucharist. Else why should they be preceded by scenes of Baptism, and followed by the picture of the resurrection ? Why should there be, near at hand, the painting of the sacrifice of Isaac, recalling at least the Victim of the Cross and His Passion ? If these represent merely the comparatively unimportant event of the multiplication of the loaves, or if they refer merely to the Agape, why are they found here in such august company ? Indeed, a mere representation of the multiplication of the loaves is positively excluded by the presence of tables.

Lucina crypt in the Catacomb of Callixtus, Rome.
Though not in the immediate neighbourhood, there is in the same cemetery of St. Callistus a realistic representation of the Eucharist, which also will throw light on the interpretation of the previous pictures. In the crypt of Lucina, there is in two places the same kind of scene. There is a fish depicted in each place. There is also a basket—containing six loaves—which is, apparently, resting on the back of one of the fishes. A basket with five loaves seems to rest on the back of the other. There is, within the basket, a glass flask containing a red liquid, presumably wine. The latter fact leaves little doubt as to the Eucharistic interpretation of the picture. St. Jerome says : " What can be more rich than the man who carries the body of Christ in a basket of wickerwork and the blood of Christ in a vessel of glass." 22

Jerome is here speaking of the Bishop of Toulouse, who sold his gold and silver vessels in behalf of the needy poor. Thus, wickerwork baskets were used as ciboriums, and glass vessels as chalices under the pressure of poverty. Irenaeus, who more directly testifies to the customs of the present period, speaks of a heretical juggler who, in imitating the Christian Consecration, converted white wine into red, that he might show it to the people as real blood. 23 This plainly implies that he used a glass vessel. While the date of the pictures, previously mentioned, in the Catacomb of St. Callistus is traced back to the end of the second century, this picture of the two fishes belongs to the middle of the second century, if not to an earlier period. 24

This is the place to discuss what is the precise symbolism of the fish which figures in the scenes described as for example, in the Fractio Panis. St. Augustine identifies the roasted fish of St. John's Gospel with the crucified Christ. 25 The acrostic is well known which interprets the letters of the Greek word for fish as the initials of the words Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. This appears to be too far-fetched an explanation, and is mentioned only by later writers. Prosper of Aquitane, who mentions this theory, gives also a hint that there is a reference to the healing fish in the book of Tobias. 26 This incident in the Old Testament can be understood as symbolic of our Saviour. To me it seems that the fish, at first signifying the Lord's great miracle of the multiplication of this food, came, in time, by a sort of metonymy to represent Himself.

Tertullian, in delicate imagery, says that we, little fish, are born in water after the model of our Great Fish, Jesus Christ. 27 Thus the image of the fish is extended to the faithful, and with good reason, since they are born in the waters of Baptism. Beyond these explanations, one cannot trace the exact origin of the symbol which we have seen to be undoubtedly applied to Christ.

Inscriptions of Abercius and of Pectorius. 

The symbolism of the fish may be illustrated by a reference to the inscriptions of Abercius, and of Pectorius of Autun.

The pictures of early Christian art  can be best understood by a comparison with ancient monumental stones, while both classes of subjects can in turn be interpreted through the Christian treatises of the time. From a general study of these three sources we get the truest idea of the meaning of each. One cannot hope to obtain a correct notion of the meaning of a text without reference to its context. So, too, early Christian symbolism cannot be imprisoned in its entirety within a single picture, or a single set of pictures. According to his inscription Abercius had come in contact with some shepherd or pastor. After some reference to the latter, and to persons who are said to be u sealed," Abercius goes on to describe what at first sight, at least, appears to be the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Faith, according to Abercius, had everywhere been his guide. She—for faith is personified—gave him everywhere for food a great pure Fish taken from the fountain. This Fish was borne by a chaste Virgin. This Fish, moreover, is to be eaten during all ages. Abercius was also refreshed with mixed wine of the finest quality. There is added, in fine, a request that he who understands and has a similar persuasion may pray for Abercius. 28

28 Fides vero ubique mihi dux fuit Praebuitque ubique cibum, piscem e fonte Ingentem purum quern prehendit virgo casta, Deditque aniicis perpetuo edenduni

Vinum optimum habens, ministrans mixtum, cum pane , . . Haec qui intelligit quique eadem sentit oret pro Abercio.

1 Cf. Matthei, Die Totenmahld. in der altchr. Kirche.

See Art. Agape iu the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

1Cf. Marucchi. Elem. d' Archeol. Chret. Vol. I, Art. Eucharistie.

4 Ibid.

 Malereien S. 48.

6 Matthew, c. 15 ; Mark. c. 8.

7 Ep, i., c. 3.

8 Cf. Tertullian, De Bapt., c. 5.

9 Ep. ad Smyrn. vii., 240,

10 Contra Jud., c. 10.

11 Cf., St, Paul, Gal, 3, 6; Clement of Rome, ad Cor., c. 31 ; Irenaeus, C. Haer, iv., c. 5 ; Tertullian, C. Jud., c. 9. ; Cyprian, De Bono Pat,, c. 10.

12 Wilpert, Fractio Panis, 11.

13 Cf. Marucchi Elements d'Archeologie I. art. Eucharistie.

14 Cited Historie des Antiquites, Art. Eucharistie.

15 Malereien, S. 15-21.

16 Cf. Northcote, Roman Catacombs, p. 82.

17 Tertullian, De Pallio.

18 Wilpert, Fractio Panis, 11., 12.

19 Funk, Beigabe zur Doctr. Duod. App. c, 17, 18.

20 Hom. iii. in 1 Jud., n. 2 Gr., t. xii. 962.

21 Tertullian, De BapL c. 5.

22 Ep. cxxv. ad Rustic. P, L, xxii,, 1085.

23 C, Haer, L 1. cap. 13, P. G. t vii. Col. 580.

24 Cf. Wilpert, Fractio Panis 81 and Marucchi Elem.  d'Archeol. I. Art. Eucharistie.

25 In Joann tract 123 P. L., 35 c. 1966

26 Cf. work attributed to him De Promiss. et Praedict. Dei P. L. t. 51, c, 816.

27 De Bapt. C. I.