Liturgy and eucharist – Part XIII

Liturgy and eucharist – Part XIII April 21, 2017


Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship

The evolution of Eucharistic rites

119 Bradshaw says that since the Didache has prayers after the cup and then the bread, and then another prayer “after being filled,” with prophets being allowed to give thanks as they wished, “it was of a very different kind from those otherwise known from Christian antiquity.” He assumes that because there is no prayer of institution mentioned, there was none.

[Is this really “very” different?  It does not seem so.  Bradshaw seems awfully eager to “split,” to see great differences where the differences are not so great.]

121 In the twentieth century most scholars came to believe that the first half of the Eucharistic liturgy came from the Jewish Sabbath morning service, and the second half from the Passover meal or the regular Jewish evening meal that begins the Sabbath.

122-26 Bradshaw faults Dix for a number of things.

  1. Assuming that the first half of the rite was from the synagogue, with psalmody and lessons and preaching and prayers, when we know very little of what happened in the synagogue in the first century. [Yet he also says that we know that both synagogue and church had readings, preaching, and prayers.]
  2. Asserting that this was an unchanging outline everywhere, when we have evidence only from Justin Martyr in Rome, and Tertullian and Cyprian in North Africa.
  3. Asserting that at some point a full meal was separated from the Eucharistic rite, when we don’t know if there ever was a full meal.
  4. Asserting that the early Eucharistic prayer evolved out of the standard Jewish grace after meals, when there must have been significant Christian modification, or the Jewish grace had variant forms. [this seems a false dichotomy.]
  5. Assuming that only what was common was earliest.

128-29 Bradshaw faults Louis Bouyer for trying to prove that all of the Eucharistic prayer, especially the Sanctus, came from Jewish roots in various forms of the berakah.  Bradshaw says he tried to prove too much, and did not have enough hard evidence.

131-33 Bradshaw notes Thomas Talley’s argument that the prayer of praise of the Creator which culminates in the Sanctus was adopted from the synagogue.

139-43 After reviewing the work of Spinks, Cuming and others, Bradshaw concludes with some observations.

  1. Despite attempts to trace things back to a fixed, standard Jewish liturgy, we don’t know much about the latter in the first century. The Eucharistic rite may owe things as much to the Jewish meal tradition as worship in the synagogue, or to new Gentile patterns of prayer.
  2. There was no single line of development, and the search for one has led many scholars astray. This is the main problem he sees with Dix’s fourfold shape. There were some rites that used water instead of wine, others that varied the cup-bread sequence, and the Didache which lacked an institution narrative. [These are distinctions without significant differences, for they argue from silence.  How do we know what the Didache presumed without making explicit, as Bradshaw elsewhere keeps asking? And none of these differences clearly differs from the fourfold shape of offertory, prayer, fraction and communion.  Not unless failure to mention every part means it was absent—another argument from silence.]
  3. A third obstacle has been the assumption that the Eucharistic prayer must have always been a single flowing seamless whole. So the Sanctus, which seems to have been added later, was not an alien addition but the continuation of a tradition of combining smaller units together.
  4. In most cases these prayers circulated orally rather than in written form until the late 3rd or early 4th

On Eucharist, then, Bradshaw’s demolition of Dix’s scholarship does not seem as damning as has sometimes been asserted.

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