Justin Martyr on the Oldest Liturgy and the Apostolic “memoranda”

Following up on Justin’s description of mid-second-century baptism, here’s a rough-and-ready translation of what he has to say a little further down, which provides probably the earliest testimony (c. 150) about Christian liturgy:

And after cleansing in such a manner [baptism], we bring the one who has obeyed and agreed to the so-called “brothers,” where they are gathered. And having made shared prayers vigorously on behalf of ourselves, the enlightened one [the initiate], and all others everywhere, that we might be deemed worthy, having learned the truth, and found good citizens in our actions and guardians of the things instructed, that we might be delivered with respect to eternal deliverance. Having ceased from prayers, we embrace each other with a kiss. Then bread is brought to the one presiding over the brothers and a wine cup mixed with water. And when this one has received it, he sends up praise and glory to the Father of all, through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and he gives much thanks for these with him being deemed worthy, and having completed his prayers and thanksgiving, all the people (laos) present concur, saying, “Amen.” (“Amen” in the Hebrew language means “let it be.”) When the president has given thanks and all the people have concurred, those called “servers” (diakonoi) by us give to each one present to share from the bread, wine, and water for which thanks were given, and they take away some for those who were not present.[1]

And this meal is called “thanksgiving” (eucharistia) by us, of which no one can share except the one believing the things taught by us are true, cleansed by the cleansing for the forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and living in the manner Christ handed down. For we receive these things neither as common bread nor common drink. Rather, in the way our savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the word of God, and had both flesh and blood for our deliverance, so too are we taught that the meal—given thanks for through the word of prayer by (the president), from which blood and fleshes (sic) are nourished according to our change—is the flesh and blood of that one made flesh, Jesus Christ. For the apostles, in the (books) that were their memoranda, which are called “gospels,” they handed down in such a way what Jesus has commanded them, that taking bread, giving thanks, he said, “Do this in memory of me: this is my body,” and that taking the cup in the same way and giving thanks, he said, “this is my blood,” gave it to them. And this very thing have they handed down to occur in the rites of Mithras, the wicked demons who have imitated (these practices). For bread and a cup of water are placed in the rites of the initiate, with some incantation. (Either you know this already or are can learn it.)[2]

I’m not confident about what exactly Justin’s trying to convey in the phrases about “blood and fleshes…according to our change,” but it clearly matters to his theory of the Eucharist, so there’s more pondering to be done there. He concludes,

And for everything by which we are brought forth, we bless the maker of all things through his son, the same Jesus Christ, and through his Holy Spirit. And on the day called “Sun’s”—for all living in either cities or countryside, it’s the same day—the gathering occurs. Both the memoranda of the apostles and the compositions of the prophets are read publicly, for however long is fitting. Then, with the reader having finished, the president makes by word [textual problem: admonition and exhortation to remember all these fine things.] Then we all stand in common and send our prayers. And, as we have explained before, when we cease from prayer, bread, wine, and water are brought forward, and the president likewise sends up prayers and thanksgiving with as much ability as he has, and the people concur, saying, “Amen.” The giving and sharing happens for all who have given thanks, and through the servers some is sent to those not present. Those who are doing well and are willing, each according to his own free will, gives what he wishes, and the collection is put away with the president. And he himself helps both the orphans and widows, those in need because of sickness or some other reason, those who are in prison, those aliens living in our midst: he is simply the guardian of all those in need. And we all make our gathering together on the sun’s day, since it is the first day, on which God made the cosmos, having turned the darkness and matter. And Jesus Christ our savior rose from the dead on the same day, for they crucified him on the day before Kronos’ day [i.e., Saturn’s day], and on the day after Kronos’ day, which the Sun’s day, having appeared to this apostles and students, he taught these thing, which we also have reported to you for investigation.[3]

To make just one comment on the facet that has most held my attention lately, Justin repeatedly refers to the gospels as “memoranda,” but there’s no easy translation for the term apomnemoneumata (try saying that one aloud a few times). This is a fairly technical term to describe a literary genre, namely, a “first draft” of history: unstylized notes recording the bare events intended for use by a later writer who would then turn these raw materials into a true history. In Latin—as one Eric Hutchinson explained to me in class a long time ago—these would be called commentarii, the most famous of which were Julius Caesar’s accounts of his military campaigns.

In other words, Justin is essentially advertising the unfinished, unpolished quality of the gospels. One suspects this served an apologetic purpose, since these books would have struck educated readers as pretty rough literature. But given their clear structural design that appears even to a moderately attentive reader, I rather doubt that the authors of Matthew, Luke, and John actually thought they were writing formal apomnemoneumata. As another scholar has argued, on the other hand, there is an interesting case to be made that Mark might very well fit the bill.[4]

  1. First Apology 65: Ἡμεῖς δέ, μετὰ τὸ οὕτως λοῦσαι, τὸν πεπεισμένον καὶ συγκατατεθειμένον ἐπὶ τοὺς λεγομένους ἀδελφοὺς ἄγομεν, ἔνθα συνηγμένοι εἰσί. καί, κοινὰς εὐχὰς ποιησάμενοι ὑπέρ τε ἑαυτῶν καὶ τοῦ φωτισθέντος καὶ ἄλλων πανταχοῦ πάντων εὐτόνως ὅπως καταξιωθῶμεν, τὰ ἀληθῆ μαθόντες, καὶ δι’ ἔργων ἀγαθοὶ πολιτευταὶ καὶ φύλακες τῶν ἐντεταλμένων εὑρεθῆναι, ὅπως τὴν αἰώνιον σωτηρίαν σωθῶμεν, ἀλλήλους φιλήματι ἀσπαζόμεθα, παυσάμενοι τῶν εὐχῶν. ἔπειτα προσφέρεται τῷ προεστῶτιτῶν ἀδελφῶν ἄρτος καὶ ποτήριον ὕδατι κεκραμένον· καὶ οὗτος λαβών, αἶνον καὶ δόξαν τῷ πατρὶ τῶν ὅλων διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου ἀναπέμπει, καὶ εὐχαριστίαν ὑπὲρ τοῦ κατηξιῶσθαι τούτων παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πολὺ ποιεῖται, καί, οὗ συντελέσαντος τὰς εὐχὰς καὶ τὴν εὐχαριστίαν, πᾶς ὁ παρὼν λαὸς ἐπευφημεῖ, λέγων· Ἀμήν. τὸ δὲ ἀμὴν τῇ ἑβραΐδι φωνῇ τὸ γένοιτο σημαίνει. εὐχαριστήσαντος δὲ τοῦ προεστῶτος καὶ ἐπευφημήσαντος παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ, οἱ καλούμενοι παρ’ ἡμῖν διάκονοι διδόασιν ἑκάστῳ τῶν παρόντων μεταλαβεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ εὐχαριστηθέντος ἄρτου καὶ οἴνου καὶ ὕδατος, καὶ τοῖς οὐ παροῦσιν ἀποφέρουσι.

  2. First Apology 66: Καὶ ἡ τροφὴ αὕτη καλεῖται παρ’ ἡμῖν εὐχαριστία, ἧς οὐδενὶ ἄλλῳ μετασχεῖν ἐξόν ἐστιν ἢ τῷ πιστεύοντι ἀληθῆ εἶναι τὰ δεδιδαγμένα ὑφ’ ἡμῶν καὶ λουσαμένῳ τὸ ὑπὲρ ἀφέσεως ἁμαρτιῶν καὶ εἰς ἀναγέννησιν λουτρὸν καὶ οὕτως βιοῦντι ὡς ὁ Χριστὸς παρέδωκεν. οὐ γὰρ ὡς κοινὸν ἄρτον οὐδὲ κοινὸν πόμα ταῦτα λαμβάνομεν· ἀλλ’, ὃν τρόπον διὰ λόγου θεοῦ σαρκοποιηθεὶς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ὁ σωτὴρ ἡμῶν καὶ σάρκα καὶ αἷμα ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας ἡμῶν ἔσχεν, οὕτως καὶ τὴν δι’ εὐχῆς λόγου τοῦ παρ’ αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστηθεῖσαν τροφήν, ἐξ ἧς αἷμα καὶ σάρκες κατὰ μεταβολὴν τρέφονται ἡμῶν, ἐκείνου τοῦ σαρκοποιηθέντος Ἰησοῦ καὶ σάρκα καὶ αἷμα ἐδιδάχθημεν εἶναι. οἱ γὰρ ἀπόστολοι ἐν τοῖς γενομένοις ὑπ’ αὐτῶν ἀπομνημονεύμασιν, ἃ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια, οὕτως παρέδωκαν ἃ ἐντέταλται αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λαβόντα ἄρτον, εὐχαριστήσαντα εἰπεῖν, ‘Τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἀνάμνησίν μου· τοῦτ’ ἐστι τὸ σῶμά μου,’ καὶ τὸ ποτήριον ὁμοίως λαβόντα καὶ εὐχαριστήσαντα εἰπεῖν, ‘τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ αἷμά μου,’ καὶ αὐτοῖς μεταδοῦναι· ὅπερ καὶ ἐν τοῖς τοῦ Μίθρα μυστηρίοις παρέδωκαν γίνεσθαι, μιμησάμενοι, οἱ πονηροὶ δαίμονες· ὅτι γὰρ ἄρτος καὶ ποτήριον ὕδατος τίθεται ἐν ταῖς τοῦ μυουμένου τελεταῖς μετ’ ἐπιλόγων τινῶν, ἢ ἐπίστασθε ἢ μαθεῖν δύνασθε.
  3. First Apology 67: Ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐπὶ πᾶσι οἷς προσφερόμεθα εὐλογοῦμεν τὸν ποιητὴν τῶν πάντων διὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ διὰ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου. καὶ τῇ τοῦ ἡλίου λεγομένῃ ἡμέρᾳ, πάντων κατὰ πόλεις ἢ ἀγροὺς μενόντων ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ συνέλευσις γίνεται, καὶ τὰ ἀπομνημονεύματα τῶν ἀποστόλων ἢ τὰ συγγράμματα τῶν προφητῶν ἀναγινώσκεται, μέχρις ἐγχωρεῖ. εἶτα, παυσαμένου τοῦ ἀναγινώσκοντος, ὁ προεστὼς διὰ λόγου †τὴν νουθεσίαν καὶ πρόκλησιν τῆς τῶν καλῶν τούτων μιμήσεως† ποιεῖται. ἔπειτα ἀνιστάμεθα κοινῇ πάντες καὶ εὐχὰς πέμπομεν. καί, ὡς προέφημεν, παυσαμένων ἡμῶν τῆς εὐχῆς, ἄρτος προσφέρεται καὶ οἶνος καὶ ὕδωρ, καὶ ὁ προεστὼς εὐχὰς ὁμοίως καὶ εὐχαριστίας, ὅση δύναμις αὐτῷ, ἀναπέμπει, καὶ ὁ λαὸς ἐπευφημεῖ, λέγων τὸ Ἀμήν. καὶ ἡ διάδοσις καὶ ἡ μετάληψις ἀπὸ τῶν εὐχαριστηθέντων ἑκάστῳ γίνεται, καὶ τοῖς οὐ παροῦσι διὰ τῶν διακόνων πέμπεται. οἱ εὐποροῦντες δὲ καὶ βουλόμενοι, κατὰ προαίρεσιν ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ, ὃ βούλεται δίδωσι, καὶ τὸ συλλεγόμενον παρὰ τῷ προεστῶτι ἀποτίθεται. καὶ ἀυτὸς ἐπικουρεῖ ὀρφανοῖς τε καὶ χήραις καὶ τοῖς διὰ νόσον ἢ δι’ ἄλλην αἰτίαν λειπομένοις καὶ τοῖς ἐν δεσμοῖς οὖσι καὶ τοῖς παρεπιδήμοις οὖσι ξένοις, καὶ ἁπλῶς πᾶσι τοῖς ἐν χρείᾳ οὖσι κηδεμὼν γίνεται. τὴν δὲ τοῦ ἡλίου ἡμέραν κοινῇ πάντες τὴν συνέλευσιν ποιούμεθα, ἐπειδὴ πρώτη ἐστὶν ἡμέρα, ἐν ᾗ ὁ θεός, τὸ σκότος καὶ τὴν ὕλην τρέψας, κόσμον ἐποίησε, καὶ Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ὁ ἡμέτερος σωτὴρ τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀνέστη· τῇ γὰρ πρὸ τῆς Κρονικῆς ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτόν, καὶ τῇ μετὰ τὴν Κρονικήν, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἡλίου ἡμέρα, φανεὶς τοῖς ἀποστόλοις αὐτοῦ καὶ μαθηταῖς ἐδίδαξε ταῦτα ἅπερ εἰς ἐπίσκεψιν καὶ ὑμῖν ἀνεδώκαμεν.
  4. Matthew D. C. Larsen, Gospels before the Book (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).


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