AGAPE or (G r.cirycir ciydrat, aAr-a' 'Say), the Greek term for love, used by ecclesi astical writers (most frequently in the plural) to signify the social feasts of friendship, love, or kindness, in use among the primitive Chris tians. It is very probable that they were insti tuted in memory of the last supper of Jesus Christ with his disciples, which supper was con cluded before he instituted the eucharist.
(1) Festival. These festivals were kept in the assembly, or church, towards evening, after prayers and worship were over Upon these occa sions, the faithful ate together, with great sim plicity and union, what each had brought ; so that rich and poor were in no way distinguished. After a supper, marked by much frugality and modesty, they partook of the sacramental signs of the Lord's body and blood, and gave each other the kiss of peace.
(2) Before the Eucharist. The Agapre are placed before the eucharist (I Cor. xi :21), and if they did refer to our Lord's supper before he instituted the eucharist, this seems to be their natural order. But it is probable that, at least in some places, or on some occasions, the holy eucharist preceded the Agape; perhaps when per secution rendered extreme caution necessary ; for it seems very likely that Pliny speaks of these Agape in his famous letter to Trajan : 'After their service to Christ (quasi Deo) they departed, and returned to take a harmless repast in com mon.' (3) History. The history of the Agapre among the primitive Christians is so closely connected with the manners, customs, and opinions of times and places that to treat it satisfactorily would lead us too far ; we may, therefore, only offer a few remarks. There seems reason to conclude that the social intercourse of early believers might enable them to discover many excellencies in each other, which might contribute to justify and to . promote the observations of heathen strangers, 'See how these Christians love one another !' These Agapre were not only very powerful means, among the primitive Christians, of culti vating mutual affection throughout their body, and of gaining the good will of those who ob served their conduct ; hut, in all probability, they contributed to the promotion of the Christian cause, by leading to conversions, and by support ing the minds of young converts under the diffi culties attending their situation. Tertullian (Apol. cap. 39) speaks of them thus: 'Nothing low or unseemly is committed in them ; nor is it till after having prayed to God that they sit down to table. Food is taken in moderation, as wanted ;
and no more is drank than it becomes discreet persons to drink. Each takes such refreshment as is suitable, in connection with the recollection that he is to be engaged, in the course of the night, in adorations to God ; and the conversation is conducted as becometh those who know that the Lord heareth them After water has been brought for the hands, and fresh lights, everyone is invited to sing. and to glorify God, whether by passages from the sacred Scriptures, or of his own composition. This discovers whether proper moderation has been observed at the table. In short, the repast concludes as it began ; that is to say, with prayer.' (4) Abuse. These institutions, however, even in the time of the apostles, appear to have degen erated, and become abused. Paul (t Cor. xi :2o, 2t ) complains, that the rich despised the poor in these assemblies, and would not condescend to cat with him: 'When ye come together,' says he, 'in one place—this coining together, merely, is not eating the Lord's supper; one taking before another his own supper ; one being hungry, another over full. What ! have ye not houses to cat and to drink in ? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not ?' In this discordant state of its members, a church could not hut be unfit to celebrate the great com memoration of Divine love. ( Jude 12. 'Spots in your feasts of charity—Agapie—feasting them selves, etc It certainly seems to us extraordinary, that on any occasion, much more on occasion of a Chris tian institution recently attended to, and a solemn Christian ordinance about to be attended to, the Corinthians should, any of them, indulge to excess of any kind: but when we consider that public suppers and other meals were customary among the Greeks (to which they might assimi late these Aga:ix), and besides, that the sacrifices at which these Corinthians had been accustomed to attend, were followed (and some accompanied) by merriment, we shall see less reason to wonder at their faliing into intemperance of behavior so very different from the genius of the gospel. Certainly the eucharist itself is, as the name im plies, a feast for joy ; hut for joy of a much more serious kind. Ilowever, we must, in justice, vindicate the Corinthians from that gross profana tion of the eucharist itself, with which, from our translation, or rather from the common accepta tion of the phrase "Lord's supper," they have been reproached.