Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals

Article excerpt

By Andrew McGowan. Oxford Early Christian Studies. New York: Oxford University Press; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. xiii + 312 pp. $85.00 (cloth); L55.00 (cloth).

For as many weeks as Andrew McGowan's book sat on my desk it proved irresistible to every person who walked into my office, particularly in speculating on what the primary title, Ascetic Eucharists, might mean. That was a telling entry into McGowan's superb study-not immediately accessible to everyone but always intriguing.

McGowan's careful presentation of the context and evidence for particular groups of early Christians using bread and water for the eucharist, rather than bread and wine, should give pause to institutional and individual desires to see, for a number of reasons, ultimate homogeneity as either a goal or a reality. He traces the very real and still present patterns in early church scholarship that want to find uniformity for the sake of unity, either by reading the evidence anachronistically to prove a preconceived ideal, or by setting aside what is different so as not to disturb the calm waters of uniform practice and meaning. And as he unfolds his methodology to get at the heart of these less common practices, he gently nudges a number of scholarly presumptions or preoccupations into a place where they can be examined in a more objective light.

Throughout the book, McGowan presents a model for analyzing older methodologies that allows one to see their advantages and disadvantages, before moving to use the methodologies to enhance his own thesis. After an introductory chapter, he discusses food, feasting, and fasting in Greco-Roman antiquity, introducing the key concept of the "cuisine of sacrifice" which will prove important to his argument regarding the theology of the bread and water eucharist. The third chapter begins the primary focus on Christian ritual meals, reviewing the varieties of foods used in the eucharist and/or other important ritual meals, including not only the baptismal cups of milk and honey, but also cheese, oil, salt, fruits, and vegetables, and the confusing but fascinating symbol of the fish. The remainder of the chapters focus on the evidence or suggestions of the Christian ritual use of bread and water, first in early Asian and Syrian Christianity from which comes the bulk of the evidence (chapter 4), then the bread and water tradition in the Pseudepigrapha (chapter 5), the "Orthodox Use of Bread and Water" (chapter 6), where the references are interesting but far more speculative, and finally within the New Testament itself (chapter 7). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.