Making Sacrifices: Early Christianity, Ritual Meals, and Cultic Tradition

Christianity emerged in a world where forms of cultic offering generally designated "sacrifice" were pervasive, but not immutable or invariable. Aspects of Christian practice such as asceticism, martyrdom and especially ritual meals came to be described and interpreted in terms drawn from biblical traditions of offering and from Greco-Roman cultus, but sat awkwardly relative to these models and were ultimately seen often as superseding or otherwise replacing them - such theories of displacement allowing for disconformity relative to other practices, as well as similarity . These processes cannot be interpreted adequately merely as interaction (whether "critique," or "spiritualization," etc) between an emergent religious tradition and "sacrifice" understood as a given, fixed or universal set of processes; rather the re-casting of these cultic traditions into a different set of understandings and practices changes the referent of "sacrifice." This paper will explore this question of how the idea of "sacrifice" is constructed in early Christian theory and practice with attention to the practice of Eucharistic meals, particularly to third century evidence including writings of Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, and the anonymous Church Order document usually referred to as the Apostolic Tradition.