Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 5, “Kingdom Expectation Celebrated in the Eucharistic Meals” pp. 351-421.
The Didache speaks in detail about two rites. In baptism the convert enters the community. The eucharist follows. Milavec notes that this is a full meal and that the unbaptized are excluded (Milavec 2003, 354). The Didache does not speak of the institution nor of the theology of the body and blood of Christ. Milavec considers this as a fundamental difference in Christian communities, asserting that the Synoptic communities emphasized Jesus but the Didache communities were more interested in what God did. Milavec also draws a distinction here between the Synoptic communities and the Johannine or Pauline groups (Milavec 2003, 355). As seems frequently the case in Milavec, he sees very different types of Christianity arising in different places, rather than one faith with various emphases in expression.
The eucharistic prayers are found in Didache chapters 9-10. Before and after the meal are three prayers according to set patterns, ending with affirmation of God’s glory (Milavec 2003, 355). Because singing was a very common custom in Judaism and early Christianity, Milavec considers whether the Eucharist would have been sung (Milavec 2003, 356). He concludes that it is likely that the Didache communities would have engaged in singing, especially when celebrating important and repeated events such as the Eucharist (Milavec 2003, 357).
Didache 9 identifies a singular cup and loaf. Milavec notes two possibilities. Either the table, set for a meal, had one cup and loaf identified by the celebrant, or the table was initially prepared with just one loaf and cup until after the consecration and sharing (Milavec 2003, 357). Because the meal was identified as not only a meal but one which broke a fast, it is clear that there would be more than one loaf before everybody left. The prayers, in 10:3, seem to suggest some food and drink provided for the people in general and some as spiritual food and drink (Milavec 2003, 358). However, Milavec asserts that the participants would not have had any concern about care of the elements, nor would they have distinguished between the parts of the meal. He gives no reason for his opinion (Milavec 2003, 358). The blessing may well have been understood to transform the bread and wine or the entirety of the meal (Milavec 2003, 359) although 10:3 seems to indicate some form of distinction.
Milavec describes the eucharistic meal in detail as he imagines it. Based on Jeremias’ work, he asserts that wine was used only on festive occasions, while people generally would have used water with meals (Milavec 2003, 361). There would be a benediction over a cup. The symbolism inherent in the idea of a cup of wine was that God tended His vineyard, Israel, and called his people out as a chosen people. He again emphasizes the nature of prayer as a non-rote practice, in which the leader would go beyond the prayers given in the Didache (Milavec 2003, 363). The shared cup would make a strong statement of all the communicants sharing in God’s presence (Milavec 2003, 364). Milavec’s argument for the spontaneous nature of the prayers is based on two elements. First, aside from the records of reciting Deuteronomy 6:4, he finds no record of word-for-word recitation in Israel. Second, Justin Martyr in 1 Apol 65 and 67 describes “the presider” as altering prayers as he is able (Milavec 2003, 364). There was certainly leeway given for a bishop to pray according to his sense of the current situation.
The Eucharistic prayers in the Didache refer to Jesus as the Father’s “servant.” The role of a leader as the servant of God was prominent in Jewish thought (Milavec 2003, 365). David the king was regularly referred to as the servant of God. Likewise, among the prophets, Moses was seen as God’s servant. In the Didache, Jesus is also considered the servant of God (Milavec 2003, 366). Citing John A.T. Robinson, Milavec sees the Christology of the New Testament developing during the Book of Acts. Early on Jesus is seen as one who is yet to become the real Messiah. The idea of Jesus as the “son” rather than a “servant” or “child” may develop during the time period recorded in Acts (Milavec 2003, 367). If this is the case, Milavec assigns Didache 9 to a very early apostolic period with a relatively primitive Christology (Milavec 2003, 36). Milavec’s practice of making a sharp distinction between roles of God (the father) and Jesus remains consistent as he speaks of roles in the eucharist as well as the idea of the final judgment (Milavec 2003, 369). Some parts of Didache refer to an eschatological hope. However, it is only near the end that this hope is specifically to be realized in Jesus, rather than the more generic “in God” (Milavec 2003, 369). In the eucharistic feast, after the cup, the celebrant takes and breaks the loaf. The custom of breaking bread and asking God’s blessing was common in Judaism. Milavec note that some had a custom of bread before a cup and some of the cup before bread. He suggests the difference in ordering in Mark may simply reflect a local custom (Milavec 2003, 372). The Didache presents the cup, then the loaf broken and consecrated. A meal with a master and disciples is common Jewish practice to this day. It involves sharing one or more cups, bread which is broken and given with prayers, and spiritual teachings (Milavec 2003, 373). The Christian eucharist may easily be seen as a similar gathering. In the Didache, the eating of the loaf is a participation in the future restoration of all things in Christ (Milavec 2003, 374). The bread is seen as nourishment provided by God, scattering the fragments to plant life and knowledge of God’s kingdom in people all over the earth (Milavec 2003, 375).
Milavec notes in the eucharistic prayers that the tem “your church” is used twice, in 9:4 and 10:5 (Milavec 2003, 376). It is singular, not plural. The term for “church” means “that called out.” This can well indicate God’s gathering of one people from many nations. The word is used elsewhere as a universal gathering or a local assembly.
Based on the nature of the eucharist, it is not surprising that unbaptized people would not be included. Milavec notes that in the paganism of the time, meals celebrating deities or other influential figures would be open to all. Therefore, the Didache would make the restriction very clear (Milavec 2003, 377). Again, he distinguishes between Jesus and “the Lord-God,” indicating that the consecration is not referring to Jesus.
There is some debate whether Didache 9-10 describs communion or not. Many scholars, noting the absence of statements concerning Jesus’ body and blood, absence of words of institution, and no mention of Jesus’ death view this simply as a community meal (Milavec 2003, 379). Milavec asserts that the Didache community has no concept of Paul and that there was no common practice before the Synoptic Gospels were written. Because the text uses the word “eucharist” to describe the meal, and because of the restrictions on participation, Milavec sees this as a feast which, in essence, is the Lord’s Supper (Milavec 2003, 380).
The eucharist in the Didache is apparently a full meal. 10:1 says participants are “filled” (Milavec 2003, 380). This implies that the social dynamics common to shared meals would apply. They specifically imply formation and maintenance of close fellowship (Milavec 2003, 381). It affirmed their identity as a group with a number of reciprocal obligations.
Milavec notes that regardless of the place or time of the Eucharist, God the Father was considered the host. Though unseen, He was understood to be present (Milavec 2003, 382). However, Milavec asserts that “the Didache community would have been inclined to speak of the ‘real absence’ of Jesus” (Milavec 2003, 383). He asserts that Jesus would be considered as absent until a future restoration. As typical, Milavec does not furnish an argument for his position.
Milavec asks whether children were present at or even received communion. The Didache speaks only to baptized people receiving communion, and the pattern described is that of baptizing adult converts. However, it is very likely that at the very least nursing babies would have been present (Milavec 2003, 383). Children would normally be present for family meals in a Roman culture, whether at their own table, with adults, or serving tables as a chore (Milavec 2003, 384). The more formal evening meal would be less likely to have a wife or children present. Milavec concludes that since the eucharist was seen as a special meal and was celebrated at the home of a prominent person, slaves and children would be occupied with preparation and serving, not in participation of the eucharist itself (Milavec 2003, 385).