In our previous installment, we discussed the ancient practice of mixing “pure wine,” or merum, with water to make “wine,” as well as the ancient Greek, Jewish, Roman and Christian aversion to drinking merum straight. That ancient practice and that ancient aversion were widely known, and it should come as no surprise that the Early Church Fathers were aware of them, too. Roman Catholicism claims that the liturgical rite of mixing wine with water as part of the Eucharistic liturgy can be traced all the way back to Jesus’ own administration of the Last Supper. But their evidence for the early origination of the “liturgical rite” is based not on any actual liturgical tradition of the Early Church, but solely on the early Church’s expressions of the ingredients and production of wine. To the early Church, “wine and water” was, in fact, wine, and that is what they used for the Lord’s Supper. There was nothing liturgically significant about mixing it. It was not until the latter part of the 4th century that the early Church’s use of “wine and water” began to be interpreted as a liturgical, apostolic rite. Over the next two installments, we will assess the ante-Nicene, Nicene and the early post-Nicene references to mixed wine—Justin Martyr, Irenæus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, Aphrahat of Persia, Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan—to show how the early references to a commonly known manufacturing process began to be interpreted as a liturgical rite that was eventually codified into Roman Catholic canon law.
As we demonstrated in our previous entry, to make wine for consumption the last step is to mix merum, or “pure wine,” with water to make “wine” for drinking. Whether it was called merum, “the pure blood of the grape,” “wine alone,” “unmixed wine,” “undiluted wine,” or “Bacchic fuel,” the meaning was clear to the ancients, and it needed to be mixed with water to be palatable. Once that “unmixed wine” was mixed with water, it was called “wine and water,” or “wine with water” or “mingled wine” or “mixed wine” or simply, “wine.”
Throughout the Greek, Jewish, Roman and Christian world the pressing of grapes and the grinding of grain were household concepts and therefore a regular part of the vernacular, as was the adding of water to each to make wine and to make bread. The Early Church Fathers often juxtaposed those two agricultural processes in a way that reflected their familiarity with the production of both. They were as eager to extract symbolic meaning from the winepress and the mixing of wine with water, as they were to extract symbolic meaning from the mixing and grinding of grains, the adding of water to flour, and the kneading of bread before baking. That Jesus had used “mixed” bread and “mixed” wine as symbols of His body and blood was particularly significant to them because of their conviction that in Jesus, God had “mixed” Himself with man.
Irenæus rejoiced in the knowledge that in the Incarnation, God had “mingled with His own creation” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 16, paragraph 6).
Tertullian delighted that the manger in Bethlehem displayed God and man mingled (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 21; (Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina (PL), volume I, (Imprimerie Catholique, Paris, 1844) col 399).
Cyprian celebrated the knowledge that in Jesus, “God is mingled (miscetur) with man” (Cyprian, Treatise 6, paragraph 11; Migne, PL volume IV, (1844) col 578).
As was often the case in the Early Church, such rich symbolic soil was too tempting to leave untilled, and thus the figures of mixed bread and mixed wine became for them a profound representation of what God had done in the Incarnation. The early writers both expressed and defended His Incarnation in those very terms.
The Marcionites denied that Jesus had really become part of creation, to which Irenæus objected: How then could Jesus “have acknowledged the bread to be His body, while He took it from that creation to which we belong, and affirmed the mixed cup to be His blood?” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 33, paragraph 2). Cyprian taught that, just as grains are ground “and mixed together into one mass,” just so “in Christ, who is the heavenly bread, we may know that there is one body, with which our number is joined and united” (Cyprian, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). Chrysostom represented the Incarnation in similar terms: “He has mixed up Himself with us; He has kneaded up His body with ours” (Chrysostom, Homily 46 on the Gospel of John, John 6:49, paragraph 3)
From that basic familiarity with producing wine and making bread emerge two important aspects of the early Church’s understanding of the Eucharistic liturgy: first, the early Church understood that the mixing of water with wine was not a liturgical rite but was a simple extension of the agricultural process of making wine; and second, the mixing of wine with water was no more liturgically significant than was the mixing of water with flour or the kneading of dough before baking. In fact, the early Church referred to both the bread and the wine as “common food” and “common drink,” even after the wine and water had been mixed. The merum did not become special when mixed with water. That resulting mixture was a common drink, as easily called “wine” as “mingled wine” or “wine with water” interchangeably.
As we proceed chronologically through the Early Church references to mixed wine, we will see that mixed wine and bread were simple agricultural products selected by Jesus, and therefore used by the Early Church, for their symbolic value. Neither Jesus, nor His followers, had instituted a rite of mixing at the Supper Table.
Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.)
The earliest Patristic reference to wine mixed with water comes from Justin Martyr in chapter 65 of his First Apology. Roman Catholics rush past chapter 65 and straight to 67 in order to prove that the early Church brought forward three items—bread, wine and water—to the Lord’s Table for the celebration of communion:
“Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 67, Weekly Worship of Christians)
We agree that in Justin’s day, Christians brought “bread and wine and water” forward to the Table. We deny that they brought forward three elements. As we noted above, if one understands the ancient practice of mixing pure wine with water to make wine, then Justin’s reference to “wine and water” is just another way to say “wine.” Thus, in Justin’s day, what was brought forward to the table was wine that had already been mixed, plus bread that had already been baked—two elements.
Justin had confirmed this explicitly two chapters earlier. Roman Catholics tend to skip past chapter 65 because this, the earliest Patristic reference to the mixed cup, is inconsistent with the Roman Catholic practice of mixing the wine and water at the table. When celebrating the Lord’s supper, Justin said, they brought forward a cup which contained “wine and water” that had already been mixed:
“Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; … And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 65, Administration of the Sacraments)
In the contemporary vernacular, “wine and water” and “wine mixed with water” were the same thing, and in both chapters Justin described a ritual in which “wine and water” are brought forward with bread after the congregational prayers. “Wine and water,” or “wine mixed with water,” was a reference to “merum with water,” which were already together in the cup. Thus, only two elements were brought forward for the liturgy. The bread and the cup.
Significantly, Justin believed that “wine mixed with water” was just a “common drink,” not a uniquely liturgical libation. In the intervening chapter, Justin essentially referred to the bread and mixed wine as “common bread and common drink,” and explained that once the wine with water “is blessed by the prayer” it ceases to be “common.” Thus, prior to the blessing, the “wine mixed with water” was “common”—a typical, secular Mediterranean drink—which is no surprise to anyone familiar with the practice of mixing “pure wine” with water to make wine. There is every reason to believe that common drink had already been mixed before the weekly worship service had even begun.
We see this in light of the early Church’s practice of taking the bread and wine from among the gifts which the Lord had supplied to His people, who in turn collected them for distribution to the poor. Just as the people brought already baked bread to the gathering, they also brought already mixed wine. In Chapter 13, Justin indicated that in the weekly worship, the people offer “prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied,” and “use it for ourselves and those who need” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 13).
He mentions this again in chapter 67, saying “the wealthy among us help the needy,” blessing God “for all things wherewith we are supplied.” And again, “they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit,” for the “care of all who are in need” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 67, Weekly Worship of Christians).
These are references to people bringing the gifts with them from home. Those who brought wine, brought it already mixed—so common was the drink of merum mixed with water. Just as nobody would have brought unbaked bread to the gathering, nobody would have brought straight merum, either.
As Irenæus confirms for us in the next section, it is from among those common foods and common drinks that the baked bread and mixed wine were selected for use at the table.
Irenæus of Lyons (early 2nd century – 202 A.D.)
Irenæus, in his arguments against the Valentinians, Ebionites and Marcionites about the incarnation, referred more than once to the mixture of water with wine. The Valentinians believed Jesus was divine, but had only “appeared” to be a man “in mere seeming” (Irenæus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 2). The Ebionites believed Jesus was a man, but denied His divinity, and “do not receive by faith into their soul the union of God and man,” (Irenæus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 3). The Marcionites believed Jesus was divine but had not really become a man like us. They believed there were two gods, one responsible for fallen creation, and one that was of above him (based in part on Matthew 7:17 and Luke 6:43). Therefore if Jesus was sinless, as the Marcionites reasoned, He must have come from a different “father” than the one that had made fallen creation, and therefore He had not really become like us at all, and therefore the flesh is not restored at the resurrection (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 27; see also Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book I, Chapter 2).
Irenæus of course was indignant at them all. If Jesus was divine, but had not become man; or if He was man, but not divine; then all He had done was leave us in our helpless estate as was on no accounts a savior at all. The Ebionites’ rejection of the “union of God and man” would suggest that the cup of the Lord should be water only, unmixed with any merum at all:
“Vain also are the Ebionites, who do not receive by faith into their soul the union of God and man … Therefore do these men reject the commixture of the heavenly wine, and wish it to be water of the world only…” (Irenæus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 3)
As we noted in our previous installment, merum with water is wine, and therefore wine without merum is water—a concept Irenæus restates for us here. Here is the merum signifies divinity, and the water signifies humanity, and in his mind the Ebionites would be more more consistent to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with water alone.
He also chided “those who allege that He appeared in mere seeming” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 2). Jesus was not “some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh.” No, Jesus was “an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 2, paragraph 3), “truly possessing flesh and blood, by which He redeemed us” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 1, paragraph 2).
He responded similarly to the Marcionites, again using the elements of the Lord’s Supper:
“Moreover, how could the Lord, with any justice, if He belonged to another father [i.e., the one that did not create the world], have acknowledged bread to be His body, while He took it from that creation to which we belong [i.e., from the ‘other father’ that did create the world], and affirmed the mixed cup to be His blood?” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 33, paragraph 2)
To Irenæus, Jesus’ use of such physical elements of fallen creation to signify His body and blood overturned all these heresies. It made no sense for Jesus to take bread and wine “from that creation to which we belong” if He had not actually become part of creation like us. Irenæus’ contemporary, Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 A.D.), made the same argument against Marcion; the figure of bread made no sense, Tertullian countered, “unless there were first a veritable body. An empty thing, or phantom, is incapable of a figure” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter 40, c.f., Book V, chapter 8).
It is here that Irenæus returns to the mingled cup. Just as the bread and wine are “part of the creation,” Jesus, too, had become “part of creation” for us. Far from confirming transubstantiation—for Irenæus insists that the bread and wine remain antitypical or symbolic after the consecration (Irenæus, Fragments, Fragment 37)—the solid and liquid symbolical elements of the Eucharist instead confirmed a real, physical incarnation by which the divine Jesus had taken on our human flesh in order to save it:
“He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 2, paragraphs 2-3).
Notably, as Irenæus speaks of the “parts of creation,” he juxtaposes “manufactured” bread and “mixed” wine, referring to two agricultural processes that resulted in the food products that showed Christ’s incarnation so vividly to His apostles. Jesus never would have used such physical created objects to signify His body and blood if He was merely a phantom without flesh and blood.
On this theme Irenæus continues unabated for the rest of the chapter, invoking parallelisms repeatedly, showing his familiarity with the production of both bread and wine—from kernel to loaf and from vine to cup—and the natural symmetry of Jesus’ symbolism:
“[the flesh] is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body …”
“… just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises …”
“…so also our bodies, being nourished by it [the cup], and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there [like the grain of wheat], shall rise” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 2, paragraph 3).
Irenæus’ references to “the mingled cup” and “manufactured bread” are simply parallelisms used to convey the same thing repeatedly: the wine and bread are “part of creation,” produced not liturgically or ritually, but in standard, and well-known and secular manufacturing processes. Just as the fructified vine produces grapes that are pressed and eventually mingled to become wine, the grain is ground and then is eventually used to manufacture bread. This stylistic parallel places the “mingled cup” at the very end of a manufacturing process that begins at the vine, just as the “manufactured bread” is at the end of a manufacturing process that begins with the grain. The mixing of the wine was no more liturgical than the baking of the bread.
Like Justin, Irenæus, too, noted that the gifts brought to church were the “first-fruits” of creation, part of the collection for the poor and needy in accordance with the “sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” identified by Paul (Philippians 4:18):
“… those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, … as that poor widow acted who cast all her living into the treasury of God. [Luke 21:1-4] … For it behooves us to make an oblation to God, and in all things to be found grateful to God our Maker, in a pure mind, and in faith without hypocrisy, in well-grounded hope, in fervent love, offering the first-fruits of His own created things. And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, [the things taken] from His creation.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 18, paragraphs 1-2, 4)
It is from among the people’s possessions, being the first-fruits of creation, that the bread and wine were taken for the Lord’s Supper, and those created things had been manufactured and mixed by the people before they were ever set aside “for the Lord’s purposes.” Thus, Irenæus is consistent with Justin in that the wine brought to the table would have already been mixed prior to the Eucharistic liturgy.
As we see in the next section, merum mixed with water was such a common drink that Clement of Alexandria understood Jesus’ first miracle to be making merum and water—which is to say wine—out of water alone.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215 A.D.)
Among those Early Church Fathers who elicited a symbolic meaning from the mixture of water with wine, Clement was the first to do so in detail. Justin and Irenæus had made passing references to the mixture, but Clement attempted to assign detailed significance to the bread as well as the wine mixed with water. He did so multiple times, and was by no means consistent in his symbology.
In his exposition of John 6, Clement took the bread to refer to Jesus, the merum to refer to his elect people, and the water to refer to the lusts of the flesh that are left behind when men are “absorbed” into Christ. We note as well that Clement employs the same parallelism that Irenæus had before him by referring to the baking of bread and the mixing of wine in succession, as if they were both part of common manufacturing processes:
“Here is to be noted the mystery of the bread, inasmuch as He speaks of it as flesh, and as flesh, consequently, that has risen through fire, as the wheat springs up from decay and germination; and, in truth, it has risen through fire for the joy of the Church, as bread baked. … But since He said, ‘And the bread which I will give is My flesh,’ [John 6:51] and since flesh is moistened with blood, and blood is figuratively termed wine, we are bidden to know that, as bread, crumbled into a mixture of wine and water, seizes on the wine and leaves the watery portion, so also the flesh of Christ, the bread of heaven absorbs the blood; that is, those among men who are heavenly, nourishing them up to immortality, and leaving only to destruction the lusts of the flesh.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book I, chapter 6)
This simile is significant because Clement was not here speaking of the Eucharistic liturgy, per se, but rather was expounding on the properties of the sensible elements of creation as used by the Lord to figure His incarnation. Those sensible elements included baked bread and mixed wine, and he simply recounts the manufacturing process for both. Bread is baked. Wine is mixed. In the same chapter Clement continues expounding on the many and various other mixtures that are also common to him: milk “admits of mixture with water,” and “it is mixed naturally with honey also,” and “milk is mixed with sweet wine,” too.
Water and wine, as Clement’s references indicate, was simply a common mixture, and many common food items were used similary in the Scriptures for their figurative value:
“Thus in many ways the Word is figuratively described, as meat, and flesh, and food, and bread, and blood, and milk. The Lord is all these, to give enjoyment to us who have believed on Him. Let no one then think it strange, when we say that the Lord’s blood is figuratively represented as milk. For is it not figuratively represented as wine?” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book I, chapter 6).
As we discussed in our previous entry, Clement did not merely observe, but rather insisted, that merum is to be mixed with water as a common drink. Clement believed that there were other benefits to tempering merum with water, but adolescents in particular were obliged to water it down in order to “allay the agitation of lust when it is already in commotion” (Clement of Alexandria, Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2, “On Drinking”).
So insistent was he—and we agree with him—that “wine” is actually “merum with water,” that he taught that Jesus’ first miracle had been to change the common element of water into the common drink of wine mixed with water, which is to say “temperate wine.” In Clement’s mind, it would have been not only immoral but also impractical for Jesus to turn water into straight merum because nobody would have served straight merum at a wedding. In this miracle Clement saw Adam figured by the earthen waterpot, the Law figured by the water, “the new word” figured by the merum, and “the sacred blood” figured by the resulting “mixture” of wine and water:
“For if He made water wine at the marriage, He did not give permission to get drunk. He gave life to the watery element of the meaning of the law, filling with His blood the doer of it who is of Adam, that is, the whole world; supplying piety with drink from the vine of truth, the mixture of the old law and of the new word, in order to the fulfilment of the predestined time. The Scripture, accordingly, has named wine the symbol of the sacred blood; but reproving the base tippling with the dregs of wine, it says: ‘Intemperate is wine, and insolent is drunkenness.’ [Proverbs 20:1]” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 6).
The drink of both godly adolescents and responsible wedding hosts was mixed wine. Whether the host mixed it in advance, or Jesus created it for him already mixed, wine for a feast was wine (merum) with water. It was simply the common drink of the day.
When Clement formally addresses the Lord’s Table, he takes for his symbolism the water that flowed from the Rock in the wilderness, and the cluster of grapes that the Israelites found upon their first foray into the Promised Land. From these he takes the ingredients of mixed wine to refer to the salvation (water) that flowed from the Rock in the wilderness, and the merum (the blood of the grape) to refer to “the Word, bruised for us.” Thus, just as the Israelites drank water temperately in the wilderness, then found merum in the Promised land, water is mixed with “the blood of the grape” to make wine, and thereby Christ’s “blood is mingled with salvation”:
“The natural, temperate, and necessary beverage, therefore, for the thirsty is water. This was the simple drink of sobriety, which, flowing from the smitten rock, was supplied by the Lord to the ancient Hebrews. [Exodus 17; Numbers 20] It was most requisite that in their wanderings they should be temperate. Afterwards the sacred vine produced the prophetic cluster [Numbers 13:23]. This was a sign to them, when trained from wandering to their rest; representing the great cluster the Word, bruised for us. For the blood of the grape— that is, the Word— desired to be mixed with water, as His blood is mingled with salvation.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2: on Drinking)
Here, Clement focuses on the common mixture of water with merum to make wine and reflects upon its suitability as a figure of Jesus’ incarnation, for Jesus is “the divine mixture” Himself:
“Accordingly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine and water, nourishes to faith; while the other, the Spirit, conducts to immortality. And the mixture of both—of the water and of the Word—is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul. For the divine mixture, man, the Father’s will has mystically compounded by the Spirit and the Word. For, in truth, the spirit is joined to the soul, which is inspired by it; and the flesh, by reason of which the Word became flesh, to the Word.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2: on Drinking)
Thus did Clement believe with Justin and Irenæus that Jesus had taken a common drink—wine mixed with water—and used it together with common bread as an appropriate figure of His incarnation. With Clement, merum mixed with water was wine, and mixed wine was the common drink Jesus used as a figure of His “sacred blood.” It was not a liturgical drink, but a common one, already mixed before the servants had drawn the wine from the waterpots, and already mingled before Jesus had even arrived for the Passover supper.
Thus, by the turn of the third century, more than a hundred years since the end of the apostolic age, the church was still using two elements—bread and wine—at the table, with no indication that the “mingled wine” they used was anything other than the common drink of the day—merum mixed with water—and not so much as a hint of a liturgical, apostolic rite in which water and wine were mixed as part of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table.
We will continue this series in our next installment with Cyprian of Carthage, Aphrahat of Persia, Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan.