In the first installment in this series, we provided a survey of the manufacture and consumption of wine in the ancient Greek, Jewish, Roman and Christian cultures. In all these cultures, merum—“pure wine,” or “undiluted wine”—was mixed with water prior to drinking because the consumption of straight merum was both unpalatable and uncivilized. Because merum was unfit for consumption except by barbarians, the whole civilized world added water to merum to make wine. Wine for drinking, therefore, was simply “pure wine” mingled with water. Or, more succinctly, wine was called “wine with water” or “wine and water,” in reference to its two ingredients: “pure wine” (merum) and water.
In our second installment, we reviewed the three earliest Patristic references to mixed wine—Justin Martyr, Irenæus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria—and found their uses to be consistent with that ancient description of wine. Clement even went so far as to affirm that the wine Jesus made at Cana was already mixed with water. What we call “wine” today, they called “wine and water,” “wine with water,” the “mingled cup” and “mixed wine” or just “wine,” and its description was usually juxtaposed with a reference to the mixing of ingredients to make bread. Mixed wine was as common as baked bread, and there was no reference to a liturgical mixing of either of them at the Lord’s Table. “Mixed wine” is simply what “wine” was called.
This week, we will continue by examining Cyprian of Carthage, Aphrahat the Persian Sage, Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan. What we find is a continued absence and ignorance of liturgical mixing of wine and water until the end of the 4th century.
Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200 – 258 A.D.)
Like Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian extracted symbolic meaning from the mixing of water with wine. As we noted in our previous entry, Clement was not at all consistent in his symbolism. In one case, the merum referred to believers and the water referred to their sinful lusts—both referring in some sense to men (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book I, chapter 6). In the case of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), the water referred to “the old law,” and the merum to “the new word”—the water and wine both in some sense referring to the Scriptures (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2). In another case, the water was Jesus, “the smitten rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4), and the merum was Jesus, “the great cluster the Word, bruised for us” (Numbers 13:24)—both the water and the merum referring to Christ (Clement of Alexandria, The Pædagogus, Book II, chapter 2).
Cyprian, like Clement, understood Jesus’ miracle at Cana to be a miracle of changing water into water mixed with wine, but he took a slightly different tack: the different ingredients served as figures of different people. The original water in the waterpots without merum was a figure of the Jewish people apart from Christ, for “among the Jews there was a want of spiritual grace,” and therefore “wine also was wanting,” a reference to the lack of merum, or “the blood of the grape” (c.f. paragraph 6), in the water. But the miracle of “water made wine” showed “the marriage of Christ and the Church,” because Revelation 17:15 had referred to the people as water (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 12). Now the people, or water, were no longer lacking Christ, or merum, or “the blood of the grape,” as the Jews had been.
Cyprian continued in the next paragraph to employ terms of marital union—conjugal copulation—to show how that “sacrament” of the wedding miracle should inform the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in which wine also is included with water:
“But when the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people is made one with Christ, and the assembly of believers is associated (copulatur) and conjoined (conjugitur) with Him on whom it believes; which association (copulatio) and conjunction (conjunctio) of water and wine is so mingled in the Lord’s cup, that that mixture cannot any more be separated.” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13; Migne P.L., vol 4, col 384).
Thus the mixed cup of the Lord’s Supper signified the people married to Christ, just as it had in Jesus’ first miracle at Cana. Like Clement, Cyprian believed that “wine and water” is simply what “wine” was—merum plus water—and thus, that is what Jesus had made miraculously at the wedding.
The occasion for Cyprian’s detailed opinion on mixed wine in the Eucharist was an ongoing controversy in which only one ingredient, water alone, was being used in the cup at the Lord’s Supper. He addressed that illicit practice extensively in Epistle 62. Some Christians—in order to avoid martyrdom in a time of persecution—were leaving out the merum, and Cyprian would have none of it:
“For when Christ says, ‘I am the true vine [John 15:1], the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine; neither can His blood by which we are redeemed and quickened appear to be in the cup, when in the cup there is no wine whereby the blood of Christ is shown forth, which is declared by the sacrament and testimony of all the Scriptures.” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 2)
As we have established over the last two entries, at the time of these writings and for centuries before, “wine” was a mixture of merum or “pure wine” with water, and as easily called “wine” as “wine and water” as “mixed wine” as “mingled wine.” Thus, while Cyprian insists that “the blood of Christ is assuredly not water, but wine” (Epistle 62, paragraph 2), and that Jesus used “bread and wine” (Epistle 62, paragraph 4), and that the prophets foretold “the wine of the cup of the blood” (Epistle 62, paragraph 6), he also insists that what is in the cup of Christ is neither “water alone” nor “wine alone” but both ingredients mixed together:
“Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13).
By this means, Cyprian had simply recited what the whole world knew about winemaking: that “wine” is simply a mixture of pure wine with water, and that Jesus had used “wine” in the Last Supper. And therefore, He had used mixed wine. And therefore so must we.
Cyprian also explained, like his predecessors, that the adding of water to wine is “just as” the adding of water to flour to make bread, and that mixing water with wine is “in like manner” with the grinding and mixing of grain to make bread. He juxtaposed those two manufacturing processes more than once:
“Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other; just as, on the other hand, the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless both should be united and joined together and compacted in the mass of one bread; in which very sacrament our people are shown to be made one, so that in like manner as many grains, collected, and ground, and mixed together into one mass, make one bread; 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 of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13)
“For when the Lord calls bread, which is combined by the union of many grains, His body, He indicates our people whom He bore as being united; and when He calls the wine, which is pressed from many grapes and clusters and collected together, His blood, He also signifies our flock linked together by the mingling of a united multitude. If Novatian is united to this bread of the Lord, if he also is mingled with this cup of Christ, he may also seem to be able to have the grace of the one baptism of the Church, if it be manifest that he holds the unity of the Church.” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 75, chapter 6)
Note well in these two citations that Cyprian is just as emphatic that the people are shown to be one with Christ by the mixing of bread as he is that they are shown to be one with Christ by the mixing of wine. If Cyprian intended to represent the mixing of water with wine as a uniquely liturgical rite, he should have said that adding water to wine was different than adding water to flour; or that mixing water with wine was different than mixing and grinding of grain. Instead, he insisted that they were just like each other, and in fact he uses the mixing process for bread to support his insistence on the mixing of wine. The fact that he used the nonliturgical mixing of bread to prove the necessity of mixing wine is in itself evidence that he did not consider the mixing of wine to be a liturgical rite. A nonliturgical act can hardly serve as the imperative for a liturgical one. It would make no sense, he thought, to mix one and not the other. Bread is mixed. Therefore, the wine ought to be mixed as well.
If Cyprian had truly been liturgizing the mixing of water and wine, then he must have been liturgizing the grinding and mixing of grain, and the adding of water to flour, too. Obviously, he was doing neither. As was common in the early writings, references to mixing water with wine were allusions to what was a “common drink.” Those references were made in juxtaposition to the making of bread, a “common food.” These were not invocations of a liturgical rite, but descriptions of common agricultural manufacturing processes, highlighting the fact that Jesus had used common agricultural products, appropriately, as figures of His incarnation to become part of creation like us.
That Cyprian was not passing on an apostolic precedent for the later Roman novelty of adding water to wine during the Mass is also evident from the fact that he speaks of correcting the error by insisting repeatedly that wine must be added to water.
Consider first the arguments of Roman Catholic defenders and apologists of the liturgical rite of pouring water into the wine during Mass. They insist that the apostolic rite is to add water:
“[W]ater must be added to the wine at the actual celebration of the sacrament.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 74, Article 8, Reply to Objection 3).
“During the celebration itself, a small quantity of water is to be mixed with it.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, Chapter III.1 (50))
“The brief rite of pouring water into the wine used for consecration is very ancient.” (Father Edward McNamara, Zenit Roman Catholic News, Why Water and Wine?, June 29, 2004)
“The simple act of pouring water into wine, and the prayer accompanying it, is a synthesis of the whole Mass, of the whole Catholic faith, and of all salvation history.” (Jeffrey Pinyan, Praying the Mass, Mixing the Wine with Water, 2010)
But adding water to the cup was not at all Cyprian’s focus. There was already sufficient water in the cup as it was. He insists, rather, we must add wine. This he states repeatedly:
“the cup which is offered in remembrance of Him should be offered mingled with wine.” (paragraph 2)
“the Lord … offered bread and the cup mixed with wine” (paragraph 4)
“the cup which inebriates is assuredly mingled with wine, for water cannot inebriate anybody. And the cup of the Lord in such wise inebriates…” (paragraph 11)
“[we are] instructed by the Lord to offer the cup of the Lord mingled with wine” (paragraph 17)
In these four places he argues for adding wine to water, and in two other places for adding water to wine (paragraphs 5, 13). Should not Cyprian have argued consistently and dogmatically, in order to convey accurately an apostolic tradition, that the cup of remembrance must be “mingled with water,” and “mixed with water”? If that was his point, his insistence that wine must be added to the water is not a very appropriate way to explain it.
Of course, Cyprian had no apostolic or liturgical rite in mind. His only point was that celebrating the Lord’s Supper with only one ingredient of the wine—water—was as unthinkable as celebrating the Supper with only one ingredient of the bread: “flour alone or water alone” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). Since we would not use water alone or flour alone in place of bread, we ought not use either water alone or merum alone in place of wine. It was that simple.
Perhaps the most telling statement comes when Cyprian insists that Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul had “enjoined” us explicitly in the Scriptures to use wine mixed with water. Indeed, Cyprian cites the very passages of Scripture in which we are so “enjoined” to abide by the Lord’s tradition of using a mixed cup, and we agree with him, in his context. After insisting passionately based on Scripture that the color of the liquid in the cup must be red so that “the Lord’s blood may be understood” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 7), Cyprian then argues from Scripture again to prove that Jesus and Paul said that we must use mixed wine and not water alone:
“… teaching by the example of His own authority, that the cup should be mingled with a union of wine and water. For taking the cup on the eve of His passion, He blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Drink all of this; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many, for the remission of sins. I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day in which I shall drink new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father [Matthew 26:28-29].’ ” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 9)
“Moreover, the blessed Apostle Paul, chosen and sent by the Lord, and appointed a preacher of the Gospel truth, lays down these very things in his epistle, saying, ‘The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, This is my body, which shall be given for you: do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you shall show forth the Lord’s death until He come [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. ‘ ” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 10)
“But if it is both enjoined by the Lord, and the same thing is confirmed and delivered by His apostle, that as often as we drink, we do in remembrance of the Lord the same thing which the Lord also did, we find that what was commanded is not observed by us, unless we also do what the Lord did; and that mixing the Lord’s cup in like manner we do not depart from the divine teaching;” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 10)
We invite the reader to go back to Cyprian’s two Scriptural citations above and read them slowly, taking time to note the exact point at which the apostles instructed in writing to use mixed wine, for Cyprian was persuaded that these Scriptures proved his case authoritatively.
While our Christian friends are rereading the citations, we invite our Roman Catholic readers to notice something of no small significance: Cyprian invoked apostolic Scriptures as the authoritative source of an apostolic tradition. In other words, Cyprian did not believe he had received any unwritten, oral apostolic instructions on mixing water with the wine during the Lord’s Supper. Rather, he believed that he had received “the Lord’s own tradition” from the Scriptures themselves, based on the original writings of the apostles.
Now that our Christian friends have had a chance to reread Cyprian’s proof texts for an apostolic tradition, we will simply observe what is plainly obvious: in these citations, neither Jesus nor Paul said to mix the wine. Yet Cyprian was convinced that these Scriptures proved his case. Why was Cyprian so emphatic that these Scriptures, which do not mention the mixing of wine, proved his case that Jesus and the apostles taught us to use mixed wine?
The question remains a puzzle only to Roman Catholic apologists and those who do not know the ancient manufacturing process for wine. To Cyprian, and indeed to the whole Mediterranean world of his day, the consumable beverage we call “wine” was not “water alone” but was made of “merum mixed with water,” or “pure wine mixed with water,” or more simply “wine and water.” That was the beverage of feasts and festivals. To Cyprian, the simple fact that Jesus had used “the fruit of the vine” was sufficient proof that He had used mixed wine—because that is simply what wine was back then. Jesus would not have served merum alone at the feast, and He obviously had not served water alone, either. Therefore He had used mixed wine. Cyprian knew it, and the whole Mediterranean world knew it with him: Jesus’ reference to “the fruit of the vine,” and Paul’s recapitulation of it later, proved that Jesus had used “common wine,” and “common wine” was “wine mixed with water.”
Those ignorant of the definition and manufacture of wine at the time of the Early Church, however, are compelled to read into Cyprian something that he would have denied: namely, that he had received an oral tradition in support of something not mentioned in Scripture. He made no such claims. His proof that we must use “wine mixed with water” instead of “water alone” or “wine alone” was based on the simple Scriptural fact that Jesus had used wine. And “wine” was “merum with water”—as commonplace as the mixing of grain, the grinding of grain, the mixing of flour with water, and the baking of bread. Cyprian was unaware of any liturgical obligation, or apostolic rite, of mixing either of them at the Lord’s Table.
Cyprian concludes his Epistle by insisting, “in mixing and offering the cup of the Lord,” we must “keep the truth of the Lord’s tradition” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 19). His rationale? “[T]he cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone … just as, on the other hand, the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). To put a fine point on it, to Cyprian, the mixing of the wine shared a common imperative with the mixing of the bread, and the imperative for mixing the bread was neither liturgical nor ritual. Therefore, the imperative for mixing the wine was not liturgical or ritual, either.
This was not a tradition of mixing the cup at the table, nor a tradition of mixing the bread at the table, but of using common bread and common wine in the Lord’s Supper. He had not invoked an unwritten oral tradition of pouring water into wine, but a Scriptural mandate to use wine, for he knew of the aberration of using water alone for the wine—a practice as silly as if they had been using water alone for the bread. The Scripture did not allow it.
As we proceed in our next section with Aphrahat, we shall find that in a properly prepared feast, the wine was mixed with water before, not during, the feast.
Aphrahat the Persian Sage (280 – 345 A.D.)
Aphrahat made only passing reference to the Lord’s Cup in Demonstration 12, recalling that Jesus “also blessed the wine… ” (Aphrahat of Persia, Demonstrations, Demonstration 12, chapter 6). In Demonstration 6, Aphrahat made the same connection that Cyprian had between the Last Supper and the Marriage Supper, for Jesus promised that He would not drink “this fruit of the vine” again until He drank it with the apostles:
“But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)
The beverage at the Marriage Supper will be the same beverage as at the Last Supper. Thus, when Aphrahat depicts the Marriage Supper, he speaks of the Apostles drinking again with Jesus. Quite notably, Aphrahat describes for us what “this fruit of the vine” actually was, for he writes of the water and wine already mixed before Jesus even took His place at the Supper Table. Mixing the wine was part of the preparation for a feast. It was not part of the feast itself:
“The table is laid and the supper prepared. The fatted ox is slain and the cup of redemption mixed. The feast is prepared and the Bridegroom at hand, soon to take his place. The apostles have given the invitation and the called are very many. … The marriage cry is at hand.” (Aphrahat of Persia, Demonstrations, Demonstration 6: On Covenanters, chapter 6)
Jesus had served “fruit of the vine” at the Last Supper, and would serve “this fruit of the vine” again at the Marriage Supper. In making that connection, Aphrahat revealed something about his understanding of the Last Supper: The “fruit of the vine” was a reference to wine, and wine was “merum mixed with water,” or the mixed cup, and the cup was mixed prior to the feast.
Thus, even in the mid-4th century, there was still no evidence of any knowledge of an apostolic tradition of Jesus mixing the cup at the table. “Water mixed with wine” is simply how wine was made, and the wine was mixed prior to the feast. As Roman Catholics well know, the Roman Mass is ostensibly both a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and a foreshadowing of the Marriage Supper (Catholics United for the Faith, The Mass and the Heavenly Wedding Feast). Yet in his depictions of the Supper, Aphrahat was clearly unaware of the institution of a liturgical rite of mixing the wine at the table.
But by the end of the 4th century, the widespread knowledge that “water mixed with merum” was a common drink—as conveyed by Justin, Irenæus, Clement, Cyprian and Aphrahat—was about to be set aside, and something new was going to be introduced. We trace the change to the time of Hilary of Poitiers. In a departure from what three centuries of Christians had known to be true, Hilary insisted that Jesus had turned water into merum at Cana, and that the host and wedding guests had all drunk the merum straight.
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367 A.D.)
In a sudden change from the prevailing beliefs of the preceding centuries in which it was understood that “mixed wine” was the wedding beverage of choice, Hilary denied that Jesus had made “water” into “water mixed with wine,” and proposed the unthinkable: that Jesus had turned the water into merum. After the miracle, Hilary insisted, there was no more water left in the waterpots at all, and what remained was wine alone without water, which was then served to the wedding guests unmixed:
“On the wedding day in Galilee water was made wine. Have we words to tell or senses to ascertain what methods produced the change by which the tastelessness of water disappeared, and was replaced by the full flavour of wine? It was not a mixing; it was a creation, and a creation which was not a beginning, but a transformation. A weaker liquid was not obtained by admixture of a stronger element; an existing thing perished and a new thing came into being. ” (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book III, chapter 5).
Based on what we know of ancient winemaking, there was not a household in all of Galilee that would have served straight merum to its wedding guests. It simply was not done. Rather, merum was mixed with water in advance of the feast to prepare wine, as Aphrahat correctly depicted, and that is the kind of wine Jesus would have made for them. But Hilary insisted on something that would have been both unfamiliar and impractical in Jesus’ day, and certainly unknown to the earlier writers.
The emergence of an opinion like Hilary’s hardly seems ground shaking, but it was a momentous departure from the understanding of the Early Church, whose writers had objected strenuously to the consumption of unmixed wine. It would not have occurred to them that Jesus had made, and the host then served, merum at the marriage at Cana. Once the concept of serving merum at the table was introduced, the earlier writings of Justin, Irenæus, Clement and Cyprian took on a new, foreign and unintended meaning. Later writers inferred invalidly that the adding of water must have taken place at the table as well. And so began a new belief: that the apostles had arranged for there to be merum at the Last Supper and that Jesus must have added the water to the merum Himself.
It is with Ambrose that the common practice of mixing merum with water to make wine was moved from the kitchen to the dining room. Thus was born in the late 4th century the Roman liturgical and allegedly “apostolic” rite of adding water to the wine at the altar as part of the Eucharist.
Ambrose of Milan (c. 340 – 397 A.D.)
When teaching new catechumens the history of the liturgy, Ambrose was the first to describe a ritual in which water and wine and bread were brought forward separately to the altar, so that the wine and water could be mixed during the service:
“We said, therefore, that the cup and the bread are set on the altar. What is poured into the cup? Wine. And what else? Water. But thou sayest to me: ‘How then did Melchizedek offer bread and wine? What means the mixture of water?’ … the priest touches the cup, the water streams in the cup, springs up into eternal life, and the people of God drink, who have obtained the grace of God.” (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraphs 2-3)
No such ritual is found in all the Early Church before the end of the 4th century, and certainly not in the Scriptures. Nor had any writer argued for such a ritual. They had merely argued that Jesus used common wine and common bread as figures for His incarnation—and common wine was “wine mixed with water.”
Ambrose is the first known patristic writer to describe the actual table rite, and it is clear that he had misunderstood his predecessors. He had drawn from Clement’s writings about mixed wine in order to arrive at the new ritual, and argued, as Clement had, that the water in the cup signified the Rock that followed the Jews in the wilderness, the blood signifying Christ’s death. He conveyed the symbolism in Clement’s terms: “For them water flowed from the rock, for thee blood from Christ; the water satisfied them for a season, the blood cleanses thee for ever” (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Mysteries, Chapter VIII, paragraph 48). But from this symbolism he inferred something that Clement had not implied: specifically, that the minister of the Lord’s Supper was himself to perform the mixing as part of the rite:
“First of all, what does the type which was prefigured in the time of Moses tell us? That when the people of the Jews thirsted and murmured because they could not find water, God bade Moses touch the rock with his rod. He touched the rock and the rock poured forth a flood of water, as the Apostle says, But they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ. It was not an immovable Rock which followed the people. Drink thou also, that Christ may follow thee. Behold the mystery. Moses, that is to say, a prophet; the rod, that is the word of God. The priest touches the rock with the word of God, and the water flows and the people of God drink.” (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 3)
Additionally, Ambrose was the first to suggest that water was mixed with wine because, after Jesus’ death, “from his side water flowed and blood” (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 4). That argument, too, was a novelty. Even Chrysostom of Antioch (349 – 407 A.D.) at the end of the 4th century, was still maintaining that the water from Jesus’ side corresponded to Baptism, the blood corresponding to the Eucharist, not to the mixing of water and wine in the cup (John Chrysostom, Homilies on John, Homily 85 (John 19:31-34)).
Clearly Ambrose had learned something that Justin, Irenæus, Clement, Cyprian, and Aphrahat had neither taught nor received from the apostles, for there is no reference to this ritual in the Scriptures, or the ante-Nicæan and early 4th century Nicæan Church. Ambrose’s description marks the era of the birth of Rome’s liturgical novelty of mixing wine as part of the liturgy.
As we continue in our next installment, we will discover how Ambrose’s late 4th century novelty, coupled with ignorance of the ancient manufacturing process of wine, led to a comical, medieval dispute between the West and the East. The West insisted erroneously that Jesus had mixed His wine at the table (He had not), and the East denied it, insisting instead that Jesus had used straight “merum sine aqua,” merum without water (He had not). Such were the combined fruits of ignorance mixed with the novel late-antique liturgizing of a common agricultural manufacturing process to make it part of the Eucharistic liturgy.