Thus far in our series on the Mingled Cup we have analyzed the ancient history of winemaking from the Greek, Roman, Jewish and early Christian perspectives. In those times it was typical to add water to “pure wine,” or merum, prior to consumption. Merum alone was too intoxicating and unpalatable to be served without the beneficial tempering effect of water. The resulting mixture was called “wine and water,” “wine with water,” “mingled wine,” or just “wine.” So commonly understood was the mixture of wine and water that early writers simply assumed that Jesus had turned water into “mixed wine” in the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11), because it was common knowledge that nobody would have served straight merum at a wedding feast.
We have also reviewed the known ante-Nicæan, Nicæan and early post-Nicæan views on using mixed wine in the Lord’s Supper. The Early Church’s references to water mixed with wine were often made in juxtaposition to the grinding of grains, the adding of water to flour and the baking of bread. These were references to secular manufacturing processes, not to liturgical, apostolic rites. Mixed bread was “common bread,” and mixed wine was “common drink”—particularly appropriate figures for the Incarnation because Jesus had “mixed” Himself up with His own creation. Additionally, from Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) through Aphrahat of Persia (280 – 345 A.D.), there is no reference to the mingling of water with the wine as part of the Supper. Rather, the mixing of wine occurred prior to, apart from, the apostolic Eucharistic liturgy.
But an anachronism eventually emerged in the mid 4th century with Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367 A.D.) when he insisted that Jesus at Cana had turned water into straight merum, a beverage that would not have been served at a wedding feast. Once straight merum began to be perceived as a table beverage, the typical Mediterranean act of mixing of water with the merum was necessarily translated from the kitchen counter to the dining room, and the early patristic references to the mingled cup began to be reinterpreted as a matter of table etiquette rather than simply as a part of wine manufacturing.
It was only a short time after Hilary’s anachronism that Ambrose of Milan (c. 340 – 397 A.D.) provided the first known patristic reference to the addition of water to merum as an actual step in the liturgy of the table. It was a rite completely foreign to the Early Church. Until then, the adding of water to wine was as liturgical as the mixing and grinding of grains to make flour, or the adding of water to flour to make dough, or the baking of dough to make bread—which is to say it was not liturgical at all. Both food products were the result of “common” manufacturing processes that took place prior to the feast itself.
Of Hilary’s anachronism of straight merum being served at a wedding feast, and of Ambrose’s misunderstanding of the earlier patristic references to mixed wine, was born the liturgical rite of mixing water with wine at the table during the Eucharistic feast. It was a late breaking novelty based on ignorance of winemaking and a misunderstanding of the early writers. Yet that dearth of knowledge and lack of understanding not only became the foundation of a modern unscriptural Roman Catholic liturgy, but it also played no small part in the eventual schism that occurred between East and West in 1054 A.D.. Although many factors were in play when East and West went their separate ways in the 11th century, Ambrose’s novelty and a widespread ignorance of ancient winecraft factored significantly into the division.
In the West, early patristic references to a mingled cup were assumed to be a liturgical mixing of water with wine at the altar during the meal. This, even though the earliest known patristic description had the wine and water brought forward already mixed and prior to the Eucharistic liturgy, and an early 4th century description had Jesus arriving at the table only after the “cup of salvation” was already mixed. There was no expressed knowledge of a tradition that Jesus had mixed the cup Himself at the table. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic rite had water added to the wine at the table, by the priest, during the liturgy. Thus what was blessed in the words of consecration in Rome was a mixture of water with wine that had been blended at the altar by the priest on the false assumption that Jesus had done the mixing Himself at the Last Supper.
In the East, however, a slightly different liturgy had developed. The Scriptures made no reference to the addition of water during the Last Supper, so the orientals assumed that Jesus had taken and blessed a cup full of “pure wine,” that is, straight merum. This, even though the historical evidence shows that in Jesus’ day—and for centuries before and after—the consumption of straight merum was not practiced in Mediterranean cultures, whether Greek, Roman, Jewish or Christian. Nevertheless, because some eastern writers had referred to the mixed cup in the context of the Lord’s Supper, the orientals understood that there was a tradition of adding water, so they added it after the consecration. Thus what was blessed in the consecration in Constantinople was straight merum on the false assumption that Jesus had blessed an unmixed cup. Only after the consecration was water added to the merum, at which point the mixture was then administered to the people.
Both rites had been forged in ignorance and misunderstanding, and both sides believed their liturgy originated in authentic, ancient, apostolic tradition. Such contradictory and mutually exclusive claims, however, could not forever coexist in peace, and a conflict between the two was bound to arise. The conflict came to a head in the high middle ages during an embassy of Cardinal Humbert from Rome to Constantinople in 1054 A.D.:
“At Constantinople the impression bequeathed by Cardinal Humbert and other western visitors was one of incredible arrogance. … It offended western visitors to find that at the consecration of the elements, Greeks did not add water to the cup until after the bread and the wine were sanctified.” (Chadwick, Henry, East and West: the Making of a Rift in the Church (Oxford University Press, 2003) 226)
A great deal of political damage was done on that embassy, and the Latins departed in contempt. The next century, Bishop Anselm of Havelberg in Germany tried to pick up the pieces and engaged in an amicable conversation with Archbishop Nicetas of Nicomedia, recording the discussion in his Dialogues. Anselm argued the western position, and transcribed Nicetas’ defense of the eastern position in Book III, On the Differences Between the Eucharistic Rites of the Greeks and of the Latins. We join them in mid-conversation in chapter 20, “On the Mixing of wine and water in the chalice, which the Greeks do one way and the Latins another”*:
“Tell, if you will, why in the sacrifice of the altar you Greeks do not offer wine and water poured and mixed together? Why do you consecrate pure wine without water (vinum merum sine aqua)? After you have consecrated the pure wine (vinum merum) of the oblation, then afterward you mix simple, unblessed water with the most sacred Blood in the chalice. You communicate in this way. Why, I ask, do you do this?”
Nicetas’ response was simple: He was merely following Christ’s example:
“We do not read that Christ, in that great supper of his which is particularly called the Lord’s Supper, consecrated water mixed with wine (aquam cum vino mistam) in the chalice. We do as he did, following his model. We have no other reason than that we imitate the Savior in this practice.”
It was true that the Scriptures do not speak of the rite of adding water at the table. In that, Nicetas was correct—although we hasten to point out that Scriptural silence on the mixing at the table does not validly imply that the wine was unmixed. All that can be legitimately said is that the Scriptures do not include the rite of mixing in the Last Supper narrative.
On that note, Anselm thought Nicetas had missed the point, and responded by appealing to the known practice of Jesus’ day—that of mixing merum with water prior to consumption:
“Although the Gospel says nothing explicit about the water as to whether it was added or not, nevertheless it is reasonable given the custom of the Jews and the Palestinians, who always drink wine mixed with water.”
That was true, too. The Greeks, Romans, Jews and Christians had all consumed mixed wine in their meals and had all rejected as uncivilized the consumption of straight merum. Merum tempered with water was the typical drink of the day—although we hasten to point out that the cultural practice of adding water to merum does not validly imply that Jesus mixed it Himself. All that can be legitimately said is that Jesus used common wine, and common wine was merum mixed with water.
In the East-West dialogue, neither side could concede that his traditional rite had exceeded the limits of historiography. While the ancient cultures had indeed mixed their wine with water, Anselm had no proof that Jesus had mixed it Himself at the table. And while the Scriptures made no mention of mixing wine at the table, Nicetas had no proof that Jesus had used “pure wine,” or straight merum, in the cup. From that impasse, the argument descended into absurdity.
“But if you say it is rash to claim that he mixed wine with water in the Lord’s Supper because we do not read this, I argue in the same way that it is rash to say that he did not add water to the wine because we do not read in the Gospel that he did not.”
Left with no sure proof, the two were arguing illogically and from ignorance. At that point, Anselm reached for the most popular weapon in the Roman Catholic arsenal, a tradition from the late 4th century:
“Because the Gospel states clearly that blood and water came from the Lord’s side on the cross in his redemption of our salvation, we seem rightly to offer wine and water offered as mixed in our memorial of the Lord’s passion, for the remission of our sins.”
That, of course, was an appeal to Ambrose’s late 4th century catechesis, where he argued that the symmetry of “that blood and water [that] came from the Lord’s side” justified the pouring of water into the wine at the altar (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 4). That argument is not found earlier than Ambrose.
Anselm then proceeded backward from Ambrose to Cyprian, arguing that the water signifies the people, and the merum signifies Christ, and so the two must be found together in the cup:
“We do so too that water may be present in the blood of the new and eternal testament, for water signifies the people saved and redeemed in the communion of that same blood of the new and eternal testament as the one Body of the church incorporated, united, made holy, and offered up in its Head, that is, in Christ. For it is written that many waters are many peoples [Revelation 17:15]. … When you [Greeks] offer only pure wine without water (solum vinum merum sine aqua) in the chalice you do not then sanctify the church as the Body of Christ with Christ its head, but offer Christ alone consecrated as Head of the church without its members. This practice seems to lack all reason.”
Here Anselm was appealing to Cyprian’s argument from Revelation 17:15 that “if any one offer wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us; but if the water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). The problem with Anselm’s use of Cyprian, as we noted in part 3, was that Cyprian was at that point arguing that the bread, too, was mixed and could be neither water alone nor flour alone. The cup is neither merum alone nor water alone because “the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless both should be united and joined together … so that in like manner as many grains, collected, and ground, and mixed together into one mass, make one bread” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). If Cyprian had been arguing for a liturgical mixing of water and wine—which is what Anselm was attempting to extract from him—then Cyprian was also arguing for a liturgical mixing of bread. But Anselm knew very well Cyprian had not been arguing for a liturgical mixing of bread. Nevertheless, he attempted to use that truncated argument from Cyprian to support something that Cyprian had not been saying—so weak was Anselm’s argument for Jesus mixing the wine Himself.
But from Nicetas’ perspective, Anselm’s inconsistencies were more problematic even than that. In Rome, the wine is not transubstantiated into the blood of Christ until the words of consecration are spoken. Thus, how can the people be mixed with “the communion of that same blood,” to use Anselm’s words, prior to transubstantiation? Before the words of consecration, the people were just being mixed up with wine. Additionally, if the wine is transubstantiated from a mere symbol of Christ into Christ Himself at the words of consecration, was the water transubstantiated into the people themselves at those same words? Jesus had never referred to “the cup of My people and the new testament in My blood.” Or contrariwise, does the water symbolize God’s people and then transubstantiate into Christ’s blood along with the wine? Under that paradigm, the people were never actually “mixed” with Christ at all, for there was never a time when the people and the blood of Christ were together in the cup, as Cyprian averred. The cup was either full of “the people” mixed with wine, or it was full of Christ’s blood, but it was never full of water and blood. If on the other hand, the water remained symbolic of the people after consecration but the wine was transubstantiated from a mere symbol into Christ Himself, by what mystery did the water remain symbolic even after consecration when the wine did not?
For these problems, Nicetas had a very reasonable response: the Greeks added water after the consecration, so that the people actually would be mixed up with Christ’s blood, instead of merely being mixed up with wine. The East had elegantly avoided the confusion of the West:
“As you have said, many waters are many peoples [Revelation 17:15]. But we, imitating the exact model of the Lord’s Supper, offer only pure wine (vinum merum tantum) in the cup for consecration as the blood of the new and eternal testament through divine operation and power in the ministry of the priest. Afterward we reasonably and appropriately mix in water so that the people may be sanctified through this union, though not by their own agency, now that they are united with the sacred blood. Thus we devoutly celebrate the consecration of wine, pure and by itself (vini meri solius). … Indeed, we find it less appropriate for that which sanctifies and that which is sanctified to be consecrated equally in one and the same act of consecration. So it suffices if the water, that is, the people, is made holy by participation in the divine consecration and not by sharing in the same act of consecration.”
In response, Anselm could only resort to his Latin talking points, and simply restated Cyprian’s and Ambrose’s arguments:
“If by this separation you remove Christ, where, I ask you, is then the Church’s head? Of how can the church exist where its Head, that is, Christ, is not? Or how can Christ be called the Head of the Church where his members are not? (see Cyprian, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). … Therefore in the oblation and consecration of the most sacred Body and Blood of the Lord celebrated as a memorial of his passion, the water that flowed from Christ’s side should be present with his blood (see Ambrose, Concerning the Sacraments, Book V, chapter 1, paragraph 4). … If we offer wine without water, the Blood of Christ begins to lack us like a head without members. And if we offer water alone, then the people seem to lack Christ, like members without a head (see Cyprian, Epistle 62, paragraph 13). … You, though, seem to act improperly when you keep the water from like consecration in consecrating wine alone.”
The conversation had long since hit a brick wall, and Nicetas too was reduced to his Greek talking points:
“I make no attempt to divide those members of the church rightly and divinely joined together with Christ as its head, rather to join them appropriately … . I can adduce many reasons for which we must do this [add the water after the consecration].”
The conversation on this topic concluded abruptly without resolution. Anselm accused Nicetas of going “beyond the bounds established by the holy fathers” in “framing a new perspective,” for “[o]ur imitation of the model of Christ’s Passion suffices for us.” Yet, by any objective reading of “the model of Christ’s Passion,” water and blood flowing from Jesus’ side hardly implies a tradition that Jesus had mixed water with wine at the Table the previous night. But that was all Anselm could argue. In his final word on the topic, Anselm claimed again that Ambrose’s novel argument removed all doubt as to the antiquity of the rite. Water and blood had flowed from Jesus’ side, and therefore we must mix the wine prior to the consecration:
“I know without any doubt that I have spoken the truth because we know and believe without doubt, as the Gospel testifies, that blood and water flowed together from Christ’s side on the cross in redemption of salvation for us and for all of humankind. For that reason we offer wine and water together mixed and consecrated in one cup for the remission of all sins, and therefore we so teach the rite of this offering.”
In this, Anselm was completely oblivious to the fact that his own insistence that Jesus had mixed the wine Himself was itself the novelty, a novelty unknown to the “holy fathers” of the early church and quite beyond the “bounds established” by them. The most ancient rationale he could muster was Cyprian’s argument that mixed wine is used for the same reason mixed bread is used—because these were the common food and common drink of His day—which is no more an argument for Jesus liturgically mixing the wine Himself than it is for Jesus liturgically mixing the bread Himself. Beyond that decontextualization of Cyprian, the best he could offer was Ambrose’s late 4th century novelty of mixing the water and the wine at the altar. His rite could be traced no earlier than that.
But Nicetas, too, had stumbled on his own errors and inconsistencies. He was correct in his insistence that the Gospel had said nothing of the liturgical mixing of water with wine, but his appeal to the Scriptures was disingenuous. Out of one side of his mouth he justified the consecration of straight merum, ostensibly on the basis that we must “imitate the Savior in this practice,” following “the exact model of the Lord’s Supper.” But out of the other, he argued that it does not matter whether we use unleavened bread, something Jesus most certainly would have used in the Last Supper (Exodus 12:8, Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7-8). In that case, the Scriptures did not matter to Nicetas, for he had written in the previous chapter that the longstanding tradition of using leavened bread must prevail even over the written Word:
“Indeed, it appears according to the authorities and the logical argument we have set forth, as according to the very rite of the sacrament, that we ought to offer an unleavened host. But the Greeks’ usage of leavened bread has been so long maintained that it could not be changed without great scandal to many, even to the entire people.”
In the end, it was not faithfulness to the Scriptures but the need to preserve an errant tradition that motivated Nicetas. He concluded his arguments on the need to consecrate merum alone, insisting that the only way to resolve the matter was to appeal to the magisterium:
“Above all else I desire to see a general council, so that when we all come to agreement, we may all speak the very same thing in our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the host is made—whether leavened or unleavened—from many grains of pure wheat, and as from many grapes together the wine is pressed, so from many throngs of Greeks and Latins let us constitute one church, one in heart and in perspective…”
Remarkably, in these concluding statements in his argument for consecrating merum alone, Nicetas had invoked the same analogy that Cyprian had used to make the very opposite point. Cyprian had used this analogy to show that by mixing water and wine he was doing no more than what the baker did when mixing water and flour, and for that reason we ought not consecrate wine alone (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 62, paragraph 13).
In using Cyprian’s analogy, Nicetas had also cited the ancient juxtaposition used repeatedly by the early Church to explain exactly why we should not consecrate merum, but should use mixed wine instead: because mixed wine was just as “common” as “mixed” bread. “Common” wine was to be used in the liturgy, and common wine was merum mixed with water. Thus, Nicetas, too, had departed not only from the practices of the early church but also from the Scriptures.
In the end, both men were reasoning illogically from ignorance, not from a desire to adhere more faithfully to the written Word. They argued solely to preserve their own novel rites, each insisting against facts and reason that his was the authentic, ancient apostolic liturgy. In this, both were oblivious to the actual reason the early church had used “mixed wine” in its celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the first place, and neither could legitimately substantiate his own tradition.
The early church had used mixed wine because it was “common wine” just as they used “mixed” bread because it was “common bread,” and they wanted to use what Jesus had used. It was just as illogical for Anselm to arrive at a liturgical mixing from the Gospel account of Jesus’ death as it was for Nicetas to arrive at the use of straight merum from the Gospel account of Jesus’ blessing of the “fruit of the vine.” Both sides had engaged in a comically ignorant and inconsistent argument, each insisting that his parochial novelty was the ancient and authoritative one, when in fact their arguments were themselves late breaking novelties born of ignorance and misunderstanding.
That liturgical misunderstanding was systemic in Rome and persists to this day. As we shall demonstrate in our final installment on this topic, Roman Catholicism still does not really know why its wine is mixed liturgically with water, does not know what the water and wine symbolize, does not know what color the wine should be, does not know how much water to add and is not even sure if all communicants are to partake of the mixed cup. But even in that systemic and persistent ignorance, Roman Catholicism carries with it the same high-minded arrogance that Cardinal Humbert brought with him to Constantinople, insisting from the position of ignorance and misunderstanding that she nevertheless knows one thing “without any doubt”: that she is right.
* English translation is from Anselm Of Havelberg, Anticimenon: On the Unity of the Faith and the Controversies with the Greeks, Ambrose Criste & Carol Neel, trans. (Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2010). Latin translation is from Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina (PL), vol. 188 (Imprimerie Catholique, Paris, 1855) 1241-1245)