Views on Incense in the Early Church

Discussion in 'Liturgy, and Book of Common Prayer' started by Stalwart, Feb 19, 2018.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Following up from this thread, https://forums.anglican.net/threads/orthodoxy.2343/page-2#post-28262

    Let's talk about incense in the Early Church. It seems that not only was there no advocacy for using it, but there was actual advocacy from the Fathers about not using it (or any other 'sensibles') in worship. Thoughts?

    Here is a good article summarizing the recent scholarship on this:
    David W T Brattston, Incense in Ante-Nicene Christianity (2003)

    In describing Christianity to a pagan audience in the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that ‘because Christians are reasonable and intelligent people, they know that God has no need of incense and therefore worship him with prayer and thanksgiving instead’. A few years later Athenagoras in a presentation of Christianity to pagans explained that Christians do not offer sacrifices because the Creator does not require blood nor the smell of burnt offerings or incense, God himself being ‘the perfect fragrance’. Also in the second century, the Letter of Barnabas called incense ‘a vain abomination’ which God has abolished from worship.

    Toward the end of the ante-Nicene period, Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea repeated this thought. In the early A.D. 300s Lactantius wrote that God is pleased only by incorporeal gifts such as praise and virtues, and that whoever tries to worship him with incense is ignorant of his nature. He further stated that incense is unacceptable and ineffectual because God requires not aromas but justice. Slightly later, Eusebius quoted the pagan philosopher Porphyry in support of the proposition that nothing perceptible to the senses is to be offered to God, especially not by burning; the proper offerings are pure thoughts, the state of grace and self-discipline.


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    For instance, here is Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.25 (300s AD):
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    "... with those who by no means understand the nature of the Divine Being, a gift is anything which is wrought of gold or silver; likewise anything which is woven of purple and silk: a sacrifice is a victim, and as many things as are burnt upon the altar. But God does not make use either of the one or the other, because He is free from corruption, and that is altogether corruptible. Therefore, in each case, that which is incorporeal must be offered to God, for He accepts this. His offering is innocency of soul; His sacrifice praise and a hymn. For if God is not seen, He ought therefore to be worshipped with things which are not seen."

    ... when he heard Asclepius inquiring from his son whether it pleased him that incense and other odours for divine sacrifice were offered to his father, exclaimed: "Speak words of good omen, O Asclepius. For it is the greatest impiety to entertain any such thought concerning that being of pre-eminent goodness. For these things, and things resembling these, are not adapted to Him. For He is full of all things, as many as exist, and He has need of nothing at all. But let us give Him thanks, and adore Him. For His sacrifice consists only of blessing." And he spoke rightly.

    For we ought to sacrifice to God in word; inasmuch as God is the Word, as He Himself confessed. Therefore the chief ceremonial in the worship of God is praise from the mouth of a just man directed towards God."
     
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  2. Ide

    Ide Active Member

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    Hi Stalwart,

    This is an interesting read. I really like incense in services, so I'm biased! But I'm willing to read and learn arguments on both sides. There is a rebuttal to this article found here:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/defending-incense/

    I won't post everything as it is lengthy. Here is the conclusion for a TLDR:

    Brattston made two arguments. First, he argued that there is no evidence that the early Christians used incense. But I found ample positive evidences that disprove this. Eusebius in Demonstratio Evangelica Book 1 Chapter 10 wrote: “So, then, we sacrifice and offer incense.” Furthermore, the liturgical rubrics found in Apostolic Canons Canon 3 allowed for incense to be brought to the altar. Even more significant is the fact that abundant references to the use of incense can be found in the ancient liturgies of St. James, St. Mark, and Ss. Addai and Mari. Second, Brattston argued that the use of incense was expressly prohibited by the early Christian writers. However, a review of the material shows that he took the writings out of context. The polemics against incense by early Christians were directed mostly at the use of incense in pagan worship. A few references were directed against the hypocrisy associated with Old Testament worship and written to show the superiority of Christian worship over Jewish worship. Brattston presented not a single shred of evidence of an early church father objecting to the use of incense in Christian worship.

    Regretfully, this article is deeply flawed. Much of the sources were taken out of context or not relevant to the purpose of the article. In addition, Brattston argues from silence, a highly dubious form of argumentation. Even more distressing is the fact Brattston overlooked contrary evidence in the very sources he did cite.

    The author’s note provided at the end of the article identifies David W.T. Brattston as an adjudicator (judge) of the Small Claims Court of Nova Scotia, Canada. His training is in the field of law, not church history or Christian theology. His mishandling of the patristic sources is painfully evident to anyone who reads the sources for themselves. His condensed style of writing makes the reader heavily reliant on Brattston’s characterization of the content and context. If there is one positive aspect of Brattston’s article it is his detailed references which made double checking his claims easy to do.
     
  3. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Well I actually went ahead and checked all the sources Brattston cites, one by one. It seems that the author (Robert Arakaki) is more engaged in polemics than evidence. He wants to argue that he has more evidence, but, just look at the Lactantius quote as he cites it:

    Do you see the difference? Arakaki actually omits the part where Lactantius actually states his agreement, and mutilates Lactantius's words to make him say the oppose of what he actually says. Then he says the other guy "takes things out of context". The Lactantius quote is clear. Maybe you can read it some other way?

    But then Arakaki also goes on a personal vendetta against Brattston, as if Arakaki has a patristics degree, which he absolutely doesn't. He goes after Brattston's calm and neutral article with an anger and a vendetta, which characterizes the irrational aggression so common in the EO theological circles.
     
  4. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Furthermore, on the subject of the putative "Liturgy of St. James", the Catholic Encyclopedia says this:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08371a.htm
    In other words we're talking about the the fifth century at the earliest, for the liturgy, and if we consider the rubrics being added later, then the liturgy is firmly planted in the Byzantine Middle Ages.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia adds,

    Yet here is Arakaki, fresh off the heels of his patristic scholarship:

    Anyone who has studied the early liturgies, and especially the Didache, would find it incoherent to date the heavy 3-hour long Byzantine liturgy of "St. James" to the era of the apostles.

    This article gives a really bad impression of EO patristic scholarship.
     
  5. JoeLaughon

    JoeLaughon Active Member Anglican

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    Seems to be the very essence of res indiferentes.
     

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