Is the Lord’s Supper for Children? -- By: Christian L. Keidel

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 37:3 (Spring 1975)
Article: Is the Lord’s Supper for Children?
Author: Christian L. Keidel


Is the Lord’s Supper for Children?

Christian L. Keidel

Why not let baptized infants and children back into the Lord’s Supper? This request is not nearly so strange once it is understood that infant observance of the Lord’s Supper was widespread in the early church.1 In the eastern branch of the church, traces of this practice are to be found in the liturgy of St. Clement,2 in Pseudo-Dionysius,3 in Evagrius,4 and in John Moschus,5 and it is still practiced by eastern churches to this day.

References to this practice are more numerous, however, in the western branch of the early church. The first known witness is Cyprian in 251,6 followed by Augustine of Hippo,7 Innocent I,8 Gelasius of Rome,9 and Gennadius of Marseilles.10 It was

approved at the council of Mâcon in 585,11 at the council of Toledo in 675,12 and by the Gelasian Sacramentary.13 In some cases, infants were even forbidden to eat food or suck milk between their baptism and their first communion.14

References to infant and child participation in the Lord’s Supper continue in the west throughout the period of Charlemagne and following. But with the emergence of the doctrine of transubstantiation and the doctrine of concomitance (i.e., that Christ is present entirely under either kind), this ancient practice was soon discontinued. The fear that infants and children might spill the wine and thereby profane the actual body and blood of the Lord appears to have been the primary reason for this discontinuance.15 This gradual abrogation of communion under two kinds led pope Paschalis the Second, in the 12th century, to emphasize in a letter to Pontius, abbot of Cluny: “As Christ communicated bread and wine, each by itself, and it ever had been so observed in the church, it ever should be so done in the future, save in the case of infants and of the sick, who as a general thing, could not eat bread.”16 This letter...

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