Ancient History Sourcebook:
The Ritual Cannabilism Charge Against Christians
From Minucius Felix. Octavius
And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners
creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing
themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out
and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one
another almost before they know one another; everywhere also there is mingled among them a
certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters,
that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become
incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.
Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so
great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the
bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures,
consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, a worthy and appropriate religion for
such manners. Some say that they worship the genitals of their pontiff and priest, and
adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are
false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who
explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his
wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate
and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.
Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be
detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the
unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain
by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the
meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily - O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly
they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness
of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence.
From Minucius Felix, Octavius, R. E. Wallis, trans. in The Ante-Nicene
(Buffalo, N. Y.: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), Vol. 4, pp. 177-178.
The charge of ritual cannibalism was probably based on confused
accounts of the Christian eucharist. Hippolytus of Rome tells us what actually went on at
a Christian service. This early eucharistic prayer still used in some churches dates from
the beginning of the third century.
Hippolytus. Apostolic Tradition
When one has been consecrated bishop all give him the kiss of peace . . . and the
deacons bring him the offering . . . he lays hands upon it with all the priests and gives
thanks, saying, "The Lord be with you." And all answer, "And with your
spirit." "Lift up your hearts." "We have lifted them up to the
Lord." "Let us give thanks to the Lord." "It is right and just."
And he thus continues, "We give thanks to you O God through your beloved son Jesus
Christ whom in these last times you have sent to us as the redeemer and saviour and
messenger of your will. He is your inseparable Word, through whom you created all things
and who was acceptable to you. You sent him from heaven into the Virgin's womb and in her
womb he was made man and was manifested your son, born of the Holy Spirit and of the
Virgin. Fulfilling your will and buying for you a holy people, he stretched forth his
hands when he suffered, that by his Passion he might deliver those who believed in you.
When he was delivered over to his Passion of his own will, to destroy death, to break the
bonds of the devil, to trample upon Hell, to enlighten the just, and to manifest his
resurrection, taking bread and giving thanks to you, he said: Take and eat, this is my
body which shall be broken for you. And taking likewise the cup, he said: This is my blood
which shall be shed for you; when you do this, do it in memory of me.
"Mindful therefore of his death and resurrection, we offer you this bread and
cup, giving thanks to you because you have found us worthy to stand before you and serve
you. And we beg you to send the Holy Spirit upon the offering of the holy church and
gather into one all who have received it . . . that we may praise and glorify you through
your son Jesus Christ, through whom is glory and honor to the Father and the Son and the
Holy Spirit, in your holy church both now and forever. Amen."
From H. Achelis, Die Canones Hippolyti (Leipzig, 1881), pp. 48-55.
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998