EPIKLESIS OR INVOCATION: In the strict sense of the term, the liturgical prayer by which generally in the ancient Church, and to this day in the Eastern, the sacramental elements (water, oil, bread and wine) are consecrated; a prayer in which God is asked to send down the Holy Ghost upon the elements, the assumption being that such a prayer has the mysterious power of bringing the Holy Ghost into such relation with the elements that they become operative for their purpose. Since this purpose is the sanctification of the receivers of the sacrament, a prayer for this also is usually included in the epiklesis. Its position in the liturgy is generally after the thanksgiving and words of institution. As a rule it begins with what is called the anamnesis or commemoration, followed by the anaphora or oblation, after which comes the epiklesis proper. It has a natural affinity with the prayers of consecration in the so-called Sacramentals (q.v.), but is to be distinguished definitely from them. See HOLY WATER.
In the Baptismal Service. The oldest evidence for the epiklesis in the form of a prayer of consecration for the baptismal water is found in Tertullian (De baptismate, iv.); but there is no doubt that it was a constant feature of the baptismal rite in both East and West throughout the third and fourth centuries. In the West the next oldest evidence is scarcely Cyprian, who speaks only of a "cleansing and sanctifying" of the baptismal water (Epist., lxx. 1), but rather the Synod of Carthage of 256, with its phrase "The water sanctified by prayer." Ambrose asserts (De spiritu sancto, I. vii. 88) that the descent of the Holy Ghost, effected by the prayer of the priest, hallows the water, and Jerome (Contra Luciferum, vi. and vii) is unable to conceive any true baptism without such a descent. Augustine bears unmistakable witness to the same usage; yet he, together with Ambrose, was to a great extent responsible for upsetting the universal belief in the efficacy of the epiklesis and replacing it, as the central point in the action of the Eucharist at least, by the words of institution. In his conflict with the Donatists he felt obliged to place the consecrating power less in a prayer of epiklesis, which was clearly in his time not uniform in its wording, than in a fixed, authoritative formula, such as was that of baptism, resting upon the words of institution of the sacrament. This opened the way for a new view of consecration, which in the Eucharist especially came to be of decisive importance.
It was not long before Augustine's teaching bore fruit. It is combined with the older view in the pseudo-Ambrosian treatise De sacramentis (II. v. 14), and probably determined the inclusion of the words of institution in the epiklesis of the sacramentary of Gelasius, a formulary which, with some changes, is still used in the Roman Catholic Church at the benediction of the baptismal water. The corresponding formulary in the Greek Church is a simple epiklesis without the words of institution.
In the Eucharist. In the case of the Eucharist, plenty of evidences from the fourth and fifth centuries, both Eastern and Western, attribute the consecration of the elements to the epiklesis; but the agreement is not so universal as in the case of baptism, nor is it safe to assume that the epiklesis was in use from the beginning as a prayer of consecration, which it came to be considered in the East. The oldest witness for the Eucharistic epiklesis is Irenæus, who says (IV. xviii. 5) "The bread which receives the invocation of God is no longer common bread but the Eucharist"; but that this phrase can not be pressed is shown by the occurrence in the preceding section of another in which that bread is said to be the body of the Lord "over which thanks have been given," and the context shows that this giving of thanks (eucharistein) is not to be taken as simply a general term for consecration. The epiklesis is mentioned again in the second so-called Pfaff fragment of Irenæus, not much later than his time, and by Firmilian of Cæsarea (Cyprian, Epist., lxxv.). In the fourth century the evidences become more numerous; it is mentioned by Basil the Great, most frequently and definitely (as having the force of consecration) by Cyril of Jerusalem, again by Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Theophilus, Chrysostom, and Ephraem Syrus. But the most striking proof of the position which it held in the East is the fact that there is not a single Oriental liturgy in which it is absent or in which it is not regarded as having consecrating force.
The earliest Western authority for the epiklesis in the Eucharist is Ambrose (De spiritu sancto, III xvi. 112 and De fide, IV. x. 124), who shows in these passages not only his acquaintance with it but his belief in its consecrating force. In two other passages he seems to attribute this force to the words of institution, which only shows how little the question was definitely worked out in that period. Augustine was hindered by his symbolic conception of the Eucharist from fully applying Ambrose's ideas on this point to it; but certain phrases of his were taken by a later age as decisive against the consecrating virtue of the epiklesis. It found, however, down to the seventh century, authors who still attributed to it its earlier importance, such as Fulgentius of Ruspe, Optatus of Mileve, Gaudentius of Brescia, and Isidore of Seville.
Western Liturgies. The conclusions indicated by the passages referred to are confirmed by the oldest Western liturgies, which exhibit the epiklesis in universal use here as a prayer of consecration for the Eucharist in the fourth and fifth centuries then either disappearing or altered and removed from its original position immediately after the words of institution. The oldest Gallican liturgies known show no trace of this process, whose center-point was probably at Rome. It is true that Gelasius I (492-496) still knows and approves of the epiklesis; but the simplifying and unifying work which won the name of reformers of the liturgy for him and Gregory the Great eliminated or transformed it in the Roman liturgy, whose acceptance in Gaul and later in Spain ended by bringing about the same results there too.
Conclusion. In conclusion it may be safely said that the epiklesis is not primitive, and its origin may be attributed to a combination of Biblical terms with pagan popular notions. The Scriptural formula "to call upon the name of the Lord" (Joel ii. 32 quoted Acts ii. 21 and Rom. x.13; Acts ix. 14, 21 xxii. 16; I Cor. i. 2) recurs in many types of epiklesis. Among the Gnostics the Name (q.v.), as a powerful mystic formula, is of the greatest importance; its possession enables a man to call down the Godhead. Nothing was to be employed in Christian worship which had not been previously "hallowed" from demoniac influences; and the Holy Ghost, as the sanctifying power, must thus be called down upon the creatures of water, oil, bread, and wine--a conclusion the more natural that in the Scriptural narratives of the baptism of Christ the Holy Ghost had descended in visible form. The theory that the definite epiklesis originated in Gnostic circles, where it was unquestionably widely used, and then found its way into the practise of the Church, is incapable of demonstration; it may well have originated in both about the same time, and had a more rapid development among the Gnostics. If it were certain that the extant magical papyri of the later mystery-cults were of purely pagan origin, uninfluenced by Gnostic views, they would afford more than a heathen parallel for the Christian epiklesis; for in them the words epiklesis, epikaleisthai are the technical terms for the invocation of the Godhead on all kinds of gifts, such as wine, water, and milk. At least an analogous view may be clearly shown in later paganism in the consecration of statues of the gods, for which again an epiklesis was in use.
Bibliography: From the Catholic standpoint: L. A. Hoppe, Die Epiklesis der griechischen und orientalischen Liturgien und der römischen Konsekrationskanon, Schaffhausen, 1864; J. Franz, Der eucharistische Konsekrationsmoment, Würzburg, 1875; idem, Die eucharistische Wandlung und die Epiklese, ib. 1880; F. Probst, Sakramente und Sakramentalien, Tübingen, 1872; idem, Liturgie des 4. Jahrhunderts, Münster, 1893; idem, Die abendländische Messe vom 5. bis zum 8. Jahrhunderte, ib. 1896; Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vii. 721, 728 sqq.; KL, iv. 686-696.
From the Protestant standpoint: P. Zorn, Dissertatio de έπικλήσει, Rostock, 1705; J. W. F. Höfling, Das Sakrament der Teufe, i. 470 sqq., Erlangen, 1846; G. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss auf das Christentum, Göttingen, 1894.