Testamentum Domini published

Image 1I am happy to say that my version, with a fairly extensive introduction, of Testamentum Domini, has now been published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.  Get yours here.

As a taster, here is the forematter:

The work presented here was first suggested to me by Fr John Behr in 1999, but not started until 2007, after he had reminded me of his request. For a number of years, however, it was abandoned as other projects took precedence, and I despaired of my own ability to complete it. Nonetheless, an invitation from Codrington College to lecture on apocalyptic in the patristic period led to the publication of an article on the apocalyptic section of the Testament. Work restarted in earnest in 2015, at Fr John’s suggestion that I take it up again. Not for the first time I have cause to thank Fr John and all at St Vladimir’s Seminary Press for their confidence in me and for their patience.

In essence this is a translation of the Syriac text published by Rahmani in 1899, though on occasion I have understood this text differently from previous translators. Moreover, on occasion I have ventured a conjecture, and have had an eye to the Ethiopic version, and to such portions of other texts as have been published. As I note in the introduction, this falls short of what is really required, given the complexity of the textual transmission of the work and the extent to which it has been neglected, but if this serves in any way to re-ignite the interest of specialists then that is is good. The Arabic witnesses in particular need proper investigation.

My primary aim, however, is to make the work better known and readily accessible to a wide readership. Thus although the footnotes may refer to abstruse matters and to recondite secondary literature, the text can be read without reference to them, as can the introduction.

This introduction is intended to show the importance of this neglected work for liturgical history, beyond its value as a witness to Apostolic tradition. Moreover I hope to have established the (already suspected) fourth-century and Cappadocian provenance of the Testament; it is thus a work contemporary with the Cappadocian fathers. A Basilian outlook underlies the Testament, which is reason enough, beyond its valuable liturgical information, to read the work

William Gordon, preaching at the funeral of Christopher Codrington in 1710, noted that Codrington “was a great Admirer of the Fathers, particularly of St. Basil.” Sadly we must record that he followed Basil in accepting the necessity of slavery; however, his bequest for the foundation of a Basilian monastic community in Barbados, whilst never realized, was the basis for the College which I was privileged once to serve, and through which the learning of the fathers is kept alive in the West Indies.

For this we glorify you, we bless you, we give thanks to you Lord.


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More on the Pseudo-Nicaean canons

In a previous post I have shown the different versions of the pseudo-nicaean canons. I have missed to point out an interesting feature of their transmission, though. The Syriac text, which is the original version of the canons according to Braun and Vööbus, is significantly longer than the later Arabic and Ethiopic translations. For not only they differ in the number and content of the canons themselves, the Syriac canons are transmitted in a long letter, presumably by Maruta of Maipherkat to Isaac, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. This letter recounts the origins of the council of Nicaea along with the creed, with the names of the bishops as well as many excursuses. Maruta, if he is the authentic author of the text, also translates the Greek canons into Syriac to make them accessible to the Syriac speaking East. He not only translates the 20 Greek canons but also the pseudo-nicaean canons, which he seems to accept as authentic too.

The letter says that Isaac had requested to learn the Apostolic canons to regulate his Church. Maruta answers that these canons circulated before the Nicaean council: they are said to be partly written by James, partly by Luke – apostolic therefore. Maruta goes on to summarize these canons: They are nothing less than what we call the Canons of Addai! But Maruta explains that the Apostolic canons were outdated, not fit anymore to regulate a Church fighting heresies. That is why he sends Isaac the Nicaean canons – or what he deems appropriate for the Persian church.

Not much has been written on this interesting letter (interesting too as it is a direct testimony to the canons of Addai!). The acts of the Council of Isaac (410) certainly associate Maruta with a set of canons which he transmitted. Whether he is the author of the letter and/or of the pseudo-nicaean canons, I cannot tell for the moment. It seems to me that the letter is partly interpolated, with elements from later centuries. Clearly living literature. Hopefully I can write more soon.

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The invention of theology


Very recently I had the privilege of assisting with the obsequies of Keith Bosley. Shortly before his death a new collection of his verse appeared, The wedding guest. The book came out at the wake and fell open to this poem, this short and vast masterpiece, typically  backhanded.

Mindful of the season in which we recall Οὗτος ἀφικόμενος ἐξ οὐρανῶν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν διὰ τὸν πάσχοντα I offer this gem as greeting to the reader, as a memorial to the writer, as a thanks to Keith’s family, and to all as an encouragement to read the work of a master of his craft.


At the end
of the Passover meal
the leader takes
a piece of matzo

set aside earlier
breaks it and hands it round
to signify
the paschal lamb

which is why
Jews are discouraged
from eating lamb
at this meal

then he pours out
the last cup of wine
for all present
plus Elijah

who has his own chair
should he come in
through the door
opened for him

to announce
the Messiah
but centuries ago
barbarians burst in

stood the bloodless rite
upon its head
and invented

(April 2001)

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Evangelium Petri and the Didascalia

Joel Marcus, “The Gospel of Peter as a Jewish Christian document” NTS 64 (2018), 473-494, is a somewhat speculative article on Evangelium Petri. It is noted here because Marcus returns to the Didascalia, having previously discussed this document in his “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Didascalia Apostolorum: a common Jewish Christian milieu?” JTS 61 (2010), 596–626. Here he turns to the Quartodeciman background of the Vorlage to chapter 21 (Syriac), noting here the nexus of relationship between it, Evangelium Petri, and other Quartodeciman literature, and the complex relationship between Quartodeciman Christianity and the Jewish matrix of its genesis.

As already said, the conclusion is somewhat speculative, but is not impossible, and the piece is worth reading.

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Daniel Vaucher on Peter of Alexandria

Though too modest to mention it himself, Daniel Vaucher has a new publication: “Glaubensbekenntnis oder Sklavengehorsam?—Petrus von Alexandrien zu einem christlichen Dilemma” Vigiliae Christianae 72 (2018), 533-560.

Abstract: The so-called Canonical letter (or περὶ Μετανοίας, “On Repentance”) of St. Peter of Alexandria, sheds light on a variety of means that Christians chose to avoid the sacrifice test under the Diocletian persecution. Canons 5-7 deal explicitly with slave- owners using their slaves as surrogates. St. Peter condemns these practices heavily, while at the same time he condemns servile obedience. In this, Peter is almost alone in early Christianity, when almost all Christians preached blind obedience. The article examines these canons, and contextualizes them with other Christian perceptions of ancient slavery. At the same time, the letter is important for the understanding of the Great persecution, its mechanisms, and the personal situation of St. Peter. Hence, the letter is discussed in regards to its transmission, and its context.

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Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis: review

I have at last received my copy of Daniel Vaucher’s book Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis: die früchristlichen Kirchenordnungen (Hildesheim: Olms, 2017). My thanks to Dr Vaucher for his kind note, and for sending me a second copy after the Post Office managed to lose the first. I am sorry that it has taken so long for a review to appear.

The object of the work is to understand Christian understandings of slavery through a proper examination of Christian sources, which has not been undertaken with sufficient rigour, particularly not by recent studies. Although there is a focus on church orders, the author has an extensive knowledge of other early Christian literature; thus the opening, which refers to the Vita Polycarpi and to the Acta Andreae, plunges us directly into the world of unreflective Christians in antiquity.

After setting out the purpose of the work in the first chapter, in the second chapter Vaucher describes and contextualizes the church orders, setting their development in the world of a developing, urbanizing, diverse Christianity. On the basis of function the church orders are seen as prescriptive Christian texts, setting out an ideal which may be in tension with the reality. Hence the title of the work sees Christian discourse regarding slavery setting norms which are not actually achieved. Beyond this, however, the following chapters manifest the extent of unanswered questions regarding early Christianity and slavery. The study is not, however, restricted to the church orders, but to other prescriptive material, or material which might be read as prescriptive. Thus the third chapter focusses on Paul. Vaucher demonstrates the variety of unanswered questions regarding slavery in the Pauline corpus, in particular in the interpretation of Philemon. His overall suggestion is that Paul has an ideal which is eschatological in goal, but which is also not manifested. Such a failure is manifested in the Corinthian Gemeindemahl and in the treatment of slavery. This is rather better than “love-patriarchalism” as an understanding of Paul’s approach, since it takes account of the eschatological nature of the real Christian communities, and sees the disappearance of slavery as part of the yet-unrealized Kingdom.

This leads to the deutero-Pauline literature in the fourth chapter, as in this literature we see something similar to the church orders, as well as the first treatment of the church orders’ directions concerning slavery. Vaucher suggests that the Pauline tension is unresolved, and that there are two streams in early Christianity, broadly “libertarian” or ascetic, a stream later represented by monasticism, and a more bürgerlich stream represented by the church orders as in previous generations by the Haustafel. It is in the course of this chapter that there is one of the many interesting discussions of detail, here in particular over the question of the purchase of slaves by congregations in order that they may obtain their freedom. Vaucher points to the very different versions of the same material in Didascalia 2.62.4 and its parallel in Constitutiones apostolorum, where the latter text indicates the possibility that slaves might be purchased. This is read in the light of the earlier prohibition on the purchase of slaves’ freedom from common funds in the Ignatian Ad Pol., indicating that the practice of post-Constantinian Christianity was different, by virtue of living in a different ecclesial contest.

The theme of lack of resolution continues as the fifth chapter examines the tension which exists between the rhetoric (and ritual) of baptism and the reality of slavery. Here Vaucher raises, and in my opinion answers correctly, a particular issue regarding the demand in Traditio apostolica for a “master’s reference” for a slave-catechumen. The same chapter also considers slave office-holders, though this might better have been discussed separately, as Vaucher returns in a subsequent chapter to the matter of the catechumenate, pointing out in the sixth chapter the extent to which the “forbidden professions” of Traditio apostolica might tend to exclude slaves. The author might reasonably respond to this criticism that the chapter continues the theme of the book overall, which is the tension between the institution of slavery and the practice of slavery; indeed, although the matter of slaves as office-holders has been discussed to some extent already in this blog, the discussion in the book goes far beyond this, suggesting that exclusion was a later phenomenon, but suggesting that certain offices, particularly in the earliest period, might principally have been held by the slaves and freedmen of the episkopos-patron. The brief discussion of the role and origin of the reader is particularly enlightening here.

As already noted, the sixth chapter concerns potential exclusion of slaves from the catechumenate on the basis of forbidden professions. Again, this is an unnoticed area which Vaucher has done well to observe. The chapter may be read alongside the useful appendix setting out the “forbidden professions” as found in the various sources.

The seventh chapter turns to the treatment of slaves. Again the tension within the Christian message and the practice of slavery emerges. As is the case in many of the chapters, a host of sub-questions emerges. In particular the observations regarding the extent to which both the pseudo-Ignatians and the Consitutiones apostolorum expand their Vorlagen considerably in encouraging the proper treatment of slaves, and introduce extensive material which is not in the documents which they are reworking, cause Vaucher to suggest that the authors are facing a real issue in their Antiochene context, and that the poor treatment of slaves is still an issue three hundred years into the life of the Christian movement. The same chapter observes the similarities and differences between the catalogues of those from whom gifts are to be refused in the Didascalia, the Constitutiones apostolorum and in the pseudo-Athanasian material such as the Fides patrum, in particular with regard to the treatment of slaves. The literary puzzle is perhaps insoluble, but its observation is worthwhile, and the extent to which it forms a tradition is noteworthy.

A final chapter compounds the puzzle of unanswered questions by posing the question of slavery and sex, in a society in which slaves were the sexual property of their owners. Could a slave employed for a master’s sexual satisfaction become a Christian or would this pollute the body to an extent that such a person is of necessity excluded? Again one feels that this topic might better have been discussed in the context of catechumenate, but the questions are well-posed nonetheless.

The conclusion repeats the extent of the problematic, and emphasizes the extent to which the institution of slavery goes unquestioned in the Christian sources, even whilst standing in tension to the Christian Gospel.

There are also appendices and excursus. Reference has already been made to the appendix laying out the various versions of the “forbidden professions”; this is preceded by an extensive appendix setting out the various church orders in their interrelated confusion. The interest of this to the readers of the blog is obvious.

The main argument is valuable, but the value of the work goes beyond the overall argument, firstly in the manner in which it provides a worked example of the importance of the church orders as historical documents and at the same time their limitations and secondly, as already indicated, in the individual discussions of disputed and unclear points.

As an example of such, I may take that of concubinage in Traditio apostolica. Vaucher notes the particular arrangements for concubines in Traditio apostolica 16, and the recognition here of the social (and legal) reality of slave-concubines. However, he notes the oddness that there is no mention of the controversy with Kallistos, who had allowed the de facto marriage of free women and enslaved men, something criticized roundly in the Refutatio. It emerges from Vaucher’s discussion that Kallistos’ intention was that Christian women were to have Christian spouses, and thus that there might be difficulty for them to find Christian husbands of their own social status. Thus although Vaucher, who rightly recognizes the “aristokratische Besinning” of Hippolytus, determines in the end that the situation is unclear (249), his discussion actually points us in the direction of some solution here, in that the chapter concerns catechumens, rather than established Christians. As such the situation would not arise, as these male slaves would already be Christians, rather than being catechumens. I would have to revise my opinion of the text of TA 16.14b (derived from the Greek epitome) and now see this as a gloss. In this respect we may also note the important text Constitutiones apostolorum 8.34.13, to which Vaucher directs our attention.

The wealth of such detailed discussions is what makes the work so valuable. Thankfully it is equipped with a Stellenregister to ease the reader who wishes to explore the individual aspects of the texts, as well as an excellent bibliography, which testifies to the depth of the research. It is also printed in a remarkably clear typeface. However, given the value of the contents and the fact that they have taken a subvention for publishing, one might have hoped that Olms would have produced a sturdier product. But the publishers are our masters.

Beyond giving the book a wholehearted commendation and its author warm congratulations, I may perhaps be allowed a personal note of thanks. In a West Indian context we cannot forget the legacy of slavery and the evils which accompanied it, and struggle with the manner in which the Christian churches, particularly the Anglican churches, were complicit in its continuation. Vaucher’s work at least reminds us that this was not a perversion introduced in the seventeenth century but that such confused thinking was a legacy of the earliest period of Christian development.


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Yet another attempt to deny Roman provenance to Traditio apostolica

Looking for something else, today I came across Maciej Zachara Mic “Czy Tradycja apostolska jest dokumentem rzymskim?” Ruch biblijny I liturgicznyrok 65 (2012), 3-20. As my Polish is somewhat non-existent (in spite of living in Slough) I am relieved to find the English abstract: ·

The so-called Apostolic Tradition is usually considered an element of the history of the liturgy of the Roman Church. This conviction lays ultimately on two presuppositions: on the attribution of the Apostolic Tradition to St. Hippolytus of Rome and on the presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the baptismal ritual of Apostolic Tradition, which is peculiar exclusively to the Roman liturgy. However, none of these presuppositions is certain. The arguments for St. Hippolytus’ authorship are so weak, that this attribution must be considered highly improbable. The presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the Apostolic Tradition can be explained by the complexity of its baptismal ritual which seems to be a conflation of different traditions. On the other hand, the Roman tradition of two postbaptismal anointings is probably due to the episcopal prerogative to administer the confirmation and to the concession given to presbyters to anoint the neophytes with the chrism at the baptisms administered by them. This presbyteral chrismation was afterwards extended to every baptism. Consequently, the origins of the Apostolic Tradition are far from certain and its Roman provenance is by no means proved.

The article itself can be read here.

Oddly enough this is in line with my argument in my commentary. Although the initiatory section was much revised in the second edition in view of the critique of Bradshaw and Ekenberg, I suggested in both versions that the double post-baptismal anointing was unrelated to that in Gelasianum and should not be considered as evidence for a Roman provenance, and that the document largely reflected the life of an emigré congregation. The argument for Roman provenance rests on neither presupposition identified by Fr Mic. Nuff said.

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