Sunday Letter

On one of his latest excavations into Early Christian literature, Alistair Stewart aka Indiana Jones dug out an extraordinary text: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.55123 (Hall 1893). He asked me whether this could be a Church Order. I identified the piece as the so-called Letter from Heaven (Himmelsbrief) – a text that I indicated as a possible Church Order more than a year ago in my response to Alistairs pioneering Church Order conspectus (https://ancientchurchorders.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/a-conspectus-of-the-church-orders/#comments).

The letter, supposedly fallen from Heaven onto the grave of St. Peter in Rome (in other versions onto Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople…), supposedly written by Jesus Christ himself, has one principal claim: to observance Sunday (i.e. not to work but to attend the Church). Most fascinating about this text is not so much its obvious and daring forgery, but its immense success and spread. “Die älteste Überlieferung liegt in lateinischer Sprache vor; es sind außerdem griechische, syrische, koptische, arabische (einschließlich karschunische), äthiopische, armenische, russische, tschechische, polnische, ukrainische, südslavische, ungarische, rumänische, altirische, altenglische, walisische, mittelenglische, mittelhochdeutsche, mittelniederländische, altfranzösische, provenzalische, spanische, katalanische, italienische, isländische, dänische, norwegische und schwedische Fassungen bekannt.” (Palmer 1986).

These different recensions were developed between the 6th and the 20th century, obviously not without success. It is still not possible to make out its origins. The earliest references are found in the 6th century with Bishop Vincentius of Ibiza. On this basis Delehaye and others claimed a Spanish origin, whereas Van Esbroeck proposed a 5th century origin in Jerusalem.

In 1901, Carl Schmidt published a Coptic letter by Peter of Alexandria (3rd-4th century). Among narrative passages we find the same claim to observe Sundays rest and to attend the Church. Schmidt believed in its authenticity, whereas Delehaye, in his review, stated that in the early 4th century, there was no such thing as “legislation” on Sunday observance. He therefore claimed that the Coptic letter was another forgery, related to the above Sunday letter.

I remain skeptical. Not that the Coptic letter is necessarily written by Peter. But the “legislation” on Sunday observance is really strong in the 4th century. In Laodicea (around 360), can. 29, we read: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.” In the Church Order literature, we have a strong case in the Apostolic Constitutions (around 380), VIII.33: even slaves were not allowed to work on Sunday! In addition, we have the can. 11 of the Canons of Clement, although they are even more difficult to date.

In my opinion, a 4th or 5th century origin (Van Esbroeck) is very probable for both the Sunday Letter and the Coptic Letter by (Ps.-)Peter.

Finally, I tend to agree with Stewart that the text fails the principal criteria for being a Church Order: although it is an anonymous piece with normative elements, there are no pseudonymous or pseudapostolic tactics to strengthen the case. Also its content is too narrow, only regulating Sunday practices. With Van Esbroeck: “Il relève de plusieurs genres littéraires à la fois: l’apocalyptique, l’apocryphe, la prophétie, la lettre, le sermon sur l’obligation dominicale, et le code législatif antique lesté de bénédictions et de malédictions.”

Principal Literature (chronologically):

I.H. Hall, The Letter of Holy Sunday. Syriac Text and Translation, in: Journal Of The American Oriental Society 15 (1893), 121-137.

H. Delehaye, Note sur la légende de la lettre du Christ tombée du ciel, in: Bulletins de l’Academie royale de Belgique, Classe des Lettres, 1899, 171-213.

C. Schmidt, Fragment einer Schrift des Märtyrer-Bischofs Petrus von Alexandrien, Leipzig 1901.

Reviewed by H. Delehaye, in Analecta Bollandiana 20 (1901), 101-103.

M. Bittner, Der vom Himmel gefallen Brief in seinen morgenländischen Versionen und Rezensionen, in: Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften: philosophisch-historische Klasse, 51 (1906) 1-240.

R. Stübe, Der Himmelsbrief. Ein Beitrag zur allgemeinen Religionsgeschichte, Tübingen 1918.

R. Priebsch, Letter from Heaven on the Observance of the Lord’s Day, Oxford 1936.

N.F. Palmer, Himmelsbrief, in: TRE 15 (1986), 344-346.

M. Van Esbroeck, La lettre sur le Dimanche, descendue du ciel, in: Analecta Bollandiana 107 (1989), 267-284.

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Quaestiones Melitonianae 3: fragments on baptism in Coptic

This is my third, and final, post in response to the enquiries of “Robert”, in comments below.

The final set of possibly Melitonian fragments left out of consideration in the recent re-edition of my 2001 work were omitted principally because they were first attributed to Melito after the work had gone to press.

Alin Suciu suggested, in a paper given in Claremont last year, that fragments published by Alla I. Elanskaya under the title “The Treatise on the Symbolics of Baptism and the Elements.” in The Literary Coptic Manuscripts in the A.S. Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum in Moscow (Vigiliae Christianae supp. 18; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 167-200 might represent fragments of a lost work of Melito.

I asked Dr Suciu whether he intended to publish this identification, but he stated that first he had to make new examination of the papyrus, in particular to see what further fragments might be put in place. I do hope he is successful, and look forward very much to publication.

Having said this much, I must admit to doubting the Melitonian provenance of these fragments. Their import is to discuss the interpenetration of water and spirit in the work of baptism, and the effect of the baptism of Jesus. This stoic approach is reminiscent of Tertullian in De baptismo. Spirit, however, said in the fragments to be a creation of God (thus indicating, as Suciu rightly says, an early date), is in Melito’s extant work less a person, or an object, but rather the property of God (Melito is functionally binitarian). Thus it is hard to see how spirit can be both a creature of God and the essence of God.

There is a certain link in that the fragments share with Melito’s fragment 8b the image of the sun being “baptized” nightly in the sea. However, this simply means that the authors share a stoic approach to Homeric exegesis (see, inter alia, Macrobius Saturnalia 1.23). It is also interesting that the fragments cite the conclusion to the pseudo-Hippolytean homily De theophania, which Dr Suciu, and others, believe to be an interpolation into the ps-Hippolytean work. I do not believe that it is, and so the fragments have cited this (?third-century?) text for some reason which, due to the fragmentary nature of the material, I cannot divine.

Although I do not agree with Dr Suciu that this is a lost work of Melito, it is certainly an important and early work. I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention and for sharing with me the slides from his Claremont presentation. And I look forward with great excitement to his eventual publication.

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Collections of Church Orders

Planned as an addendum to the famous Church Order Conspectus by our host Alistair Stewart, he let me know that he had planned the same thing! So I post this as a start and let him take or leave whatsoever appropriate for his conspectus. For the moment, I only include the collections that comprise several Church Orders.

 

Name: Apostolic Constitutions

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Greek version edited by Funk 1905 and Metzger 1985-1987; Latin fragment (VIII.41.2 till end) in Fragmentum Veronese LI (49), ed. Turner/Spagnolo 1911-1912; Arabic and Ethiopic translations and adaptions of book I-VI (see Didascalia).

Comprises: book I-VI: Didascalia, VII: Didache, VIII: Peri Charismaton, adaption of Traditio Apostolica, Apostolic Canons (extant in many languages) and other material

Origin: around 380, maybe Antioch

 

Name: Verona Palimpsest LV (53)

Original language: Latin

Extant languages with principal published editions: Latin edition by Hauler 1900 and Tidner 1963.

Comprises: fragments of Didascalia, Apostolic Church Order, Traditio Apostolica

Origin: 5th century

 

Name: Aksumite Collection

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Ethiopic partially edited by Bausi 2011.

Comprises: Traditio Apostolica, material from CA VIII.

Origin: 5th/6th century

 

Name: Alexandrine Sinodos

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Sahidic partially edited by Lagarde 1883, Arabic partially edited by Périer/Périer 1912, Ethiopic partially edited by Bausi 1995, Bohairic edited by Tattam 1848.

Comprises: Contents vary, principally Apostolic Church Order and Traditio Apostolica with Apostolic Canons in at least 2 versions. Although these pieces have received most scholarly attention, there is more to be found in SinAlex, s. Hanssens 1965, p. 35-36. Bausis edition comprises also Canones Clementis/Canones Petri, a version of the Canones Addaei and more. Not edited are the canons of the synods, where the pseudo-nicaean canons are to be found.

Origin: after CA, probably 5th/6th century

 

Name: Clementine Octateuch

Original language: Greek?

Extant languages with principal published editions: Syriac version translated by Nau 1912, partially edited by Lagarde 1856. Awaiting edition by Hubert Kaufhold. Arabic version only partially edited, see Riedel 1900, p. 66-74.

Comprises: Testamentum Domini, Apostolic Church Order, Traditio Apostolica and Apostolic Canons.

Origin: Syriac version translated in the late 7th century, Greek original?

 

Name: Kitab al-Huda

Original language: Syriac?

Extant languages with principal published editions: Arabic version edited by Fahed 1935.

Comprises: Pseudo-Nicaean Canons, Praedicatio Johannis Evangelistae, Canones Clementis/Canones Petri, Apostolic Canons, material from CA VIII and more.

Origin: Arabic version translated from Syriac by David anno 1059.

 

This list could be extended forever…

 

Literature:

Bausi, A. 1995: Il Sēnodos etiopico: Canoni pseudoapostolici: Canoni dopo l’Ascensione, Canoni di Simone Cananeo, Canoni apostolici, Lettera di Pietro. 2 Bde. Leiden 1995 (CSCO 552, 553, Scriptores aethiopici 101, 102).

Bausi, A. 2011: La ‘nuova’ versione etiopica della Traditio apostolica: edizione e traduzione preliminare, in: Buzi, P. / Camplani, A. (Hg.): Christianity in Egypt: Literary Production and Intellectual Trends: Studies in Honor of Tito Orlandi.Rome 2011, S. 19-69.

Fahed, P. 1935: Kitab al-huda, ou Livre de la Direction: Code Maronite du Haut Moyen Age, traduction du Syriaque en Arabe par l’evêque Maronite David, l’an 1059. Aleppo 1935.

Funk, F.X. 1905: Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum. 2 vols. Paderborn 1905.

Hanssens, J.M. 1965: La liturgie d’Hippolyte: ses documents, son titulaire, ses origines et son caractère. Rome 21965.

Hauler, E. 1900: Didascaliae Apostolorum fragmenta Veronensia Latina. Accedunt Canonum qui dicunter Apostolorum et Aegyptiorum reliquiae. Leipzig 1900.

Lagarde, P. 1856: Reliquiae Iuris Ecclesiastici Antiquissimae. Leipzig 1856.

Lagarde, P. 1883: Aegyptiaca. Göttingen 1883.

Metzger, M. 1985-1987: Les constitutions apostoliques. Introd., texte critique, trad. et notes. 3 Vols. Paris 1985-1987 (SC 320, 329, 336).

Nau, F. 1912: La didascalie des douze apôtres, trad. du syriaque pour la première fois. 2e éd. revue et augmentée de la trad. de “La Didachè des douze apôtres”, de la “Didascalie de l’apôtre Addaï et des empêchements de mariage (pseudo) apostoliques”. Paris 21912.

Périer, J. / Périer, A. 1912: Les 127 Canons des Apôtres. Texte arabe an partie inédit, publié et traduit en francais d’après les manuscrits de Paris, de Rome et de Londres. Paris 1912.

Tattam, H. 1848: The Apostolical Constitutions or Canons of the Apostles in Coptic with an English Translation. London 1848.

Tidner, E.: Didascaliae apostolorum, canonum ecclesiasticorum, traditionis apostolicae versiones Latinae. Berlin 1963 (TU 75).

Turner, C.H. / Spagnolo, A. 1911-1912: A Fragment of an Unknown Latin Version of the Apostolic Constitutions. (Book VIII 41-end: Lagarde 274. 26-281. 9.). From a MS in the Chapter Library of Verona LI foll. 139b-146a, in: JTS 13 (1911-1912), S. 492-510.

 

 

 

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Quaestiones Melitonianae 2: the fragments on soul and body

round tuitA further response to the questions posed by “Robert” in comments below.

In my recent collection of Melitonian fragments I write:

There is a homily preserved in Coptic under the name of Athanasius, of which another version, attributed to Alexander of Alexandria, is extant in Syriac, which may well be the work of Melito, in whole or in substantial part. Further fragments of this homily are extant in Syriac, with some in Greek and a substantial amount in Georgian. This work would seem to be that On soul and body mentioned by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.26

This is the simplified version! Actually there are no less than three Syriac witnesses to this material, one of which is also extant in Armenian (from Greek?) and (through Coptic) in Arabic and Ethiopic. In addition, attribution is made to a host of individuals apart from Melito (of Attica, says one witness!), such as Chrysostom and Epiphanius. I did not include this complex of fragments principally on grounds of length. To include such a (?complete) work in a book entitled On Pascha would be disproportionate. I did start preparing a version for inclusion, and every now and then I try to get my head round this material. I do believe that Gregor Wurst’s Habilitationsschrift included a synoptic presentation of all this material, but there is no copy in the UK of which I am aware. István Bugár, moreover, gave a paper on this material at the Oxford patristic conference in 2015, which we hope will appear in Studia patristica, in which an attempt is made at presenting a stemma of the versions.

If any reader wants to get an idea of these contents without spending a day trawling the catalogues of a research library, the Syriac version attributed to Alexander and the Coptic version attributed to Athanasius are both to be found in Wallis Budge, Coptic homilies in the dialect of Upper Egypt; edited from the papyrus codex Oriental 5001 in the British museum (London: British Museum trustees, 1910) with English translations. This book may be found on archive.org. S.G. Hall, Melito of Sardis On Pascha and fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979) gives fragment 13 in English (this is one of the Syriac witnesses) and, as “new fragments” English versions of the Georgian.

I fear a deeper study will only be undertaken when I get the object pictured. However, a proper study of this work is surely a desideratum.

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Quaestiones Melitonianae 1: the Syriac apologia

In response to a request from “Robert” in comments below I am posting on the ps-Melito of Sardis, perhaps, better, Melito the philosopher, Apology.

“Robert” asks for “information.” I fear I have little. Previously I had read the apology simply with a view to whether it should be attributed to Melito of Sardis. Having decided fairly rapidly that it should not, I left it. Even now I cannot claim to have undertaken a deep study, beyond re-reading the document in W. Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum: containing remains of Bardesan, Meliton, Ambrose and Mara Bar Serapion (London: F&J Rivington, 1855), available on archive.org, (from whom any English citations here are taken), reading Jane L. Lightfoot, ‘The Apology of Pseudo-Meliton’ SEL 24 (2007), .59-110, and a skim of Sebastian Toby Nichols, ‘The Gods of the Nations are Idols’ (Ps. 96:5): Paganism and Idolatry in Near Eastern Christianity, Diss. Durham, 2014, (Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/10616/). I have no particular knowledge or insight, so simply list what seem to be the key questions with some highly tentative answers and suggestions.

My initial uncertainty about calling the author “ps-Melito” or “Melito” comes about because, although it is possible that this is intended in some way to be a work of Melito of Sardis, it is also possible that this is a work which is entirely independent and by another Melito. The attribution in the title, and the statement that is was delivered in the presence of “Antoninus Caesar”, whereas obviously fictive, may be the fiction of a scribe intent on attributing the apology to Melito, but “Melito” was not an uncommon name. My feeling is that the author’s name was “Melito”; the characterization of this Melito as “the philosopher” is not one which would readily occur to a scribe with limited knowledge of the sophist of Sardis. The reference to Antoninus is, moreover, part of the fictive setting, rather than any scribal initiative, as one of the characterizations of the philosopher is that of a king who claims that he is bound to worship idols by virtue of his position. The answer is given that the king might lead his people in worshipping a true God. This indicates that an address to an emperor is part of the fictive construction.

Another question which is posed, and not answered here, is the original language of the document. Although some have argued for Greek the consensus seems to be moving in the direction of a Syriac original. Certainly there is nothing here which sounds like awkward translation. Whereas the work is clearly indebted to the Greek philosophical tradition, this does not preclude a Syriac original, as Greek philosophy was taken into Syriac speaking circles. Thus a Syriac original stemming from somewhere like Hierapolis (Mabbug) would not be unreasonable as a supposition.

An origin in Hierapolis would be consistent with the section in which the philosopher speaks of the origin of the gods in human heroes, with a catalogue of Syrian cults. However, Lightfoot suggests that this section, that which has received the most attention, is an interpolation. This is absolutely feasible; the speech makes far more sense, seems much more coherent, without this section. This, in turn, makes a Syrian origin less compelling, even while still possible.

Nichols suggests that this might be a product of the latter part of the second century. This is, again, plausible, especially if the Euhemeristic section is omitted. Lightfoot finds some possible indication of date in a part of the Euhemeristic section: “The Syrians worshipped Athi a Hadibite, who sent the daughter of Belat, who was skilled in medicine, and she cured Simi, daughter of Hadad, king of Syria ; and after a time, when the leprosy attacked Hadad himself, Athi entreated Elishah, the Hebrew, and he came and cured him of his leprosy.” Here, rather than a reference to the story of Naaman, she sees a reference to the Historia Addaei, and so suggests a terminus a quo in the fourth century. I am less than convinced; in any event, this is from a section which may be interpolated.

I am also unconvinced by any suggestion that there is literary dependence on the Apology of Aristides. Certainly there is some common material, but nothing which is unique; what they hold in common is the lingua franca of early Christian apologetics.

Finally I note that “Robert” has picked up on the reference to the final dissolution of the world by fire: “So also it will be at the last time; there shall be a flood of fire, and the earth shall be burnt up together with its mountains, and men shall be burnt up together with the idols which they have made, and with the graven images which they have worshipped; and the sea, together with its isles, shall be burnt.” There seems to be a consensus that this is a reference to II Peter. My feeling is that this refers, rather, to the ekpyrosis known in stoicism.

I am grateful to “Robert” for causing me to re-read this Bekehrungspredigt (a better characterization, perhaps, than “Apology”.) Possibly, one day, I may find time to return to it to produce something more coherent than this.

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The deacon’s garment, again

Newly published is “The deacon’s ‘garment’ at Traditio apostolica 22: an attempt at understanding” SVTQ 61 (2017), 119-122. Remember… you read it here first (see below!)

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The Pseudo-Nicaean Canons

The council of Nicaea undoubtedly played an immense role in the development of the Christian Church, so it is no surprise that the canons of the council were of major importance to the early canonists. Not surprisingly too, the material ascribed to Nicaea is not small, as bishops and presbyters and scribes of all sort produced pseudonymous material to strengthen their case. What comes as a surprise is the fact, that most of it is not transmitted in Greek, but only in Coptic, Syriac or Arabic.

Stewart has produced a critical edition and translation of one of these documents, the Sententia Nicaea. (A.C. Stewart: The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea. Critical text with transl., introd. and comm. Piscataway 2015) Other than their transmission, they have nothing to do with Nicaea at all, as far as I know.

Another set of material runs danger of being confused with the Sententia, namely “die arabischen Kanones des Nicaenums”, or, as I would name them, the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons.

The Arabic material is found in the canonical collection of Macarius (14th century), s. Riedel 1900, p. 121 ss., in which the Nicaean material is grouped into 4 books. The second book consists of these 84 Arabic canons, which were translated into Latin by Echellensis as the eorundem sanctorum patrum 318 sanctiones et decreta, published in Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection, 1759, vol. 2, p. 981-1010. As mentioned in the previous post, a recension of it found its way into the Kitab al-Huda. This Arabic version was for a long time the only known version, hence the common name. Other than the shortened version of the Kitab al-Huda, there is no edition or modern translation.

More recent investigations pointed to the existence of the Syriac set of Pseudo-Nicaean Canons. They are linked to the name of Bishop Maruta of Maipherkat (4th/5th century), who supposedly translated the original Greek material into Syriac. The origin of the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons remains a mystery, though, and I feel more comfortable with Vööbus’ thesis of a grown tradition or living literature, that has its roots with Maruta and the early 5th century. I also cite Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. I, p. 588:

“Sicher waren die in Frage stehenden falschen Kanones von Nizäa schon vor 489 von der Kirche in Persien rezipiert, da eine so klare Anerkennung des römischen Primates, wie er in Kan. 2 (bei Maruta) ausgesprochen ist, nach der endgültigen Scheidung zwischen Römern (Griechen) und Persern nicht mehr denkbar ist. Die Geltung einzelner Kanones ist aber schon früher bezeugt…”

The Syriac version is edited and translated by A. Vööbus: The canons ascribed to Mārūtā of Maipherqaṭ and related sources. Louvain 1982 (CSCO 439-440), and translated into German by O. Braun: De sancta Nicaena synodo: syrische Texte des Maruta von Maipherkat, nach einer Handschrift der Propaganda zu Rom. Münster 1898.

Note that there are significant differences between the Arabic and the Syriac recensions, not only in the number of canons (84 in the Arabic, 73 in the Syriac) and the order of the material, but also in content. Depending from the Arabic set, there is again an Ethiopic version as part of the Senodos, ed. and transl. by P. Maurus a Leonessa: La versione etiopica dei canoni apocrifi del concilio di nicea secondo i codici vaticani ed il fiorentino, in: Rassegna di studi etiopici 2 (1942), p. 29-89. There is no comparative study of the different recensions, as far as I know, but see also:

  • F. Haase, Altchristliche Kirchengescihchte nach orientalischen Quellen, Leipzig 1925, p. 247-276.
  • Hefele/Leclercq, Histoire des conciles, vol. 1, p. 1139-1176, 1203-1221.
  • G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 1, p. 586-593.

So, are these Canons a Church Order?

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