Canons of Hippolytus: an introductory essay

A while back a collection of essays on the church orders was planned… and did not come to fruition.

In discussing the Canones Hippolyti yesterday with Daniel Vaucher I remembered that I still had a draft essay from that collection on the Canones. Since so little has been done it seemed worthwhile pulling it out of its obscurity, lest it be of interest.

Please note that it is unedited and incomplete, little more than a first draft; I haven’t even read it through for blogging. However, it may be useful as an introduction to the Canones for those unfamiliar with the document.

The Canons of Hippolytus

1: Discovery and publication

The first indication of the existence of this church order is in a seventeenth century report by Vansleb, who reported the existence of 38 canons of “Abulides” in Arabic and employed in Egyptian Christian circles, though he admitted that he had no idea of the identity of this Abulides.1 That Abulides should be identified as Hippolytus was recognized by Ludolfus.2 However it was not until 1870 that the editio princeps was published.3 It was from this edition that Achelis produced a revised translation into Latin in 1891.4 However, Haneberg had employed only two MSS in his edition, which actually, as Riedel points out, constitute a single witness, since both were taken from the same canonical collection, that of Macarius.5 In particular this is an unfortunate witness as there is some misplacement of pages, to the extent that the final, extended, canon is misplaced and divided within the work. The correction to the order of leaves was made in a German translation published by Riedel, who based his translation on MSS of distinct canonical collections, the Nomocanon of Michael of Damietta and a Berlin codex containing a canonical collection,6 as well as the Nomocanon of Ibn Al ‘Assal (which is also transmitted in Ethiopic, through its inclusion in the Fetha Nagast, an Ethiopian canon and civil law collection). However, once the priority of TA over CH was established, CH remained little studied. Nonetheless a critical edition (with French translation) was finally forthcoming in 1966, based on twelve MSS representing a variety of canonical collections which included CH.7 This text was translated into English in 1987.8

CH is extant solely in Arabic, though this translation is based on a Coptic original, as is demonstrated by Coquin, on the basis of Copticisms in the Arabic text and misunderstandings of Coptic vocabulary. 9 This Coptic version, moreover, is based on a lost Greek original, as Coquin demonstrates on the basis of the transmission of Greek vocabulary found transliterated in the Arabic version.10 Whereas this might simply indicate a wide Greek vocabulary on the part of the Coptic author, the number of words and their nature indicate rather that that this is a translation of a Greek original.

2: Date and provenance

Following the judgement, after the work of Connolly and Schwartz, that CH was a reworking of TA, rather than being its source,11 this church order lay neglected until 1956, when Botte argued for a date between Nicaea and Constantinople, and for an Egyptian provenance.12 The basis of Botte’s argument for dating is the initial credal confession, declaring the equality of the persons of the Trinity, and the eternal pre-existence of the Son, yet avoiding the use of the homoousion.13 Coquin agrees with this assessment, and that the assembly to which the canon has reference must be the council of Nicaea,14 suggesting that the trinitarian terminology points to a date between Nicaea and Constantinople.15 Although the council of Alexandria, should the document be of Egyptian provenance, might also be seen as a candidate for identification as the council, there is no mention of the discussion of the Spirit in this canon whereas the article regarding the Spirit in the baptismal creed,16 whilst expanded beyond that of TA, is not as expansive as that of Alexandria, and so Nicaea remains the more obvious candidate. Coquin, indeed, suggests that had CH been any later than the beginnings of the pneumatomachian controversy, then this would have been mentioned.17

Pointing to a fourth century date, Coquin also observes the manner in which canons 20 and 22 describe the paschal fast and the Lenten fast as apparently independent events. This is the practice which was known in the Alexandrian church until the time of Athanasius, after which the fasts were united into a single practice. Coquin thus fixes on 340 as the latest date for CH. This is a feasible argument, though it is also possible that the individual canons are independent in their production, and so predate the gathering of the canons into a single collection. It is to be contrasted to Botte’s opinion, on the basis of the theology of the Spirit expressed both in the baptismal creed and in the addition of the term “equal Trinity” to the trinitarian baptismal formula, that the date of origin should be set between 340 and 360.18 This seems more probable; the manner in which the Lenten and paschal fasts are distinguished perhaps indicates, as already suggested, that the canons had already undergone some degree of editing before being brought together in this final collection. Thus we may note Markschies’ suggestion that the date of final redaction be put back yet further, to the end of the fourth century.19

Finally, and perhaps critically, Coquin follows Botte in pointing out that the asceticism which is presupposed is not cenobitic monasticism, nor even organized eremeticism, but is something more primitive, less organized, and in touch with the local church. As such, he argues, CH are unlikely to be a product of the fifth century, in which period this organized monasticism came about in Egypt,20 but fit neatly with the practice known in the mid-fourth century.

These arguments regarding date assume an Egyptian provenance. Coquin argues for this on the basis of the clear literary tradition binding CH to other works of Egyptian provenance or influence, such as the gnomes of Nicaea (to be noted below) as well as the fact that the work has survived solely in Egyptian canonical collections. He does, however, note the counter-argument that Canon 22 fixes the Pascha in accordance with Jewish calculations, which, he notes, were not employed in the Alexandrian method of fixing the Pascha. He suggests, however, that this canon is simply taken over from DA (an argument pursued in detail below.)21

We may also note two observations of Connolly on Canon 36.22 This is a reworking of TA, which likewise makes provision for the offering of firstfruits, but the prayer found in CH is distinct from that within TA. Connolly observes that there are two verbal echoes within this prayer of the Egyptian liturgy of St Mark:



Bless Lord, the crown of the year, which is your bounty, and may they satisfy the poor of your people.

Bless, Lord, the crown of the year of your goodness, for the poor of your people.23

Your servant, N, who has brought these things, which are yours, because he fears you, bless him from your holy heaven, and all his house, and pour upon him your holy mercy…

We set before you from your own gifts; and we pray and beseech you, for you are good and love man, send out from your holy height, from your prepared dwelling place, from your unbounded bosom, the Paraclete himself, the Holy Spirit…24

Since I have argued elsewhere that Egyptian anaphoras are built out of individual euchological elements,25 it is not inconceivable that some of these might be found in such diverse sources. As Connolly points out, the citation of Psalm 64:12, whereas found more widely, is in each linked to the idea of the poor (the latter being found extant also in the Strasbourg fragment.) There is also, Connolly points out, the co-incidence of the epiclesis of Mark and the continuation of the prayer in CH, is also a double coincidence, since the notion that the gifts are already the Lord’s before being offered, and the petition that grace be sent from on high, appears in each. This liturgical common ground is a strong indication of an Egyptian provenance for CH.

Concurring with the idea of Egyptian provenance, Brakmann nonetheless suggests that we should not tie CH too closely to Alexandria. In particular he points to the provisions of Canon 37 for a gathering with the bishop and the clergy, and suggests that such a thing was not native to Alexandria, where the individual presbyters celebrated in their churches. He points out that when the congregations gathered under Athanasius in 359 this was a departure from any previous practice, whereas the gathering envisaged in CH is a regular event, and on this basis proposes an Egyptian provenance beyond Alexandria.26 It is, however, possible that CH is attempting to forge a new practice since this is a canon without parallel in the source. According to Coquin a further point indicating a possible Egyptian, and fourth century, provenance is provided by the indications that monepiscopate is a relatively recent emergence; however monepiscopate with a subordinate presbyterate emerged in Alexandria around the turn of the third century, though the Alexandrian presbyters continued to be a significant force into the fourth century. As such we may examine what is said of presbyters and bishops to see whether this might indicate an Alexandrian provenance.

First we may note that “one of the bishops and presbyters” is selected to say the ordination prayer for the new bishop (as opposed to the provision of TA that one of the bishops should say it), and next may observe canon 4, derived from a rubric of TA, which states that at the ordination of a presbyter one is to pray the same prayer as for the ordination of a bishop, as “the presbyter is equal to the bishop in everything apart from the throne and ordination.”27 We may also note that the deacon is said to be the servant of the bishop and the presbyters in everything, as against TA, which states that the deacon is to serve the bishop; this is an indication of a powerful presbytery, though does not indicate that monepiscopate is a recent development. All of this coheres with what is known in Alexandria; in particular the seating of the bishop is a significant act in the ordination of the Alexandrian bishop. Beyond Alexandria very little is known of ecclesiastical organization; thus whereas Brakmann may be right that CH emerges from Egypt beyond Alexandria this is far from assured.

Thus we may take an Egyptian provenance as reasonably assured, whilst admitting a degree of uncertainty about its provenance within Egypt. The date, however, is less certain; indeed, on the basis of the tension between the Trinitarian beliefs enunciated and the paschal chronology as well as the assumption of distinct paschal and Lenten fasts we may suggest the possibility that CH has undergone two redactions, the latter of which is from the latter part of the fourth century.

3: CH’s employment of its sources

We next turn to examine the manner in which CH employs sources and to attempt to see how much is redactional construction. In what follows we assume that CH has been transmitted in its integrity and without significant additions or alterations to the original. Coquin suggests that, although we cannot be absolutely certain on this point, the very literal nature of the Arabic, under which the Coptic original may be discerned, would indicate that this is a justifiable working assumption.

3.a: The use of TA

The fundamental source behind CH is TA. That CH is a derivation from TA (as opposed to the reverse relationship) was demonstrated by Connolly. Connolly demonstrated the dependent nature of CH through observing the absence of certain passages in TA which are found in CH, but which he considered would not be omitted by a redactor.28 In particular he focuses on passages which hold up the behaviour of the clergy as a means of edification and sees this as a particular concern of the compiler.29 He also notes passages which imply that it derives from a later period than that of Hippolytus, such as the extension to the instruction regarding grammatikoi as catechumens (by which they are to continue in their profession, a situation which is tenable in the fourth century though not in the third) and passages which imply that a provision in TA has been misunderstood by CH (whereas the reverse relationship is unlikely) such as the manner in which the cemetery of TA is understood as the sick room by CH, even to the extent that, in including a reference to the tiles found in its source, CH specifies the provision of clay vessels for the sick.30 For the greater part Connolly’s argument is concerned to demonstrate the proper literary relationship between the two documents, and so we need not follow his argument in detail, not the least because of Connolly’s success in stating the case; none now would assert that CH is the source for TA.

However, CH is more than simply a reworking of TA; a significant amount of other material is included. However, before discussing this other material (with regard to the author’s debt to other traditional material and the extent of editorial composition) we examine the use of TA in more detail.

The employment of TA may be diagrammatized thus:




Introduction, on the faith

No direct parallel.





Episcopal ordination and the liturgy

3-6 (much abbreviated)


Ordination of presbyters



Ordination of deacons

8 (prayer in CH distinct from that of TA)





Appointment of readers and subdeacons

11, 13, 12 (much rewritten and re-applied)


On certain charismatic phenomena



On presbyters relocating and on the appointment of widows

10 (Only that part regarding widows)


Examination of catechumens



Prohibition of certain persons



16 (cont.)


16 (cont.)


16 (cont.)


16 (cont.)


16 (cont..)


On the behaviour of women.

Most of the material is not in TA, though the final sentence picks up TA 17.


Dismissal of catechumens

18-19a (Though CH expands greatly, discussing midwives.)


Baptism in blood”, final catechumenal rites, baptismal liturgy.



Instruction on fasting.

No parallel to the greater part of the canon, though the final sentence appears to be a reworking of TA 26.


Instruction on daily assembly.

No parallel, though first half has “some affinity” with 39


Regarding the Pascha.



An apparent conclusion, regarding knowledge.

Some common ideas with TA 1.


Deacons’ and bishops’ duties with regard to the sick.



Continuation of discussion of the sick-room, and times of prayer.



Prayer in the church



Practice of private reading and times of prayer



Eucharistic fasting; restriction of Communion to the baptized



Vigilance at the altar

38-39, 42A/B


Instructions concerning end of catechumenate, and order of communion.

End of 21-22


Deacons’ role in communicating the people.

No parallel, but TA may be defective here.


Fasting, widows, orphans, supper for poor.



Conduct of an analempsis

27.1, 28


Conduct at table.

28 (cont.)


Deacons’ duties at meals



On firstfruits



Assembly of the clergy

No parallel


Conduct of the baptized

No parallel

We may first observe that the first nineteen canons follow the order of TA fairly closely and that virtually all of TA is included. That which is missing is minor and is largely covered by existing material. The order is even closer than might at first appear because there appears to be some dislocation in the Latin version, on which the chapter numbering system is based, in chapters 10-13, dealing with (in the chapter order of the Latin) widows, readers, virgins and subdeacons. The order found in the Sahidic version is 11, 13, 10, 12, (reader, subdeacon, widow, virgin) which is certainly more rational and is, moreover, close to the order of CH (11, 13, 12, 10). It is indeed possible that CH has preserved the original order here.

The serious difficulties with the order begin after the section on initiation concludes. However, before turning to this point we may note that there is confusion in TA itself, brought about by the existence of two conclusions. In TA, 35 is a partial doublet of 41, and there are two discussions of signing oneself with the cross, and two concluding chapters (numbered 42A and 43A, and 42B and 43B.) I have sought to answer the puzzle posed by these two conclusions by suggesting the existence of two recensions, both of which were in circulation, and bringing about a confusion which the versions, or the recensions behind the versions, sought to rationalize in various ways. The two conclusions are extant, following one another, in the Latin version. Thus

Conc. 1: 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 42A, 43A

Conc. 2: 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42B, 43B

In turning to CH we may thus observe that Canons 22-27 of CH represent TA intact, namely providing a version of 40-41, one of the versions of the conclusion, though not extending to 42 (which is found in different versions in both conclusions.) Canons 28-29 then contain a version of the other conclusion, namely 36-39 and 42. This conclusion is rationalized by omitting 35, which is a doublet of the beginning of 41. Thus just as in the Latin version, the two conclusions are each presented, though there has been a degree of rationalization through the removal of doublets. Rather than presenting any version of the “original” conclusion to TA this witness suggests that both conclusions continued to circulate and that various redactors dealt with the confusion thus brought about in different ways.31 The concluding chapter of each version is omitted altogether; we suggest below that the redactor of CH has fashioned his own conclusion, and so omitted that already present.

However, although the two conclusions of TA are both found in CH, this concluding material is misplaced. The correct order is then picked up and followed from canons 30-36. Overall, therefore the pattern of CH’s use of TA may be illustrated thus:









On this basis we may see that the disordering is simply the result of the misplacement of a block of material. This misplacement may be explained in one of three ways. Either the redactor of CH deliberately re-arranged the material, or else the chapters identified as the concluding chapters are not the conclusion and CH retains them in the correct place,32 or else there was some misplacement and rearrangement of sheets, either in the copy of TA which the redactor of CH employed or somewhere in the history of the transmission of CH.

The first explanation cannot be ruled out altogether, but a strong justification would have to be presented for this manner of proceeding, given the tendency of ancient redactors to hug the coastline of their sources very closely. No obvious explanation is at hand and scholars have yet to conjure one up, especially since, apart from this one block of material, the order of TA is followed closely.

The second explanation is unlikely given that it does not correspond to either the Sahidic or the Latin versions of TA, which are the most complete and reliable. Moreover, as Bradshaw points out, there is a citation of Revelation 2:17 at the very end of TA21. This is not found in the corresponding canon of CH but is found in Canon 30, which is the point at which, after the transplanted material, CH picks up the order of TA. It would thus appear to be part of the misplacement. The point is that the displacement takes place within a chapter of TA, namely at the end of the chapter regarding baptism, in the discussion of catechumenate, and that the same chapter is picked up at the end of the displacement, with the citation of Revelation. This indicates that the material found in these chapters is indeed displaced, rather than reflecting a better order than TA, as the verse makes more sense in its context in TA than it does in its context in CH. It is also noteworthy that the same citation of Revelation is found at the end of the baptismal material in Canons of Basil.33 Thus we should suspect accidental displacement. In support of this is the observation that in some versions parts of CH itself underwent a process of misplacement, as noted above. We should not wonder, therefore, that a similar process might have been undergone by its source document. The most likely explanation, therefore, is that there was some accidental misplacement of pages in the text of TA employed by CH. That the whole is a single group means that this is entirely feasible.

However, although the order of TA (as received by the redactor) is followed, much is radically recast. This is hardly a slavish following, but a re-orientation. It will be recollected that it was precisely this insight which led Connolly to the conclusion that TA was the source of CH, rather than vice versa. Beyond the recasting of parts of TA, substantial additions are made. Thus it is at this point that we may deal in detail with the manner in which CH rewrites its fundamental source.

3.a.1: Recastings of TA

We have already mentioned the analysis of CH against TA made by Connolly. Rather than repeat Connolly’s extensive work, we simply take examples illustrating the different ways in which CH recasts its source. We have already observed that Connolly’s purpose was to demonstrate that TA was anterior to CH. This we may take for granted, but observe the recastings as ways in which the redactor worked with the material.

The first example of the redactor at work may be observed by examining the distinct injunctions regarding care for the eucharistic elements in the two church orders. TA, in a direction which, I have suggested, related initially to the conduct of eucharistic meals in the context of a Sättigungsmahl, directs that care should be taken not to drop the eucharistic bread and that no libation should be poured from the eucharistic cup. I have further suggested that by the time that TA is redacted these directions are no longer understood and that such liturgical practices are already archaic. The direction regarding the cup is kept in place but that regarding the bread is in place on the understanding that this refers to the practice of retaining the eucharistic species for communion at home. Connolly is convinced that the whole passage originally referred to communion at home because it is addressed to a lay Christian (whereas, we may note, a lay Christian would be responsible for his or her own conduct in the eucharistic banquet.) But Connolly is certainly right to observe that in CH the direction is addressed to clergy, and that the presumption is that the liturgy is taking place within the church. “From the indications given it is hardly possible to resist the conclusion that the complier of C.H. had in his mind’s eye a picture of the altar surrounded by ministers.”34 Thus whereas TA warned against a mouse eating the eucharistic bread CH is concerned about a fly falling into the eucharistic wine. The redactor clearly has no comprehension of the meaning of the original and so freely recasts the source. A similar approach is made to the eucharistic content of TA 27 and 28, which is recast in order to regulate a funeral meal.

A contrasting example of the use of TA may be provided by the direction regarding the ordination of deacons. The introductory material is close to TA, though with the critical distinction noted above with regard to the relationship of the deacon to the other clergy, but then an entirely distinct ordination prayer is found. We may surmise that this is a prayer close to that employed in the community of CH, though it also emphasizes the deacon’s moral qualities (we have already observed, with Connolly, the interest of this redactor in the conduct of the clergy.) We may thus see that whereas the redactor of CH wishes to be faithful to his source it is not a slavish fidelity but one with redactional purpose. It is noteworthy in this context that the canon regarding the ordination of a bishop omits the episcopal ordination prayer given in TA altogether, and that regarding the ordination of presbyters, which in TA is notoriously confused due to earlier redactional involvement, is recast in such a way as to refer to a familiar local rite, that of seating the bishop on a teacher’s chair. We may continue thus, noting once again the manner in which CH recasts the directions of TA regarding the cemetery, turning this into a direction regarding the sick-room. In following his source the redactor updates liturgical practice and clarifies obscurities.

3.a.2: Expansions of TA within the structure

Beyond following the source there are several points at which the original TA is expanded by entirely new material, usually employing catchwords. One interesting example is the addition to a brief chapter in TA regarding charisms, in which CH states that a presbyter is not to be excluded after his wife has given birth.35 This is an example of stray directions within CH which appear to reflect the custom and concerns of the community and which are introduced at what seem to the redactor to be appropriate occasions for the insertion of material, here latching onto a mention of ordination. A similar example is provided by the expansion of TA which discussed the prayer of catechumens, made separately from that of the faithful. This remains present in CH, but there is also a discussion of the manner in which midwives who have assisted at a birth should also be kept separate, thus latching onto the idea of separation within the community as a means of introducing this material.36 Clearly this is a matter of concern within the community, and it is discussed at what seems to be an appropriate moment Finally we should note the manner in which canon 20 introduces a discussion of the fasting days by picking up on a comment regarding eucharistic fasting in the original. Whether these are authorial constructions or derived from a source is hard to say. We may, however, re-iterate that these are attempts to bring the source to bear on real issues within the community to which CH is addressed employing a simple technique of expanding the original.

This is particularly likely to be the case with regard to the transformation of the cemetery of TA into a sickroom. The preceding direction of TA (in one of the versions circulating) had regard to the visit of the bishop to the sick. This is picked up and expanded with the statement that the steward has responsibility for the care of the sick. We may assume firstly that directions regarding a cemetery had no relevance to the community of CH, and next note that the use of catchwords has, once again, provided the occasion for the reworking of the canon. This is not simply a matter of making sure that some attention is paid to the source but is a demonstration of the central and significant place that concerns with health and healing play in CH.37

More probably employing source material, however, is the expansion of TA through the provision of canon 17; as in the case of the two examples above, this material latches onto the existing TA and expands it greatly. The moment provided is the discussion of concubinage and catechumenate. This in turn leads to a discussion of the behaviour of women more generally, particularly in church. Thus women’s hairstyles are discussed, as is the wearing of jewellery and the matter of talking in church. These topics are likewise discussed within the Gnomes of the Council of Nicaea, which is an indication that source material is being incorporated into the reworking of TA.

3.a.3: Conclusion

At no point is TA simply copied within CH. It is abbreviated, when obscure or misunderstood it is rewritten, it is supplemented with new material, and it is updated liturgically. For all that, however, the redactor of CH never loses sight of the coastline which he is hugging.

3.b: Material beyond TA

Quite apart from the rewritten and expanded TA, the collection is headed and concluded by canons which are entirely without parallel and which do not fit into the structure of the original.

3.b.1: The final canons

As the redactor completes his reworking of TA two final canons are added. Their position, forming a conclusion, would indicate that these are the focus of the work overall.

The penultimate canon begins by discussing the assembly of the clergy, who are directed to wear white garments,38 but extends this by suggesting that their conduct is to be more luminous than their garments.

The final canon begins by discussing the Pascha, and then adds to this a passage which sounds something like a homily. The discourse starts out by describing the state of those who, having renounced sin, fall back into evil ways, or who is not serious in approaching baptism. The homily then outlines the duties of a Christian. Initially the duties of all Christians are described, as the hearers are told to resemble Christ, not to commit adultery, to keep to one wife, to bring up his children. It then states that a Christian who resembles Christ will be at his right hand and will receive the crown of life. Then the discourse goes on to say: “If the Christian desires to be of angelic rank let him keep away from women completely…” which leads in turn to a description of a way of life which approaches the monastic ideal, and to a homily on the temptations of Jesus in the desert, these temptations being compared to those which might beset an ascetic.

The question is whether this discourse is from a distinct source, or whether it is a composition of the redactor of CH. Achelis had noted various parallels between this section and other of the canons, and he is followed by Connolly. We may lay them out, here employing Bebawi’s English.

He prays and expels every evil spirit from them by his exorcism, and these never return to them from that time through their deeds.

For in the beginning they say: “We reject you Satan” and then they hasten towards him with their evil deeds.

Here we may note that the passage in the canon regarding baptism is an expansion of TA by CH, as TA (here following the Sahidic) simply states that the evil spirits flee and do not return. There is an implication here that conduct might cause the evil spirits to return, and the same is implied in the homiletic section. This seems, moreover, to cohere with the insight of CH seen as central by Connolly, that the conduct of ministers is a means by which edification is brought about.

Connolly’s next example also comes from the baptismal canon:

Thus they have become complete Christians and have been fed with the body of Christ.

May it not be that one should say: “I have been baptized and received the body of the Lord” and feel confident and say “I am a Christian”

Once again, the section of the baptismal canon is without parallel in TA. This may be a reflection of the baptismal liturgy employed in the community of CH, and as such may not so closely indicate common authorship, but certainly denotes a common background, implying that S is from the same redactional source as the expanded canon.

The other parallels are less convincing. In the discussion of women (canon 17) it is said that women should remember the Lord at all times, rather than contradicting their husbands, whereas S states that if somebody does not remember the Lord at all times then they are liable to fall into idolatry. The constant remembrance of God is a theme found elsewhere in the church order literature, and is therefore hardly a mark of common authorship between these two passages. The other parallel, between the statement that a catechumen should not be a lover of the world and the statement that a Christian likewise should not be a lover of the world is equally derived from the commonplace of the church order literature.

These latter parallels, whilst not indicating common authorship, do indicate that part at least of S is redacted out of traditional material, whereas the former parallels indicate that S is certainly derived from a common community, and may well be the product of the redactor of CH.

Achelis had suggested that this “homily” was an interpolation into what he believed to be the authentic work of Hippolytus. To an extent this impression was derived from the disordering of the leaves in Haneberg’s edition. We may agree with Connolly that it is certainly integral to the Canons; quite apart from the strong possibility that it is the product of the final redactor of the canons, and deriving from the same background, its position as the summit of the canons is an indication that its inclusion is the fundamental purpose behind its redaction. However, the observation that traditional material is redacted into the “homily” is significant. We may explore the extent to which the first part of the “homily” employs material found elsewhere in the tradition, and may also enquire whether “homily” is indeed the proper classification for this material.

3.b.2: The introductory canon

The other significant part of CH without parallel in TA is the introductory canon 1, connecting the profession of a Trinitarian faith to what follows, as to the living of a Christian life. Bradshaw points out that Canons of Basil likewise begin with such a doctrinal introduction39 and we may note the same of the Syntagma Doctrinae, a monastic rule from fourth century Egypt, which, although not related to the Hippolytean stream of tradition is related to the church order tradition through the use of TWT and other material found within the church orders. The manner in which Christian life and conduct is related to doctrinal accuracy in the statement of Christian faith seems to be an emerging theme within the literature and the tradition.

3.b.3: Other church order material within CH

Coquin suggests, given that TA was transmitted as part of a collection of church orders, that the redactor might have had these at hand, and that some attention is paid to them. We need to enquire whether this is indeed the case or whether, given that TA was not always simply part of a collection but had at one point been a freestanding document, the apparent echoes of other church order material reflect the tradition, rather than a relationship of literary dependence.

Coquin argues that the picture of the perfect Christian set out in the concluding canon is inspired by the first part of K, and that canon 26, stating that the Christian is comparable to canon 11 of K.40 Similarly he suggests that canon 22, which discusses the manner in which Christians should bear suffering in imitation of that of the Lord is comparable to a section of DA 19, and also notes the similarity of the paschal provision within this canon to DA 21.41

We deal first with the alleged parallels to K. It must be admitted in the first instance that there is material in CH which is reminiscent in some manner of K, but there is no structural similarity between the two, which makes direct literary dependence a most unlikely explanation of the relationship. We may rather suggest that the echoes in CH are echoes of TWT, a common ancestor of K and D, apart from other manifestations, including manifestations within the monastic literature of fourth century Egypt. Thus whereas we may, for instance, compare the statement of CH that the Lord, where his majesty is remembered, causes his spirit to dwell there with the statement of K that “inasmuch as the dominion is discussed, the Lord is there”42 we may observe that this is also found in D 4.1. The statements in K that a Christian should not be an adulterer, a grumbler, should not be lazy, should bring up his children in the fear of the Lord, which, among others, may readily be paralleled from the TWT sections of K, and D, may be explained, very simply, by suggesting that the canon here is referring to the content of catechesis, especially given that this section is discussing those who are recently baptized, and that the content of catechesis, the Sitz im Leben for the generation of TWT, is derived from the same traditional paraenesis.

The alleged parallels with DA are even less certain. The first alleged parallel is between DA 5.6.9-10 and the statement in canon 22 that, given that the Lord had suffered for us, we should accept some share in his suffering. The context, however, is utterly distinct, as DA is speaking of persecution whereas CH is speaking of fasting. The idea is, in any event, a commonplace. The rest of the alleged parallel between DA and CH, also in canon 22, consists, according to Coquin, of the diet of bread, salt and water recommended by the canon for the Pascha. He also suggests that the provisions of canon 38, that nobody is to sleep, is also a derivation of the paschal provisions of DA21. Both these provisions are found in the same small section of DA, namely 5.18b-5.19.1. This chapter of DA is a complex mosaic of sources and redactions. I have argued that this part of DA is redactional, and originally intended to “de-Quartodecimanize” a Quartodeciman source. It may well reflect the (?third)-century practice of that particular redactor, but as such the parallel is hardly a literary parallel, but simply an indication that the fasting practice and manner of keeping the night of Pascha had some common ground. Indeed, CH is far less explicit about the period in which the bread and salt diet is to be kept up, for according to DA this is for the first part of the week only, and that the fast should become absolute thereafter. This is not to say that this canon does not have some source lying behind it because, as already noted, the paschal calculation employed is not that found in Egypt, but the source is not DA but is either entirely independent or a mark of some reworking of TA before it came into the hands of the redactor of CH.

We thus conclude that there is no literary relationship between CH and DA, or between CH and K. It is significant, however, that elements of the common tradition, in particular TWT, are found in CH, even as K has used a TWT document as a direct source.

There are, however, other echoes of other material from the relatives of the church order tradition. Thus Riedel points out the similarity between certain of the directions regarding the hours of prayer and those in the ps-Athanasian Virg. Coquin responds that these are hardly unique, and are found in TA.43 We may concur that this is an example of the transmission of tradition. However, Coquin also lays out the other passages which might indicate some common ground between the treatise and CH.

At Virg. 7 the virgin undertaking a voluntary fast is told to avoid the love of money. Similar directions are found in the homiletic passage addressed to the ascetic in CH 38. Riedel’s next example also parallels the advice to the ascetic in the homiletic section as Virg 8, as does CH 38, advises the ascetic not to take pride in virtue. Similarly Virg. 22 directs that the ascetic should wash the feet of the saints, in a similar manner again to CH 38. The final example is not from CH 38 but from CH 27, which is advice to read if there is no assembly. This, however, is derived from TA, and the parallel is rather inexact .It is, however, also found elsewhere in ascetic literature, and so we may have the source here.

Riedel and Coquin do not pronounce on the relationship between the works, but it seems certain that CH 38 is incorporating traditional material in the same way that Virg. does. The fact that the advice to wash feet is also found in Syntagma Doctrinae and Fides patrum is further evidence of this. Indeed, given the probability of an Egyptian provenance to all of these documents it would not be unreasonable to suggest that CH 38 is drawing on a common fund, whether written or oral.

Such an impression is strengthened if one were to note the other parallels observed by Coquin from the writings of Evagrius Ponticus and the gnomes of Nicaea.

The first is, once again, advice to virgins to read at the rising of the sun, and turn to work at the second hour, which once again is parallel to canon 27. This, however, would seem to be an ascetic reworking of the ancient rule. The other, however, is striking indeed. It is between a section of Evagrius’ Peri logismōn and Canon 38. Evagrius starts by discussing the three demons who stand in the way of ascesis, which are said to be those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those that inspire us to love money, and those that entice us to seek human glory. These three fundamental demonic influences are then compared to the three temptations undergone by Jesus, the temptation that stones might be turned to bread, that of worshipping the Devil and that of throwing himself from the Temple pinnacle. This first temptation is given two interpretations, namely that alien thoughts should intrude when one is fasting, or else that it is an indication that one might be tempted to turn to love of money (it is this latter which also appears in Virg.) The second temptation (the Temple pinnacle) is interpreted as a source of pride and vainglory. The final temptation, that of worshipping the Devil, is taken as a warning against falling into idolatry.

The parallels with CH 38 are striking. The same three fundamental temptations are mentioned, albeit in a different order, and the same linkage is made to the temptations of Jesus. The same interpretation of the temptations, moreover, is given. Finally, and perhaps obviously, this material is addressed to ascetics. Coquin points out that the same treatment of the temptations of Christ is found in the 5th Conference of John Cassian. He concludes that the version in CH is the least developed, however of the discussions, and is therefore most likely to be earliest. One cannot help but agree, in particular given the other evidence which indicates a date for CH in the middle of the fourth century. The indications are either that CH is a source for the Evagrian material or, given the linkage with Virg. that CH, for all that it is a redactional composition, is drawing upon a forming ascetic tradition into which Evagrius had also tapped.

Such an impression is strengthened if one examines a further set of parallels observed by Coquin, to the Gnomes of Nicaea. As Coquin remarks,44 a good number of these have the appearance of being born of the same spirit as CH. He lists the following:

The prohibition on women wearing jewellery to church (Canon 17) is comparable to the gnome which states that for a woman to dress herself in jewellery to go to church is idolatrous. The prohibition within this canon on women wearing wavy hair or fringes is likewise found in the gnomes. It is to be noted that this canon is largely without parallel within TA.

The instruction that one is to take up a book and read when there is no service in church (canon 27) is paralleled by the gnome which states that a book should be taken up and read by a virgin on awaking. It is to be noted that this is likewise a direction to be found in Virg., and that it was suggested above that this is a development from TA; it may well, however, have been mediated through CH, even if there is no direct literary relationship between the gnomes and CH (a question which might be explored.)

The description of a man who marries another other than his concubine (especially if the concubine has a child by him) as a murderer and infanticide is paralleled to the characterization of an adulterer in the gnomes as a pornos and an infanticide. Again, there may be a literary relationship here, as the gnome seems to have lost the sense of why such a one might be described as an infanticide.

The direction at canon 21 that a latecomer is to be excluded is paralleled by the gnome which states that any who is late without good cause (anagke) lacks the blessing.

The direction to offer firstfruits at canon 32 is paralleled by a like direction in the gnomes. However, this again is ultimately a direction derived from TA, and so again it is possible that CH is the means by which the provisions of TA are mediated within the Egyptian tradition.

Coquin concludes that it is difficult to determine a direct dependence of the gnomes on the canons, but that the two reflect the same ecclesiastical background and possibly the same period in the religious situation which they suppose, in the moral and disciplinary tendencies which they represent. On the basis of the manner in which elements of TA seem to have been mediated to the gnomes, we may suggest the possibility that CH is the route.

However, there is other material within the gnomes with parallels elsewhere in the church order literature. Once again, this is beyond the scope of the present study, but in any future mapping of the growth of the church order tradition beyond the classical orders studied in this volume serious attention will need to be paid to these gnomes and to their sources.

3.b.4: Conclusion

Material with parallels in the church order literature beyond TA is employed to supplement the source, and much of this has linkages with the later ascetic literature of Egypt; it does not appear, however, that this is derived directly from any of the classical orders. As such we may see this as a growth within the tradition, as more generally catechetical material is developed for use by ascetics. The same process may be observed in the manner in which the Syntagma Doctrinae and the Fides Patrum redeploy the two ways tradition.

4: Purity as a theme within CH

Coquin observes what he calls a “Judaizing” tendency in CH’s approach to purity.45 He notes canon 18, with the restatement of levitical purity both for women and for their midwives after childbirth, as well as minor adjustments to regulations regarding candidates for baptism found in TA. Thus when it is stated in TA that a soldier who might kill should not be accepted, CH clarifies that a soldier might be bound with the “sin of blood”, and that purification (in the form of what would seem to be a penitential process) should be undergone. It moreover clarifies (canon 19) TA’s requirement for the postponement of the baptism of a menstruating woman by stating that she should wait until she is purified. However, there is also a statement that a presbyter is not to be excluded after his wife’s childbirth. There does not seem to be any evidence here to indicate a Jewish provenance on the part of the author, as Coquin suggests,46 but rather that purity laws ultimately derived from forming Judaism continue to be known in this community.

The statement regarding the status of a soldier, however, is interesting, as it is similar to a comment not much earlier, discussing other trades and professions forbidden to Christians, in which, once again, the language of purification is employed. The ethical interest of the redactor of CH is clear throughout; what is interesting here is that the language and conception of a period of purification is employed to describe the penitential process. It is not so much a matter of purity being redefined as ethical, rather than ritual, but ritual itself is redefined and employed to bring about ethical purity.

5: The redactional purpose of CH

On the basis of the identification of the sources of CH we may turn to the fundamental question, posed equally by all the church order documents, that of attempting to discern a rationale behind the rewriting of an existing, complete and circulating church order.

Some insight may come through observing a minor but significant divergence between CH and the Latin text of TA. In the episcopal ordination prayer the Latin, supported by the Ethiopic, states that the Father bestowed a spirit of leadership on Christ, which he, in turn, had bestowed on the apostles. In CH the spirit is that of Christ by nature. Assuming here that the Latin reflects the original, and is not an “Arianizing” alteration to the text, we may see the redactor of CH seeking to avoid any indication of subordinationism. In this light we may observe the statement of Trinitarian theology in the prologue, effectively replacing the original prologue. The original in turn appears, much altered, in canon 23, in which, although there is little verbal parallel, the ideas expressed are readily comparable to those expressed in the introduction to TA.47 So we suggest a deliberate movement of the original prologue undertaken in order to replace it with a statement of Trinitarian theology. If our suggestion of two redactions has any merit we may perhaps attribute this to the second redactor.

The pursuit of doctrinal orthodoxy is seen in the Fides partum as intimately linked to the conduct of believers,48 and this is an insight which CH would seem to share, as opposed to the concerns of the original TA that doctrinal orthodoxy should be guarded by proper ecclesial organization. As such we may see the logic by which CH takes the provisions of TA and strengthens the provisions regarding the conduct of the clergy through the emphasis, in the ordination prayers, on clergy as an example but most especially in the penultimate canon focussing on the manner in which the ethical conduct of the clergy is mirrored in the liturgy and, in particular through the provision of the concluding address, regarding the conduct of the faithful.

Perhaps what is most noteworthy about the complex of material within CH beyond its re-use of TA is the further linkage with the emerging ascetic literature of Egypt in the fourth century. This opens the whole question of where the boundaries of church order should be set, or whether, indeed, there is any value whatever in the term. It may be that the gnomes of Nicaea, for instance, should be counted as a member of the genre, for although there is nothing within them regarding the conduct of the church’s worship there are linkages with the catechetical element in the tradition, not simply in the parallels with CH noted above, but in, for instance, the directions to men regarding beards (which also appears in DA, though a direct literary dependence is most unlikely). We may track the appearance of this material further.


Achelis, H. (1891) Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechts 1: die Canones Hippolyti TU 6.4; Leipzig

Barrett-Lennard, Ric (2005) ‘The Canons of Hippolytus and Christian concern with illness, health, and healing’ JECS 13, 137-164

Botte, B, (1956) ‘L’origine des Canons d’Hippolyte’ in Melanges en l’honneur de Monseigneur Michel Andreiu, 53-63, Strasbourg

Bradshaw, Paul F., (1987) The canons of Hippolytus, Bramcote

Brakmann, Heinzgard, (1979) ‘Alexandreia und die Kanones des Hippolyt’ Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 22, 139-149

Connolly, R. Hugh, The so-called Egyptian church order and derived documents, Cambridge

Coquin, René-Georges (1966) Les canons d’Hippolyte PO 31.2; Paris

Haneberg, D.B. von, (1870) S Hippolyti Arabice e condicibus Romanis cum versione latina, annotationibus et prolegomenis, Munich

Ludolfus, J. (1691) Ad suam historiam Aethiopicam commentarius, Frankfurt

Markschies, Christoph, (1999) ‘Wer schrieb die sogenannte Traditio apostolica? Neue Boebachtungen und Hypothesen zu einer kaum lösbaren Frage aus der altkirchlichen Literaturegeschichte’ in Wolfram Kinzig, Christoph Markschies, Markus Vinzent (edd) Tauffragen und Bekenntnis, Berlin

Riedel, Wilhelm (1900) Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien, Leipzig

Schwartz, E. (1910) Über die pseudoapostolischen Kirchenordnungen, Strasbourg

Vansleb, J.M. (1677) Histoire de l’église d’Alexandrie, Paris

1 Vansleb (1677), 280-282.

2 Ludolfus (1691), 333-335.

3 Haneberg (1870)., S Hippolyti Arabice e condicibus Romanis cum versione latina, annotationibus et prolegomenis (Munich, 1870).Connoll

4 Achelis (1891).

5 Riedel (1900), 196.

6 Berlin Or. 10181, ff 51-219.

7 Coquin (1966).

8 By Carol Bebawi in Bradshaw (1987).

9 Coquin (1966), 29-31.

10 Coquin (1966), 32-33.

11 Connolly (1916); Schwartz (1910).

12 Botte (1956).

13 Botte (1956), 56-57.

14 Coquin, 52.

15 Coquin, 56-57.

16 Canon 19.

17 Coquin, 61.

18 Botte (1956), 59.

19 Markshies (1999), 10-11.

20 Botte (1956), 61-62; Coquin (1966), 55-56.

21 Coquin, 330-331.

22 Connolly (1916), 120-121.

23 PEER, 61

24 PEER, 65.

25 Stewart (2010).

26 Brakmann (1979), 146-147.

27 The direction regarding the prayer is derived from TA but the explanation is not.

28 Connolly, 55-59.

29 Connolly, 61.

30 Barrett-Lennard (2005), 159, suggests that they are used to carry provisions to the sick.

31 Cf. Bradshaw, (1987), 9.

32 So Coquin (1966), 38-39.

33 So Bradshaw (1987), 9.

34 Connolly (1916), 82.

35 Canon 8.

36 Canon 18.

37 As demonstrated by Barrett-Lennard (2005).

38 A provision paralleled in the Canons of Athanasius and the Canons of Basil.

39 Bradshaw (1987) 11.

40 Coquin (1966), 41.

41 Coquin (1966), 41-42. Connolly (1916), 76-77, also considers it probable that the provisions regarding the Pascha are derived from DA.

42 K 12.

43 Coquin (1966), 43.

44 Coquin (1966), 48.

45 Coquin (1966), 52-53.

46 Coquin (1966), 53.

47 Bradshaw (1987), 27 points out that the introduction to TA is found, likewise misplaced, in the Ethiopic version, thus suggesting that the redactor of CH might have found the chapter in that position, and adapted it to his purpose. Cf. however our suggestion immediately below.

48 Thus Fides partum 1 “The way of life of that catholic church, and especially of bishops and clerks and monastics and other Christians and of all their sons. They should command firstly in this way, directing and stating thus: that we are saved by grace, but grace desires that her own children should be self-selected and sons of wisdom, and tested in every good deed, to be zealous for the good and so to act, manifestly to make themselves worthy of that correct faith”

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Traditio apostolica, Canones Hippolyti, and the presbyterate of confessors

As part of our ongoing dialogue about slavery in the church orders Daniel Vaucher asks the following series of interesting questions.

There is another interesting reference to slave in offices: TA 9 about confessors. Confessors are supposed to be made to presbyters; those who only suffered domestic punishment are to be laid hands on for any order they are worth of. (Comparing the different editions and translations, there seems to be a disagreement on the sense of that). Most scholars note that this sentence is a reference to slave-confessors. Canons of Hippolyt §6 speak explicitly of slaves, but they are to receive only the spirit of the presbyterate instead of the insignia. CA adopt the passage as well, but leaving any reference to slaves out. Confessors are not to request an office against the will of the bishop. So the passage in TA 9 is dubious (and was even in antiquity controversial). Were slaves in a worse situation than free confessors? Can we imagine that a slave-owner, who punished his slave due to his religion, tolerated him being in an office (requiring time and money)? But even within TA there is a tension. In TA 15 the slave is to be accepted to the church only with consent of the master. Can we imagine that a slave-owner approves of the religion, but then punishes him for the same reason? (or should we think of exceptional cases in which a slave enters the church, then has his master changed, and is then punished?). There are certainly many questions. I might also ask what you implicate by your remark (in your TA book 2001, p. 93) that this passage TA §9 keeps with “the conservative attitudes towards the slave-class exhibited by the R-El in Refutation, to whom the whole passage is to be attributed.” Do you know of other passages “against” the slave-class in the Refutation? And I also ask if the passage is really this conservative? Did the author had to include a regulation about slaves? He could just as well have left it out, like CA did later, but he chose to include it and grant slaves some honour and possibly also the admission to the presbyterate.

In answering this we turn first to the tension between TA15 and TA 9.
The tension is the result of different levels of redaction. We may reasonably guess that TA15 is part of the Vorlage, which I have termed P. Of course you may say that the redactor made a decision to leave this in, and as such is making a redactional decision, but the tendency in all of these orders, prior to CA, is to leave as much as possible undisturbed, and if necessary to add caveats and qualifications. Possibly this reflects the conservative manner in which sources were employed in antiquity, and this in turn may be the result of the fact that, although codices were coming in at the time of this writer, rolls are still in use. Somehow I cannot see R-El using anything so common as a codex! Anyways, the provision that a slave should have consent is from P; that regarding confessors is from R-El.
Now this redactor is, as I state in the TA (2001) book, sniffy about slaves. I find the assertion repeated in the 2015 edition at p. 109. Look at this author’s biography of Callistus in Ref. 9, an account which J. Glancey, Slavery as a moral problem in the early church and today (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011), 69, describes as “rife with stereotypes about slaves” as Callistus is depicted as a trickster, a runaway and a thief. This is the basis for the assertion. Note in particular that Callistus sought to extend recognition of the unions of free women with enslaved men, and look at “Hippolytus’” reaction in Ref. 9.7, even though he incorporates (from a source, admittedly) the corresponding provision with regard to free men and enslaved women.
Now the most important point, however, is the point of misunderstanding. In suggesting that confessors be appointed presbyters TA is clear that they are being appointed to an honor, and not to an office. I think this emerges even in my 2001 commentary, left unchanged here in 2015. Quite possibly R-El is legislating ancient practice, and since the presbyterate is in the process of becoming an office there is some confusion here.
It is interesting that this emerges clearly enough from the Sahidic, but that the (later) Ethiopic and Arabic translators completely misunderstand the provision. For TA the point is that such a confessor does not need appointment (cheirotonia) as he has the honor as a right by virtue of being a confessor. CA does not so much omit this, but in failing to understand that the presbyterate here is an honor and not an office, and that cheirotonia is election rather than a sacramental rite of ordination, recasts the entire passage by insisting that ordination is essential for office. Most interesting among the versions is Canones Hippolyti 6, to which Daniel Vaucher refers in his question; here the provision regarding a slave-confessor seems to me to be an addendum to the base of TA, judging by the Sahidic, rather than a reworking of something which is there. And it insists that being a slave is no bar to being a presbyter, though one wonders how effective, as Daniel Vaucher points out, somebody whose primary responsibility is to a master would be in what has now become an office. Nonetheless the fact that the redactor of Canones Hippolyti has to make the provision explicit indicates that there were those in the community who took the line that a slave should not be admitted to office.

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Gnomai of Nicaea in print

The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea is now in print, say Gorgias.

It’s been a convoluted and interesting road to publication. The need for the work occurred to me whilst preparing my work on the two ways, but I did not think I was the right person to do it. I still don’t, but nobody else would take it on. What is particularly interesting is that I started the work around the time that I opened this blog, which means that the journey is recorded.

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A gathering of some fragments… and the eschatological nature of the early Christian eucharist

Also from the Wiingaards site note I would not like to comment at present on the author’s argument that the fourth century rediscovery of the eucharist as sacrifice “saw a subtle transformation in the Church’s eschatological imagination in which the expectation of the coming reign of God was assimilated into the present achievement of a Christian empire”, not least because I am very uncertain of the premiss that the fourth century radically altered the view of the eucharist as sacrificial. However, I do appreciate his comment regarding “the power of the eschatological symbolism that the Fractio Panis and other similar fresci present.”

I observe this contribution at this point to gather some fragments from recent posts, notably the issue of interpreting some of the material evidence for early Christian banquets (mentioned by Daniel Vaucher in his correspondence), the eschatological nature of the early Christian eucharist (as per my article on the fragment on the mountain) and indeed the ongoing work of the Wijngaards Institute in their attempt inwardly to reform the Roman church.

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An appeal, partly based on the Didascalia apostolorum, for the ordination (again?) of women as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church

I note with interest the letter of the Wijngaards Theological Institute to the Bishop of Rome appealing for the ordination of women as deacons in the Roman Church.

As an Anglican it would be entirely inappropriate publically to comment on what is an internal matter for the Roman church, and as a schismatic presbyter I am hardly in a position to offer any advice to the most senior bishop in the west. However, as an historian, I may note that the Didascalia apostolorum is employed in the evidentiary base offered as a dossier in support of the appeal. Indeed, the translation employed is mine. In this light I may point out my belief that the reason for the institution in the circles of the Didascalia is less what the Didascalist says that it is (namely that “there are houses where you can not send a deacon to the women because of the pagans but you can send a deaconess”) but that this institution brought powerful women under episcopal control.

I don’t know whether Bishop Bergoglio is an enthusiast for the ancient church orders (I don’t recall seeing the Vatican appearing on the stats for the blog) but should he be one of my readers he may care to note DA 3.5.4-3.6.2, and point out to the Wiijngardians that the witness of the church orders is never so straightforward:

For neither a widow nor a layman should speak with regard to punishment, and the rest, and the Kingdom of the name of Christ, and the divine plan, for when they speak without knowledge of doctrine they blaspheme the word. For our Lord compared the word of his message to mustard; mustard is bitter and sharp for those who employ it if it is not prepared with skill. For this reason our Lord said in the Gospel to widows and to all the laity: ‘Do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample on them and turn against you and tear you up. When the gentiles hear the word of God, but not spoken with clarity, as it should be, to build up for everlasting life, and particularly when a woman speaks of the incarnation and suffering of Christ, they shall sneer and scoff, rather than glorifying the word of the old woman, and she shall be subject to a harsh judgement for her sin. For the Lord says: ‘When words are many, sin is not absent.’ Thus it is neither fitting nor necessary that a woman should teach, in particular about the name of the Lord and the redemption of his passion. For you women, and especially widows, are not appointed to teach but solely to pray and beseech the Lord God.


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Slavery in the church orders: a dialogue

The following dialogue is redacted from an ongoing correspondence. It may yet be extended. Hopefully it is of interest to an audience beyond the participants.


Daniel Vaucher: a keen graduate student

Alistair C. Stewart: a grizzled old hack

The dialogue takes place somewhere in cyberspace… over the Alps

DV: Let me please introduce myself. My name is Daniel Vaucher, I’m a PhD student at University of Berne, Switzerland in Ancient History at the Center for Global Studies. My research is about Slavery in Early Christianity, and especially, as presented in the Church Orders. Whereas the research on ancient slavery is immense, these sources have not been included at all, or in older research, have been read methodologically imprudently. It is therefore that I write you, since you have been publishing so many great articles and books on the Church Orders and on the methological approach. Your Hippolyt’s Apostolic Tradition and you Didascalia Apostolorum have been very helpful to me, and I was delighted when I found not only your blog on wordpress but also some contributions on other websites with your research on Gnomai of Nicaea.

That is, if you allow me, where I have two requests. In the Didascalia Apostolorum, chapter 18, we read of rich persons and sinners whose gifts are not to be taken by the bishops. Among the long list of sinners are also included slave-owners “who make poor provision for their slaves” (your translation, Introd. p.46). This passage alone is very interesting, but my question is about your remarks on p.47 of your introduction. There, you show the afterlife of the text in the Syntagma Doctrinae (where slave owners are apparantly not mentioned) and Fides Patrum (where the text is expanded: “who is violent to his servants and does not feed them, or clothe them). In note 77, you refer to a forthcoming book, where you discuss these texts. I was just wondering where I can find your discussion and your translations of the texts (I must admit: I cannot read Coptic or Syriac).

And there lies my second question: I see in your publication list that you published a book on the Apostolic Church Order in 2006, a Book on the Two Ways in 2012, and more recently on the Gnomai of Nicaea. Unfortunately, all this books are nowhere to be found in my nearby libraries, and I cannot find them on online shops neither. I was wondering whether you have any spare books yourself which you’d be willing to sell to me, so I could continue researching on these little but very thrilling remarks about slavery in the Church Orders.

Thank you for your patience, I’m looking forward to reading your answer

ACS: First of all, let me thank you for your interest.

I am sure you have already taken account of Const app. 8.33.

The Syntagma and Fides patrum are translated in On the two ways. This is far, however, from being the last word on these texts. Mercifully this work is easy to obtain; it is available on amazon for 10 Euro.

The book on the Gnomai has not yet been published. I am waiting on the publisher who is, they inform me, waiting on the Library of Congress. There is nothing here about slaves; this, in itself, is interesting since the work is addressed to a wealthy elite who are being encouraged in charity. This is a class likely to own slaves (though I am aware that the incidence of slave-owning in Egypt is lower than elsewhere) and so one has to ask whether, in this part of Egypt and at this time (mid-fourth century) the practice had been abandoned among Christians at least.

The book on Apostolic church order is a problem. This is sad because I count it my best work! It went out of print almost immediately and is now very rare. I do not know why they don’t do a print on demand… apparently, however, it is available on a cd rom from

I am sorry not to be able to be more helpful. I would say, however, that I find your research topic very interesting and would be very glad to be kept informed of your progress. I would also be glad to enter any discussion on this topic that you propose.

DV: Good Morning and thank you very much for that quick answer and the invitation to discuss the topic. It’s an honor to being able to discuss with you the subject, and the Church Orders are so ominous, there’s plenty of stuff to discuss.

I know of Const. Apost. 8.33. I’m not sure though whether we can read “douloi” there in its literal meaning. The day off should count for everybody of course, and not only for slaves, and therefore I tend to read slaves in its metaphorical meaning as slaves of God (which would nevertheless include de facto slaves). But that’s just a suspicion, I haven’t worked on the passage comprehensively.

Besides, Const. Apost. is full of prescriptions on slaves and slave-owners, consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well, to love them as brothers etc. It seems, that Christian slaveowners in the late 4th century were even more cruel to their slaves than their 2nd to 3rd century predecessors and the compilator needed to stress mild treatment, or that in post-constantinian times more pagans converted to Christianity which needed to be rhetorically convinced of this “strange” ethics. These are all only suspicions, again.

One of the interesting expansions is concerning the impure offerings, adapted from Syr.Didasc. §18. I don’t know how the Syriac texts really is, but judging from the modern translations, it simply excludes slave-owners who don’t provision their slaves well. Apost. Const. includes a subordinate clause “speaking of beatings, hunger and kakodoulia, a term I cannot reasonably translate. Again, interesting that the author needs to explain the sentence of the Syriac Didascalia. That’s why I was so happy when I found your comment on adaptions of that passage in Syntagma and Fides Patrum. Apparantly these authors adapted the Const.Apost. passage (to my understanding more plausible than that they adapted Syr.Didasc) and again changed it fully consciously, Syntagma leaving it out, Fides Patrum explaining it again in other terms (feed and clothe). I’d wonder how you would account for such adaptions.

Sadly the Apostolic Church Order doesn’t include any prescriptions for slaves or slaveowners, as far as I know, but it’s an interesting text anyway and I’d really like to read your introduction to it to get a clearer picture of it.

To make sure: does your work on Gnomai not include the passage cited on Didascalia, p. 47 of the Coptic version Fides Patrum, which was previously used by Revillout in his collection on the Council of Nicaea? Clearly I don’t have a picture yet of what the Fides Patrum is really about. Is it a “Church Order”, too?

Again, thank you very much for your patience and your helpful answers

ACS: OK, to begin at the end! The Fides patrum is a version of the same material as Syntagma doctrinae, beginning, however, with a version of the Nicene creed with anathemas. It is, as you rightly say, preserved also in Coptic and published by Revillout in his collection. I think there is an Ethiopic version as well, though this may be of the Syntagma (I struggle to remember which is which!) Now the conclusion of the Greek Fides is wanting. I will have to look again to remind myself regarding the Ethiopic, so this will be the subject of a separate post. (I subsequently learn from my own blog(!) that the Ethiopic Fides patrum lacks the conclusion re offerings found in the Coptic.) The Coptic Fides however preserves the conclusion, so it is probable that the absence of the conclusion in Greek is a matter of accident (the last page being wanting from the scribe’s exemplar.) Thus we may assume that Fides and Syntagma had similar conclusions. Whether Fides patrum is a church order depends, of course, on the definition of church orders. Certainly there was no genre as such; Joe Mueller calls it a tradition, and although I disagree with him about the nature of the tradition I think he is right to call it so. Both the Syntagma and the Fides contain material found in other church orders, so they are members of the tradition, even if they are fundamentally monastic rules.

I don’t deal with the Fides in my work on the gnomai because I believe that they are entirely separate works, though transmitted together in the Coptic tradition through the collection of the Nicene documents, and also, I believe, arising within the same Athanasian circles. I make brief use of it in On the two ways.

So let us turn to the parallel material of CA and DA 4.6. There are parallels in both the Syntagma and in the Fides, though in the case of the latter it is preserved only in Coptic (reserving judgement on any other version.)

CA is, we know, an adaptation of DA. Thus it explains or expands the material found in DA. Next question is “Where did FP/SD get the material from?”

It is possible that they got it straight from CA as you suggest, though we are up against it date-wise given the uncertainty of dating any of these documents. It is not more plausible than the possibility that they got it straight from DA, given that the Greek original circulated in Egypt and was the subject of a Coptic translation (of which only a fragment remains.) Indeed, it is less plausible.

My own opinion, however, is that neither was the source. If you look at the context DA is an expansion of instruction to a bishop. How much is original and how much redactional is a matter of debate. It would seem to me reasonable, however, to suggest that 6.4 in nuce at least is part of the original material, since it deals with the fundamental episcopal duty. Is it not reasonable to suggest that the original instruction had circulated independently and was taken up in Egypt by the redactors of FP/SD?

What then becomes interesting is the absence of any mention of slaves or slave-owners in the version of SD, whereas they are found in FP. This in turn (if I am right in my argument that FP is dependent on SD) means that FP put this passage in. Next question is whether this was under the influence of DA/CA or an independent act of redaction on his part. It is difficult to know where to start with this, but even if it is influenced by DA/CA then there must have been some relevance of the topic to the redactor as to make him insert it. What were the local conditions? Although there was clearly less slavery in Egypt than elsewhere in the Empire, the phenomenon was still met.

I was aware of 8.33 because of its importance regarding Sabbath.

Preliminary bibliography (not counting my own work or Ethiopic versions)

P. Battifol, Syntagma doctrinae (Studia patristica 2; Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1890) (available online through

P. Battifol, Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1887) (the Fides patrum)

Plus, of course, Revillout

DV: Your statement on the redactional layer in the passage about episcopal instruction is intriguing, although I have problems to see where you would draw the line between original material and redactional work. If you considered the list of forbidden “professions” as the only expansion by the redactor, you could reasonably draw the link to TA 16 with its list of forbidden professions. But yet, these two texts, with all similarities that they have, are quite different, especially regarding the order of the list (and omissions, of course, too). I have a hard time thinking that two redactors (DA, TA) use the same source (or tradition) and include it in different contexts and still change it so considerably.

ACS: OK we will start by putting TA 16 out of the picture altogether. It is interesting, but not relevant (unless, conceivably, a list originally intended for catechumens [the context in TA] has been refitted elsewhere only to turn up in DA/CA/FP/SD, though this would be impossible to prove, and would not much enlighten us in any event.) It is true that I mention this in a footnote, but that is just a cf. for general interest rather than an explicit claim of a direct relationship.

So putting aside TA altogether, let us look at DA 4.6, so that you can see how I draw redactional lines within DA.

The text has been discussing the maintenance of orphans and their training; then it goes on to discuss the issue of how much a bishop may keep back from what he receives for his own maintenance (not the only point at which it is discussed, which indicates what a burning issue this was).

Anyone who can assist himself without disturbing the place of the orphan, the stranger or the widow is truly blessed, as this is a gift from God. 2But woe to those who have, yet falsely receive, or who are able to assist themselves but receive anyway. Anyone who receives will have to give an account to the Lord God regarding what they received on the day of judgement. 3If anyone receives on account of an orphaned childhood, or poverty in old age, or sickness or weakness or for bringing up a large number of children, he shall indeed be praised, considered as the altar of God and honoured of God, because he did not receive in vain since he diligently and frequently prayed for those who gave to him, as far as he was able, and this prayer he offered as his payment. These shall so be declared blessed by God in everlasting life. [4.4] Yet those who have, and yet receive under pretence, or otherwise are idle, and so receive rather than working as they should and assisting themselves and others, shall give an account as they have reduced the place of the impoverished faithful. 2Or anyone who has possessions and does not use them himself, nor helps others, is laying up perishable treasure for himself on earth. He is in the position of the snake lying upon the treasure and is in danger of being reckoned alongside it. 3Whoever possesses, and yet receives in falsehood, is not trusting in God but in wicked mammon. On account of wealth he is keeping the word hypocritically and is fulfilled in unbelief. Anyone who is like this is in danger of being reckoned with the unbelievers in condemnation. 4But anyone who simply gives to all does well, and is innocent. Whoever receives on account of distress and uses what he receives sparingly receives well, and will be glorified by God in everlasting life.

Then there is a summary, concluding with a doxology.

[4.5] Be constant, you bishops and deacons, in the ministry of the altar of Christ, that is to say the widows and the orphans, with all care, diligently endeavouring to find out with regard to gifts, the conduct of him who gives, or her who gives, for the support of, 2we say again, the altar. When widows are nourished by the labour of righteousness they will offer a ministry which is holy and acceptable before almighty God, through his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit. To him be glory and honour for ever and ever.

Then the subject picks up all over again; this is where the list is found:

3You should be working hard and diligently in ministering to the widows with a righteous mind, so that whatever they ask or request may speedily be given them, as they make their prayers. 4But if there should be bishops who are uncaring, and inattentive to these matters, through respect of persons, or through impure profit, or through failure to make enquiry, the account that they shall give shall be no ordinary one. [4.6] For what they are receiving for ministry to orphans and widows is from the rich, who have men locked in prison, from the wicked who make poor provision for their slaves, or act with cruelty in their cities, or oppress the poor, 2or from the impure, who abuse their bodies with wickedness, or from evildoers, or from fraudsters, or from lawless advocates, or from those who accuse falsely, or from hypocritical lawyers, 3or from painters of pictures or from makers of idols, or from workers of gold or silver or bronze who steal, or from corrupt tax-gatherers, or from those who watch the shows, or from those who alter weights, or from those who measure deceitfully, or from innkeepers who water (drinks), 4or from soldiers who act lawlessly, from spies who obtain convictions, or from Roman authorities, who are defiled by wars and who have shed innocent blood without trial, and from pervertors of judgement who deal corruptly and deceitfully with the peasantry and all the poor in order to rob them, 5or from idolaters, or from the unclean or from usurers and extortionists. 6Those who nourish widows from these will be found guilty when judged on the day of the Lord, since Scripture says: ‘Better a meal of herbs with love and compassion than the slaughter of fattened oxen with hatred.’ 7Should a widow be nourished solely by bread from the labour of righteousness this will be plenty for her, but if much be given her from iniquity it will not be enough for her. 8Moreover, if she is nourished from iniquity she will be unable to offer her ministry and her intercession before God in purity. Even if, being righteous, she prays for the wicked, her intercession for them will not be heard, but only that for herself, in that God tests their hearts in judgement and receives intercessions with discernment. 9Yet if they pray for those who have sinned and repented their prayers will be heard. But when those who are in sin and are not repentant pray before God, not only are their prayers not heard, but their transgressions are brought to God’s memory.

Finding redactional themes is more an art than a science, but I think that we can discern a distinct instruction here that the redactor has inserted. That is why the subject, having been concluded, starts up again. But what follows, with the heading, is also interesting:

That those bishops who accept alms from the culpable are guilty. [4.7] And so, bishops, flee and shun such administrations as these. For it is written: ‘The price of a dog or the wages of a prostitute shall not go up upon the altar of the Lord.’ 2For if, through your blindness, widows are praying for fornicators and for those who transgress the law and are not being heard as their requests are not granted, you will be bringing blasphemy upon the word as the result of your wicked management, as though God were not good and generous.

3Thus you should be very careful that you do not minister the altar of God from the ministrations of those who transgress the law. You have no excuse in saying ‘We do not know’, as you have heard what Scripture says: ‘Shun any wicked man and you shall not be afraid; and trembling shall not approach you.’ [4.8] And if you say: ‘These are the only people who give alms; and if we do not accept from them, from shall we minister to the orphans and the widows and those in distress?’ God says to you: ‘On this account you received the gifts of the Levites, the firstfruits and the offerings of your people, that you might be nourished and, having more than this, that you should not be obliged to accept from wicked people. 2But if the churches are so poor that those in need should be nourished by people like this, it is better that you be laid waste by hunger than receive from those who are wicked. 3Thus you should be making investigation and examination so that you receive from the faithful, those who are in communion with the church, and conduct themselves properly, in order to nourish those who are in distress, and do not receive from those who have been expelled from the church until they are worthy of becoming members of the church.

4If, however, you are in want, speak to the brothers so that they may labour together and give, so supplying out of righteousness. [4.9] You should be teaching your people, saying what is written: ‘Honour the Lord from your just labour and from the first of all your harvests.’ 2And so from the just labour of the faithful shall you clothe and nourish those who are in want. And, as we said above, distribute from what is given by them for ransoming the faithful, for the redemption of slaves, captives and prisoners, and those treated with violence, and those condemned by the mob, and those condemned to fight with beasts, or to the mines, or to exile, or condemned to the games, and to those in distress. And the deacons should go in to those who are constrained, and visit every one of them, and distribute to them with whatever each is lacking.

[4.10] But if ever you should be obliged to accept, against your will, some coins from somebody who is wicked, do not spend them on food but, if a small amount, spend it on firewood for yourselves and for the widows, so that a widow should not receive them and be obliged to buy food for herself with them. 2And so the widows shall not be defiled with evil when they pray and receive from God the good things for which they ask and which they seek, whether all together or individually, and you will not be bound by these sins.

I think that what we hear here is the voice, once again, of the redactor, and that what we are hearing from him is the disconnect between the reality of his situation and the ideal.

DV: I can clearly follow your argument and understand now how you discern between different redactional levels. It is very interesting to read the texts in that way.

ACS: In that case you can hopefully you can see the basis on which I suggest that a source has been incorporated. The fact that it re-appears elsewhere without its surrounding material in turn supports the supposition that the redactor of DA has included material which is independently employed in the Egyptian documents.

DV: I’d agree with you that DA, CA, SD and FP share a common source (or FP takes it from SD, I can’t judge) and we would only have to account for the changes within these texts.

Here I would be very cautious not to speculate about reasons why these changes happened. I doubt we can know for sure. It’s intriguing enough that an author decided to include a remark on slaveowners, and another didn’t.

ACS: OK, so we agree that there is an independent common source here.

DV: Let me reply to your statement about “disconnect between reality and ideal”.

I think that we are here at a crucial point in interpreting the church order literature (or genre, or tradition…). but this is not only the case for the 2nd redactor, but also for the 1st! The first redactor already depicts a conflict between ideal and reality, which the 2nd redactor only repeats. I compare this to, for example, 1 Corinthians, in which Paul criticizes the behavior at the Lords’ Supper. But his narrative is polemical, so it’s probably not reality as such, but polemically exaggerated. Maybe only a few Corinthians misbehaved. But what Paul suggests is not reality neither, it’s ideal, utopia. This is a fundamental difficulty in interpreting normative texts, be it apostolic letters, roman law, or Church Order Literature.

The 1st redactor already criticizes the offerings of sinners and the behavior of bishops, he already encounters that disconnect between reality and ideal. The 2nd redactor, then, repeats the same topic. Does this repetition show us that the exhortation of the 1st version of DA (or its original source) was unsuccessful? And is it not the 2nd redactor, then, that includes the loophole “about accepting “a few coins” for firewood”

I have a hard time imagining how a Bishop should be obliged to accept an offering against his will, anyway. But is this an indicator that there were essential “disconnects between reality and ideal”, between the pressure exerted by the rich Christians in the communities and the rule proposed in DA 4.6-10?

ACS: Although sometimes frustrated at having to pursue scholarship whilst responsible for a pastoral ministry, there are times when it is useful. I know, from experience, how a bishop (read, here parish priest) in a moment of weakness can accept an offering against his own will (or better judgement) in order not to give undue offence. However, you are fundamentally absolutely correct; the issue is an ongoing one, not restricted to any particular period in the development of DA. Moreover, not only is there, as you say, always a disconnect, but in the case of the church order literature there is not only a disconnect between the ideal and the reality, but there is a disconnect, very likely, between the reality described (which is really being prescribed) and the real reality!

DV: I think of the implications of that remark: a bishop who knew of a “violent” slaveowner was supposed to exclude him from the community until he was repentant. this is revolutionary. The New Testament and Church Fathers agree on mild treatment of slaves, but it never goes beyond an admonishment, no one speaks of an exclusion or excommunication. Why such a rigorous demand?

CA 4.6. speaks – as far as I can judge – more than DA of pure/impure matters. The offerings of such sinners are considered impure and “pollute” the Christian community. but again, I know of no other text that defines violent treatment of slaves as impure.

The biggest issue I have with chapter 18 of DA: if you and Schöllgen are right, it’s a chapter especially to strengthen the authority of the clergy against the rich laymen in the community, which act as patrons and sponsors for the community. Bad behaviour is not to be accepted even if the patron is responsible for the subsistence of the clergy – the author specifies that you should rather die from hunger than take money from such sinners.

But I doubt that this was ever done. The church and the clergy was dependent on these people. Slaveowning and slave-beating was normal in antiquity, so I doubt that any bishop ever excluded a slaveowner for this. I cannot imagine that this demand was ever put into practice.

ACS: You may well be right in all you say here; the stakes are being raised. And that is why there is the point about accepting “a few coins” for firewood… I doubt many bishops had the balls to exclude a powerful slave-owner, but possibly some did, and the Didascalist is encouraging this. And this is not an issue of historical interest only. How many churches even now agonize over ethical investment policies?

DV: I have two more thoughts and hypotheses regarding the patronage, to which I’d gladly hear your feedback.

TA 25-29 concerning the meals show again respect to the patronage system, as you and Charles Bobertz have pointed out. It’s rich people that invite the community at home and probably combine a Christian liturgy meal (be it Eucharistic, or agape, or cena dominica) with a deipnon/symposion. I think that, since 1 Cor 11, it’s probable that Christian meals were adapted and integrated into existing meal practices, and therefore, that the spirit of equality, that was typical for the Jesus tradition and for Paul who stands in this tradition was lost. 1 Cor and TA (to some degree, DA as well, I think) show that the rich patrons acted as hosts for such communions, and its probable that they hosted these meals to accumulate honor and to pronounce their status.

ACS: OK, so far I would agree altogether (obviously!)

DV: Such meals were of course impossible without the work of slaves (which were used to symbolize status anyway).

ACS: Impossible?

DV: Thus I think that although slaves are rarely mentioned in the church orders, e.g. in TA 25-29, they were nevertheless omnipresent, acting as slaves for the community. Its a common assumption in research on Early Christianity that Christian meals were based on equality, but I think this is wrong, considering your research on patronage in church orders, and considering Christian paintings of meals (e.g. in Roman catacombs, paintings show many banquets with slaves serving (earliest 3rd century).

What was the role of slaves in Christian communions? the sources rarely mention slaves at all, but I think the most probable answer is that they fulfilled “servile” functions in the community, as serving meals and wine, as lighting the lamp (TA 25) , acting as doorkeepers (DA 12) and so on. It is mysterious then why such works were more and more transferred to the diacon (diacon=servant!).

ACS: But were they transferred? The doorkeeper of DA is a deacon, and so is the lamp-carrier of TA25.

In my Original bishops, though this section contains little original, I argue that the diakonos was from the beginning the bishop’s agent and assistant, in particular at the provision of meals and the duties attached thereto. We find diakonoi performing various ritual functions in civic sacrifice and so it seems likely that diakonoi performed these “servile” functions in early Christian banquets likewise. It is possible, of course, that some of them were slaves, but also not impossible that the episkopos was a slave as well, particularly in those Asian communities in which presbuteroi were prominent. (And slavery language is employed, btw, by Ignatius with reference to the entire community, of slavery to the bishop. Wonderful to think that the bishop might be a slave).

To get back to the point: what seems to have happened, in the adaptive adoption of the mores of antiquity which came about in the Christian movement, is that the servile role of diakonos was taken on as a form of honor, bestowing status within the community on those who acted such. The qualifications for diakonoi in I Timothy as in the Didache are such that these are more likely to be persons of relative wealth and status in the community; the same is likely true of the diakonoi of civic sacrifice. Sure equality was relative in early Christian communities, but the rhetoric was surely not completely empty. So are the banquet scenes (assuming that they are indeed real banquets [though if they are not they nonetheless need to be recognizable as reflecting some sort of known reality]) apparently depicting slaves maybe not rather depicting diakonoi?

DV: The earliest banquet scenes we know (Dunbabin, Roman Banquet, 2003 is pretty good) are 3rd century, so they don’t really give an answer to the question either way. The archeologists I contacted assured me that they are from an iconographical point of view slaves. But again, slaves and diacons might be the same…

ACS: I think the question might be turned around: as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized, did the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves? Does this explain why the discussion concerning the treatment of slaves becomes more explicit in the later sources?

DV: I fear you misunderstood me. What I intended to say was that these works, known to us as servile works by the pagan culture, were transferred to diacons in the Christian communities. I don’t want to suggest a change within Christianity from slave to Diacon, but from pagan-slave to Christian-Diacon.

ACS: OK. Sorry to get you wrong in this way.

DV: But still there is the question whether diacons fulfilling servile functions were slaves or as you suggest “persons of relative wealth and status” and whether “the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves”, “as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized”

First of all let me note that diacons perform servile works. They do more than that, of course. But their title (servant) and their assistance to the bishop indicate a rather servile function, which nevertheless bestows honor on them.

I double-checked your chapter on the Diacons in Original Bishops. Yes, 1 Timothy and Didache request that Diacons are of relative wealth and status, but again, this is not necessarily reality. Rather, I suggest, is this a demand by two authors that wanted to see the diaconal functions being fulfilled by householders. Again, I question whether this was the reality. Both sources are normative texts that have a certain purpose, not simply depicting the situation in the congregations.

ACS: Agreed. Again the disconnect!

DV: So I ask if we shouldn’t assume that Diacons were originally the helpers of an episkopos, who, as you state, is a householder-patron who presides over a community. As far as I know we know nothing about the election or appointment of diacons in the early communities. I suggest that the bishops had a certain influence of who would be made diacon, and I assume he would have preferred his own clients – probably freedmen – or slaves to assist him in the household-based congregations. As such these diacons would have continued to do the same tasks that they did in the normal course of life. Furthermore, the honor that the diaconate bestowed on them would also have enhanced the status of the patron.

ACS: A very interesting suggestion. Indeed, we may go further and suggest that the reason why Didache and PEs would prefer a diakonos of status is that this might dilute the patronal authority of the episkopos who otherwise would appoint his/her own slaves, freedmen or other clientela.

DV: I don’t want to suggest that diacons were always slaves. Maybe some were, some weren’t. But I’d be cautious with the interpretations of 1 Tim and Did. We have few evidence that slaves had an office in the community, most known Plin. Ep. X.96; but only in the 4th century we find more and more prohibitions (Synod of Elvira, Apostolic Constitutions) that limit offices to free Christians (even excluding freedmen from offices). Epistula I by Bishop Stephanus is disputed. Given the development of the Church in general and the developing restrictions for slaves-offices in Late Antiquity, I would suggest, that slaves were more prominent in the offices in early Christianity than in Late Antiquity. 1 Tim and Did might be testimonies of an opposition to that, but both sources are really inconclusive in my opinion.

Therefore, I doubt that diaconal roles got transferred to slaves. Rather, the aristocracy tried to limit offices to free Christians (avoiding conflicts between Christian slaves and pagan slave-owners, too).

ACS: This is very interesting, and you clearly know more about this than I do. Let me then ask you, out of ignorance rather than as a leading question, how do we tie up the exclusion of slaves from office to the manner in which you describe a stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period? Would be be fair to say that the church moved from being an association to being (ideationally, if not in reality) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire? I might also ask whether you think that these provisions were more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts? And whether the exclusion of slaves from office might in some way relate to the ongoing issue over the power of patrons in Christian churches? And also what the connection is between this phenomenon (the exclusion of slaves from office) and the point you raised earlier regarding CA consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well (apart from any underlying reality… I am thinking of the intellectual world being constructed by the redactor)?

DV: That is a fine set of questions. Let me start with the first one about the connection between slave-exclusion from offices and stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners. I include your last question about the CA expanding its sources to treat slaves well. First of all, I’m not sure if we can talk of a “stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period”. I do think that there are more admonitions to slave owners to treat slaves well, but they have to be relativized. Mostly they simply repeat earlier material like the NT-Haustafeln. They are mostly combined with admonitions to slaves to obey and love their masters. The passage in DA 18 = CA IV.12 is outstanding, but we have already talked about that. The exclusion of cruel slaveowners is not something there is any other reference to, so I doubt it was practiced very often, if at all.
The CA, in principle, does the same thing: in VII.13.2-3 it adopts the passage of Did 4.10, but also adds the admonition to slaves. In IV.12.1-4 it really expands its source, DA, but again with admonitions to masters and slaves. In VIII.32.19 it expands again, and this is the only time there is only a reference to masters. In general, CA confirm social hierarchy.
In late, post-constantinian, antiquity, there are a few exceptional texts like the 4th homily on Ecclesiastes by Gregory of Nissa. There is a tendency in the East towards better slave-treatment, but the results are very ambiguous (s. Klein 2000).
I think your suggestion “that the church moved from being an association to being (…) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire” points somehow in that same direction. Being a Christian Empire, governed by Christian elites, the church stabilized the social hierarchies instead of fighting them. Nevertheless there were every so often preachers that reminded of the Christian doctrine of charity, of fraternalism and of the equality of all humanity. I don’t think though that they envisaged an alternative society, but rather they fought against excesses like DA 18 = CA IV.12 maybe did. Let me also note that this is in line with the Roman Law and even late antique philosophy, that both confirm the free-unfree distinction and still admonish against cruel treatment.

Were these provisions more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts?”
Again, the results are very ambiguous, and sources are sparse. With CA VIII.47.82 and the Synod of Elvira, can. 80, we have two sources against slave offices in the 4th century, with more following in later centuries (s. Klein 1999, Jonkers 1942). But we also have some testimonies by Bishops that in general confirmed slaves in offices, against the charges made by their slave-owners (s. Hieron. Ep. 82.6; Basil. Ep. 115; Greg. Naz. Ep. 56). What can we deduce for sure? Against the regulations by Church Orders and Synods (maybe only provincial, in the West?), there were still appointments to offices to which at least some Bishops approved.
What else can we assume? An office in the Church required time, so in general was only possible with the approval of the slave-owner. It also required a certain financial independence (a slave’s property always being that of his master), so it was actually only possible after manumission. That is exactly what CA VIII.47.82 demands.
But apparently there were also cases in which slave and church agreed on an office without consent and knowledge of the slave-owner!

Klein, R. Die Haltung der kappadokischen Bischöfe Basilius von Caesarea, Gregor von Nazianz und Gregor von Nyssa zur Sklaverei. Stuttgart 2000.
Klein, R. „Die Bestellung von Sklaven zu Priestern. Ein rechtliches und soziales Problem in Spätantike und Frühmittelalter“, in: Ders., Roma versa per aevum. Ausgewählte Schriften zur heidnischen und christlichen Spätantike. Hildesheim 1999, 394-420.
Jonkers, E.J. „Das Verhalten der alten Kirche hinsichtlich der Ernennung zum Priester von Sklaven, Freigelassenen und Curiales“, in: Mnemosyne 10 (1942), 286-302.

ACS: Thank you for all of this. May I add to your bibliography Chris L de Wet, The Cappadocian fathers on slave management” Studia historiae ecclesiasticae 39 (2013) article available online as

I think, if I may draw a large conclusion from the evidence here, that the church orders reflect, more or less, the reality of the situation. The church accepts and adopts the norms of wider society to itself (though there are exceptions), reflects the Christian Empire, and this in turn is reflected in the literary church orders, and also in the persons who find themselves in office. When the church is associational it is more possible, in some quarters anyway, to find slaves in office, in the same way that some associations had slave officers. But this is something which the earlier church orders do not touch (apart, perhaps from Traditio apostolica, on which I shall post separately). In general, as you note, they are content to trot out the standard line.

To be continued (no doubt)


Filed under Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Tradition, Didascalia Apostolorum, Other church order literature

The fragment on the mountain

Out any day now is “The Fragment on the Mountain: A Note on Didache 9.4a”. Neotestamentica 49.1 (2015) 175–188.

Here is the abstract:

This article suggests that Didache 9.4, which makes reference to a fragment that had been scattered on a mountain, and employs this image to refer to the eschatological ingathering of the church, should be understood as an allusion to a tradition held in common with the first and fourth Gospels of a mountainside feeding miracle performed by Jesus. Recognition of such an allusion both illuminates the obscurities of the text and provides a basis for understanding the Didachistic Eucharist as a proleptic participation in the messianic banquet.

If anyone has difficulty getting hold of this I can oblige.

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Filed under Didache