Consider a new Church Order

I recently discovered an interesting article by F. Stanley Jones in A. Özen (ed.), Historische Wahrheit und theologische Wissenschaft, Gerd Lüdemann zum 50. Geburtstag, Frankfurt 1996, pp. 87-104. In “The Genre of the Book of Elchesai”, the author collects the fragmentary evidence on the Parthian book of revelation called “book of Elchesai/Elxai”, that was brought to Rome under a “heretic” called Alcibiades towards the end of the 2nd century. Fragments and polemics remain in the works of Hippolyt and Epiphanius as well as in Origens Homily on Psalms 82, preserved in Eus. h.e. 6.38.

Jones argues against former common sense that the Book of Elchasai was an apocalyptic text. Without entering the debate about the nature of Church Orders, he states: “the primary focus of the writing is on regulating the life of Christian, which is a reasonable starting point for defining a church order.” He then lists the fragments that address the life of the Christians, which focus on the renunciation of idolatry “with the lips, not the heart”, baptism, impartation of the secret prayer, astrological instructions, instructions on the direction of prayer,  the avoidance of fire, and more.

He adds further arguments to strengthen his case: the author, who seems to be a “religious authority”, uses first person singular to adress his readers, that is, the congregation. He adds examples to support the casuistic logic – and probably to convince his readers of his demands. Finally, “Elchasai was one of these leaderss who, similar to Paul, was engaged in the process of ordering early Christian life, only Elchesai wrote an actual church order rather than merely sporadic letters to congregations.”

I will have to take some time and check the fragments as well as the secondary literature that links the book of Elchasai to Judaism and Manichaism in order to fully evaluate Jones’ arguments. I tend to agree with Jones’ view, but given the fragmentary state of the book, who knows what the original was like? But the article was very interesting to read; it is a reminder that we should open our eyes in the search for more and lesser-known Church Orders.


Leave a comment

Filed under Other church order literature

“Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis. Die frühchristlichen Kirchenordnungen”

I am pleased to say that my book is finally out and available: “Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis. Die frühchristlichen Kirchenordnungen”, in Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 2017:

It is primarily a socio-historical investigation of slavery in Early Christianity, and secondarily a reflection on the interpretation of Ancient Church Orders. As an appendix, it contains an almost 30-page-overview of the transmission of the church orders with bibliography, which is, I confess, based on the fundamental work by our host Alistair Stewart.

1 Comment

Filed under Church orders in genera(l)

The Coptic version of the Canons of Basil: a progress report

Way back in 2014 I reported on the discovery of a Coptic codex of the Canons of Basil. Alberto Camplani had confirmed to me that a codex had been discovered, and that a progress report was forthcoming. This report has now been published: Alberto Camplani and Federico Contardi, “The Canons Attributed to Basil of Caesarea: A New Coptic Codex” in Paola Buzi, Alberto Camplani, Federico Contardi (ed.), Coptic Society, Literature and Religion from Late Antiquity to Modern Times: Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Rome, September 17th-22nd, 2012, and Plenary Reports of the Ninth International Congress of Coptic Studies, Cairo, September 15th-19th, 2008 Vol. 2 (Leuven: Peeters, 2016), 979-992. Federico Contardi has kindly sent me a copy of this report.
Camplani and Contardi report that the codex was discovered in Sheikh Abd el-Gurna by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology under the direction of Tomasz Górecki, on a rubbish dump outside tomb 1152 (dating from the Middle Kingdom) which was reused in the Coptic Period as a hermitage. The codex is preserved in the National Museum of Alexandria, identified as Coptic Ms. 1. It is almost complete.
What is particularly interesting about this Coptic version, by distinction to the published Arabic, is the presence of much more apparatus of pseudonymy, some of which is described in the report. This links with that described by Alin Suciu in Coptic apocrypha, and discussed briefly below, and lends support to the suggestion of Camplani that the Canons should be given an Egyptian and sixth century provenance.
We look forward to the forthcoming preliminary edition by Contardi and Camplani, to be followed by an editio maior containing Arabic and Coptic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Other church order literature

Benga on the Didascalia

I have just read two articles by Daniel Benga on the Didascalia, “The baptismal ethos of the third-century Syrian Christianity according to Didascalia apostolorumRevista teologica 93 (2011), 183-200 and “’Defining sacred boundaries’: processes of delimitation from the pagan society in Syrian Christianity according to the Didascalia apostolorumZAC 17 (2013), 526-559.

In each Benga observes the obvious, namely that for all the care taken in the Didascalia to distinguish Christians from Jews, the fundamental distinction which underlies this is the distinction between Christians from pagans, a fundamental distinction shared with Judaism. Given, however, that the overwhelming majority of society was neither Christian nor Jewish, the Christian has to negotiate a complex world. Although obvious, it is an observation worth making.

Leave a comment

Filed under Didascalia Apostolorum

The epiklesis of the Testamentum Domini

I am glad to announce that my translation of Testamentum Domini is going through the processes of the press. At present we are proofing the ms before typesetting.

As a foretaste (and an encouragement to get the thing when it comes out) here is an appendix to the introduction, dealing with the epiklesis of the Testamentum.

Excursus: the “epiclesis”

Particular issues pertain to the Testament’s handling of the so-called epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition.

I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”

Before turning to the justification of the translation offered here we should discuss the history of interpretation.

The initial translation by Rahmani (1899), following the Mosul MS, read as follows: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, O Lord the Holy Spirit… Bring this drink and this food of your holiness, and cause that they may be for us….” The verb is ܐܬܐ which means “to come.” Here it is in what is called the aphel (causative), which may thus mean “bring” and Rahmani understands it in this sense. The form he understands as a feminine singular imperative (ܐܬܐܝ), which he takes as addressed to the Trinity.

For Cooper and McLean (1902) “this scarcely makes sense.” Thus, rather than beginning the request with “bring,” they adopt a reading from the Borgian Syriac MS, ܐܬܐܝܢ, a participle, rather than the imperative ܐܬܐܝ of the Mosul MS, and translate: “We have brought this drink and this food of thy Holiness to thee. Cause that it may be to us….” They find support for this in one Ethiopic version of the anaphora of the Testament, the so-called “Anaphora of Our Lord” published by Ludolf in 1691. The problem with this solution is that the Borgian Syriac text is generally poor.

Although Dix (1937) and Richardson (1947) commented briefly on this passage, in the context of an argument over the epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition, the next major contribution to the debate was that of Botte (1947), responding to Richardson’s brief comment. In particular Botte suggests that the verb ܐܬܐ in the aphel might equally well be a rendition of “send.” This is possible. As a feminine imperative he suggests it is addressed to the Spirit, but that the Syriac translator had failed to understand that in the Greek the word was accusative (the form would be the same in Greek) and that the petition to “send” was not originally addressed to the Spirit but to the Father, and that the Spirit was the object. Thus the original would have read: “Lord, send the Holy Spirit on this holy drink and this food….”

One merit of Botte’s suggestion is that an object is supplied; something, it seems, needs to come, or be sent, onto the gifts so that they may not be for condemnation, and the object is not the food and drink. Thus while it is tempting to accept Cooper and McLean’s adoption of the reading of B and so to make this passage a continuation of the oblation, making the food and drink the objects means that no account is taken of the word ܠ (“to” or “onto”) which precedes these words.

Richardson (1948), in response, found Botte’s suggestions entirely unconvincing. If the Syriac translator had so misunderstood the Greek accusative, he argues, then this would mean that he had completely missed the address to the Trinity, and the threefold “Lord” that it contains. Thus the Spirit cannot be an object, but is simply addressed as part of the Trinity. In seeking an object he turns his attention to the Syriac ܕ which is attached to the word translated “holiness”, and suggests that this represents a partitive genitive. Thus he translates: “Send (O Trinity) a portion of thy Holiness on this drink and food. Cause that it may be to us….” Bouyer (1968) similarly wonders whether the Syriac text is so obscure as to oblige us to have recourse to the suggestion of such a series of errors on the part of the Syriac translator, though in effect his suggestions return us to Rahmani’s reading.

White’s translation (1991) is interesting. He seems to accept the reading of B, with Cooper and McLean, but unlike them takes the whole phrase as addressed to the Holy Spirit: “Lord Holy Spirit, we have brought this food and drink of your holiness; make it be for us….” It seems odd to find an oblation to the Holy Spirit, but it is significant that he can see that the phrase might be addressed to the Spirit. This accounts for the feminine form of the imperative. It seems that he has accepted Botte’s suggestion that the translator had mistaken an accusative for a vocative, but unlike Botte translates the Syriac text as it stands, taking the feminine imperative as addressed to the (feminine) Spirit rather than correcting it (as Botte does) in accordance with a hypothetical Greek original.

More recent treatments have not advanced the debate. McKenna (2009) simply agrees with Botte without any discussion of the Syriac text, and McGowan (2014) likewise pays no mind to the Syriac text, or to any possible underlying Greek, offering us the following translation (in which the debt to Botte is evident), which she has derived from elsewhere:

We offer to you this act of thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Father, from whom all creation and all nature trembles as it flees into itself, Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon this drink and upon this your holy food. Grant that it may not be for us condemnation….

Before discussing the possibilities presented, the one contribution that I may make is to observe that the Arabic edited by Troupeau (2007) clearly understands that the Trinity is addressed. The Trinity is bidden: “make that this holy food and this drink of sanctification may not be condemnation for us…” thus missing out the verb in dispute. The imperative is masculine.

The question may perhaps be reopened in the light of our observation that the prayer as it stands is a result of combining two anaphoras.

We may recollect that Botte’s suggestion was criticized by Richardson on the basis of the violence it did to the address to the Trinity. However, it is possible that, in keeping with other prayers in the Testament, the Trinity as such was not addressed, but rather only the Father and the Son. This would explain the odd order found here, with the Son first. Thus the original, prior to the combination with Apostolic Tradition might have read:

To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling; send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….

The text of Apostolic Tradition facing the redactor is itself an uncertain matter, but it is highly probable that it read (as Botte suggested), “we ask that you should send your Holy Spirit….” As such it is possible that the mention of the Holy Spirit should be taken from Apostolic Tradition, and the words “Holy Spirit” supplied from that source. However much it may seem that the Trinity is addressed in the Testament, this is the result of the juncture of two sources.

The Holy Spirit in Apostolic tradition was the object. However, given the redactor’s freedom with the source, faced with the necessity of combining two prayers, and given that the sentence already had an object (the portion of holiness), I suggest that he deliberately turned this into a vocative, and thus addresses the Holy Spirit directly at this point. There are thus two addresses, one to the Father and the Son, and one to the Holy Spirit. The rightness of White’s translation becomes manifest when it is observed that this mention of the Spirit supplied from Apostolic Tradition has been inserted into an existing prayer. As such the change of case that results is also less significant than Richardson thought. He suggests, against Botte, that it is improbable that the translator would so misunderstand the original as to read an accusative as a vocative; the suggestion here is that there was no misreading, and that this is not the work of a later translator, but that the translator accurately rendered a deliberate change that had already been made by the redactor.

The result is thus a combination of the insights of Botte, who reconstructs the original of Apostolic Tradition, Richardson, who supplies an object by reading ܕ in the Syriac text as representing a partitive genitive, and White, who so punctuates that such that the address to the Spirit stands out, all understood through the lens of the redactor’s layering technique. The address is directed to the Holy Spirit (the mention of whom is supplied from Apostolic Tradition), the object is taken as “a portion of holiness” and the address to the Trinity recognized as an accident of redaction.

As a result of this I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”


Botte, Bernard (1947) “L’epiclèse de l’anaphore d’Hippolyte,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 14 (1947): 241–51

Bouyer, Louis (1968) Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame,)

Cooper, James, Arthur J. Maclean (1902) The Testament of Our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)

McGowan, Anne, (2014) Eucharistic Epicleses Ancient and Modern (London: SPCK)

McKenna, John H. (2009) The Eucharistic Epiclesis: A Detailed History, 2nd ed (Chicago: Hillenbrand)

Rahmani, Ignatius Ephraem II (1899) Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Mainz: Kirchheim)

Richardson, C.C.,(1948) « A Note on the Epicleses in Hippolytus and the Testamentum Domini,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 15 (1948): 357–59

Sperry-White, Grant (1991) The Testamentum Domini: A Text for Students (Bramcote: Grove)

Troupeau, Gérard, (2007) “Une version arabe de l’anaphore du Testamentum Domini” in Charles Chartouni, ed., Christianisme oriental: kérygme et histoire; mélanges offerts au père Michel Hayek (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner), 247–256

1 Comment

Filed under Testamentum Domini

A church order preserved in Nubian?

Looking for something else I come across the following from F. Ll. Griffith (ed.) The Nubian texts of the Christian period (Berlin: Verlag der Königl. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Commission bei Georg Reimer, 1913), 16-19 (text), 19-23 (translation.)

Griffith opines that these are “not a series of canons but a Sunday homily or exhortation on the offering of oblations and behaviour at the Eucharist.” (23) Perhaps we might see this as a church order. It is of gnomic character, and the title, appearing to enumerate 80 canons, is intriguing.

I provide Griffith’s translation to give a flavour of the work. Griffith supplies a text and some annotation.


These are the canons of the churches which the holy fathers, having assembled (?) in Nicaea, discussed (?), wrote, and established by authority (?), being eighty (?).

Beloved: when a certain man (?) hath spoken a vow (?), (namely) this Holy Feast which remains on the table: it is simply (?) bread and simply (?) wine (?) and comes out from (?) the church(?) by (?) the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in the time of presentation (?) and the arrival of the moment (?).

Verily when a man dedicates an oblation in the church, whether it be wine or whether it be wheat, and the priest docs not give one in return, and he says in his heart I have not eaten with the priest, I have not drunken with the priest, he hath not reward (?) from heaven in Jerusalem. And God, the possessor (?) of life, withdraweth (?) his light, because he hath desired that which is from earth and refused that which is from heaven, namely the mercies (?) which thy (?) God in his fullness (?) hath granted (?).

Verily a donor (?) having pronounced a vow, namely oblations dedicated in the church, the children of the church shall eat them (?), the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost come out from (?) the church.

Verily a man having repented (?) in his heart and dedicated an oblation in the church, whether it be wine or wheat or durra-seed down to green vegetable (?); then he, the Lord, will rejoice (?) in his heart and receive (it) through his holy angel.

Have ye not heard that which is written, …. gift … God, him that giveth cheerfully (?) God loveth (?)? All men who working for the name of God benefit themselves (?), they shall not find benefit (?) through God.

And now therefore (?) man that which ye do for the name of God, do ye cheerfully. And one was written men about to (?) become in that (?) … shall become (?) covetous (?), shall become (?) without …, shall become …, shall become man-hating, shall become . . ., shall become covetous (?) of the priesthood (?). And all this … beloved, enquire ye unwillingly (?); let us have friendship (?), let us seek peace; and when ye sit (?) enquire ye with desire (?), because coveting (?) ye are fearful of death. Without ceasing (?) let us pray to God that lie may give us remission of our sins.

Behold (?) hear ye a witness (?).

Verily a layman having … and eaten the food of the church, he shall … the priest … and shall … And now therefore (?). … enquire ye in … requital (?) … in desire (?) enquire ye.

And when thou hast sat down remain far (?) from the feast. And when thou hast (?) received the feast purify (?) thy heart and voice and come and receive the feast. And verily if not, it is destruction.

Verily if thou comest not at peace with a teaching man (?) thou art a feast-taker (?).

Verily when thou desirest to receive the feast come out first and come in good will (?) ; verily if thou art not in good will (?) remain outside (?) the church: wilt thou … through God be friendly? And if not, thus wilt thou … and … the laws of God?

And when thou hast received the feast, remain in the church till the dismissal. Remember what was done to Judas the betrayer: having taken the feast he went out of the church not having been dismissed (?), and Satan entered (?) into his heart and persuaded him(?) to betray.

In truth thou also, when the church has not been dismissed, art … It is that which God shall take as cause and requite upon thee. Be not condemned for eternity with Judas on account of the short moment after this (?).

I have seen many when they have received the sacrament eat when the church is not open: woe to their hearts! Shall they receive in exchange (?) remission of sin, because they were able (?) to … ?

Verily a donor (?) who has eaten when the church was not open, he hath cause in a great…

Verily a donor (?) who has eaten and received the sacrament loveth (?) light with the eater of the dead (?).

A donor (?) who not hearing the epistle and gospel hath received the sacrament, hath not received.

A donor (?) who hath not sung alleluia with the singers insulteth God his Maker. For Alleluia is Thelkath Marimath: and the saying being interpreted is “Let us glorify God who founded all (things), and let us love and worship (?) him.”

Woe be to the man who speaketh in the church at the time (?) of the sacrament! For he that speaketh in the church at the time (?) of the sacrament is negligent (?) more than (?) all the negligent (?) ones. For the man that speaketh in the church is the enemy of God. For these are like the Jews who having hanged the Saviour on the cross mocked him — they who speak when this sacrament is upon the table. He, the Lord it is who hath said “and the Jews alone (?) openly rejected (?) me.” And you who speak in the church at all times, behold (?), hearken ye to the warning (?).

Verily one in(?) dedicating an oblation in the church by means of (?) the act (?) of service of life he shall write his name in Jerusalem. And his reward with the priest here (?) is one loaf one finger (?) of wine: for this is what was taken by God.

Woe be to the priest who sitteth on the Lord’s day amongst …. one by … departing and eating (?) will requite (?) that one’s sin upon the scalp (?) of the head of the priest in the fulness of the ages.

And all persons, either having become a woman being 12 years old shall give (?) or having become a man being 13 years old shall give (?); and … and verily he who hath . . . one of these, is good (?) both in the … of the flesh and the … of the …; and God will trying try his soul in hell.

Therefore (?) praise (?) God: praise (?) be Thine! In the hand of the living God I will overcome and expel!

And the priest each (?) Lord’s day shall cause them to hear this: for (?) it hath been done, that we may (?) attain (?) resurrection and grace (?) with our Lord Jesus Christ; whose be the glory and the power unto ages of ages! Amen.


Filed under Other church order literature

A new witness to the Fides patrum

Forthcoming in JTS (and now available as an advance publication on the journal’s website) is Lincoln H. Blumell “P.Mich. Inv. 4461KR: the earliest fragment of the Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum“.

Abstract: This article presents an edition of a previously unpublished literary papyrus in the University of Michigan collection that preserves a section from a text typically known by the designation Didascalia CCCXVIII Patrum Nicaenorum (CPG 2298). The papyrus, which appears to date to the fifth century ad, is important because it is only known ancient Greek witness to this treatise and attests a previously unknown textual variant.

Very exciting!

1 Comment

Filed under Other church order literature