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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3 Comments

Filed under Apostolic Tradition, Canons of Hippolytus

3 responses to “Traditio apostolica, Canones Hippolyti, and the presbyterate of confessors

  1. Daniel Vaucher

    Thank you. So do I get you right that, in the ancient practice that TA §9 describes, the presbyterate was not an office, but simply an honor or a function? If this is in line with your argument in Original Bishops 2014, then ‘presbyter’ was more or less synonymous for patron of the community. Do I get that right? And if so, how should slave-confessors be able to fulfill the expectations that the community would have of their patrons? And should we nevertheless read TA §9 that slaves were able to be appointed to offices in general, namely into every office of which they are worthy? (This is apart from §9 nothing that TA or DA or any other Church Order from that period touches. It is still strange to me that the subject doesn’t come up before the 4th century.)
    That the R-El-redactor was sniffy about slaves, I still doubt. The only passages you refer to are in the chapter against Callistus. Glancy is certainly right that the passage is rife with stereotypes, but this needn’t say anything about the author’s position. It is simply part of the polemics against his enemy, a former slave, which he wants to defame. Furthermore, if he was sniffy about slaves, why did he include the remark about slave-confessors in TA §9 receiving honor, and not simply leave it out?
    As a final remark on TA and the authorship of Hippolytus, I wonder why we find the regulation about concubines and free men in TA, whereas any remark about the disputed regulation of Callist about slave-men and free-women is missing. If the author of TA was Hippolytus, would he not have refuted such a position in his “legal” work?

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    • DV: Thank you. So do I get you right that, in the ancient practice that TA §9 describes, the presbyterate was not an office, but simply an honor or a function? If this is in line with your argument in Original Bishops 2014, then ‘presbyter’ was more or less synonymous for patron of the community. Do I get that right? And if so, how should slave-confessors be able to fulfill the expectations that the community would have of their patrons?

      ACS: Thank-you too. It is good to have this conversation. And yes, I do think that this is the sense of this direction. And yes, the presbyters as an honoured group were generally honoured on the basis of patronage. But my suggestion here is that the honour is being given on the basis of confessorship. And if the confessor in question was not up to acting as patron this does not matter because that is not the basis on which the honour is given. Rather the confessor should nonetheless receive the honour due a presbyter, namely (perhaps) better and more prominent seating and (as per I Tim.) a diplē timē, even though not practising patronage.

      DV: And should we nevertheless read TA §9 that slaves were able to be appointed to offices in general, namely into every office of which they are worthy?

      ACS: We would be going beyond the text here, but beyond the text I seem to recollect an argument (memory grows hazy) that Clement was a slave or at best a freedman (perhaps in Jeffers, Conflict at Rome). So perhaps yes, though if we are speaking about office we could well be in the situation where a presbyter would appoint to office his slave or freedman, regardless of any particular ability that slave or freedman might have.

      DV: (This is apart from §9 nothing that TA or DA or any other Church Order from that period touches. It is still strange to me that the subject doesn’t come up before the 4th century.)

      ACS: Are you tending in a Bradshavian direction here about the dating of TA? A fourth century redactor would struggle, surely, to appoint presbyters without ordination.

      DV: That the R-El-redactor was sniffy about slaves, I still doubt. The only passages you refer to are in the chapter against Callistus. Glancy is certainly right that the passage is rife with stereotypes, but this needn’t say anything about the author’s position. It is simply part of the polemics against his enemy, a former slave, which he wants to defame. Furthermore, if he was sniffy about slaves, why did he include the remark about slave-confessors in TA §9 receiving honor, and not simply leave it out?

      ACS: As I already said, and perhaps this is a presupposition which I should spell out, because they would not leave stuff out. In any event TA §9 only speaks about slave-confessors in order to ensure that there weren’t too many appointed to presbyteral honour, being clear that a punishment had to be serious, not just a regular slave-beating. Slave confessors is not the primary concern of the ordinance, but confessors in general. And then, if they happened to be slaves, then to make sure that there wasn’t a queue of slaves wanting to be honoured as confessors on the basis that they had suffered domestic punishment.

      DV: As a final remark on TA and the authorship of Hippolytus, I wonder why we find the regulation about concubines and free men in TA, whereas any remark about the disputed regulation of Callist about slave-men and free-women is missing. If the author of TA was Hippolytus, would he not have refuted such a position in his “legal” work?

      ACS: Again, you are sounding Bradshavian. But my suggestion all along is that this part of TA is P. The disputed regulation of Callistus is dealt with by silence, or rather by a lack of redactional intervention.

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