A Christmas look at the Apostolic constitutions

The following fragment is found in some manuscripts following the Questions and responses of Anastasius. In view of its contents I offer it as a Christmas greeting to my reader(s!)

Concerning the appearance of Our Lord, from the apostolic diatagmata (one MS, diataxeis):
Now Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the holy Virgin Mary in Bethlehem in the month, following the Egyptians, of Choiak, 29th, at the seventh hour of the day (One MS reads “tenth hour of the night”), which is the eighth before the kalends of January. He was baptized in his thirtieth year by John, on the eleventh of Tubi, at the tenth hour of the night (One MS reads “seventh hour of the day”) in the Jordan river. He therefore remained among us in the world, proclaiming the Kingdom of the Heavens, and healing every disease and every ailment among the people, until he was thirty-three years and three months. In his thirty-third year he was crucified on the 23rd Phaneroth, on the sixth day, at the sixth hour, on the fourteenth day of the moon. He rose on the third day, on the 1st Pharmouthi, on the first day, at the sixth hour of the night, and was seen by all us, his disciples. And he manifested his glory for forty days, teaching us to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. He was taken up on Pachon 10th, at the ninth hour of the day.

It appears in PG 1 517-8 (in a citation of Cotelier) and elsewhere amidst the learned collections of the nineteenth century.

F.X. Funk “”Ein Fragment zu den apostolischen Konstitutionen” Theologische Quartalschrift 85 (1903), 195-202 suggests that it is an addendum to an Egyptian recension of Apostolic Constitutions 8.33.

This is an interesting fragment by virtue of the liturgical information it contains regarding the Egyptian reception of Christmas, and puzzling given its apparent reference to nocturnal baptism. It is also interesting in illustrating the manner in which, as living literature, even complete church orders might undergo local editing and expansion. Perhaps this explains the puzzling fragment cited by ibn Katib Qaysar to which Tom Schmidt has drawn our attention, namely that it is a further example of local expansion of an existing church order.



Filed under Apostolic Constitutions

3 responses to “A Christmas look at the Apostolic constitutions

  1. Daniel Vaucher

    Thank you for that interesting fragment. Since you point at the nocturnal baptism, what are other references in early Christian literature to that rite? It reminded me spontaneously of the famous and dubious “Secret Gospel of Mark”, published by M. Smith, where there is the reference to Jesus’ teaching of his disciple at night, gymnos gymnô, both being naked. Some scholars found homosexual practices in this, or gnostic liberalism, but others like Klauck, more reasonably in my opinion, thought of a baptismal context. I just wonder whether we have other references as early as the supposedly secret Gospel of Mark. Thanks!


    • Baptism immediately before dawn is commonly enough attested, and so one can easily see this being put back into the night. Indeed the whole implication of baptism in the context of a paschal vigil implies nocturnal initiation. Thus inexplicitly and early (earlier, surely, than Secret Mark) we have Pliny’s report of Christians meeting for catechesis and baptism ante lucem, which fits with a hint in Tertullian a century later that he is delivering his catechesis so as to conclude as the birds start to sing. Similarly we may note that Justin reports that after baptism people are brought into the assembly, itself an early morning event, enabling us to deduce that the baptism took place around dawn.
      More explicitly we have the direction of Traditio apostolica that the font be consecrated as cock crows, and in the Acta Thomae in both the Greek and Syriac versions of the baptism of Gundaphorus it is explicitly stated that this took place at night, with the baptismal eucharist at dawn. In a later period John Chrysostom states that the candidates are stripped in the darkness of the night (Stavron. 2.24), and in the account of the baptism of Tyrannus in the Historia Johannis we are told that it is the eighth hour of the night.
      I have little doubt that there are more; this, apart from the Chrysostom reference which I had to check (half-recollecting it) is off the top of my head.
      Seeing that I described it as “puzzling” i suspect that I meant that it is puzzling in view of the scriptural account which, whilst not stating a time of day as far as I recollect, does not give the impression of being nocturnal. I suspect the times mentioned relate to liturgical activity.


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