The receptacle for the loaf at Traditio apostolica 22

This is an extensively updated version of the post that was formerly here.

Barely six months since the publication of the second edition of my Hippolytus: the apostolic tradition (no third edition is planned) and I notice something which, if not an error, at least should have had further attention.

In Traditio apostolica 22, there is a direction regarding the distribution of Communion. The Ethiopic text published by Duensing states that “when the deacon approaches the presbyter he should unfold his garment (lebso), and the presbyter should take it…” For Dix this is “nonsense” and for Botte “absurde”. Thus Dix and Botte alike prefer to take a reading here from Testamentum Domini 2.11 which, instead of clothing, has ܦܝܢܟܐ ܐܘ ܟܦܦܬܐ (“the disk [πίναξ transliterated?] or paten”), and seek to explain the Ethiopic reading through misunderstanding or corruption. I was misled, in my reconstruction, into accepting this.

However, the more recently discovered Aksumite Ethiopic text has the same reading, which should have given me pause to reconsider, since the processes of corruption suggested by Dix and Botte cannot have occurred in a text directly dependent on the Greek.

There is a further consideration which should have given me cause for hesitation. For when the Ethiopic texts suggests that the deacon “unfold”, or “open”, his clothing, this is reflected in Testamentum Domini, which states that the paten should be “opened” or “unfolded”. Thus this text is no easier to understand than the Ethiopic, since a paten cannot really be opened. This I came to realize whilst translating Testamentum Domini for St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Firstly here is the entire passage:

On the first of the week the bishop, if he is able, should himself distribute to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break. And the presbyters break the baked bread. When the deacon approaches the presbyter he should open his garment, and the presbyter should take it himself and distribute it to the people with his own hand.

Beyond the word at issue here there is a great deal of confusion, but I remain convinced, building on a suggestion of Dix, that the passage concerns the sharing of eucharistic bread across the diverse Roman congregations, and that the deacons are therefore carrying portions of the loaf consecrated by the bishop to the presbyters who are celebrating elsewhere, a rite known as the fermentum. (On the fermentum generally see Marcel Metzger, “The history of the eucharistic celebration at Rome” in Anscar J. Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies: The Eucharist (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999), 103-131, on the fermentum at 106-109.) This originated in the manner in which the individual episkopoi in their households might share the eucharistic elements as a sign of union, (reported by Irenaeus at the time of Anicetus apud Eusebius HE 5.24.17) and which, with the development of monepiscopate in Rome, became a rite by which the episkopos sent portions to the presbyters in the city as a mark of his union with them.

If this is correct, then it is possible that this may cast light on the Ethiopic reading. In particular, although much of the evidence for the rite of the fermentum is late, some light may be cast on earlier practice by the statement of the 8th century Ordo Romanus 30B that the fermentum is carried in corporals. (Et transmittit unusquisque presbiter mansionarum de titulo suo ad ecclesiam Salvatoris et exspectant ibi usquedum frangitur Sancta, habentes secum corporales. Et venit oblationarius subdiaconus et dat eis de Sancta, quod pontifex consecravit, et recipiunt ea in corporales et revertitur unusquisque ad titulum suum et tradit Sancta presbitero. Et de ipsa facit crucem super calicem et ponit in eo et dicit: Dominus vobiscum. Et communicant omnes sicut superius.” Text in M. Andrieu, Les ordines Romani du haut moyen age 3 (Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense 24; Leuven: Peeters, 1951), 474.)

The reason for accepting the possibility that this might cast light on a practice some five-hundred years earlier is the continuity between this practice and that of carrying apophoreta away in classical Rome. It was common practice to take food away from the table, reference to this practice being made by Martial, Lucilius and Juvenal. In a manner consistent with the understanding that the origins of the Eucharist were sympotic, we may state that, in essence, the fermentum was the removal of food from a banquet for consumption elsewhere. What is significant is that these morsels are taken away in napkins; thus Martial Epig. 2.37, 7 refers to a sodden mappa filled with food, Lucian Symposium 36 to a napkin (ὀθόνη) filled with food taken from a table and Petronius Satyricon 60 to the filling of mappae with goods from Trimalchio’s table. This practice may readily be compared to the carrying of the fermentum in a corporal.

We may thus explain the Ethiopic as an honest attempt to render the Greek, misunderstanding coming about due to the translator’s failure to recognize the context, and so to know that there was reference here to a napkin, or corporal. If ὀθόνη or something of the sort stood in the text then the translator might well render that as lebs. Moreover, the word rendered by both Ethiopic and Syriac versions as “open” may have been ἀναπτύσσω. Slightly more conjecturally, “his” garment might have come about had the text read ὀθόνη αὐτοῦ, the pronoun referring to the fermentum rather than to the deacon. Thus the Ethiopic translator, who did not understand the rite being described, nonetheless renders a literal, but initially incomprehensible, translation whereas Testamentum Domini, which is after all a reworking rather than a translation, in turning the direction into a description of the administration of Communion in a church, and the respective roles of sacred ministers, thus substitutes vessels for the corporals in which the fermentum was carried.

Thus the relevant passage should read:

When the deacon approaches the presbyter he should unfold its cloth, and the presbyter should take it (the fermentum) himself.

I think my failure here was due to my lack of awareness that the fermentum was carried in corporals. For some reason (I think to do with the way in which we used to say mass with the paten under the corporal) I was under the impression that it was carried on patens, and so anticipated seeing the word here.

In any event, yet another error to chalk up on my syllabus.


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Filed under Apostolic Tradition, E-rrata, Testamentum Domini

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