Author Archives: danivaucher

Sunday Letter

On one of his latest excavations into Early Christian literature, Alistair Stewart aka Indiana Jones dug out an extraordinary text: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.55123 (Hall 1893). He asked me whether this could be a Church Order. I identified the piece as the so-called Letter from Heaven (Himmelsbrief) – a text that I indicated as a possible Church Order more than a year ago in my response to Alistairs pioneering Church Order conspectus (https://ancientchurchorders.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/a-conspectus-of-the-church-orders/#comments).

The letter, supposedly fallen from Heaven onto the grave of St. Peter in Rome (in other versions onto Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople…), supposedly written by Jesus Christ himself, has one principal claim: to observance Sunday (i.e. not to work but to attend the Church). Most fascinating about this text is not so much its obvious and daring forgery, but its immense success and spread. “Die älteste Überlieferung liegt in lateinischer Sprache vor; es sind außerdem griechische, syrische, koptische, arabische (einschließlich karschunische), äthiopische, armenische, russische, tschechische, polnische, ukrainische, südslavische, ungarische, rumänische, altirische, altenglische, walisische, mittelenglische, mittelhochdeutsche, mittelniederländische, altfranzösische, provenzalische, spanische, katalanische, italienische, isländische, dänische, norwegische und schwedische Fassungen bekannt.” (Palmer 1986).

These different recensions were developed between the 6th and the 20th century, obviously not without success. It is still not possible to make out its origins. The earliest references are found in the 6th century with Bishop Vincentius of Ibiza. On this basis Delehaye and others claimed a Spanish origin, whereas Van Esbroeck proposed a 5th century origin in Jerusalem.

In 1901, Carl Schmidt published a Coptic letter by Peter of Alexandria (3rd-4th century). Among narrative passages we find the same claim to observe Sundays rest and to attend the Church. Schmidt believed in its authenticity, whereas Delehaye, in his review, stated that in the early 4th century, there was no such thing as “legislation” on Sunday observance. He therefore claimed that the Coptic letter was another forgery, related to the above Sunday letter.

I remain skeptical. Not that the Coptic letter is necessarily written by Peter. But the “legislation” on Sunday observance is really strong in the 4th century. In Laodicea (around 360), can. 29, we read: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.” In the Church Order literature, we have a strong case in the Apostolic Constitutions (around 380), VIII.33: even slaves were not allowed to work on Sunday! In addition, we have the can. 11 of the Canons of Clement, although they are even more difficult to date.

In my opinion, a 4th or 5th century origin (Van Esbroeck) is very probable for both the Sunday Letter and the Coptic Letter by (Ps.-)Peter.

Finally, I tend to agree with Stewart that the text fails the principal criteria for being a Church Order: although it is an anonymous piece with normative elements, there are no pseudonymous or pseudapostolic tactics to strengthen the case. Also its content is too narrow, only regulating Sunday practices. With Van Esbroeck: “Il relève de plusieurs genres littéraires à la fois: l’apocalyptique, l’apocryphe, la prophétie, la lettre, le sermon sur l’obligation dominicale, et le code législatif antique lesté de bénédictions et de malédictions.”

Principal Literature (chronologically):

I.H. Hall, The Letter of Holy Sunday. Syriac Text and Translation, in: Journal Of The American Oriental Society 15 (1893), 121-137.

H. Delehaye, Note sur la légende de la lettre du Christ tombée du ciel, in: Bulletins de l’Academie royale de Belgique, Classe des Lettres, 1899, 171-213.

C. Schmidt, Fragment einer Schrift des Märtyrer-Bischofs Petrus von Alexandrien, Leipzig 1901.

Reviewed by H. Delehaye, in Analecta Bollandiana 20 (1901), 101-103.

M. Bittner, Der vom Himmel gefallen Brief in seinen morgenländischen Versionen und Rezensionen, in: Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften: philosophisch-historische Klasse, 51 (1906) 1-240.

R. Stübe, Der Himmelsbrief. Ein Beitrag zur allgemeinen Religionsgeschichte, Tübingen 1918.

R. Priebsch, Letter from Heaven on the Observance of the Lord’s Day, Oxford 1936.

N.F. Palmer, Himmelsbrief, in: TRE 15 (1986), 344-346.

M. Van Esbroeck, La lettre sur le Dimanche, descendue du ciel, in: Analecta Bollandiana 107 (1989), 267-284.

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Collections of Church Orders

Planned as an addendum to the famous Church Order Conspectus by our host Alistair Stewart, he let me know that he had planned the same thing! So I post this as a start and let him take or leave whatsoever appropriate for his conspectus. For the moment, I only include the collections that comprise several Church Orders.

 

Name: Apostolic Constitutions

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Greek version edited by Funk 1905 and Metzger 1985-1987; Latin fragment (VIII.41.2 till end) in Fragmentum Veronese LI (49), ed. Turner/Spagnolo 1911-1912; Arabic and Ethiopic translations and adaptions of book I-VI (see Didascalia).

Comprises: book I-VI: Didascalia, VII: Didache, VIII: Peri Charismaton, adaption of Traditio Apostolica, Apostolic Canons (extant in many languages) and other material

Origin: around 380, maybe Antioch

 

Name: Verona Palimpsest LV (53)

Original language: Latin

Extant languages with principal published editions: Latin edition by Hauler 1900 and Tidner 1963.

Comprises: fragments of Didascalia, Apostolic Church Order, Traditio Apostolica

Origin: 5th century

 

Name: Aksumite Collection

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Ethiopic partially edited by Bausi 2011.

Comprises: Traditio Apostolica, material from CA VIII.

Origin: 5th/6th century

 

Name: Alexandrine Sinodos

Original language: Greek

Extant languages with principal published editions: Sahidic partially edited by Lagarde 1883, Arabic partially edited by Périer/Périer 1912, Ethiopic partially edited by Bausi 1995, Bohairic edited by Tattam 1848.

Comprises: Contents vary, principally Apostolic Church Order and Traditio Apostolica with Apostolic Canons in at least 2 versions. Although these pieces have received most scholarly attention, there is more to be found in SinAlex, s. Hanssens 1965, p. 35-36. Bausis edition comprises also Canones Clementis/Canones Petri, a version of the Canones Addaei and more. Not edited are the canons of the synods, where the pseudo-nicaean canons are to be found.

Origin: after CA, probably 5th/6th century

 

Name: Clementine Octateuch

Original language: Greek?

Extant languages with principal published editions: Syriac version translated by Nau 1912, partially edited by Lagarde 1856. Awaiting edition by Hubert Kaufhold. Arabic version only partially edited, see Riedel 1900, p. 66-74.

Comprises: Testamentum Domini, Apostolic Church Order, Traditio Apostolica and Apostolic Canons.

Origin: Syriac version translated in the late 7th century, Greek original?

 

Name: Kitab al-Huda

Original language: Syriac?

Extant languages with principal published editions: Arabic version edited by Fahed 1935.

Comprises: Pseudo-Nicaean Canons, Praedicatio Johannis Evangelistae, Canones Clementis/Canones Petri, Apostolic Canons, material from CA VIII and more.

Origin: Arabic version translated from Syriac by David anno 1059.

 

This list could be extended forever…

 

Literature:

Bausi, A. 1995: Il Sēnodos etiopico: Canoni pseudoapostolici: Canoni dopo l’Ascensione, Canoni di Simone Cananeo, Canoni apostolici, Lettera di Pietro. 2 Bde. Leiden 1995 (CSCO 552, 553, Scriptores aethiopici 101, 102).

Bausi, A. 2011: La ‘nuova’ versione etiopica della Traditio apostolica: edizione e traduzione preliminare, in: Buzi, P. / Camplani, A. (Hg.): Christianity in Egypt: Literary Production and Intellectual Trends: Studies in Honor of Tito Orlandi.Rome 2011, S. 19-69.

Fahed, P. 1935: Kitab al-huda, ou Livre de la Direction: Code Maronite du Haut Moyen Age, traduction du Syriaque en Arabe par l’evêque Maronite David, l’an 1059. Aleppo 1935.

Funk, F.X. 1905: Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum. 2 vols. Paderborn 1905.

Hanssens, J.M. 1965: La liturgie d’Hippolyte: ses documents, son titulaire, ses origines et son caractère. Rome 21965.

Hauler, E. 1900: Didascaliae Apostolorum fragmenta Veronensia Latina. Accedunt Canonum qui dicunter Apostolorum et Aegyptiorum reliquiae. Leipzig 1900.

Lagarde, P. 1856: Reliquiae Iuris Ecclesiastici Antiquissimae. Leipzig 1856.

Lagarde, P. 1883: Aegyptiaca. Göttingen 1883.

Metzger, M. 1985-1987: Les constitutions apostoliques. Introd., texte critique, trad. et notes. 3 Vols. Paris 1985-1987 (SC 320, 329, 336).

Nau, F. 1912: La didascalie des douze apôtres, trad. du syriaque pour la première fois. 2e éd. revue et augmentée de la trad. de “La Didachè des douze apôtres”, de la “Didascalie de l’apôtre Addaï et des empêchements de mariage (pseudo) apostoliques”. Paris 21912.

Périer, J. / Périer, A. 1912: Les 127 Canons des Apôtres. Texte arabe an partie inédit, publié et traduit en francais d’après les manuscrits de Paris, de Rome et de Londres. Paris 1912.

Tattam, H. 1848: The Apostolical Constitutions or Canons of the Apostles in Coptic with an English Translation. London 1848.

Tidner, E.: Didascaliae apostolorum, canonum ecclesiasticorum, traditionis apostolicae versiones Latinae. Berlin 1963 (TU 75).

Turner, C.H. / Spagnolo, A. 1911-1912: A Fragment of an Unknown Latin Version of the Apostolic Constitutions. (Book VIII 41-end: Lagarde 274. 26-281. 9.). From a MS in the Chapter Library of Verona LI foll. 139b-146a, in: JTS 13 (1911-1912), S. 492-510.

 

 

 

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The Pseudo-Nicaean Canons

The council of Nicaea undoubtedly played an immense role in the development of the Christian Church, so it is no surprise that the canons of the council were of major importance to the early canonists. Not surprisingly too, the material ascribed to Nicaea is not small, as bishops and presbyters and scribes of all sort produced pseudonymous material to strengthen their case. What comes as a surprise is the fact, that most of it is not transmitted in Greek, but only in Coptic, Syriac or Arabic.

Stewart has produced a critical edition and translation of one of these documents, the Sententia Nicaea. (A.C. Stewart: The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea. Critical text with transl., introd. and comm. Piscataway 2015) Other than their transmission, they have nothing to do with Nicaea at all, as far as I know.

Another set of material runs danger of being confused with the Sententia, namely “die arabischen Kanones des Nicaenums”, or, as I would name them, the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons.

The Arabic material is found in the canonical collection of Macarius (14th century), s. Riedel 1900, p. 121 ss., in which the Nicaean material is grouped into 4 books. The second book consists of these 84 Arabic canons, which were translated into Latin by Echellensis as the eorundem sanctorum patrum 318 sanctiones et decreta, published in Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collection, 1759, vol. 2, p. 981-1010. As mentioned in the previous post, a recension of it found its way into the Kitab al-Huda. This Arabic version was for a long time the only known version, hence the common name. Other than the shortened version of the Kitab al-Huda, there is no edition or modern translation.

More recent investigations pointed to the existence of the Syriac set of Pseudo-Nicaean Canons. They are linked to the name of Bishop Maruta of Maipherkat (4th/5th century), who supposedly translated the original Greek material into Syriac. The origin of the Pseudo-Nicaean Canons remains a mystery, though, and I feel more comfortable with Vööbus’ thesis of a grown tradition or living literature, that has its roots with Maruta and the early 5th century. I also cite Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. I, p. 588:

“Sicher waren die in Frage stehenden falschen Kanones von Nizäa schon vor 489 von der Kirche in Persien rezipiert, da eine so klare Anerkennung des römischen Primates, wie er in Kan. 2 (bei Maruta) ausgesprochen ist, nach der endgültigen Scheidung zwischen Römern (Griechen) und Persern nicht mehr denkbar ist. Die Geltung einzelner Kanones ist aber schon früher bezeugt…”

The Syriac version is edited and translated by A. Vööbus: The canons ascribed to Mārūtā of Maipherqaṭ and related sources. Louvain 1982 (CSCO 439-440), and translated into German by O. Braun: De sancta Nicaena synodo: syrische Texte des Maruta von Maipherkat, nach einer Handschrift der Propaganda zu Rom. Münster 1898.

Note that there are significant differences between the Arabic and the Syriac recensions, not only in the number of canons (84 in the Arabic, 73 in the Syriac) and the order of the material, but also in content. Depending from the Arabic set, there is again an Ethiopic version as part of the Senodos, ed. and transl. by P. Maurus a Leonessa: La versione etiopica dei canoni apocrifi del concilio di nicea secondo i codici vaticani ed il fiorentino, in: Rassegna di studi etiopici 2 (1942), p. 29-89. There is no comparative study of the different recensions, as far as I know, but see also:

  • F. Haase, Altchristliche Kirchengescihchte nach orientalischen Quellen, Leipzig 1925, p. 247-276.
  • Hefele/Leclercq, Histoire des conciles, vol. 1, p. 1139-1176, 1203-1221.
  • G. Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, vol. 1, p. 586-593.

So, are these Canons a Church Order?

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Kitab al-Huda & the canons of John the Evangelist

In our most recent discussion, we had mentioned the Arabic Kitab al-Huda and a homily by John euphorically called a new church order. On the basis of Graf, Der maronitische Nomokanon “Buch der rechten Leitung” in Or.Chr. 33 (1936), 212-232 and Kaufhold, Sources of Canon Law in the Eastern Churches, in: Hartmann, W. / Pennington, K. (ed.):  The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500. Washington 2012, 256-259, I can report some more:

Stewart already summarized: the Kitab al-Huda is a maronite canonical collection, presumably translated by the Maronite bishop David. Critical edition by Pierre Fahed, Kitab al-Huda ou livre de la direction: code Maronite du haut moyen age (Aleppo: Imp. Maronite, 1935).

Now, Graf (and Riedel 1900, 146-148) gives a summary of the content: §1-13 are a “in sich geschlossenes” “Lehr- und Moralbuch”, §14-57 are a collection of canonical texts. For our purpose, the parts of the latter are more interesting. So:

  1. §14-22 are the pseudo-nicaean canons, known in its Latin translation in Mansi 1759, vol. II, 981-1010 (eorundem sanctorum partum 318 sanctiones et decreta), and also known in a similar Syriac version. I plan to post on them separately soon.
  2. §24 is a “Kanon des Cyrillus, Bischof von Jerusalem”, on baptism and marriage, “unbekannt”.
  3. §26 is our “Kanon des Evangelisten Johannes”, which Graf declares with certainty as of “byzantinischer Herkunft” (p. 222): “Er behandelt vor allem die Rechte und Pflichten der verschiedenen ordines, zunächst des höheren Klerus vom Periodeuten aufwärts bis zum Patriarchen, dann des niederen Klerus und das Verhältnis der einzelnen Grade zueinander. Andere Bestimmungen bestreffen das kanonische Gebet, die Sonntagsheiligung, das Verbot des commercium nuptiale an Sonn- und Festtagen, widernatürlicher Unzucht und die dafür auferlegten Bussen. Da im Anschluss an das Patriarchat auch die Machtbefugnisse und Ehrenrechte des Königs zur Sprache kommen (…), ist die byzantinische Herkunft des Kanons sicher.”
  4. §27 is the second “Kanon des Evangelisten Johannes”. An extra note in the Ms indicates that this was translated from the Syriac. Graf speculates whether this piece is identical with the kephalaia of John in the Melchite collection of Josephus of Alexandria (Riedel 1900, p. 139, Nr. 31). The Syriac version is the one that Kaufhold refered to in his article of 2005 (see previous post).
  5. §30-35 are the Canons of Clement, which Stewart treated in his previous post. Again Graf opines for a Greek origin.
  6. §36 are the well-known Canons of the Apostles.
  7. §37-45 are an excerpt of book VIII of the apostolic Constitutions, the so-called Canons of Simon. They circulated independently in many of the canonical collections.
  8. after the conciliar canons follows in §56-57 an Arabic recension of the Syro-Roman Lawbook.

The Kitab al-Huda is therefore an impressive and fascinating canonical collection which to some extent was translated from earlier Syriac texts (like §27), to some extent compiled from Arabic sources, and after all given a coherent form by the redactor. There are “redaktionelle Eingriffe”, for example in §14-22. But the collection is nevertheless important for the transmission of the lesser known church orders, and so I would welcome any modern translation of it for further study.

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Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft

I’m honored to be invited to speak at the upcoming Patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft in the Netherlands, January 2nd-5th. I will be able to present some insights into my recent dissertation on Slavery in Early Christianity.

In particular, I will speak about the attendance of slaves at Christian congregations and meals (be it agape, Eucharist or funeral meals). Considering that there are barely any sources that mention slaves, we should ask whether they were really part of the Christian cult life.

What do we make of the anonymous Vita Polycarpi §26, that mentions slaves assisting the προσφορά of Polycarp when he was εὐχαριστῶν? If there are other sources directly mentioning slaves or giving hints, please don’t hesitate to comment and indicate them.

Please note, too, that Dr. Stewart will be speaking as well, on “Group Therapy and the Construction of Text and Community in the Church Order Tradition”.

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Church Order Conspectus – matter of definition

After having been added as co-author on the blog, I’d like to reply once more on the matter of defining the church order tradition, and in regards to Stewarts conspectus (see post of January 6th 2016), on which texts we could include in the list and which not.

In my dissertation, I analyze the emergence of the church orders in the context of Church history from its beginning to the early 4th century. I’ll therefore exclude here the Church Orders from the 4th to 5th centuries. I start with the premise that the texts we normally regard as Church Orders (Didache, Traditio Apostolica, Didascalia, Apostolic Church Order) share some features with regards to content. Building on Stewarts working definition, I’d propose five features:

First, the lack of a central authority in the emerging Church. Especially after the death of the Apostles, the communities were in need of a broadly accepted authority, even more so when problems went beyond singular communities or house churches. The authors present themselves as such authorities and their texts as binding for everybody.

Second, the apostolic claim and the pseudonymity. It is clearly a sign that the anonymous authors lacked authority or that they hoped to give their texts more persuasive force this way. It also originates from the fragmentation of the early church in different house communities or schools and the fact that ancient schools tended to construct some kind of lineage.

Third, questions of authority. It is apparent that Church Orders were written in contest with other Christian authorities or leaders, e.g. prophets, patrons, widows. The texts therefore deal with hierarchy and offices to regulate Church life.

Fourth, the process of canonization, which of course is complex, but most of the early Christian texts deal with the question, what is truly Christian? It leads to the formation of a canon and simultaneously, to the construction of heresy and orthodoxy. Most Christian texts deal with integration and demarcation of other doctrines or schools. So do the Church Orders, when they treat heretic literature, false teaching etc.

Fifth, problem-oriented. This is central to my argument. These texts were written to address concrete problems and questions in Christian communities, and therefore, we deal with texts written by Christians for Christians.

It is symptomatic that many modern scholars try to define the Church order tradition but fail to do so. I’m not happy neither! Steimer, Mueller, Metzger and others, in the end, always recur to the content: the attempt to “direct the conduct of Christians and of the church”. What I’d like to propose is that we should see the Church Orders in their early Christian context, and this links them to other Christian texts. There are many more texts that share all or most of the above-mentioned features. (Certainly, not all features are equally present in all texts.) And crucially, I think, some texts are not essentially different from the Church Orders, but are sometimes not called so.

We already named the Pastorals, which are in my opinion a fictional trilogy clearly with Church Order character. I’d propose the letters by the Apostolic fathers in general, although there is more differentiation necessary (we dealt with 1 Clement, but see Alexandre Faivre for reflections on other letters). But what with deutero-Pauline letters like Ephesians, Colossians, the Johannine letters?

Stewart argues that these letters were written only to one community and not to the whole Church. But then, letters were expected to be read out aloud, to circulate in a town, or sometimes to be sent on to other cities and communities (like other letters were written to be publicized, e.g. Pliny, Seneca). What is important in my opinion is that letters were clearly problem-oriented and dealt with actual questions.

The recourse to the apostolic authority is a good point too in my opinion. But where do we find it more explicit than in the deutero-Pauline letters?

Enough for now, I await vigorous opposition.

daniel vaucher

 

 

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