Category Archives: Other church order literature

Sex and menstruation in the Didascalia

An interesting conversation today with Sarah Whitear, a graduate student at Leuven who is working on attitudes to menstruation in early Christian circles.

We discussed the passage of the Gnomai regarding Mary’s amenorrhoea (6.1, stating that due to her purity (ἁγνεία) “the way of women was not with her.”) Since editing the text (I referred to Soranus Gyn. 1.4.19-23 in which he suggests that particularly active women (such as those preparing for singing contests) do not menstruate because there is no excess nutrition which needs to be diverted into menses) I have thought further about this; my medical knowledge is limited, but I understand that secondary amenorrhoea may result from malnutrition and in particular protein deficiency. One therefore wonders, given the extremity of asceticism undergone in some circles, whether such secondary amenorrhoea was actually common among female ascetics, and the description of Mary thus typical of female ascetics known to the redactor. We also compared this statement to that of the Protoevangelium Jacobi in which Mary is removed from the temple prior to beginning menstruation.

However, the greater part of our conversation was taken up with an intriguing passage in the Didascalia: I translated, back in the day as “Therefore you should not go to your wives when they are undergoing natural flux, but hold to them…” (DA 6.22.6)

My version was fundamentally based on the Latin: Nolite convenire illis sed sustinete eas.

On this I wrote:

‘You should not go to’ is absent in Syr. which reads instead ‘And when they (your wives) are in their natural flux you should hold to them (ܢܩܦܝܢ) in the manner which is right…’ Flemming in Achelis and Flemming (1904), 223, suggests some accidental omission on the part of the Syriac translator and Vööbus (1979b), 244, similarly opines that Lat. is closer to the original and that accidental omission has occurred. However, although the suggestion of Flemming and Vööbus is followed here there is much to be said for Connolly’s assertion (1929), 255, that Syr. is ‘more in the spirit of the author’. Although CA tends to support Lat. there is little verbal correspondence, thus supporting Connolly’s suggestion that Lat. and CA are independent ‘improvements’ of the original.

I remember puzzling over this when I was translating all those years ago, so was glad to be called back to it. In general I think my footnote is fair, though perhaps I give too much air-time to Connolly. What I did not write at the time, but may now say, as I said to Ms Whitear, is that Connolly probably didn’t know what he was talking about, since he was a monk! Ms Whitear, very perceptively, pointed out that we should probably not take CA into account, as it really goes off piste here. I am convinced, having re-examined the passage. And so we are left with Latin and Syriac with no help from CA which has “improved” the original so as to obliterate it entirely.

My common sense reading of Latin is that men are being told to be good and understanding husbands while their wives are having periods, and not to attempt to have sex with them. Ms Whitear said that this was what she was thinking, so we were in fundamental agreement. The combination of common sense and the witness of the Latin indicates that this is probably the correct understanding.

The Syriac is less common-sensical, particularly if it is telling husbands to have sex with their wives while they are menstruating. However, Ms Whitear, very properly, pointed out that whereas Connolly, and many since, have taken ܢܩܦܝܢ to mean sexual congress this is by no means the most obvious meaning for the verb. We thus spent some time wondering what Greek Vorlage might have led to ܢܩܦܝܢ in Syriac and sustenere in Latin. One candidate was ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι. This remains possible, as does (I now think) ὑπολαμβάνεσθαι. In other words we discounted the first part of the phrase, (nolite convenire in Latin) assuming it to have been omitted by the Syriac through some form of corruption.

Since then it has dawned on me, since the Syriac is probably corrupt (or taken from a corrupt Greek text), that ܢܩܦܝܢ might actually represent the word rendered in Latin as convenire. This might be συνεῖναι, which might indeed have a sexual connotation (though not exclusively so).

Here we enter the muddy waters of retroversion. If the Vorlage began: οὔκ οῦν δεῖ ὑμῖν συνεῖναι ταῖς γυναιξὶ ὑμῶν… it might have been corrupted to, or misread as, οὐκοῦν δεῖ ὑμῖν συνεῖναι ταῖς γυναιξὶ ὑμῶν… The phrase rendered as “sed sustinete eas” is missing, perhaps as a result of earlier misunderstanding.

I am not being dogmatic here. There is some corruption, and the meaning certainly is that men should not have sex with their menstruating wives, and that they should be loving and faithful husbands. The Latin is correct (I do have great confidence in the Verona Latin as an early text and careful, if painfully literal, translation.) Quite how the Syriac ended up as it did I know not. One of the two clauses is absent; the question is that of which.

Comments, corrections, and observations are welcome!



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Coming soon!


by | February 17, 2023 · 10:12 pm

Oh deer! Some rambling thoughts on Christian animal sacrifice

In a conversation about something else Euthymios Rizos drew my attention to a Vita of St Athenogenes. I have now had the opportunity to read this in the edition of Pierre Maraval, La Passion inédite de S. Athénogène de Pédachthoé en Cappadoce (BHG 197b) (Brussels: Bollandistes, 1990).

What struck me most was the account of Athenogenes’ meeting a deer which he had raised; the saint promises that the deer will not be taken by hunters, but that its offspring will be offered to the glory of God each year. Subsequently we hear that a fawn is presented by its mother each year for sacrifice and consumption at the feast of the martyrs.

However, perhaps I should not be surprised; for all that we hear constantly of the cessation of animal sacrifice in Christianity (early Christians, as well as wearing open-toed sandals, being vegetarians and perhaps, UK readers will suspect, Guardian readers) the practice continued, particularly in Armenia, and continues still (see here for instance.) The surprise is that (as Andrew McGowan pointed out to me) the sacrifice should be of a deer, generally a wild animal. Canons attributed to Basil prohibit the offering of a hunted animal (see on these Fred C. Conybeare, “The Survival of Animal Sacrifices inside the Christian Church” American Journal of Theology 7 (1903), 62-90, at 79-80). But perhaps the point is that the deer on this occasion is not hunted, but is willingly offered by itself (thus I am unsure of the connection to a sacred hunt made by Franz Cumont, “L’ archevêché de Pédachtoé et le sacrifice du faon” Byzantion 6 (1931), 521-533.) However, we may also note that deer were reportedly offered by Justinian at the dedication of Hagia Sophia (at least according to a later account, on which see Kateryna Kovalchuk, “The Encaenia of St Sophia: Animal Sacrifice in a Christian Context” Scrinium 4 (2008), 161-203.)

We are frequently told that the eucharist, by becoming ritualized and by delivering food in token amounts, has lost its significance, and that it should once again take on the aspect of a meal. I do not cite extensively here, as the theme is surely familiar to all my readers, though I cannot resist referring to one contribution which suggests that, in rejection of the industrial meat-economy, the eucharist should be rediscovered as a “real vegetarian meal, and not just a token meal.” (Michael S. Northcott, “Eucharistic eating, and why many early Christians preferred fish” in Rachel Muers and David Grummet (ed.), Eating and believing: interdisciplinary perspectives on vegetarianism and theology (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 232-246, here at 243-244.) This essay exhibits such an astounding level of ignorance regarding both the early Christian eucharist and the pastoral reality of parishes that it comes as no surprise to learn that the contributor is a professor of practical theology.

In this spirit I wonder whether I might start slaughtering animals at the church door during our parish mass; such has been considered seriously elsewhere (see here and here) but I think I will leave this to the Armenians (and to other cultures still familiar with acts of slaughtering) and allow the meal-logic which is already implicit in the mass we celebrate to speak for itself. This, after all, is why we keep a eucharistic fast, as Traditio apostolica 36 already reminds us. In its original context this provision intended that the eucharistic food should be consumed first in the meal; but who would eat a meal before going for a meal?

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The Canons of Cyril of Jerusalem from the Kitāb al-Hudā

As Paul Bradshaw has observed several times, the church orders tend to survive in churches on the margins. Significantly they are also found, frequently, in collections of canon law from these marginal churches, among other more “canonical” material. Notes on some of these, which contain church order material, may be found in the conspectus below, and in Daniel Vaucher’s post on the Kitāb al-Hudā.

In thinking about this material recently I come to realize that another peculiarity about these collections and their contents is the continued production of pseudonymous canonical and liturgical material. Thus in the Kitāb al-Hudā we find canons attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. Graf (GCAL 1, 335-337) lists three pages of Cyrilline pseudepigrapha in Arabic, including this. I present a somewhat provisional translation; what is good in it is largely due to the efforts of others (who have requested anonymity). In spite of the uncertainties and frequent lack of clarity, given that these canons are not otherwise extant and have never been translated, I thought it worth making this public. However, I cannot stress too much that there is a great deal of obscurity here, and that on occasion this rendition is little better than guesswork. My sole excuse is that this a first journey into terra incognita without any navigational tools.

The opening line has a striking resemblance to one of the canons among the the otherwise unidentified “A little of the canons of the apostles and the fathers, through which the church of Christ is truly united” which is found in the collection of canonical material in the E recension of the Didascalia apostolorum (see pp 274-275 of my version). Thus compare: Canon 17 of these: “Nor should a presbyter baptize his bodily child, unless death should threaten the child and no other presbyter is there to baptize him” with the opening line of these canons. This is the only direct parallel but the preoccupations of the documents seem largely the same. There is thus a similar concern with who may marry whom, though the concern here is that baptism creates a familial relationship which might put persons unrelated by blood into a familial relationship (water being as thick as blood!) Vööbus (CSCO 402, 42) suggests that the source of the canons found in the Didascalia is the Canons of an otherwise unknown Johanan found in the West Syrian Synodicon, but although the concerns are again similar, there is no evident literary relationship. The three share a milieu, but little else.

Frankly, this material raises as many questions as it does answers, not the least of which being those of date and provenance. All I can say on this is that it is of a date and provenance entirely out of my field of expertise!

The translation is derived from the text of Pierre Fahed, Kitāb al-Hudā ou livre de la direction (Aleppo: Imp. Maronite, 1935), 216-219.

The canons of Cyril of Jerusalem concerning baptism and marriage in the radiant faith

It is not permitted that a presbyter should baptize his son if another priest may be found, except in case of necessity. In case of necessity this is allowable to him. But he abstains from sexual intercourse for forty days. It is likewise not allowed to accept the baptism of the sons of his brothers, or an aunt’s child, or an uncle’s child, or a maternal aunt’s child, or a grandmother’s child. It is not permissible for them to accept baptism for any children of these at all.

A deacon is not permitted to anoint his son with oil. A deacon other than he is to take him down to the baptism and bring him up from it. To him it is not permissible.

It is not permissible at all that a priest should be kissed by a layman; nor should he kiss his son.1 And if he does this he is to separate from his wife for ever, and he is not permitted to take another, and if he marries he is banned from the sacrifice for the period of his life, and so it is for a woman, as for a man.

And if two men receive baptism it is not permitted that either should marry the other’s sister, or his daughter, or his mother, or his daughter’s daughter, nor his son’s daughter, or his sister’s daughter, or his paternal uncle’s daughter, nor his maternal uncle’s daughter, nor his maternal aunt’s daughter, nor the daughter of a half brother2 before the baptism. Even if she was born after the baptism it is not allowed, or even if this is agreed among them prior to the baptism. This is permissible for them if they are unrelated, but if they are for four generations then this is not permissible to them. And if their parents had children, male or female, and they wish to marry them to each other it is permissible for them to do so. This is no crime for them. And if there are sons to the father, or children to the mother,3 then they are not to construct a marriage between their children, or their children’s children at all, nor any of their family line, because baptism has brought about a comprehensive lineage. It is not permissible for that is an offence to Almighty God.

It is not permissible for a woman to kiss a man, or for a man to kiss a female.4 It is not permissible for a man and a woman to receive baptism at the same time, since if they die and they had done this then it is not permissible for their children or their children’s children to marry each other.

And it is not permitted for a deacon to marry a widow, even if she is abandoned. And for a presbyter, even if he is a young man and his wife has died, it is not permitted that he should marry another. And if he marries he commits fornication, and a fornicator does not serve at the altar of God, because he has preferred marriage to the priestly priesthood. Likewise the priestly class is not to marry a widow, even if they were married to priests and are bar adta (children of the church.) Both the presbyterate and the diaconate; and the orders below them, it is not permissible that they be given the priesthood except after they are married.

If they stipulated to themselves5 that they would be steadfast in virginity and purity this is excellent. Whoever breaches his undertaking and gets married after accepting the prayer of ordination should be rejected, because he has violated the covenant of God Almighty and his promise. And God, blessed be his name, will set him afar off and he will not attend the sacred mystery at all.

The deacons and those who are beneath them in their degrees, the sub-deacons (transliterated) and readers and psalmists, let them be received into the order of priesthood a year after their marriage. And if they do not desire marriage and they have a good reputation, and they stipulated concerning themselves to God that they are not to be married, then that is excellent. Yet if they go on to get married they are not to serve at the altar of almighty God. Anyone who has ascended any of the priestly ranks is not permitted to marry two women. Anyone who goes on this way is not to serve the altar of almighty God, such is not permitted by this decree, and so should be removed and rejected, because he has disobeyed, and fallen under judgement because he is like a fornicator, and it will not be forgiven him. It is not permitted that somebody who has committed this sin should appear in his place before the altar at all, because he has preferred marriage to the discipline of Christ. For this reason he is banished from the holy camp, to take his place in this world. If a priest marries a third time, then his face should be spat upon, and he should burn in the fire. And his priestly clothing, and his crown should be removed and he should be prohibited from the sacrifice for the span of his life. And this decree is for the diaconate and the priesthood: whoever has donned the crown of the Lord, and those who are beneath them, like readers and psalmists and ܘܕܝܘܢܐ ܘܪܣܡܐ.6

They shall distribute the body at the gate of the holy house and they shall not approach the altar at all. And to a laymen likewise they should not distribute the body from the altar, even if they are honoured patrons, but they shall distribute the sacrifice to him outside the door.

Such are the canons.

1Reading the verb qbl as a form II and accepting that there is a double object (as found often in Syriac texts). Otherwise the sentence might be construed: “It is not permissible for a priest to receive it, a layman will not kiss his son.” This does not make much sense to me. But even this version has its problems!

2Literally “nor the daughter of a companion in birth”. Taken here to mean a half brother through a different father.

3Taken as meaning stepchildren.

4Again reading qbl as a form II. Cf. Traditio apostolica 18.4.

5Literally “to their souls”.

6I can make nothing of these two Syriac words! My understanding is that the karshuni MSS were derived from MSS in Arabic script, and possibly by scribes with no knowledge of Syriac. The scope for confusion is thus extensive. Note that the previous words, readers and psalmists, are also found in Syriac here.

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Disappointed again

vatsirbitLooking for bibliography on the Canones Hippolyti I came across Assemani (Codices chaldaici sive syriaci Vaticani Assemaniani, p37) who gives, among the contents of a Vatican MS, Constitutiones eorumdem (ie the apostles) per Hippolytum. The MS may be seen at (thanks to the Vatican Library.) For a moment I had visions of discovering a Syriac version of Canones Hippolyti! There indeed, in the heading, as may be seen above, it reads ܛܘܟܣܐ ܕܫܠܝܚܐ ܒܝܕ ܐܝܦܘܠܝܛܘܣ.

Rather like unwrapping Christmas presents, the excitement did not last. The contents had a certain familiarity at first sight, and the recesses of my somewhat fevered mind recognized what it was fairly speedily.

The denouement was not long delayed, as the first giveaway is in what follows the title: ܕܫܡܥܘܢ .ܟܢܢܝܐ ܡܛܠ ܩܢܘܢܐ ܥܕܬܝܐ If my readers are as learned as I suspect they are, they would recognize from the appearance of the name of Simon the Canaanite either Apostolic Constitutions 8.38, or the opening of the sixth book of the Clementine Octateuch, the diataxis. Material from this diataxis, which is a rehash of parts of Book 8 of Apostolic Constitutions, appears, we may recollect, in the “E” recension of Didascalia apostolorum.

There are some variations, on first glance, between the ms and the textus receptus of the diataxis in the Octateuch, which no doubt are interesting, and may provide a topic for research by somebody with more time and patience than I. It’s certainly not as much fun as finding a Syriac version of the Canones, which are otherwise extant only in Arabic, based on Coptic. Still.

Also of interest is the attribution of this diataxis to Hippolytus. I am reminded of Allen Brent’s comment, somewhere in the vast tome which is Hippolytus and the Roman church in the third century, that the name in time became a cipher for tradition. Again, a curious byway, but one which I will have to leave unexplored.

O Sapientia,.. ueni ad docendum nos uiam prudentiae!


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More on the Coptic Canons of Basil

In previous posts I have mentioned the discovery of a Coptic version of the Canons of Basil. This is being edited by Alberto Camplani and Federico Contardi.

The most recent update from the editors is in their essay “Remarks on the textual contribution of the Coptic codices preserving the Canons of Saint Basil with edition of the ordination rite for the bishop (canon 16)” in Francesca P. Barone et al. (ed.), Philologie, herméneutique et histoire des textes entre orient et occident: mélanges en hommage à Sever J. Voicu Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), 139-159.

From this we learn that the Coptic provides a rather more extensive literary frame than the Arabic, and some additional canonical material, though there is also material in the Arabic not found in the new Coptic version. Church order literature continues, it is clear, to be “living literature” in its Nachleben. The authors, moreover, suggest that a Syrian provenance is possible, and a date in the sixth century.

Finally we are provided with a preliminary edition of canon 16, the ordination of a bishop, based on the new manuscript, though with fragments from the Turin papyri now placed in context. The ordination is not without consent of the metropolitan (ⲡⲉⲡⲓⲥⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲛ̄ⲧⲙⲏⲉⲧⲣⲟⲡⲟⲗⲓⲥ); subsequently in the canon a chief bishop (ⲡⲛⲟϭ ⲛ̄ⲉⲡⲓⲥⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ) appears, though we cannot be entirely assured that these are the same person. Ordination is through the holding of a book of the Gospels over the candidate, with an ordination prayer, followed by a laying on of a hand by the principal bishop, followed by the other bishops, and a greeting and insufflation by the chief bishop, followed by greetings from the other clergy and people.

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Cyprian of Antioch and Magic in the Church Orders

Magic and divination were an integral part of ancient society. Even after the rise of Christianity, the luring power of diviners, sorcerers, astrologers and the like were felt in cities around the Mediterranean. Magic (to use a not unproblematic umbrella term) was strongly linked to idolatry, in Christian perspective anyway. No surprise bishops and other Christian teachers were fighting against its influence. The Church Orders forbid the practice of magic from its beginning. The author of the Didache writes (2.2): “you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft”, and the author of the Traditio Apostolica requires that practitioners of magic stop it in order to be taught. (16: “A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreams, or a charlatan, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected.”) The latter text was incorporated in the Apostolic Constitutions, written towards the end of the 4th century, probably in Antioch.

When I looked through the Christian literature of that time, I came across an interesting legend which seems to preach exactly that same claim. The “conversion of Cyprian” (probably early 4th century) tells the story of Justina, a Christian virgin who is hassled by a man who fell in love with her. The lover is rejected again and again, until he takes the services of a magician, Cyprian of Antioch. The magician summons several demons in order to seduce the virgin, unsuccessfully. The prayers and the sign of the cross drive them off. When Cyprian recognizes the power of Christ and the church, he burns his magic books publicly and converts to Christianity.

Now is that story not the true propaganda for what bishops and Church Orders commonly demanded? Cyprian ceases his business, advertised by the destruction of his idols and the burning of the books (cf. Acts 19.19), in order to be granted accession, and baptism. Cyprian later becomes bishop, martyr, and saint, until the Catholic Church renounces his holy status in the 20th century…

The legend is tripartite. The “conversion” is most probably the earliest version of the legend (based inter alia on the story of Thecla and the magician in Lucians Philopseudes). Then comes the “confession”, a first-person narrative of Cyprians youth and infamous deeds as magician and his pact with the devil. The third part is the “martyrium”, it is of later date, but linked more to the conversion than to the confession.

Among the many differences between the conversion and the confession, the picture of the devil in the confession is the most striking to me (5.6): “His form was like a golden flower adorned with precious stones, and he crowned his head with stones that were twined together – the energies of which illuminated that plain, and his garment was no different – and when he enwreathed himself, he shook the land. Great indeed was the display around his throne of different ranks which laid down their forms and energies in subordination to him.” (trans. Bailey). And when Cyprian revolts against Satan, after having learned the true Christian power, the devil attacks him (corporeally) and almost kills him in an epic struggle. Only with the sign of the cross, Cyprian manages to free himself.

What I wonder is whether this description of the devil, his absolute corporeal form and the brawl with Cyprian is as original as the “confessions” imagination of the pact with the devil. I have not found any other instances of such “fights with the devil” in early Christian literature. Or is the scene interpolated and of a later date?



Theodor Zahn, Cyprian von Antiochien und die deutsche Faustsage. Erlangen 1882.

Ludwig Radermacher, Griechische Quellen zur Faustsage: der Zauberer Cyprianus, die Erzählung des Helladius, Theophilus. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 4, 1927.

Ryan Bailey, The confession of Cyprian of Antioch: introduction, text, and translation. Montreal 2009.


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A sixteenth century citation of the Ethiopic Didascalia

ludolfIn debate with Roman Catholic missionaries in the sixteenth century, Gälawdewos (Claudius) emperor of Ethiopia, defends practices in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity which were seen as Judaizing.

One point of contention was the Ethiopian observation of the Sabbath. He states that it is not kept in the Jewish manner, but that they “honour it by offering up on it the sacrifice (ቍርባን) and perform on it the supper (ምሳሐ) as our fathers, the Apostles, have commanded us in the Didascalia (በዲድስቅልያ).”

Solomon Gebreyes, “The Confession of King Gälawdewos (1540–1559): a 16th century-Ethiopia monophysite document against Jesuit proselytism” JAHPS 3 (2016), 1-18, at p5, gives a reference to Harden’s Didascalia pp178-179, which is a version of CA 7.36, the “synagogal” prayers which are found in that text. This does not seem likely. More probable is the Ethiopic Didascalia version of CA 2.59 (cited here following Harden with some readings from Platt’s text, which seem to fit the citation more neatly):

Admonish, then, O bishop, thy people, and bid them come to the church day and night, and never absent themselves from it, that the congregation therein be not diminished, for they are members of Christ. And we say this not concerning the priests alone, but concerning all the people, that each one may understand the word of the Lord. For our Lord saith, “But he that is not with me is mine adversary, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” Be not slothful, then, for ye are members of Christ; separate not yourselves from His Body and His Blood; nor choose the cares of this world before the commandments of God. Gather yourselves together in the church in the evening and in the morning; glorify God, and sing, and read the Psalms of David, the sixty-second, and the hundred and fortieth as well. And especially on the Sabbath of the Jews and on the first day, the Christian Sabbath, which is (the day of) His holy resurrection, offer praise and thanksgiving and honour to God, who created all things by His Son Jesus Christ, whom He sent unto us; who was well pleased to suffer according to His will, and was buried in the earth, and rose again from the dead. But if ye come not to the church, what excuse, or what answer will ye make to God? For on this day, the Christian Sabbath, we ought to hear the preaching of His holy resurrection, and remember His sufferings, and make remembrance of Him, and read the Scriptures of the prophets, and the Gospel; and (celebrate) the eucharist, the sacrifice of the oblation, (our) spiritual food.

What is most interesting is to find a church order cited as authoritative in the sixteenth century.

The picture, incidentally, is the relevant page of Ludolfus (Hiob Ludolf) Ad suam historiam Aethiopicam commentarius, which is where I initially found the reference. For those unfamiliar with this work, it is worth recording that it contains the first western publication of Apostolic church order, in Ethiopic. A Greek text did not appear for another 150 years.

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The church orders at the 2019 Oxford patristic conference

The Oxford patristics conference takes place this August.

A quick read of the programme reveals the following papers on the church orders.

Clayton Jefford. Why Are There No Manuscripts of the Ancient Didache?

Abstract: While scholars speak of the Didache’s origins and evolution with seeming confidence based on the eleventh-century text of H54, no complete parallel to the tradition appears prior to the late fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions Book 7. Several researchers have attempted with various degrees of success to illustrate knowledge of the Didache among early patristic sources, notably E. von der Goltz (1905) for Athanasius, J.A. Robinson (1920) and F.R.M. Hitchcock (1923) for Clement of Alexandria, M.A. Smith (1966) for Justin Martyr, C.N. Jefford (1995) for Ignatius of Antioch, etc., yet evidence for the entirety of the text remains elusive. This essay surveys several such attempts and concludes with the suggestion that the reason no manuscripts of the entire text are available is because there were never any to be found. While portions of the tradition certainly were known and circulated among ancient Christian (and likely Jewish) authors, no complete version of what is now associated with the witness of H54 was available.

Tom O’Loughlin. The Didache and Diversity of Eucharistic Practice in the Churches: the Value of Luke 22:17-20 as Evidence

Abstract: The sequence of blessings found in the Didache (cup followed by loaf) has long been seen as a significant deviation from what has been seen (based on later accepted practice) as the normative sequence of loaf followed by cup (as found in Paul [1 Cor 11:24-5], Mark, and Matthew). However, if we see ‘the longer form’ of Luke 22:17-20 (cup, loaf, cup) as a conflation of two text relating to two different practices – where the text of Luke was a ‘living text’ which varied with the practice of the church in which it was being used – then we have evidence (in the shorter variants of Luke) for a range of churches which at one time used the sequence found in the Didache of cup followed by loaf. From the original diversity as seen in the Didache and Paul (see 1 Cor 10:16-7 and 21-2) there came in time a uniformity. The Didache preserves a fossil of this earlier period, Paul’s acquaintance with this diversity dropped out of sight in that I Cor 10 was read in terms of 1 Cor 11, while the Lukan text that became the standard form preserved both readings (reflecting both practices) by conflation ‘lest anything be lost.’ That this conflated text was seen as a problematic can be seen in the reaction of Eusebius of Caesarea, while we should concentrate attention afresh on the ‘shorter texts’ as these point to forgotten practices.

Pauliina Pylvänäinen. Agents in Liturgy, Charity and Communication. The Function of Deaconesses in the Apostolic Constitutions

Abstract: The reinterpretation of deacons and diakonia challenges us to consider the function of deaconesses in the Apostolic Constitutions. The Apostolic Constitutions is a church order that originated in Antioch and was completed in AD 380. The tasks of deaconesses in the document can be divided into three categories: Firstly, duties that are linked to the liturgy in the congregation are assigned to the deaconesses by the compiler. They guard the doors of the church building, find places for women who need them and are present when the women approach the altar during the Eucharist. When a woman is being baptized, a deaconess assists the bishop during the rite. The document also consists two analogies which describe the liturgical function of the deaconesses: They function in the places of the Levites as well as the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the deaconesses have tasks that traditionally have been defined as charitable service. Since the concept of deacon has been reinterpreted, tasks have to be evaluated as to whether they include charitable connotations or not. My analysis shows that the deaconesses are sent to visit the homes of women. The visits include, for instance, almsgiving, and hence belong to the field of charity by nature. In some cases the tasks of healing and travelling also seem to have charitable connotations. However, alongside these tasks, the deaconesses also have a task that is neither mainly liturgical nor charitable. As messengers, they play a role in the communications of the congregation.

Finally, although the text discussed here is not actually a church order (see posts below), particular note may be taken of:

Svenja Ella Luise Sasse. The Preliminary Edition of the Greek Didaskalia of Jesus Christ

Abstract: The Greek Didaskalia of Jesus Christ, a rather unknown apocryphal text probably written in the sixth century, is composed as a conversation between the risen Christ and the Twelve Apostles: Because they are concerned about the transgressions of man and wonder how forgiveness can be obtained, the Apostles ask Christ who gives them further instructions for a God pleasing life. Among other subjects the dialogue also refers to the Christian Sunday observation as an essential topic. Besides instructions for an appropriate behavior on Sundays, this day even appears as a personification together with angels and heavenly powers in the Hereafter. The personification of the Sunday bears testimony for the soul which had fastened on Wednesday and Friday and had observed Sunday correctly. Thus, the Sunday undergoes a salvation-historical emphasis. Together with the Letter from Heaven the Didaskalia can therefore be regarded as a fruitful and important apocryphal source concerning the development of Sunday veneration. A critical edition of its text has already been published by François Nau in 1907. As his edition is only based on two manuscripts while ten manuscripts are meanwhile available, a preparation of a new critical edition has become necessary which is part of the broader project The Apocryphal Sunday at Vienna University directed by Prof. Dr. Uta Heil. The talk will give an impression of the present working results concerning the preliminary edition of the Didaskalia.

Note, in passing, that the speaker also refers to our Letter from Heaven, discussed by Daniel Vaucher. Unfortunately this paper is being given at the same time that Jefford is speaking on the Didache.

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Die Sakramentsgemeinschaft in der alten Kirche

Clipboard01Newly published is L.H. Westra, L. Zwollo, Die Sakramentsgemeinschaft in der Alten Kirche: Publikation der Tagung der Patristischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft in Soesterberg und Amsterdam (Patristic Studies 15; Leuven: Peeters, 2019).

The publisher tells us: Was bedeutet die Gemeinschaft von Brot und Wein, die wir in der Kirche Sakramentsgemeinschaft nennen? Dieser Begriff ist für vielen zu einem Problem geworden. Obwohl Kirche und Glaube in unserer Gesellschaft zu einem Randphänomen geworden sind, erhalten sie dennoch eine gewisse Anerkennung. Glaube und Spiritualität werden weithin anerkannt als wertvolle Hilfsmittel für die psychische Gesundheit. Die Kirche spielt immer noch eine wichtige Rolle, wenn die Humanität der Gesellschaft in Frage kommt – das Kirchenasyl ist wiederum sehr aktuell. Aber das Sakrament? Es gehört zum kirchlichen Traditionsgut, aber sonst? In der Antike ging man ganz umgekehrt vor. Gerade weil man das Sakrament teilte, wird man zur Kirche. Der gemeinschaftliche Genuss von Brot und Wein bildete den Grund für die kirchliche Existenz. Die Gemeinschaft mit Christo bestimmte die Spiritualität. In dem vorliegenden Band wird diese altkirchliche Sakramentsgemeinschaft weiterhin untersucht. Wie funktionierte sie in der Praxis, lokal und weltweit? Wie sahen die Feiern aus? Wer nahm teil, wer nicht? Welche Entwicklungen gab es? So erscheint eine der ältesten Riten unserer Gesellschaft in einem neuen und hoffentlich auch inspirierendem Licht.

What this does not tell you is that there are contributions from both of your blog editors.

Daniel Vaucher’s essay “Ubi servi? Überlegungen zur frühchristlichen Eucharistiefeier” explores the presence (and absence) of slaves in eucharistic fellowships, concluding that to the greater extent they were excluded, and that the development away from the eucharistic Sättigungsmahl served to reduce their role yet further (as they may have been present in a serving capacity in these eucharistic meals of an earlier period.) In terms of church orders, we may note his reference to the Didascalia. Alistair C. Stewart, “Ἐκ Βιῶν εἰς ζωήν: Groups, Therapy, and the Construction of Text and Community in the Church Order Tradition” focusses on the Didache and the Didascalia (with a nod to the Doctrina apostolorum) in exploring the manner in which the study of group behaviours within psychology might illustrate the manner in which Christian groups practised psychagogy and brought about Gemeinschaft, so in turn that they might act eucharistically.

Beyond this there are contributions from Paul van Geest (“Patristik in den Niederlanden: Die Forschungslage und der neue Schwerpunkt der Mystagogie”), Liuwe H. Westra (“Wie die Sakramentsgemeinschaft in der Alten Kirche funktionierte”), Gerard A.M. Rouwhorst (“Vom christlichen Symposium zur Eucharistiefeier des vierten Jahrhunderts), Hans van Loon (Eucharist and Fellowship in Cyril of Alexandria) and Laela Zwollo, (Augustine’s Conception of Sacrament. The Death and Resurrection of Christ as Sacrament in De trinitate: Mystic Union between Christ and his Church).

No critical comment on the contents is offered (for obvious enough reasons). Peeters have priced it at €46. No comment on that either, though you can probably guess what mine would be.

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More on the Pseudo-Nicaean canons

In a previous post I have shown the different versions of the pseudo-nicaean canons. I have missed to point out an interesting feature of their transmission, though. The Syriac text, which is the original version of the canons according to Braun and Vööbus, is significantly longer than the later Arabic and Ethiopic translations. For not only they differ in the number and content of the canons themselves, the Syriac canons are transmitted in a long letter, presumably by Maruta of Maipherkat to Isaac, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. This letter recounts the origins of the council of Nicaea along with the creed, with the names of the bishops as well as many excursuses. Maruta, if he is the authentic author of the text, also translates the Greek canons into Syriac to make them accessible to the Syriac speaking East. He not only translates the 20 Greek canons but also the pseudo-nicaean canons, which he seems to accept as authentic too.

The letter says that Isaac had requested to learn the Apostolic canons to regulate his Church. Maruta answers that these canons circulated before the Nicaean council: they are said to be partly written by James, partly by Luke – apostolic therefore. Maruta goes on to summarize these canons: They are nothing less than what we call the Canons of Addai! But Maruta explains that the Apostolic canons were outdated, not fit anymore to regulate a Church fighting heresies. That is why he sends Isaac the Nicaean canons – or what he deems appropriate for the Persian church.

Not much has been written on this interesting letter (interesting too as it is a direct testimony to the canons of Addai!). The acts of the Council of Isaac (410) certainly associate Maruta with a set of canons which he transmitted. Whether he is the author of the letter and/or of the pseudo-nicaean canons, I cannot tell for the moment. It seems to me that the letter is partly interpolated, with elements from later centuries. Clearly living literature. Hopefully I can write more soon.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Although the title refers to “canons”, 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.


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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!

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Sunday Letter

On one of his latest excavations into Early Christian literature, Alistair Stewart aka Indiana Jones dug out an extraordinary text: (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 (

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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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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Another Stewart-Vaucher dialogue, in which Dr Vaucher identifies a forgotten church order and Dr Stewart goes to Oxford and gets wet

In the comments on my post Some updates there has been something of a pooling of perplexity between myself and Daniel Vaucher. Editing the comments today I managed accidentally to delete a bunch of them. So to preserve the dialogue I have edited them all out (deleting the rest) and present them here as another Socratic dialogue in which I am reduced to aporia on one point at least. It may even continue!

DV: Thanks for updating the conspectus. I do have some more for you:

Testamentum Domini: you could add the edition by A. Vööbus, The synodicon in the West Syrian tradition. 2 vols. Louvain 1975, as well as the translations by J. Cooper and A.J. Maclean. The Testament of Our Lord Translated into English from the Syriac. Edinburgh 1902 and F. Nau, La version syriaque de l’Octateuque de Clément. Paris 1913 (where TD is book I-II)

Didascalia Apostolorum / CA I-VI: as I learn, according to M.E. Johnson, there is an edition of the arab version by H. Dawud, Ad-dasquliyah aw ta’atim ar-rusul. Cairo 1924; 3rd ed. 1967. This is beyond my language skills and needs further check.

Canons of Ps.-Basil: you could add the coptic fragments by W.E. Crum, The Coptic Version of the ‚Canons of S. Basil‘, in Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 26 (1904), 57-62.

ACS: Thank-you. Perhaps you could add the Testamentum material appropriately (NB however the Synodicon does not contain the full text of the Testamentum, only excerpts.) And certainly the Canons of Basil fragments; there are also some other fragments, see my post below from March 2014.
I am intrigued by this mention of the Arabic Didascalia however, though I cannot find the book in the Bodleian library or on COPAC, which means it will be hard to check it in person; Beyond Johnson’s bibliography the only reference I can find is an Indonesian (!) website which (having passed through Google translate!) states that this is a modern Arabic translation (ergo not a textual witness) of “The Didascalia of the apostles (the Apostolic Constitutions) edited by Hippolytus in 215.” (sic) I’m not sure which of an anonymous Indonesian website or Maxwell Johnson is the the more trustworthy source.

DV: OK. I have another one though: Canones Petri or Canones by Clement or Letter by Peter… according to Georg Graf, there is an Arabic ed. by P. Fahed, 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, published 1935. And then, it is part of the Ethiopian Senodos, published by Bausi 1995. I wonder then, where are the Sahidic versions?

ACS: The Canones Petri should certainly be included… Actually it’s there already! Note there is a translation in Riedel KRQ, 165-175. Riedel opines that the work was composed in Arabic, and that the Syriac and Ethiopic are translations from Arabic.

DV: Contra Riedel, Graf, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, opines that the work goes back to a lost Greek original. I leave the question to the learned scholars with expertise in Arabic

ACS: I certainly don’t have that kind of expertise. However, I realize that if David the Maronite made a translation from Syriac to Arabic, then if it was Arabic to start with somebody must have translated it from Arabic to start with, which seems a rather strange proceeding. Presumably the Syriac (and a presumed Sahidic) are both lost. Puzzling, certainly.

DV: I’m puzzled too, and I can’t find Fahed anywhere in Switzerland, but I have Graf in front of me. He writes p. 580 f.: “das Werk gehört einer jüngeren Zeit an, ist aber nicht (wie Riedel will) arabisches Original, sondern Ableitung aus einer oder mehreren griechischen Schriften. Eingehende Untersuchungen über Quellen und Alter fehlen noch.” (footnote 1: Vansleb, Hist. S. 259: L’épitre de saint Pierre à saint Clément, mais parce qu’elle est pleine d’absurdités, je n’ai pas voulu la mettre ici).
I think, with Vansleb he refers to the Ethiopian version, which Bausi, Il Sēnodos etiopico, vol. I, p. 284-306, vol. II, p. 109-118 edited and translated. I don’t have Bausi in front of me, but his comment on the piece might be worth a check. And Kaufhold, “Sources of Canon Law in the Eastern Churches” in Hartmann/Pennington, The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law 2012, 235 and 270, refers to a Syriac version. I wonder now whether this was the piece that Maronite priest David was translating into Arabic, and whether that David’s Arabic version was the same that Riedel refered to. This is far beyond my understanding and knowledge of the Eastern languages, but it’s at least plausible that there was a now lost Greek original, which was then translated into Syriac (only: where is this version now? – I check Kaufhold again), and from there into Arabic and Ethiopic. Given the date of the translation, anno 1059, I think it would be unsafe to assume a much earlier arabic version anyway?

ACS: I will have to look into this. Gorgias has reprinted Fahed, which is a start.

DV: To make you and us wonder some more: In 2005, Kaufhold wrote in “La littérature pseudo canonique syriaque” in: Débie (ed): Les apocryphes syriaques. Paris 2005, p. 147-168 of a yet unpublished pseudo-canonique piece in Syriac with the following title: Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangeliste qui enseigna à Éphèse et prêcha de Pâcques, au sujet des choses commises de manière mauvaise et désordonée par des prêtres et des chrétiens à l’interieur de l’Église, et admonition du peuple.” With the short summary he gives, this could well be church order! It’s found in Ms Cambr. Add. 2023, fol. 83r – 159r, and, Kaufhold refers to an Arabic version which can be found in, guess, Fahed 1935…

ACS: I recognize that catalogue number! Really, I do. It is a collection of canonical material so could well contain a church order.

DV: I note in the translation of the Didascalia by Ragucci, which you just posted, the following comment:
Le recensioni arabe sono due e sono derivate e mediate da un testo copto oggi perduto, entrambe queste recensioni sono più vicine a CA, – di cui riportano anche la stessa prefazione–, che non a DA latina o siriaca.
La prima recensione è più antica ed è la più conosciuta, è detta anche Vulgata. Potrebbe essere stata tradotta da un testo copto nell’XI secolo, è suddivisa in 39 capitoli e rielabora CA I-VI, sebbene ci siano alcune omissioni in cui si verifica una significativa alterazione nella disposione del materiale e l’aggiunta del VI capitolo. Queste differenze nella disposizione degli argomenti la rendono una traduzione poco fedele. Di questa recensione Vulgata esiste un’edizione di Dāwud del 1924 che si basa su un manoscritto del patriarcato copto e su due manoscritti privati.
but she does not indicate Dawud’s edition, but refers instead to D. Spada-D. Salachas, Costituzioni dei Santi Apostoli per mano di Clemente, Urbaniana University press, Roma 2001, p. XXVII.

ACS: OK, that’s it, enoujgh confusion! I shall have to make a pilgrimage to the Bodleian and brave the hordes of tourists, the foul weather, and the horrible traffic.

ACS (several days later): Dr Vaucher, you are now the master, and I the troublesome student.
The letter of Peter, aka the canons of Clement, are indeed preserved in Arabic translation (from Syriac, presumably lost) in the Maronite canonical collection Kitab al-Huda. This was translated by the Maronite bishop David. Critical edition, as you gave it: Pierre Fahed, Kitab al-Huda ou livre de la direction: code Maronite du haut moyen age (Aleppo: Imp. Maronite, 1935). They are headed as the Canons of Clement.
The same text, headed Letter of Peter is indeed in the Ethiopian Senodos published by Bausi, as you suggested. I think Riedel must have been wrong, and these are not originally Arabic, since they were rendered from Syriac by David. I suspect that they were from a variety of Greek sources, possibly mediated through Coptic for the Egyptian branch and (obviously) through the Syriac, from which they were rendered for the Kitab al-Huda. Mind you, that’s only a hunch.
Secondly, I went looking for this Arabic Didascalia reported by Johnson. I cannot find the Dawud text, though I am sure that Ragucci’s information was entirely from the translation of Constitutiones apostolorum by Spada and Salachas, which she cites, and they in turn had it from… Graf, Geschichte I, 568. This is also, I suspect, where Johnson got it from. The correct reference as Graf gives it is: Ḥafiẓ Dawud, ad Dasquliya au ta’alim ar-rusul (Cairo, 1924). Although I could not find Dawud, I did find: Wilyam Sulayman Qilada (ed.) Kitāb al-Disqūlīyah : taʿālīm al-rusul (Cairo : Dār al-Jīl lil-Ṭibāʿah, 1979), but the source of this text I cannot say! One can reasonably imagine that it is Egyptian.
Now, M. Kohlbacher, “Zum liturgischen Gebrauch der Apostolischen Konstitutionen in Ägypten”, in J.M.S. Cowey and B. Kramer (ed.) Paramone (Archiv für Papyrusforschung Beiheft 16; Leipzig, Saur, 2004) suggests that there may be even more recensions of the Constitutiones apostolorum in Arabic (we must remember that the Arabic Didascalia is actually the Constiutiones and not the Didascalia at all.) At this point I have to confess that I can go no further with this enquiry for the present.
However, it’s not all bad news. You mentioned Kaufhold’s mention of a Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangeliste. I have checked this out.
It is worth citing Kaufhold in full:
Dans la deuxième partie du Kitāb al- Hudā apparaissent deux séries de “Canons de saint Jean l’Évangeliste” que n’avaient jusque’à présent pas été identifiés. Le première traite du patriarche, des métropolites, des êvêques, des périodeutes, des prêtres, des diacres, et la deuxième concerne le divorce. Pour les deux séries, il est expressement dit dans le Kitāb al-Hudā qu’elles ont été traduites du Syriaque. Il s’agit manifestement d’extraits de la Prédication de saint Jean l’Évangéliste que se trouve dans le manuscrit Cambridge Add. 2023…; dans ce manuscrit, les fonctions ecclésiastiques y sont traités aux f. 129v et suiv. Et les prescriptions sur le divorce aux f. 144v; et suiv., mais les textes ne correspondent pas exactement. On doit encore les regarder de plus près.
One cannot agree more with the last statement. In the footnote he states that he has his information from Desreumaux. One wonders how anyone, even Desreumaux,  knows this, as the Cambridge text is unedited. Nonetheless, Dr Vaucher, you seem to have found us a new church order!
I will update the conspectus.


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The apostolic canons of Antioch: an Origenistic exercise

rheThe apostolic canons of Antioch: an Origenistic exercise” has just appeared in RHE 111 (2016), 439-451.

Abstract: Une étude des canons pseudonymes du conseil apostolique à Antioche, qui suggère qu’ils sont un document Origenistique originaire de la fin du IVe siècle, à peu près simultanément avec les 85 canons apostoliques.

There is also a text and English translation.

Any reader wanting a copy of the pdf as a Christmas present(!) is welcome to ask.

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Review of Batiffol’s Syntagma Doctrinae (and more!)

Digging around in the learned literature of the late nineteenth century I find a gem, a review by A. Robertson of Batiffol’s Syntagma doctrinae in The Classical Review 6 (8) (1892), 351-354. Far beyond its value as a review is the discussion of earlier work on the Syntagma and the Fides patrum, and in particular a trenchant discussion of Revillout’s theories about the derivation of these documents, alongside the Gnomai, from the Council of Alexandria.

There are also some interesting reflections on the credal form found in the Syntagma, and on the value of the document with regard to the text of the Didache.

Those without easy access to an academic library can find this with relative ease on

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Peter of Alexandria, Didascalia: in response to a comment from Daniel Vaucher

Daniel Vaucher has produced a major comment on the post below on the conspectus of the church orders. I will respond by way of blog-posts on each individual aspect of his comment, as and when time allows.

Here is just one small one.

Vaucher states: Peter of Alexandria could be the author of a didascalia Petrou. Aren’t didascalia / diataxis the common names of church orders? Harnack (Chronologie der altchr. Litteratur, Vol 2, 1904, 73) mentions an unedited Didascalia Petrou in Cod. Vat. Gr. 2081, fol. 94v and asks whether it is Peter from Alexandria. He mentions a study by Crum, “Texts Attributed to Peter of Alexandria” JTS 4 (1903), 387-397, but I can’t find a note of the didascalia.

I reply: It is not often that one gets one over on Harnack so I shall enjoy this moment! Vaucher reports Harnack accurately, but the Didascalia of Peter of Alexandria had indeed been published from the Vatican MS, by J. M. Heer, “Ein neues Fragment der Didaskalie des Martyrbischofs Peter von Alexandrien,” Oriens Christianus 2 (1902), 344-51. Although Vaucher is right, Didascalia is indeed a common name for church order material, this is not a church order but a homiletic fragment.

This comment will keep me going for months!

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Another e-rratum

Another e-rratum from the Didascalia:

On 265, footnote 8 the Syriac has been reversed, reading left to right! The note should read: Reading here ܐܪܙܐ with Testamentum Domini, as against the MSS of DA which read ܪܐܙܐ

I came across this as I re-read this portion of my own work. The reason for doing so illustrates well the horrible complexity of the interrelated church orders to which Dani Vaucher alluded in one of his recent comments.

I am now translating Testamentum Domini for St Vladimir’s. In doing so I noticed a footnote in Maclean’s translation referring to Funk, Apostolischen Konstitutionen, which in turn is discussing a then unpublished (still unpublished!) Arabic Didascalia. Parts are given in a German translation and are clearly related, probably indebted, to Testamentum Domini. The first chapter is not, however, in Testamentum Domini, but nonetheless sounded horribly familiar. I tracked it down to this section of  the Didascalia… and reading saw the error. The confusion is exacerbated because this is found only in a secondary recension of the Didascalia, containing a strange collection of assorted church order material.

A final, odd, note: both Rahmani and Maclean render ܐܪܙܐ at this point as though it were ܪܐܙܐ!

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Gnomai of Nicaea in print

The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea is now in print, say Gorgias.

It’s been a convoluted and interesting road to publication. The need for the work occurred to me whilst preparing my work on the two ways, but I did not think I was the right person to do it. I still don’t, but nobody else would take it on. What is particularly interesting is that I started the work around the time that I opened this blog, which means that the journey is recorded.

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Slavery in the church orders: a dialogue

The following dialogue is redacted from an ongoing correspondence. It may yet be extended. Hopefully it is of interest to an audience beyond the participants.


Daniel Vaucher: a keen graduate student

Alistair C. Stewart: a grizzled old hack

The dialogue takes place somewhere in cyberspace… over the Alps

DV: Let me please introduce myself. My name is Daniel Vaucher, I’m a PhD student at University of Berne, Switzerland in Ancient History at the Center for Global Studies. My research is about Slavery in Early Christianity, and especially, as presented in the Church Orders. Whereas the research on ancient slavery is immense, these sources have not been included at all, or in older research, have been read methodologically imprudently. It is therefore that I write you, since you have been publishing so many great articles and books on the Church Orders and on the methological approach. Your Hippolyt’s Apostolic Tradition and you Didascalia Apostolorum have been very helpful to me, and I was delighted when I found not only your blog on wordpress but also some contributions on other websites with your research on Gnomai of Nicaea.

That is, if you allow me, where I have two requests. In the Didascalia Apostolorum, chapter 18, we read of rich persons and sinners whose gifts are not to be taken by the bishops. Among the long list of sinners are also included slave-owners “who make poor provision for their slaves” (your translation, Introd. p.46). This passage alone is very interesting, but my question is about your remarks on p.47 of your introduction. There, you show the afterlife of the text in the Syntagma Doctrinae (where slave owners are apparantly not mentioned) and Fides Patrum (where the text is expanded: “who is violent to his servants and does not feed them, or clothe them). In note 77, you refer to a forthcoming book, where you discuss these texts. I was just wondering where I can find your discussion and your translations of the texts (I must admit: I cannot read Coptic or Syriac).

And there lies my second question: I see in your publication list that you published a book on the Apostolic Church Order in 2006, a Book on the Two Ways in 2012, and more recently on the Gnomai of Nicaea. Unfortunately, all this books are nowhere to be found in my nearby libraries, and I cannot find them on online shops neither. I was wondering whether you have any spare books yourself which you’d be willing to sell to me, so I could continue researching on these little but very thrilling remarks about slavery in the Church Orders.

Thank you for your patience, I’m looking forward to reading your answer

ACS: First of all, let me thank you for your interest.

I am sure you have already taken account of Const app. 8.33.

The Syntagma and Fides patrum are translated in On the two ways. This is far, however, from being the last word on these texts. Mercifully this work is easy to obtain; it is available on amazon for 10 Euro.

The book on the Gnomai has not yet been published. I am waiting on the publisher who is, they inform me, waiting on the Library of Congress. There is nothing here about slaves; this, in itself, is interesting since the work is addressed to a wealthy elite who are being encouraged in charity. This is a class likely to own slaves (though I am aware that the incidence of slave-owning in Egypt is lower than elsewhere) and so one has to ask whether, in this part of Egypt and at this time (mid-fourth century) the practice had been abandoned among Christians at least.

The book on Apostolic church order is a problem. This is sad because I count it my best work! It went out of print almost immediately and is now very rare. I do not know why they don’t do a print on demand… apparently, however, it is available on a cd rom from

I am sorry not to be able to be more helpful. I would say, however, that I find your research topic very interesting and would be very glad to be kept informed of your progress. I would also be glad to enter any discussion on this topic that you propose.

DV: Good Morning and thank you very much for that quick answer and the invitation to discuss the topic. It’s an honor to being able to discuss with you the subject, and the Church Orders are so ominous, there’s plenty of stuff to discuss.

I know of Const. Apost. 8.33. I’m not sure though whether we can read “douloi” there in its literal meaning. The day off should count for everybody of course, and not only for slaves, and therefore I tend to read slaves in its metaphorical meaning as slaves of God (which would nevertheless include de facto slaves). But that’s just a suspicion, I haven’t worked on the passage comprehensively.

Besides, Const. Apost. is full of prescriptions on slaves and slave-owners, consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well, to love them as brothers etc. It seems, that Christian slaveowners in the late 4th century were even more cruel to their slaves than their 2nd to 3rd century predecessors and the compilator needed to stress mild treatment, or that in post-constantinian times more pagans converted to Christianity which needed to be rhetorically convinced of this “strange” ethics. These are all only suspicions, again.

One of the interesting expansions is concerning the impure offerings, adapted from Syr.Didasc. §18. I don’t know how the Syriac texts really is, but judging from the modern translations, it simply excludes slave-owners who don’t provision their slaves well. Apost. Const. includes a subordinate clause “speaking of beatings, hunger and kakodoulia, a term I cannot reasonably translate. Again, interesting that the author needs to explain the sentence of the Syriac Didascalia. That’s why I was so happy when I found your comment on adaptions of that passage in Syntagma and Fides Patrum. Apparantly these authors adapted the Const.Apost. passage (to my understanding more plausible than that they adapted Syr.Didasc) and again changed it fully consciously, Syntagma leaving it out, Fides Patrum explaining it again in other terms (feed and clothe). I’d wonder how you would account for such adaptions.

Sadly the Apostolic Church Order doesn’t include any prescriptions for slaves or slaveowners, as far as I know, but it’s an interesting text anyway and I’d really like to read your introduction to it to get a clearer picture of it.

To make sure: does your work on Gnomai not include the passage cited on Didascalia, p. 47 of the Coptic version Fides Patrum, which was previously used by Revillout in his collection on the Council of Nicaea? Clearly I don’t have a picture yet of what the Fides Patrum is really about. Is it a “Church Order”, too?

Again, thank you very much for your patience and your helpful answers

ACS: OK, to begin at the end! The Fides patrum is a version of the same material as Syntagma doctrinae, beginning, however, with a version of the Nicene creed with anathemas. It is, as you rightly say, preserved also in Coptic and published by Revillout in his collection. I think there is an Ethiopic version as well, though this may be of the Syntagma (I struggle to remember which is which!) Now the conclusion of the Greek Fides is wanting. I will have to look again to remind myself regarding the Ethiopic, so this will be the subject of a separate post. (I subsequently learn from my own blog(!) that the Ethiopic Fides patrum lacks the conclusion re offerings found in the Coptic.) The Coptic Fides however preserves the conclusion, so it is probable that the absence of the conclusion in Greek is a matter of accident (the last page being wanting from the scribe’s exemplar.) Thus we may assume that Fides and Syntagma had similar conclusions. Whether Fides patrum is a church order depends, of course, on the definition of church orders. Certainly there was no genre as such; Joe Mueller calls it a tradition, and although I disagree with him about the nature of the tradition I think he is right to call it so. Both the Syntagma and the Fides contain material found in other church orders, so they are members of the tradition, even if they are fundamentally monastic rules.

I don’t deal with the Fides in my work on the gnomai because I believe that they are entirely separate works, though transmitted together in the Coptic tradition through the collection of the Nicene documents, and also, I believe, arising within the same Athanasian circles. I make brief use of it in On the two ways.

So let us turn to the parallel material of CA and DA 4.6. There are parallels in both the Syntagma and in the Fides, though in the case of the latter it is preserved only in Coptic (reserving judgement on any other version.)

CA is, we know, an adaptation of DA. Thus it explains or expands the material found in DA. Next question is “Where did FP/SD get the material from?”

It is possible that they got it straight from CA as you suggest, though we are up against it date-wise given the uncertainty of dating any of these documents. It is not more plausible than the possibility that they got it straight from DA, given that the Greek original circulated in Egypt and was the subject of a Coptic translation (of which only a fragment remains.) Indeed, it is less plausible.

My own opinion, however, is that neither was the source. If you look at the context DA is an expansion of instruction to a bishop. How much is original and how much redactional is a matter of debate. It would seem to me reasonable, however, to suggest that 6.4 in nuce at least is part of the original material, since it deals with the fundamental episcopal duty. Is it not reasonable to suggest that the original instruction had circulated independently and was taken up in Egypt by the redactors of FP/SD?

What then becomes interesting is the absence of any mention of slaves or slave-owners in the version of SD, whereas they are found in FP. This in turn (if I am right in my argument that FP is dependent on SD) means that FP put this passage in. Next question is whether this was under the influence of DA/CA or an independent act of redaction on his part. It is difficult to know where to start with this, but even if it is influenced by DA/CA then there must have been some relevance of the topic to the redactor as to make him insert it. What were the local conditions? Although there was clearly less slavery in Egypt than elsewhere in the Empire, the phenomenon was still met.

I was aware of 8.33 because of its importance regarding Sabbath.

Preliminary bibliography (not counting my own work or Ethiopic versions)

P. Battifol, Syntagma doctrinae (Studia patristica 2; Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1890) (available online through

P. Battifol, Didascalia CCCXVIII patrum (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1887) (the Fides patrum)

Plus, of course, Revillout

DV: Your statement on the redactional layer in the passage about episcopal instruction is intriguing, although I have problems to see where you would draw the line between original material and redactional work. If you considered the list of forbidden “professions” as the only expansion by the redactor, you could reasonably draw the link to TA 16 with its list of forbidden professions. But yet, these two texts, with all similarities that they have, are quite different, especially regarding the order of the list (and omissions, of course, too). I have a hard time thinking that two redactors (DA, TA) use the same source (or tradition) and include it in different contexts and still change it so considerably.

ACS: OK we will start by putting TA 16 out of the picture altogether. It is interesting, but not relevant (unless, conceivably, a list originally intended for catechumens [the context in TA] has been refitted elsewhere only to turn up in DA/CA/FP/SD, though this would be impossible to prove, and would not much enlighten us in any event.) It is true that I mention this in a footnote, but that is just a cf. for general interest rather than an explicit claim of a direct relationship.

So putting aside TA altogether, let us look at DA 4.6, so that you can see how I draw redactional lines within DA.

The text has been discussing the maintenance of orphans and their training; then it goes on to discuss the issue of how much a bishop may keep back from what he receives for his own maintenance (not the only point at which it is discussed, which indicates what a burning issue this was).

Anyone who can assist himself without disturbing the place of the orphan, the stranger or the widow is truly blessed, as this is a gift from God. 2But woe to those who have, yet falsely receive, or who are able to assist themselves but receive anyway. Anyone who receives will have to give an account to the Lord God regarding what they received on the day of judgement. 3If anyone receives on account of an orphaned childhood, or poverty in old age, or sickness or weakness or for bringing up a large number of children, he shall indeed be praised, considered as the altar of God and honoured of God, because he did not receive in vain since he diligently and frequently prayed for those who gave to him, as far as he was able, and this prayer he offered as his payment. These shall so be declared blessed by God in everlasting life. [4.4] Yet those who have, and yet receive under pretence, or otherwise are idle, and so receive rather than working as they should and assisting themselves and others, shall give an account as they have reduced the place of the impoverished faithful. 2Or anyone who has possessions and does not use them himself, nor helps others, is laying up perishable treasure for himself on earth. He is in the position of the snake lying upon the treasure and is in danger of being reckoned alongside it. 3Whoever possesses, and yet receives in falsehood, is not trusting in God but in wicked mammon. On account of wealth he is keeping the word hypocritically and is fulfilled in unbelief. Anyone who is like this is in danger of being reckoned with the unbelievers in condemnation. 4But anyone who simply gives to all does well, and is innocent. Whoever receives on account of distress and uses what he receives sparingly receives well, and will be glorified by God in everlasting life.

Then there is a summary, concluding with a doxology.

[4.5] Be constant, you bishops and deacons, in the ministry of the altar of Christ, that is to say the widows and the orphans, with all care, diligently endeavouring to find out with regard to gifts, the conduct of him who gives, or her who gives, for the support of, 2we say again, the altar. When widows are nourished by the labour of righteousness they will offer a ministry which is holy and acceptable before almighty God, through his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit. To him be glory and honour for ever and ever.

Then the subject picks up all over again; this is where the list is found:

3You should be working hard and diligently in ministering to the widows with a righteous mind, so that whatever they ask or request may speedily be given them, as they make their prayers. 4But if there should be bishops who are uncaring, and inattentive to these matters, through respect of persons, or through impure profit, or through failure to make enquiry, the account that they shall give shall be no ordinary one. [4.6] For what they are receiving for ministry to orphans and widows is from the rich, who have men locked in prison, from the wicked who make poor provision for their slaves, or act with cruelty in their cities, or oppress the poor, 2or from the impure, who abuse their bodies with wickedness, or from evildoers, or from fraudsters, or from lawless advocates, or from those who accuse falsely, or from hypocritical lawyers, 3or from painters of pictures or from makers of idols, or from workers of gold or silver or bronze who steal, or from corrupt tax-gatherers, or from those who watch the shows, or from those who alter weights, or from those who measure deceitfully, or from innkeepers who water (drinks), 4or from soldiers who act lawlessly, from spies who obtain convictions, or from Roman authorities, who are defiled by wars and who have shed innocent blood without trial, and from pervertors of judgement who deal corruptly and deceitfully with the peasantry and all the poor in order to rob them, 5or from idolaters, or from the unclean or from usurers and extortionists. 6Those who nourish widows from these will be found guilty when judged on the day of the Lord, since Scripture says: ‘Better a meal of herbs with love and compassion than the slaughter of fattened oxen with hatred.’ 7Should a widow be nourished solely by bread from the labour of righteousness this will be plenty for her, but if much be given her from iniquity it will not be enough for her. 8Moreover, if she is nourished from iniquity she will be unable to offer her ministry and her intercession before God in purity. Even if, being righteous, she prays for the wicked, her intercession for them will not be heard, but only that for herself, in that God tests their hearts in judgement and receives intercessions with discernment. 9Yet if they pray for those who have sinned and repented their prayers will be heard. But when those who are in sin and are not repentant pray before God, not only are their prayers not heard, but their transgressions are brought to God’s memory.

Finding redactional themes is more an art than a science, but I think that we can discern a distinct instruction here that the redactor has inserted. That is why the subject, having been concluded, starts up again. But what follows, with the heading, is also interesting:

That those bishops who accept alms from the culpable are guilty. [4.7] And so, bishops, flee and shun such administrations as these. For it is written: ‘The price of a dog or the wages of a prostitute shall not go up upon the altar of the Lord.’ 2For if, through your blindness, widows are praying for fornicators and for those who transgress the law and are not being heard as their requests are not granted, you will be bringing blasphemy upon the word as the result of your wicked management, as though God were not good and generous.

3Thus you should be very careful that you do not minister the altar of God from the ministrations of those who transgress the law. You have no excuse in saying ‘We do not know’, as you have heard what Scripture says: ‘Shun any wicked man and you shall not be afraid; and trembling shall not approach you.’ [4.8] And if you say: ‘These are the only people who give alms; and if we do not accept from them, from shall we minister to the orphans and the widows and those in distress?’ God says to you: ‘On this account you received the gifts of the Levites, the firstfruits and the offerings of your people, that you might be nourished and, having more than this, that you should not be obliged to accept from wicked people. 2But if the churches are so poor that those in need should be nourished by people like this, it is better that you be laid waste by hunger than receive from those who are wicked. 3Thus you should be making investigation and examination so that you receive from the faithful, those who are in communion with the church, and conduct themselves properly, in order to nourish those who are in distress, and do not receive from those who have been expelled from the church until they are worthy of becoming members of the church.

4If, however, you are in want, speak to the brothers so that they may labour together and give, so supplying out of righteousness. [4.9] You should be teaching your people, saying what is written: ‘Honour the Lord from your just labour and from the first of all your harvests.’ 2And so from the just labour of the faithful shall you clothe and nourish those who are in want. And, as we said above, distribute from what is given by them for ransoming the faithful, for the redemption of slaves, captives and prisoners, and those treated with violence, and those condemned by the mob, and those condemned to fight with beasts, or to the mines, or to exile, or condemned to the games, and to those in distress. And the deacons should go in to those who are constrained, and visit every one of them, and distribute to them with whatever each is lacking.

[4.10] But if ever you should be obliged to accept, against your will, some coins from somebody who is wicked, do not spend them on food but, if a small amount, spend it on firewood for yourselves and for the widows, so that a widow should not receive them and be obliged to buy food for herself with them. 2And so the widows shall not be defiled with evil when they pray and receive from God the good things for which they ask and which they seek, whether all together or individually, and you will not be bound by these sins.

I think that what we hear here is the voice, once again, of the redactor, and that what we are hearing from him is the disconnect between the reality of his situation and the ideal.

DV: I can clearly follow your argument and understand now how you discern between different redactional levels. It is very interesting to read the texts in that way.

ACS: In that case you can hopefully you can see the basis on which I suggest that a source has been incorporated. The fact that it re-appears elsewhere without its surrounding material in turn supports the supposition that the redactor of DA has included material which is independently employed in the Egyptian documents.

DV: I’d agree with you that DA, CA, SD and FP share a common source (or FP takes it from SD, I can’t judge) and we would only have to account for the changes within these texts.

Here I would be very cautious not to speculate about reasons why these changes happened. I doubt we can know for sure. It’s intriguing enough that an author decided to include a remark on slaveowners, and another didn’t.

ACS: OK, so we agree that there is an independent common source here.

DV: Let me reply to your statement about “disconnect between reality and ideal”.

I think that we are here at a crucial point in interpreting the church order literature (or genre, or tradition…). but this is not only the case for the 2nd redactor, but also for the 1st! The first redactor already depicts a conflict between ideal and reality, which the 2nd redactor only repeats. I compare this to, for example, 1 Corinthians, in which Paul criticizes the behavior at the Lords’ Supper. But his narrative is polemical, so it’s probably not reality as such, but polemically exaggerated. Maybe only a few Corinthians misbehaved. But what Paul suggests is not reality neither, it’s ideal, utopia. This is a fundamental difficulty in interpreting normative texts, be it apostolic letters, roman law, or Church Order Literature.

The 1st redactor already criticizes the offerings of sinners and the behavior of bishops, he already encounters that disconnect between reality and ideal. The 2nd redactor, then, repeats the same topic. Does this repetition show us that the exhortation of the 1st version of DA (or its original source) was unsuccessful? And is it not the 2nd redactor, then, that includes the loophole “about accepting “a few coins” for firewood”

I have a hard time imagining how a Bishop should be obliged to accept an offering against his will, anyway. But is this an indicator that there were essential “disconnects between reality and ideal”, between the pressure exerted by the rich Christians in the communities and the rule proposed in DA 4.6-10?

ACS: Although sometimes frustrated at having to pursue scholarship whilst responsible for a pastoral ministry, there are times when it is useful. I know, from experience, how a bishop (read, here parish priest) in a moment of weakness can accept an offering against his own will (or better judgement) in order not to give undue offence. However, you are fundamentally absolutely correct; the issue is an ongoing one, not restricted to any particular period in the development of DA. Moreover, not only is there, as you say, always a disconnect, but in the case of the church order literature there is not only a disconnect between the ideal and the reality, but there is a disconnect, very likely, between the reality described (which is really being prescribed) and the real reality!

DV: I think of the implications of that remark: a bishop who knew of a “violent” slaveowner was supposed to exclude him from the community until he was repentant. this is revolutionary. The New Testament and Church Fathers agree on mild treatment of slaves, but it never goes beyond an admonishment, no one speaks of an exclusion or excommunication. Why such a rigorous demand?

CA 4.6. speaks – as far as I can judge – more than DA of pure/impure matters. The offerings of such sinners are considered impure and “pollute” the Christian community. but again, I know of no other text that defines violent treatment of slaves as impure.

The biggest issue I have with chapter 18 of DA: if you and Schöllgen are right, it’s a chapter especially to strengthen the authority of the clergy against the rich laymen in the community, which act as patrons and sponsors for the community. Bad behaviour is not to be accepted even if the patron is responsible for the subsistence of the clergy – the author specifies that you should rather die from hunger than take money from such sinners.

But I doubt that this was ever done. The church and the clergy was dependent on these people. Slaveowning and slave-beating was normal in antiquity, so I doubt that any bishop ever excluded a slaveowner for this. I cannot imagine that this demand was ever put into practice.

ACS: You may well be right in all you say here; the stakes are being raised. And that is why there is the point about accepting “a few coins” for firewood… I doubt many bishops had the balls to exclude a powerful slave-owner, but possibly some did, and the Didascalist is encouraging this. And this is not an issue of historical interest only. How many churches even now agonize over ethical investment policies?

DV: I have two more thoughts and hypotheses regarding the patronage, to which I’d gladly hear your feedback.

TA 25-29 concerning the meals show again respect to the patronage system, as you and Charles Bobertz have pointed out. It’s rich people that invite the community at home and probably combine a Christian liturgy meal (be it Eucharistic, or agape, or cena dominica) with a deipnon/symposion. I think that, since 1 Cor 11, it’s probable that Christian meals were adapted and integrated into existing meal practices, and therefore, that the spirit of equality, that was typical for the Jesus tradition and for Paul who stands in this tradition was lost. 1 Cor and TA (to some degree, DA as well, I think) show that the rich patrons acted as hosts for such communions, and its probable that they hosted these meals to accumulate honor and to pronounce their status.

ACS: OK, so far I would agree altogether (obviously!)

DV: Such meals were of course impossible without the work of slaves (which were used to symbolize status anyway).

ACS: Impossible?

DV: Thus I think that although slaves are rarely mentioned in the church orders, e.g. in TA 25-29, they were nevertheless omnipresent, acting as slaves for the community. Its a common assumption in research on Early Christianity that Christian meals were based on equality, but I think this is wrong, considering your research on patronage in church orders, and considering Christian paintings of meals (e.g. in Roman catacombs, paintings show many banquets with slaves serving (earliest 3rd century).

What was the role of slaves in Christian communions? the sources rarely mention slaves at all, but I think the most probable answer is that they fulfilled “servile” functions in the community, as serving meals and wine, as lighting the lamp (TA 25) , acting as doorkeepers (DA 12) and so on. It is mysterious then why such works were more and more transferred to the diacon (diacon=servant!).

ACS: But were they transferred? The doorkeeper of DA is a deacon, and so is the lamp-carrier of TA25.

In my Original bishops, though this section contains little original, I argue that the diakonos was from the beginning the bishop’s agent and assistant, in particular at the provision of meals and the duties attached thereto. We find diakonoi performing various ritual functions in civic sacrifice and so it seems likely that diakonoi performed these “servile” functions in early Christian banquets likewise. It is possible, of course, that some of them were slaves, but also not impossible that the episkopos was a slave as well, particularly in those Asian communities in which presbuteroi were prominent. (And slavery language is employed, btw, by Ignatius with reference to the entire community, of slavery to the bishop. Wonderful to think that the bishop might be a slave).

To get back to the point: what seems to have happened, in the adaptive adoption of the mores of antiquity which came about in the Christian movement, is that the servile role of diakonos was taken on as a form of honor, bestowing status within the community on those who acted such. The qualifications for diakonoi in I Timothy as in the Didache are such that these are more likely to be persons of relative wealth and status in the community; the same is likely true of the diakonoi of civic sacrifice. Sure equality was relative in early Christian communities, but the rhetoric was surely not completely empty. So are the banquet scenes (assuming that they are indeed real banquets [though if they are not they nonetheless need to be recognizable as reflecting some sort of known reality]) apparently depicting slaves maybe not rather depicting diakonoi?

DV: The earliest banquet scenes we know (Dunbabin, Roman Banquet, 2003 is pretty good) are 3rd century, so they don’t really give an answer to the question either way. The archeologists I contacted assured me that they are from an iconographical point of view slaves. But again, slaves and diacons might be the same…

ACS: I think the question might be turned around: as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized, did the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves? Does this explain why the discussion concerning the treatment of slaves becomes more explicit in the later sources?

DV: I fear you misunderstood me. What I intended to say was that these works, known to us as servile works by the pagan culture, were transferred to diacons in the Christian communities. I don’t want to suggest a change within Christianity from slave to Diacon, but from pagan-slave to Christian-Diacon.

ACS: OK. Sorry to get you wrong in this way.

DV: But still there is the question whether diacons fulfilling servile functions were slaves or as you suggest “persons of relative wealth and status” and whether “the originally diaconal roles get transferred to slaves”, “as the role of the diakonos changes and churches become more centralized”

First of all let me note that diacons perform servile works. They do more than that, of course. But their title (servant) and their assistance to the bishop indicate a rather servile function, which nevertheless bestows honor on them.

I double-checked your chapter on the Diacons in Original Bishops. Yes, 1 Timothy and Didache request that Diacons are of relative wealth and status, but again, this is not necessarily reality. Rather, I suggest, is this a demand by two authors that wanted to see the diaconal functions being fulfilled by householders. Again, I question whether this was the reality. Both sources are normative texts that have a certain purpose, not simply depicting the situation in the congregations.

ACS: Agreed. Again the disconnect!

DV: So I ask if we shouldn’t assume that Diacons were originally the helpers of an episkopos, who, as you state, is a householder-patron who presides over a community. As far as I know we know nothing about the election or appointment of diacons in the early communities. I suggest that the bishops had a certain influence of who would be made diacon, and I assume he would have preferred his own clients – probably freedmen – or slaves to assist him in the household-based congregations. As such these diacons would have continued to do the same tasks that they did in the normal course of life. Furthermore, the honor that the diaconate bestowed on them would also have enhanced the status of the patron.

ACS: A very interesting suggestion. Indeed, we may go further and suggest that the reason why Didache and PEs would prefer a diakonos of status is that this might dilute the patronal authority of the episkopos who otherwise would appoint his/her own slaves, freedmen or other clientela.

DV: I don’t want to suggest that diacons were always slaves. Maybe some were, some weren’t. But I’d be cautious with the interpretations of 1 Tim and Did. We have few evidence that slaves had an office in the community, most known Plin. Ep. X.96; but only in the 4th century we find more and more prohibitions (Synod of Elvira, Apostolic Constitutions) that limit offices to free Christians (even excluding freedmen from offices). Epistula I by Bishop Stephanus is disputed. Given the development of the Church in general and the developing restrictions for slaves-offices in Late Antiquity, I would suggest, that slaves were more prominent in the offices in early Christianity than in Late Antiquity. 1 Tim and Did might be testimonies of an opposition to that, but both sources are really inconclusive in my opinion.

Therefore, I doubt that diaconal roles got transferred to slaves. Rather, the aristocracy tried to limit offices to free Christians (avoiding conflicts between Christian slaves and pagan slave-owners, too).

ACS: This is very interesting, and you clearly know more about this than I do. Let me then ask you, out of ignorance rather than as a leading question, how do we tie up the exclusion of slaves from office to the manner in which you describe a stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period? Would be be fair to say that the church moved from being an association to being (ideationally, if not in reality) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire? I might also ask whether you think that these provisions were more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts? And whether the exclusion of slaves from office might in some way relate to the ongoing issue over the power of patrons in Christian churches? And also what the connection is between this phenomenon (the exclusion of slaves from office) and the point you raised earlier regarding CA consciously expanding the sources it used by admonitions to treat slaves well (apart from any underlying reality… I am thinking of the intellectual world being constructed by the redactor)?

DV: That is a fine set of questions. Let me start with the first one about the connection between slave-exclusion from offices and stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners. I include your last question about the CA expanding its sources to treat slaves well. First of all, I’m not sure if we can talk of a “stricter attitude towards bad slave-owners (at least in principle) in the Constantinian period”. I do think that there are more admonitions to slave owners to treat slaves well, but they have to be relativized. Mostly they simply repeat earlier material like the NT-Haustafeln. They are mostly combined with admonitions to slaves to obey and love their masters. The passage in DA 18 = CA IV.12 is outstanding, but we have already talked about that. The exclusion of cruel slaveowners is not something there is any other reference to, so I doubt it was practiced very often, if at all.
The CA, in principle, does the same thing: in VII.13.2-3 it adopts the passage of Did 4.10, but also adds the admonition to slaves. In IV.12.1-4 it really expands its source, DA, but again with admonitions to masters and slaves. In VIII.32.19 it expands again, and this is the only time there is only a reference to masters. In general, CA confirm social hierarchy.
In late, post-constantinian, antiquity, there are a few exceptional texts like the 4th homily on Ecclesiastes by Gregory of Nissa. There is a tendency in the East towards better slave-treatment, but the results are very ambiguous (s. Klein 2000).
I think your suggestion “that the church moved from being an association to being (…) a mirror of an ideal Christian Empire” points somehow in that same direction. Being a Christian Empire, governed by Christian elites, the church stabilized the social hierarchies instead of fighting them. Nevertheless there were every so often preachers that reminded of the Christian doctrine of charity, of fraternalism and of the equality of all humanity. I don’t think though that they envisaged an alternative society, but rather they fought against excesses like DA 18 = CA IV.12 maybe did. Let me also note that this is in line with the Roman Law and even late antique philosophy, that both confirm the free-unfree distinction and still admonish against cruel treatment.

Were these provisions more successful in excluding slaves from office than prior attempts?”
Again, the results are very ambiguous, and sources are sparse. With CA VIII.47.82 and the Synod of Elvira, can. 80, we have two sources against slave offices in the 4th century, with more following in later centuries (s. Klein 1999, Jonkers 1942). But we also have some testimonies by Bishops that in general confirmed slaves in offices, against the charges made by their slave-owners (s. Hieron. Ep. 82.6; Basil. Ep. 115; Greg. Naz. Ep. 56). What can we deduce for sure? Against the regulations by Church Orders and Synods (maybe only provincial, in the West?), there were still appointments to offices to which at least some Bishops approved.
What else can we assume? An office in the Church required time, so in general was only possible with the approval of the slave-owner. It also required a certain financial independence (a slave’s property always being that of his master), so it was actually only possible after manumission. That is exactly what CA VIII.47.82 demands.
But apparently there were also cases in which slave and church agreed on an office without consent and knowledge of the slave-owner!

Klein, R. Die Haltung der kappadokischen Bischöfe Basilius von Caesarea, Gregor von Nazianz und Gregor von Nyssa zur Sklaverei. Stuttgart 2000.
Klein, R. „Die Bestellung von Sklaven zu Priestern. Ein rechtliches und soziales Problem in Spätantike und Frühmittelalter“, in: Ders., Roma versa per aevum. Ausgewählte Schriften zur heidnischen und christlichen Spätantike. Hildesheim 1999, 394-420.
Jonkers, E.J. „Das Verhalten der alten Kirche hinsichtlich der Ernennung zum Priester von Sklaven, Freigelassenen und Curiales“, in: Mnemosyne 10 (1942), 286-302.

ACS: Thank you for all of this. May I add to your bibliography Chris L de Wet, The Cappadocian fathers on slave management” Studia historiae ecclesiasticae 39 (2013) article available online as

I think, if I may draw a large conclusion from the evidence here, that the church orders reflect, more or less, the reality of the situation. The church accepts and adopts the norms of wider society to itself (though there are exceptions), reflects the Christian Empire, and this in turn is reflected in the literary church orders, and also in the persons who find themselves in office. When the church is associational it is more possible, in some quarters anyway, to find slaves in office, in the same way that some associations had slave officers. But this is something which the earlier church orders do not touch (apart, perhaps from Traditio apostolica, on which I shall post separately). In general, as you note, they are content to trot out the standard line.

To be continued (no doubt)


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The Arabic “Canons of the apostles”

Amidst the detritus which daily litters my inbox comes this interesting enquiry from Tom Schmidt, a doctoral student at Yale.

He is working on an Arabic commentary on the Apocalypse by ibn Katib Qaysar, a 13th century Copt. In it he quotes from the “canons of the apostles”. The passage is as follows:

“For this reason, the end of the canons of the apostles was composed from the chronicles, [and] what was transcribed was [as follows]: ‘When the disciples had finished laying down the new traditions, and believers had multiplied upon the earth, the emperors were unbelievers under the deceptions of Satan, and they hastened to kill the believers and to torture them so that they would worship idols. In distress, [facing] adversity, and under compulsion, they were occupied with the establishment of other traditions, about 356 years [after the birth of Christ], around the time of Emperor Constantine the Great. If someone was about to obtain the crown of martyrdom hastily [and] without punishment, his situation would be prolonged and his patience would disappear, so there is no doubt that this involved protection and care.

He wanted to know if I could identify these “canons of the apostles.” Clearly these are not the apostolic canons appended to book eight of the Constitutiones apostolorum; If I understand the text right, amidst the confusion, it seems to regard an over-hasty zeal for martyrdom, an issue much debated in the third century. But I am aware of no canons as such relating to this. and cannot help him identify the canons.

But if there is any learned reader who does recognize this, please comment, and I will pass this to Mr Schmidt.

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The Gnomai of Nicaea, yet again

It is a long time since I reported on progress on the Gnomai of Nicaea. To cut a long story short, I deduced that two pages in the published versions of Revillout and Rossi did not really belong in the Gnomai, and so set out on a search for the missing pages.

One of them turned out to be a page of unedited material. How do I know? Because it had a page number on it! This was a page I had looked at before and dismissed, because its content did not appear to me to part of the Gnomai. And then I noticed the page number, when revisiting the question in complete bafflement. I have put a lot of thought into this, extending over the best part of a year, and to be honest I am not much wiser than I was to start with, except for having gained the wisdom never again to get involved in unedited Coptic manuscripts! Apart from thinking, and having to do other things (like earning a living), I really struggled with reading the codices and only managed with a great deal of help.

Apart from saying “never again”, my final conclusion is that the scribe was working with a disordered original, and that somehow extraneous material got included, though not the material included by Revillout (because, if for no other reason, of the page number!) This page number, however, does prove that my instinct was correct and that Revillout had included extraneous material. In other words, there may not even be anything missing from the Gnomai after all (though there is no way of being sure, unless an independent textual witness turns up.) Nonetheless I have put all the relevant material into the book and each reader can decide what s/he wants to consider to constitute the Gnomai of Nicaea. Somehow, given that these orders are “living literature”, that’s appropriate.

Only today I got the breakthrough (or rather, I got given it) on figuring out the last page of fragments. Tomorrow (hopefully) the book will go to the press (again!), after one last read-through.

It will be St Patrick’s day. On that day, some years ago, I met my beloved wife. Somehow a dedication seems appropriate.

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Further appearances of church order material in non-church order contexts

A news(-ish) report here of this recent publication has some nice pictures of the miniature codex which is the subject of the study.

The miniature codex itself, entitled The Gospel of the lots of Mary, is an aid to divination, intended to deliver an oracle by being opened at random, rather as some Christians still open the Bible at random to find guidance.

The report at livescience also has a citation (with picture) of one of the oracles:

“Go, make your vows. And what you promised, fulfill it immediately. Do not be of two minds, because God is merciful. It is he who will bring about your request for you and do away with the affliction in your heart.”

The warning against double-mindedness is immediately reminiscent of the same warning in Didache 2.4 and parallels elsewhere in the Two Ways Tradition. As such this book of lots provides yet another example of the appearance of material which is found in the Church Order Tradition in other literary contexts (assuming that a book of lots is indeed a literary product.)

The question of whether this material was transmitted to this context within the church orders, as part of the catechesis of which this was originally a part, or through a further development such as a gnomic anthology, is entirely open. The sole purpose of this post is to observe the phenomenon.

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Syntagma doctrinae online

Having previously stated that Batiffol’s edition of the Syntagma doctrinae could not be found online, I must, once again, correct myself.

It is part of the second fascicle of his Studia patristica and may be found at His edition of the Fides patrum, however, is not available online as far as I can determine.

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More on Isaac of Nineveh

Further to my last post I found my copy of Marius Besson, ”Un recueil de sentences attribué à Isaac le Syrien”, Oriens Christianus 1 (1901): 46-60, 288-298. It has also been reprinted by Gorgias and may be obtained (at a price) from

I recollect now that the reason I did not include Isaac’s work in my book on the two ways is less that he was remote from the tradition, though he is, but more because the relevant material appears only in a few sentences towards the beginning, whereas there is a great deal of other material. Nonetheless, I realize now that this is another ascetic gnomologion. Given my interest in these, sparked by working on the Gnomai of Nicaea, I do now regret failing to give this work any further attention. It provides yet another instance of the asceticization of the Church Order tradition and the growth of the classical tradition of gnomologia as means of instruction and self-instruction in monastic circles.

Edit: Edited on 1st March 2021 to fix a broken link.

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Progress report

I have now received a scan of one of the two pages at the end of the Turin codex containing the Gnomai of Nicaea. Although it is largely lacunose and, due to the darkness of the papyrus, even what is extant is largely illegible from a photograph, I can at least rest assured that this is not a missing page of gnomai simply because it is written in two columns, whereas the rest of the gnomai are in one. Unfortunately, due to an error, only one of the two pages was sent; the other page which was sent was a duplicate of one I had already received. I have pointed this out and wait… again!

In the meantime, and more positively, the introduction and main text of my second edition of Traditio apostolica has gone into the editorial process. I need only now to check the appendix (containing the Hippolytean homily on the Psalms, as before) and recast the indices. My aim was to have this done by Pentecost, so I may well be on schedule.

A publication date is in the hands of the Press, but I do not anticipate that it will be long delayed. Unlike the Gnomai…


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Stephen of Thebes and the asceticization of the catechetical tradition

I have reblogged the Ge’ez of Stephen of Thebes from the learned blog of Alin Suciu. As Suciu notes, nothing is known of this figure, beyond his monastic status; indeed I am ashamed to say that I had not previously heard of him, or of this work. However, I was immediately struck by the echoes of the catechetical tradition which entered the church order tradition from the time of the Didache on, here, as in such works as the Fides patrum and the Syntagma doctrinae, effectively asceticized through the change of audience from those being baptized to those entering monastic profession. This is perhaps a theme which needs further to be explored, and so the evidence is reblogged with thanks.


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The Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus

Alin Suciu

My current projects include the editio princeps of the Gǝʿǝz version of Stephen of Thebes’ Sermo asceticus, which is preserved in an unicum, namely EMML 4493, ff. 103r-105r (dated 1528 CE). This author is one of the most mysterious Egyptian ascetical writers, because our sources seem to lack any biographical information about him. Although Stephen of Thebes remains shrouded in mystery, the numerous versions of his writings attest to the wide diffusion this ascetic writer once enjoyed.

The first who attempted a reconstruction of the ascetic corpus attributed to Stephen was Jean Darrouzès in 1961.[1] Darrouzès remarked that the Greek manuscripts attribute to Stephen three writings: the Sermo asceticus, a Diataxis and a series of brief monastic Entolai. It has already been remarked that the Diataxis is nothing else than a compilation from Logoi 3 and 4 of Abba Isaiah of Scetis.[2] For his part, William…

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The Gnomai of Nicaea: progress(?!) report

As reported earlier, the text of my edition of the gnomai of Nicaea went to the publishers. However, there has been something of a glitch. Tito Orlandi, “The Turin Coptic papyri” Augustinianum 53 (2013), 501-530,an article to which reference has already been made, gives a list of the pages in the codex, and includes as part of the gnomai some pages which Rossi had printed as fragments in an appendix, and one unedited leaf. Previously I had regarded the fragments as independent homiletic material and therefore had not included them. On the basis of Orlandi’s claim that these were part of the gnomai I determined that these had to be included, alongside the unedited pages. I had obtained a photograph of the unedited leaf, and translated and transcribed the fragments, when I realized that these probably are not, after all, to be included in the gnomai, not the least because the page numbers, where they are extant, would not add up in that the inclusion of this material would mean that there were more pages than there were numbers. Ergo, I concluded, my initial instinct was correct. However, in the process of counting the pages and considering the correct order of the leaves, I observed that there are two leaves of material which really does not fit; the material shares the mind-set of the gnomologist, but is not in gnomic form, but homiletic. I felt this when I was editing, but now I note that the page numbers of these leaves are lacunose; this material, moreover, comes after the other witnesses break off, so there is no independent check. I therefore suspect that Revillout, in his editio princeps, had included these leaves to make up the numbers, and was followed by Rossi. The upshot is that there may be two missing leaves from the gnomai. However, Orlandi also notes that there are two leaves of unedited and unidentified material which he placed at the end of the codex. Is it possible that this is the missing material? Possible, but probably not, as if they were self-evidently gnomic then surely Revillout would have included them. However, just to make sure, I am in the process of getting hold of scans of these leaves as well. I intend to include transcriptions of all this extraneous material in the edition, in a series of appendices, not least because it may be that Revillout and Rossi were correct in their placement. In the meantime Gorgias is being very patient given that, had it not been for this hiatus, the book would have been out by now. I can only hope that the book will be better as a result, and that I don’t make too much of a pig’s ear of the transcription of the unedited leaves. I would, indeed, be grateful for any offers of assistance.


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Again, the Coptic Canons of Basil

Alberto Camplani has confirmed to me there is indeed a new, and complete, Coptic manuscript of the Canons of Basil, discovered by the Polish Archaeological mission in Thebaid. He is working on this, and a report of progress, together with an assessment of the manuscript tradition, will appear in the Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, (Rome 2012.) He will, of course, take note of the other material previously observed.

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The Coptic version of the Canons of Basil

I had decided, on completion of the Gnomai, to gather in a convenient place the extant Coptic fragments of the Canons of Basil, which are otherwise extant solely in Arabic. The usual source for citation is in the (German) translation of a Berlin MS given in Wilhelm Riedel, Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien (repr. of 1900 edition; Aalen: Scientia, 1968), 231-283, though Coptic almost certainly lies behind the Arabic, and Greek, very likely, behind the Coptic.

Some of these Coptic fragments are found among the Turin papyri, in the same collection, transcribed by Rossi in the nineteenth century, which is the principal witness for the Gnomai. So I was interested to learn, from Tito Orlandi, “The Turin Coptic papyri” Augustinianum 53 (2013), 501-530, that there are further fragments there which were not published by Rossi. Rossi, incidentally, had not identified the fragments as from the Canons of Basil as Riedel’s work was not yet published. The identification was subsequently made by W.E. Crum, “The Coptic version of the “Canons of S. Basil”” Proceedings of the Society of biblical archaeology 26 (1904), 57-62, who also provided an English translation of Rossi’s transcription.

However, from the same article I also learned that a complete MS of the Coptic version of the Canons has been discovered and is being edited by Alberto Camplani; as such, to gather the existing fragments would be a waste of time. This does not mean that I won’t do it, but the onset of the cricket season means that I really will have better things to do for the next five months in any event. Nonetheless, we may look forward with eager anticipation to Camplani’s work. There is still a great deal of fundamental work to be undertaken on this outgrowth of the church order tradition.

For the record, Coptic fragments have been published (apart from Rossi’s transcription as translated by Crum) in J. Drescher, “A Coptic lectionary fragment” Annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte 51 (1951), 247-257 and by Paul E. Kahle in Bala’izah: Coptic texts from Deir el-Bala’izah in upper Egypt I (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1954), 412-416. I am happy to provide scans of this material to anyone interested.

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More on the Two ways

I have already alluded to my collection of the Two Ways material.
I may now observe an omission, namely the Canons of Basil. This collection, again with clear links to the church order tradition, includes a version of the two ways as canon 2, albeit one which is very remote from the literary tradition

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More on dating the Gnomes of Nicaea

Mark DelCogliano has chipped in on Alin Suciu’s blog: Trinitarian-theology wise, the text seems to espouse (in the first paragraph) a pneumatology that does not consider the Holy Spirit a creature, and yet does not accord the Spirit a role in creation equal to the Father and Son, i.e. the Father creates through the Son, and the Spirit increases creatures. Therefore, a context in which fully pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology had not yet been accepted seems most likely — the third quarter of the fourth century is the best bet, but this may me too precise.
Sounds spot on. In the meantime I have read Athanasius’ Ep. virg. 1, preserved in Coptic (edited by Lefort in CSCO 150), which means that my reservations about the redacted-in homily on Mary were misplaced as it seems to breathe the same spirit even whilst being distinct. Thus increasingly the date-range suggested by Mark seems plausible.

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Dating the Gnomes of Nicaea

Alin Suciu has been kind enough to post my provisional text and translation of the Gnomes on his immensely popular and learned blog. It may be seen here:

One reader has asked what its date might be. This is a question with which I will deal properly when I get to write the intro which will form part of the more permanent and conventional publication (together with the annotation, and which will occur when and only when, as somebody who claims no expertise in Coptic, I am assured that the translation and text are relatively free of blunders.)

However, for the moment…

Church orders are notoriously difficult to date due to the fact that they are rather like snowballs, gathering material as they go and trapping within themselves material which tends to reflect periods earlier than their redaction. Thus I pick up echoes here and there of the Didache. And there are no big giveaways that I can see within the text. However… the emphasis on monachai and the absence of any recognition of organized monasticism tends to point to the earlier part of the fourth century rather than the latter (though I am aware of at least one fifth century monachē). Again an argument from silence, but the lack of any reference to persecution tends to point towards the fourth century (post Constantine) rather than pre-. Also, however, to be taken into account is what looks like a homily on the Mother of God which has been redacted into the material. No evidence, but my gut feeling is that this is later…, which might indicate a later level of secondary redaction (as Revillout, I recollect, suggested.) (I do not count the inclusion of the word theotokos here as this is only in one late textual witness (B) and may well be the work of the copyist.) However, again on this point, it has been argued that Ambrose Virg. had read this part of the Gnomes (though it is equally possible, in my view, that he had read one of the sources, or had access to one of the traditions, namely the frequent angelic visitations which Our Lady received) which pushes back to the fourth again. Any advance? Athanasian authorship has been claimed, but is not widely accepted. Finally, it is transmitted alongside the Syntagma Doctrinae, which I have dated fairly precisely elsewhere to the 380s/390s. So we would probably not be way out if we placed the production in the same period, i.e. between 360 and 400.

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The Fides patrum in Ethiopic and the church order tradition

I have just read the Ethiopic version of the Fides patrum from the Ethiopian senodos edited by A. Bausi, “La versione etiopica dealla didascalia dei 318 niceni sulla retta fede e la vita monastica” in Ugo Zanetti and Enzo Lucchesi (edd.) Aegyptus Christiana (Geneva: Patrick Cramer, 2004), 225-248.

Although I have not made a detailed comparison with the Greek text (which I discuss and translate in my On the two ways: life of death, light or darkness (Yonkers NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2011), I observe that the conclusion lacks the instruction to priests found in the Greek, as well as the conclusion found in the Coptic version discussing, chiefly, the reception of offerings from “tainted” sources. However, we may also observe that the conclusion is entirely coherent. We are thus led to suggest that, like the church order material to which the text is closely related (although Bausi describes it as a monastic rule), this document was “living literature” and prone to alteration and expansion in its transmission. I am increasingly convinced that insofar as “church orders” are a coherent genre (possibly they are not… in spite of the name of this blog) then this, as well as other ascetic literature from 4th century Egypt, should be included within it.

The Greek version has clear echoes of the Two ways tradition (though apparently not transmitted through the Didache, as the sectio evangelica is absent), and the Coptic conclusion in discussing the issue of “tainted” offerings picks up a subject discussed in the Didascalia.

At present I am working on the Gnomes of Nicaea, a text transmitted alongside the Fides patrum in the Coptic manuscript tradition as part of a collection of material attributed to the Council of Nicaea, which is equally to be considered a relative of the church order tradition. More will be said on this in due course.

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