I was recently intrigued to notice that in the Church of England’s lectionary Macrina was kept alongside Gregory of Nyssa on 19th July, and described as a deaconess.
As I prepared for mass I wondered what the evidence was for this characterization, and how this might fit with the role and function of deaconesses in Testamentum Domini, which I believe to derive from fourth century Cappadocia, and thus to try and see Macrina in this light.
The only study I can find (though I am open to correction) is Sister Teresa CSA, “The development and eclipse of the deacon abbess” in E.A. Livingstone (ed.), Studia patristica 19 (Leuven: Peeters, 1989), 111-116; although Sr Teresa makes no use of Testamentum Domini, she does concern herself with the Cappadocians and with Macrina. She charts a process of development within forming monasticism in which deaconesses might be given charge of groups of consecrated virgins. As to Macrina, she is rightly cautious, whilst open to the possibility that she was a deaconess. In my opinion the evidence is thin to the point of non-existence.
Deaconesses make occasional appearance in the Testamentum. They stand within the veil, and receive communion before other women but after all others (1.23), and are classed with the readers and subdeacons in the deacon’s litany (1.35). They are to be trained by the widows (1.40). They have a residence near the gates of the church (1.19). Interestingly it is considered possible that they may be among latecomers to church (1.36). Finally we should note that the only liturgical duty attributed to them is to carry communion to women who are sick (2.20), by contrast to their role in baptism in the Didascalia, which in the Testamentum is the task of the widows (Testamentum Domini 2.8, in an addition to the Hippolytean original).
However, although the deaconesses appear occasionally and intermittently it does not appear that they are intrusions from another source, like the reader in Didascalia apostolorum 2.28.5 or the subdeacon in 2.34.3. Rather a coherent pattern emerges in which deaconesses are clearly junior in the hierarchy, and are ranked behind widows, who are the leading female ascetics in this community.
Rather speculatively, and in line with the evidence provided by Sr Teresa of Cappadocian deaconesses having charge of groups of virgins, I suggest the possibility that these deaconesses are the younger female ascetics, or those in charge of them. Hence they are trained by the widows, and rank behind them, on the basis of age, whilst having a recognized place in the ascetic hierarchy. Somehow one doubts that Macrina fits this mould, giving further support to my suspicion of those who compiled the Church of England’s calendar.
Category Archives: Testamentum Domini
I was recently intrigued to notice that in the Church of England’s lectionary Macrina was kept alongside Gregory of Nyssa on 19th July, and described as a deaconess.
An article by Dominic White OP, “’My mystery is for me’: a saying of Jesus?” Scripture Bulletin 44 (2014), 27-42, draws attention to the appearance of an agraphon in Testamentum Domini 18: “For my mysteries are given to those who are mine”. This agraphon appears elsewhere, notably in Clement Strom. 5.10, ps-Clement Rec. 19.19, and in Chrysostom Hom. in I Cor. on I Cor. 2:6-7.
It is also attributed to Isaiah by Theodoret of Cyrus In Psalmos on Ps 24 (25):14 (PG80.1041), where the text reads τὰ μυστήρια μου ἐμοὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς, and again with reference to Ps 65 (66):16 (PG80.1369), though here it is not attributed. It is also attributed to Isaiah (probably) by Jerome Ep. 48.13 (he attributes it to “the prophet”): “My mystery is for me,” says the prophet; “my mystery is for me and for them that are mine.” This reference is unobserved by White.
Isaiah 24:16b in the Vulgate reads: “Et dixi: Secretum meum mihi, secretum meum mihi.” Jerome further notes at Comm. in Is. 8.24 that the reading is attested by Theodotion. This reading is attested in one LXX stream with the reading: “και ειπεν το μυστηριον μου εμοι το μυστηριον μου εμοι”. One MS extends this with “και τοις εμοις.” The Hebrew text rendered is רזי לי, so it would seem that this MS has extended the text by citing the agraphon as received, rather than as found in the text. Even so it is noteworthy that when Jerome cites the passage he does so in a fuller form than that found in his version of Isaiah, again indicating that he had independent knowledge of the statement.
It is thus hard to say whether the agraphon was received by the redactor of Testamentum Domini (this passage certainly being redactional) as from Jesus directly or as from him through Isaiah, though given that it is in a fuller form, it seems more probable that it was received as from the direct testimony of Jesus. What is noteworthy is that here, as in the second citation from Theodoret, the saying is joined to Matt. 7:6. The clear intention of the redactor is to limit the instructions here received from Jesus to a select group, the ascetics of the Testamentum community.
I am glad to announce that my translation of Testamentum Domini is going through the processes of the press. At present we are proofing the ms before typesetting.
As a foretaste (and an encouragement to get the thing when it comes out) here is an appendix to the introduction, dealing with the epiklesis of the Testamentum.
Excursus: the “epiclesis”
Particular issues pertain to the Testament’s handling of the so-called epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition.
I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”
Before turning to the justification of the translation offered here we should discuss the history of interpretation.
The initial translation by Rahmani (1899), following the Mosul MS, read as follows: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, O Lord the Holy Spirit… Bring this drink and this food of your holiness, and cause that they may be for us….” The verb is ܐܬܐ which means “to come.” Here it is in what is called the aphel (causative), which may thus mean “bring” and Rahmani understands it in this sense. The form he understands as a feminine singular imperative (ܐܬܐܝ), which he takes as addressed to the Trinity.
For Cooper and McLean (1902) “this scarcely makes sense.” Thus, rather than beginning the request with “bring,” they adopt a reading from the Borgian Syriac MS, ܐܬܐܝܢ, a participle, rather than the imperative ܐܬܐܝ of the Mosul MS, and translate: “We have brought this drink and this food of thy Holiness to thee. Cause that it may be to us….” They find support for this in one Ethiopic version of the anaphora of the Testament, the so-called “Anaphora of Our Lord” published by Ludolf in 1691. The problem with this solution is that the Borgian Syriac text is generally poor.
Although Dix (1937) and Richardson (1947) commented briefly on this passage, in the context of an argument over the epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition, the next major contribution to the debate was that of Botte (1947), responding to Richardson’s brief comment. In particular Botte suggests that the verb ܐܬܐ in the aphel might equally well be a rendition of “send.” This is possible. As a feminine imperative he suggests it is addressed to the Spirit, but that the Syriac translator had failed to understand that in the Greek the word was accusative (the form would be the same in Greek) and that the petition to “send” was not originally addressed to the Spirit but to the Father, and that the Spirit was the object. Thus the original would have read: “Lord, send the Holy Spirit on this holy drink and this food….”
One merit of Botte’s suggestion is that an object is supplied; something, it seems, needs to come, or be sent, onto the gifts so that they may not be for condemnation, and the object is not the food and drink. Thus while it is tempting to accept Cooper and McLean’s adoption of the reading of B and so to make this passage a continuation of the oblation, making the food and drink the objects means that no account is taken of the word ܠ (“to” or “onto”) which precedes these words.
Richardson (1948), in response, found Botte’s suggestions entirely unconvincing. If the Syriac translator had so misunderstood the Greek accusative, he argues, then this would mean that he had completely missed the address to the Trinity, and the threefold “Lord” that it contains. Thus the Spirit cannot be an object, but is simply addressed as part of the Trinity. In seeking an object he turns his attention to the Syriac ܕ which is attached to the word translated “holiness”, and suggests that this represents a partitive genitive. Thus he translates: “Send (O Trinity) a portion of thy Holiness on this drink and food. Cause that it may be to us….” Bouyer (1968) similarly wonders whether the Syriac text is so obscure as to oblige us to have recourse to the suggestion of such a series of errors on the part of the Syriac translator, though in effect his suggestions return us to Rahmani’s reading.
White’s translation (1991) is interesting. He seems to accept the reading of B, with Cooper and McLean, but unlike them takes the whole phrase as addressed to the Holy Spirit: “Lord Holy Spirit, we have brought this food and drink of your holiness; make it be for us….” It seems odd to find an oblation to the Holy Spirit, but it is significant that he can see that the phrase might be addressed to the Spirit. This accounts for the feminine form of the imperative. It seems that he has accepted Botte’s suggestion that the translator had mistaken an accusative for a vocative, but unlike Botte translates the Syriac text as it stands, taking the feminine imperative as addressed to the (feminine) Spirit rather than correcting it (as Botte does) in accordance with a hypothetical Greek original.
More recent treatments have not advanced the debate. McKenna (2009) simply agrees with Botte without any discussion of the Syriac text, and McGowan (2014) likewise pays no mind to the Syriac text, or to any possible underlying Greek, offering us the following translation (in which the debt to Botte is evident), which she has derived from elsewhere:
We offer to you this act of thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Father, from whom all creation and all nature trembles as it flees into itself, Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon this drink and upon this your holy food. Grant that it may not be for us condemnation….
Before discussing the possibilities presented, the one contribution that I may make is to observe that the Arabic edited by Troupeau (2007) clearly understands that the Trinity is addressed. The Trinity is bidden: “make that this holy food and this drink of sanctification may not be condemnation for us…” thus missing out the verb in dispute. The imperative is masculine.
The question may perhaps be reopened in the light of our observation that the prayer as it stands is a result of combining two anaphoras.
We may recollect that Botte’s suggestion was criticized by Richardson on the basis of the violence it did to the address to the Trinity. However, it is possible that, in keeping with other prayers in the Testament, the Trinity as such was not addressed, but rather only the Father and the Son. This would explain the odd order found here, with the Son first. Thus the original, prior to the combination with Apostolic Tradition might have read:
To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling; send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….
The text of Apostolic Tradition facing the redactor is itself an uncertain matter, but it is highly probable that it read (as Botte suggested), “we ask that you should send your Holy Spirit….” As such it is possible that the mention of the Holy Spirit should be taken from Apostolic Tradition, and the words “Holy Spirit” supplied from that source. However much it may seem that the Trinity is addressed in the Testament, this is the result of the juncture of two sources.
The Holy Spirit in Apostolic tradition was the object. However, given the redactor’s freedom with the source, faced with the necessity of combining two prayers, and given that the sentence already had an object (the portion of holiness), I suggest that he deliberately turned this into a vocative, and thus addresses the Holy Spirit directly at this point. There are thus two addresses, one to the Father and the Son, and one to the Holy Spirit. The rightness of White’s translation becomes manifest when it is observed that this mention of the Spirit supplied from Apostolic Tradition has been inserted into an existing prayer. As such the change of case that results is also less significant than Richardson thought. He suggests, against Botte, that it is improbable that the translator would so misunderstand the original as to read an accusative as a vocative; the suggestion here is that there was no misreading, and that this is not the work of a later translator, but that the translator accurately rendered a deliberate change that had already been made by the redactor.
The result is thus a combination of the insights of Botte, who reconstructs the original of Apostolic Tradition, Richardson, who supplies an object by reading ܕ in the Syriac text as representing a partitive genitive, and White, who so punctuates that such that the address to the Spirit stands out, all understood through the lens of the redactor’s layering technique. The address is directed to the Holy Spirit (the mention of whom is supplied from Apostolic Tradition), the object is taken as “a portion of holiness” and the address to the Trinity recognized as an accident of redaction.
As a result of this I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”
Botte, Bernard (1947) “L’epiclèse de l’anaphore d’Hippolyte,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 14 (1947): 241–51
Bouyer, Louis (1968) Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame,)
Cooper, James, Arthur J. Maclean (1902) The Testament of Our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)
McGowan, Anne, (2014) Eucharistic Epicleses Ancient and Modern (London: SPCK)
McKenna, John H. (2009) The Eucharistic Epiclesis: A Detailed History, 2nd ed (Chicago: Hillenbrand)
Rahmani, Ignatius Ephraem II (1899) Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Mainz: Kirchheim)
Richardson, C.C.,(1948) « A Note on the Epicleses in Hippolytus and the Testamentum Domini,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 15 (1948): 357–59
Sperry-White, Grant (1991) The Testamentum Domini: A Text for Students (Bramcote: Grove)
Troupeau, Gérard, (2007) “Une version arabe de l’anaphore du Testamentum Domini” in Charles Chartouni, ed., Christianisme oriental: kérygme et histoire; mélanges offerts au père Michel Hayek (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner), 247–256
Newly published is “The deacon’s ‘garment’ at Traditio apostolica 22: an attempt at understanding” SVTQ 61 (2017), 119-122. Remember… you read it here first (see below!)
In Testamentum Domini 1.28 (part of the mystagogy) the Syriac reads ܕܡܢܗ ܠܠܒܵܘܬܐ ܕܗܢܘܢ ܕܕܚܠܝܢ ܠܗ. This does not make a lot of sense, and so Rahmani emends ܕܡܢܗ to ܕܡܢܗܪ (thus “illuminates the hearts of those who fear him”). Cooper and Maclean, alternatively, suggest ܕܡܢܝܚ, thus “delights the hearts”, based on a reading of the Arabic Didascalia. Yesterday I checked the readings of O. Burmeister, “The Coptic and Arabic versions of the Mystagogia” Le Muséon 46 (1933), 203-235, to find that the Coptic version from the liturgy of Maundy Thursday is the same as the Arabic Didascalia, thus “delights”. But bafflingly the Arabic of the Borgian Arabic MS of the Testamentum has “illuminates”! Baffling, I should clarify, because this text is in the Egyptian tradition, and so the variation cannot be ascribed to circles of transmission. All very odd, as I cannot see how the confusion might come about in Greek, though clearly two versions were circulating.
Whilst incorporating new material, Testamentum Domini strictly follows the order of Traditio apostolica as a source. It may expand, abbreviate or substitute, but the pattern of the original is manifest.
With one exception. Chapters 36-39 in Traditio apostolica read:
36: Every faithful one should be concerned that, before he consumes anything else, he partake in the eucharist. For if he partakes in faith, even if anything deadly is given him, after that it shall not overcome him.
37: Everybody should be concerned that one who is not of the faithful, nor a mouse nor any other animal, should eat of the eucharist, and that none of it should fall and be altogether lost. For it is the body of Christ to be eaten by the faithful, and not to be despised. 38: For, blessing the cup in the name of God, you received, as it were, the antitype of the blood of Christ. For this reason do not pour it out, that no alien spirit might lick it up because you despised it; you shall be guilty of the blood, like one who despises the price with which he has been bought.
39: The deacons and the presbyters should gather daily at the place which the bishop appoints for them. Let the deacons not fail to assemble at all times, unless illness prevents them. 2When all have gathered together, they should teach those who are in the church, and in this way, when they have prayed, each should go to the task which falls to him.
This is within the “longer ending”.
37 and 39 are omitted entirely by Testamentum Domini. This should not cause overmuch alarm as, in particular without chapter divisions, this might simply count as abbreviation. However, what is most odd is that 38 is included out of sequence earlier in the document, in material otherwise derived from Traditio apostolica 22, and 36 is found, again out of sequence, towards the end in the midst of material otherwise parallel to chapter 43.
Who can explore this strange design?
Offers, anyone? Anyone? I would suggest a mislocated page, but this would only account for one displacement, and not the other.
Three times a year, states the Testamentum Domini (1.28), the bishop is to instruct the people in the mysteries. This is to take place at Pascha, at Pentecost and at Epiphany.
The instruction concerns in particular the harrowing of hell. The only dedicated study of which I am aware is that of Jean Parisot, ”Note sur la mystagogie du “Testament du Seigneur”” Journal asiatique 9.15 (1900), 377-380, who finds some intriguing but not especially enlightening parallels.
However, this “mystagogy” is also found in the Arabic Didascalia (on which see prior posts) but most interestingly is preserved in Bohairic in the Coptic liturgy, at the consecration of the chrism. These texts are edited by O. Burmeister, “The Coptic and Arabic versions of the Mystagogia” Le Muséon 46 (1933), 203-235. What seems to me significant is the paschal context for this, as for the use in the Testamentum Domini. I am led to wonder whether this is a paschal proclamation in origin.
The “mystagogy” is, moreover, a finely-wrought bit of rhetoric:
Thus note the homoiarcton:
He is wisdom,
he is strength,
he is Lord,
he is understanding…
he is our light, salvation, saviour, protector,
helper, teacher, deliverer, rewarder,
assistance, strength, wall…
passible and impassible,
dead (yet) living,
Son of the Father,
incomprehensible and comprehensible…
Ethopoiia (as death cries out, homoiarctically by the way):
“Who is this, clothed in the humanity which was subject to me, and who has however conquered me?
Who is this who is wresting from destruction the flesh which was bound by me?
Who is this who is clothed in earth but who is yet of heaven?…”
Anyone familiar with Melito of Sardis, or indeed Polemo of Smyrna, will recognize the style.
I would hesitate to go beyond this, but am confident in claiming this as ante-Nicene, and as deriving from a paschal liturgical proclamation.