Tag Archives: Aksumite Ethiopic

The receptacle for the loaf at Traditio apostolica 22

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

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

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

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

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

Firstly here is the entire passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the relevant passage should read:

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

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

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



Filed under Apostolic Tradition, E-rrata, Testamentum Domini

Elements of the Didascalia and the Didache in the Ethiopic versions of Traditio apostolica

One of the many peculiarities of the Ethiopic transmission of Traditio apostolica in the senodos is the inclusion within it of the apostolic decree from Acts (possibly derived from the Didache), certain provisions from the Didache (chiefly those regarding prophets and travellers, so Didache 11.3-13.7, together with Didache 8.1-2) and a short section of the Didascalia, basically most of the twelfth chapter of the Syriac version (2.57-2.58.6). Because of the disorder in this text this material appears in the middle. What is interesting is that in the new Aksumite Ethiopic text published by Bausi, the same material is found; here it is found towards the end of Traditio apostolica, following on from the directions regarding the cemeteries, and followed only by the brief concluding chapter.

I have been curious about this for some time. Now Jonathan Draper in his “Performing the cosmic mystery of the church in the communities of the Didache“, newly published in Jonathan Knight and Kevin Sullivan (ed.), The open mind: essays in honour of Christopher Rowland (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 37-57 at 45-6, suggests that the appearance of this section in the Ethiopic transmission (I think he is referring to the senodos, though he is a bit vague), and also in the Coptic version (though we should note that the Coptic version is a fragment, rather than an anthology, and begins at 10.6), is “highly significant, indicating that prophets and rules for their control were still relevant or even burning issues.” He suggests that this catena of texts was brought to Ethiopia by Asian monks in the third century, and that they had brought this catena of texts as it “reflected the nature of the mission of the monks to Ethiopia.” He suggests that these monks, moreover, were sympathetic to the new prophecy.

The Coptic version, being a fragment, may be left entirely out of consideration here. This leaves the substantive question of whether the text as currently preserved was brought as is, from Asia or elsewhere, or was excerpted within Ethiopia, or Egypt.

If Draper is correct, one would have to account not only for the material regarding prophecy being excerpted, but also for the eighth chapter, and also for inclusion of the fragment of the Didascalia, not to mention the apostolic decree. This does not seem to be explainable by recourse to the interests of pro-Montanist monastic missionaries (alluring alliteration). Then again, there is no obvious reason why the selection currently found should have been produced within Ethiopian Christianity; even if there was a need within Ethiopia for the regulation of prophets, this hardly explains the selection of the rest of the material, nor its inclusion within Traditio apostolica.

If the Aksumite text is indeed derived directly from Greek, as is most probable, then this in turn implies that the other material was also rendered directly from Greek (thus making the Ethiopic texts more important witnesses for the text of the Didascalia than previously realized). It also implies that the selection might have been made not in Ethiopia but in Alexandria, at an earlier stage in transmission. The question of the purpose of its anthologizing and inclusion among the other church order texts thus remains unanswered, though I am glad that Draper has drawn attention to the issue.


Filed under Apostolic Tradition, Didache, Didascalia Apostolorum

Apostolic Tradition 21.39-40, the white stone, and a matter of balancing the Coptic against the Aksumite Ethiopic

Over on hypotyposeis.org I find, over a year later, a discussion of Apostolic tradition 21.39-40; the hyperlinked post is the first of three.

The Sahidic of Apostolic Tradition reads: “We have handed over to you in brief these things about holy baptism and the holy offering, since you have already been instructed about the resurrection of the flesh and the other things according to the Scriptures. Now (δέ) if anything else should be said, the bishop shall say it privately…” There is a significantly different reading in the Aksumite Ethiopic, an understanding which may well stand behind the version offered by the Testament of the Lord. This text reads: “It is therefore convenient to be given this in brief on the washing and on the offering because they have already been instructed. But about the resurrection of the body and everything else in accordance [with the Scriptures] the bishop will reveal and explain as is convenient when they are initiated.” Testament of the Lord is slightly confusing, but the confusion may come about through attempting to make sense of a reading like that of the Aksumite: “They should also be taught about the resurrection of bodies; before being baptized nobody should know the word concerning the resurrection.” Andrew Criddle, for whom I have the utmost respect, believes that the Aksumite reflects a more accurate rendition of the original, given the potential support of Testamentum Domini, and locates the precise matter regarding the resurrection, which is to be held secret, in the teaching regarding the harrowing of hell which is found in Testamentum Domini presented as mystagogy.

I’m afraid that on this occasion I cannot agree. It is as likely that this particular mystagogy is a peculiarity of the Testamentum. The Aksumite Ethiopic may be derived from a Greek text very similar to the Coptic. To demonstrate the point I attempt a retroversion of the relevant phrase(s) without punctuation (and with apologies for the horrible appearance of the Greek): … περὶ τοῦ λουτροῦ καὶ τῆς προσφορᾶς ἐπειδὴ ἤδη κατήχησθε (or ηνται following Ethiopic) περὶ τῆς τῆς σαρκὸς ἀναστασέως καὶ τὰ λοιπά κατὰ τᾶς γραφάς… Now if a full stop or colon is placed after the verb κατήχησθε the meaning is as the Ethiopic (though admittedly the style would be improved with a δέ after the περί), whereas should the full stop or colon be placed after τᾶς γραφάς then the meaning is as the Coptic. It is quite possible that the redactor of the Testamentum Domini (mis)read the text in the same way as the Ethiopic scribe.

I treat the point in the second edition of my Apostolic tradition (now languishing forgotten at the Press) but since the discussion had already entered the blogosphere I thought it worth labouring here at rather greater length than I do in the book.

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Apostolic Tradition on military catechumens

In the Sahidic version of Apostolic Tradition 16 (the Latin being wanting) it is said of a soldier seeking baptism that he shall not “go to the task” if he is ordered, nor swear the oath. The meaning is obscure. The Aksumite Ethiopic, however, is clear that a soldier is not to offer sacrifice, not to swear the oath, and not to wear a wreath. The Canons of Hippolytus likewise reflect the prohibition of swearing and wearing of the wreath. We may thus reasonably believe that the new Ethiopic version retains the closest reflection of the original. “Not to go to the task” may be some corrupted version of the words regarding sacrifice, though I am at a loss to suggest precisely what.

The particular reason for drawing attention to this is an essay by Yoder on military service in the church orders, found at http://www3.nd.edu/~theo/jhy/writings/history/ecdisc%26ord.htm#N_40_, in which Yoder deduces on the basis of this section of Apostolic Tradition that the principal objection to military service was not the issue of the close relationship with the cultus of the emperor, as is often held. He appears to be using a translation based on the Sahidic, though I am a bit confused as to which, as he makes reference to the Latin (which is not extant for this passage!) However, the Aksumite Ethiopic seems to shift the balance somewhat.

There are a number of significant flaws in Yoder’s use of the church order material in his essay, on which I will not expatiate. It is interesting, as he himself notes, that an ethicist might find material in these documents; ethicists, however, should be as cautious in their use as liturgiologists have, in recent years, learnt to be. Which is not to say that they should not use the material, simply that they should handle it with care.

Edit: August 2022. I find that the link is broken. Apologies, as I cannot find another version, though I will keep looking.

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