Tag Archives: Carl Schmidt

The reception history of the Didascalia

Sarah Whitear, in a comment below, asks about the reception history of the Didascalia. She asks, “Other than Apostolic Constitutions, are there any later Christian texts which comment or use the DA?” I thought it worth turning an answer into a post, though I should acknowledge that what follows is mostly taken straight from F.X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones apostolorum II (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1905), 3-14.

First up is the one I knew without looking it up! Epiphanius, in his chapter on the Audians (Haer. 70) refers to the Audians’ use of the Didascalia to justify their Quartodeciman practice. The text is called τῶν ἀποστόλων διάταξις; I conclude in my treatment, following many of the learned, that this is indeed the extant Didascalia. Things are slightly confused, however, by a statement elsewhere in the Panarion in which, discussing the “Aerians”, in which Epiphanius states: “If, indeed, I need to speak of the Ordinance of the Apostles (τῆς διατάξεως τῶν ἀποστόλων), they plainly decreed there that Wednesdays and Fridays be fasts at all times except Pentecost and directed that nothing at all be eaten on the six days of the Passover except bread, salt and water; and which day to keep, and that we break our fast on the night before the Lord’s Day. (Epiphanius Haer. 55.6.1). The mention of Wednesdays and Fridays is not derived from the Didascalia; it is not derived from the Didache either (as the Didache does not except the Pentecost), and nor is it Apostolic Constitutions 7. Most puzzling. Unless Epiphanius is quoting from faulty memory.

Finally we may note that in Haer. 45.4.5 Epiphanius states: καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοί φασιν ἐν τῇ διατάξει τῇ καλουμένῃ ὅτι «φυτεία θεοῦ καὶ ἀμπελὼν ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία». This may either be the Didascalia or the Constitutiones, though I’m inclined to think it the Didascalia.

In conclusion, I think we can take it that Epiphanius had some knowledge of the Didascalia, and that the Audians did likewise.

We may next turn to a Coptic version of Athanasius’ Paschal letter, edited by Carl Schmidt, “Der Osterfestbrief des Athanasius vom J. 367” Nachrichten von der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-historische Klasse 1898 (Göttingen: Horstmann, 1898), 167-203. Where the Greek text refers to the Didache, the Coptic refers to ⲧⲇⲓⲥⲕⲁⲗⲓⲕⲏ ⲛ̄ⲛⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ and adds, “I do not mean that which is said to censure Deuteronomy”. Schmidt suggests that the translator does not know the Didache at all, but has some knowledge of the Didascalia and was therefore confused. This seems entirely reasonable. We may add that the existence of a (lost, apart from a tiny fragment) Coptic translation of the Didascalia would point to some circulation in Egypt.

There are a number of citations of the Didascalia in the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, cited in detail by Funk, though I deal with these rather briefly. There is no doubt that the Didascalia is cited here, but given our total lack of knowledge about the origin of this work, it does not assist us much with tracing a reception history. Perhaps somebody with greater knowledge of the Opus imperfectum could jump in here and assist.

Finally we may note, with Funk, some citations of the Didascalia in Bar-Hebraeus, in his Nomocanon, and in his Ethicon. No surprise here.

R.H. Connolly (Didascalia apostolorum (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929), lxxxiv-lxxxvii) discusses Funk’s work and ventures to suggest that the Didascalia was also known to Aphraahat. As discussed in a recent post, there is certainly a large overlap at significant points between the two, though I would tend to consider this the result of a common cultural and theological milieu, rather than looking for direct influence in one direction or another. In part this comes about because I have dated the Didascalia rather later than Connolly.

Connolly also believes that the ps-Clementines made use of the Didascalia (again, I think this unlikely due to the dating of the Didascalia to the fourth century, though, again, perhaps this could be explored further), and finally suggests that the Apostolic Church Order and Canones Hippolyti knew the work.

I have discussed the relationship between Apostolic Church Order and the Didascalia in my edition, where I suggest that the two do share a common source. I leave the discussion there.

Turning to the Canones Hippolyti Connolly reckons three points of derivation. I do not think any of them can be sustained.

Firstly he points to the gathering of the apostles in the first chapter. However, the Canones do not refer to the apostles; the reference is certainly to a council of some sort, but it could equally well be Nicaea.

He further refers to the paschal provisions of Canones Hippolyti in canon 22. “Every point emphasized here is to be found in chapter xxi of the Didascalia” he states. I deal with these parallels in pp24-27 of my edition of Canones Hippolyti and conclude that they do not point to literary dependence, but to a common paschal practice, rooted, we may add, in the Quartodeciman origins of the communities which produced these documents. This in turn was part of the basis for my argument that the Canones are not Egyptian.

The final parallel to which he points had me stumped for a while. He refers to Canon 22 and to a provision that women being baptized should be assisted by other women in removing their clothing before baptism which is, he suggests, reminiscent of the role of women deacons in the Didascalia. His source is the edition of Hans Achelis, Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechts 1: die Canones Hippolyti (TU 6.4; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1891), who had in turn lifted a Latin translation from D.B. von Haneberg, Canones S Hippolyti Arabice e codicibus Romanis cum versione latina, annotationibus et prolegomenis (Munich: Academia Boica, 1870). Sure enough I do find this in Haneberg’s Latin, but the puzzle is that there is nothing corresponding to it in the Arabic text! How it got there I know not, but on this occasion it has misled Connolly significantly

In summary, the reception history is thin. But the enquiry has been interesting.


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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: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.55123 (Hall 1893). He asked me whether this could be a Church Order. I identified the piece as the so-called Letter from Heaven (Himmelsbrief) – a text that I indicated as a possible Church Order more than a year ago in my response to Alistairs pioneering Church Order conspectus (https://ancientchurchorders.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/a-conspectus-of-the-church-orders/#comments).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principal Literature (chronologically):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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