Tag Archives: Didascalia Apostolorum

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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Aphrahat and the Didascalia on the secondary legislation

I have just read Sergey Minov, “Food and social boundaries in late antique Syria-Mesopotamia. Syriac Christians and Jewish dietary laws and alimentary practices” Antiquité Tardive 27 (2020), 69-82.

Abstract: Le propos principal de cet article concerne les différentes façons dont le discours touchant le domaine alimentaire a été utilisé par les chrétiens syriaques pendant l’Antiquité tardive pour parvenir à construire une identité collective distincte, indépendante du judaïsme, et établir des frontières sociales avec les Juifs. Il examine comment les règles alimentaires bibliques ont été réinterprétées par les exégètes syriaques, comme Aphrahat (IVe siècle) et Jacques de Sarough (VIe siècle), qui se sont efforcés de montrer le caractère inadapté des prescriptions pour les chrétiens. Il examine également la façon dont les hymnes comme les Canons prescrivaient d’éviter les repas entre chrétiens et juifs. Enfin, il aborde la question complexe du rapport entre ce discours discursif du christianisme indépendant des juifs et du judaïsme et la réalité sociale non moins complexe de la Syro-Mésopotamie tardoantique.

Beyond its intrinsic interest, the reason for mentioning it here is Minov’s observation that Aphraahat employs the same distinction between the still binding decalogue and the “secondary legislation” that is found in the Didascalia, and indeed links this to the making of the golden calf. This tends to place the “deuterotic redactor”, rather as I suspected, somewhere early in the fourth century, and in east Syria.


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What did deacons do?

It’s been a busy week in the small world of the ancient church orders. Last night saw a virtual launch party for Pauliina Pylvänäinen’s book on Apostolic constitutions (which I couldn’t get into!), but also a series of online seminars as part of the ongoing project on diakonia shared between the University of Eastern Finland and the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology. Two were directly related to the church order literature, and the other certainly connected:

The papers given are now available online. They are:

Why Ask what Deacons Did? Dr. Arnold Smeets, TST
The Liminal Nature of the Diaconal Role in the Didascalia Apostolorum. Phoebe Kearns, University of Winchester

Deacons in the Testament of Our Lord. The State of the Question and Avenues for Future Research. Dr. Grant White, Sankt Ignatios College, Stockholm School of Theology
Deacons in the Writings of Gregory Nazianzen. Dr. Brian J. Matz, Fontbonne University (U.S.A.)

The privacy notice will disappear, or you can simply click it out.


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Dionysius of Alexandria and the Didascalia on counting to three

Basil Lourié has drawn my attention to a testimonium of Timothy Ailuros preserved in Armenian, most easily accessed (or at least most easily accessed by unlettered parish priests) through the translation of F. C. Conybeare, “The patristic testimonia of Timotheus Aelurus (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Dionysius)” JTS 15 (1913), 432-442, at 437-442. This collection of testimonia includes a citation of Melito of Sardis, attributed to Irenaeus, which is also found in Syriac (see elsewhere on the blog.) However, the reason for drawing attention to it here and now is the discussion of sabbath and Sunday drawn from the correspondence of Dionysius of Alexandria, which is related to the passion chronology. Dionysius is arguing that the day concludes at nightfall. Were it otherwise, and the following night to be counted as part of a day, then he suggests that the resurrection would have occurred not on the third day but on the second.

In the process he takes issue with those who reckon that the darkness which fell at the crucifixion is to be reckoned as a night, and so compute the three days as including three nights, beginning with this “nightfall” on the Friday. This is precisely the calculation employed in the Didascalia at 5.13.9-13a:

And they crucified him on the Friday. He suffered at the sixth hour on Friday. These hours in which our Lord suffered were reckoned as a day, 10and then there was darkness for three hours, and this was reckoned a night. And again, there were three hours, from the ninth hour until evening, – a day, and afterwards the night of the sabbath of the passion. Now in the Gospel of Matthew it is written thus: ‘On the evening of the sabbath as the first day of the week was dawning came Mary and the other Mary, Magdalene, to see the tomb. And there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down and rolled the stone away.’ And so there was the day of the sabbath, and three hours of the night which were after the sabbath when our Lord was sleeping. And what he had said was fulfilled, that the son of man should spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, as it is written in the Gospel.

Not having otherwise met such a calculation, I am intrigued to find it here, and wonder whether it might have been more widespread than I had previously thought.

On another note, Dionysius (on the assumption that the attribution is correct) seems to support the evidence of Socrates HE 5.22 that worship at the close of sabbath continued in Egypt.


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The time of the resurrection

I have previously posted on the fragments of Melito De anima et corpore.

Although I do not have full access to the witnesses, I have the Syriac under the name of Alexander of Alexandria and the Coptic under the name of Athanasius through E.A. Wallis Budge, Coptic homilies in the dialect of Upper Egypt (London: British Museum, 1910).

My reading today was undertaken as a spiritual exercise at a time when normally I would be saying mass (but was prevented from doing so by government regulation), but inevitably did not stay so. I observed that whereas the Coptic states that Christ rose from the dead “in the third (hour) of the day” (ϩⲙ̄ⲡⲙⲉϩϣⲟⲙⲛⲧ ⲛ̄ϩⲟⲟⲩ) the Syriac reads “on the third day” (ܠܬܠܬܐ ܝܘܡܝܢ).

Whereas it might be obvious that the Syriac has rendered τῃ τρίτῃ τῆς ἡμέρας as though it were τῃ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ (a simple enough mistake, given that this is a familiar phrase) there is more. Epistula apostolorum 15 implies that the paschal vigil is to conclude at 3am, a direction made explicit in Didascalia apostolorum 5.19.6 (part of chapter 21 in the Syriac.)

On the assumption that the reading of the Coptic is correct this all implies that there was an established pattern of maintaining the vigil until 3am in Quartodeciman communities, a suspicion now confirmed by Melito. All I need to do now is persuade my parish that this is the best time for the Easter vigil!

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Timothée : Sur la Pâque

9782204131582-5dcc24aad0a90Newly appeared is Pierre Chambert-Protat, Camille Gerzaguet, Timothée : Sur la Pâque. Édition princeps et critique, traduction française, introduction, notes et index (SC604; Paris: Cerf, 2019).

This is a text regarding issues in timing the Pascha, which the editors persuasively argue derives from Asia, and slightly (but only slightly) less persuasively from a period prior to Nicaea.

A new text is always exciting, and this is of exceptional interest and importance.

Certain points of personal satisfaction emerge. Firstly, having long suggested that the reason why Quartodeciman practice was objectionable to those who did not keep a Sunday Pascha, or any Pascha, was that the fourteenth might concur with a Sunday, and thus take precedence, because in this event the Sunday would be marked by fasting, I now find this explicitly stated by Timothy in De Pascha 13. I also recollect suggesting that the Quartodecimans need not have used Nisan as their “fourteenth”, and again find that this suggestion is confirmed as a practice in some quarters by Timothy De Pascha 15 (a polemic against appeal to the Acta Pilati, the significance of which is not immediately clear but explained by the editors in the introduction.)

Beyond this personal satisfaction, the text is a gold-mine regarding issues of paschal practice in Asia. Thus we also have a statement of Pascha as deliberately anti-Jewish (by contrast to the attitude of vicarious fasting lying behind the Quartodeciman source of Didascalia 21) made clear in De Pascha 18.

The editors suggest that Timothy is aiming his polemic against four groups, only one of which is characterized as Quartodeciman. My reading (admittedly only a cursory first reading of a text to which I will return often) indicates that these are all in some sense Quartodeciman groups, and that the arguments are connected; the first group is the “evening” Quartodecimans of whom Apollonaris of Hierapolis is a representative, who held an evening Pascha as the commemoration of the last supper at the same time as the Jewish Pesaḥ (and appealing to a synoptic chronology). The other groups whom Timothy opposes are, I suggest, offshoots of Quartodeciman practice. As Christians became more removed from Jewish practice they could no longer employ Jewish calculations of Pascha, leading to all sorts of confusion in Quartodeciman circles, which are already coming about in the 170s.

Timothy’s own opinion of the proper computation of the Pascha is less clear, which leads me to wonder whether he was in some sense an apologist for the Nicene settlement of the Paschal question. This would fit his rhetoric, and the indications that some sort of triduum is forming, rather than a unitative Pascha. The absence of reference to the equinox does not invalidate this thesis, as it might be taken as assumed and known. If the text derives from a period immediately after Nicaea the later issue of the protopaschites would not have yet arisen.

The purpose of this post, however, is less to ask questions of the editors, but to thank them for their work in bringing this fascinating and vital text to light, and to encourage you all to get your copy 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 https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.sir.353 (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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Women at the last supper: the witness of the church orders


The fresco of Cerula restored

I have just read the chapter “The Life of the Virgin and Its Antecedents” in Ally Kateusz, Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden leadership (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). If I have done the hyperlink correctly, this should take you to the e-book on google play.

The chapter is largely concerned with the question of whether a (late) Life of the virgin extant in Georgian held that female disciples were present at the last supper. I cannot comment on this part of the chapter; not for the first time I admit to being Georgian-challenged. However, the author, at the end of the chapter, seeks traces of this tradition in the church order literature.

First she points to DA 2.26.4-8:

…but the bishop is high-priest and Levite. He it is who ministers the word to you and is your mediator, yourteacher, and, after God, is your father who has regenerated you through the water. He is your chief, he is your master, he your powerful king. He is to be honoured by you in the place of God, since the bishop sits among you as a type of God. The deacon, however, is present as a type of Christ, and is therefore to be loved by you. And the deaconess is to be honoured by you as a type of the Holy Spirit. The presbyters are also to be reckoned by you as a type of the apostles, and the widows and orphans are to be considered among you as a type of the altar.

This the author describes as a “kernel that survived the final redactor (which) preserves a stunning example of its original gender parity—a liturgical pair, a male deacon and a female deacon.”

I would love for this to be true, but fear that the point of the passage is to exalt the bishop, to keep presbyters in their place, and to introduce the image, perhaps borrowed from Polycarp, of the widow as an altar. Insofar as liturgical arrangements are concerned, we may note that the deaconess has probably supplanted the place of the widows as found in Testamentum Domini, and is probably the work of the uniting redactor.

I do, however, agree broadly (as she agrees with me (!) and with Allie Ernst) that the passage in Apostolic church order 24-28 regarding the propriety of women celebrating the sacraments with reference to Mary’s presence at the last supper does relate to the possibility that a version of this account had broadened the numbers present beyond the twelve to incorporate the presence of female disciples. Kateusz writes:

“This scribe’s focus on repeatedly undermining Mary’s authority suggests that the scribe considered Mary herself a threat. The text itself belies a raging ideological conflict over the role of women officiants. One faction was using Mary to justify women officiants, and the other faction, represented by this scribe, was going to great lengths to try to undermine Mary’s authority. This scribe, thus, was not only aware of a preexisting tradition that said women had been present at the last supper, and that Jesus had authorized them as ministers there—he also knew that the communities who followed this tradition considered Mary herself the model for these women clergy.”

I am not sure that I could go quite this far in reconstructing the situation behind the passage with such detail, but do not retract my earlier (2006) statements that the situation is broadly along these lines and that “The whole point of the discussion is to subordinate women’s participation in the celebration of the eucharist.” My suspicion, moreover, is that the “other faction” is outwith the community of the redactor. I do accept the possibility, however, that there was some literary text to which the redactor of Apostolic church order is making reference. Possibly, an observation which is less than friendly to Kateusz’s case, this is the source of the agraphon found here that the weak will be saved through the strong.

Kateusz is part of the Wijngaards Theological Institute. I am aware that this is not the first time that I have criticized the use of church order material by members of this Institute. I must re-iterate that I have no axe to grind here, and consider it inappropriate as an Anglican to intervene in a discussion in another part of the catholic church. My concern is solely that enthusiasm for a change within the Roman church (or any other Christian community come to that) should not blunt our historical acumen.

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Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis: review

vaucherI have at last received my copy of Daniel Vaucher’s book Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis: die früchristlichen Kirchenordnungen (Hildesheim: Olms, 2017). My thanks to Dr Vaucher for his kind note, and for sending me a second copy after the Post Office managed to lose the first. I am sorry that it has taken so long for a review to appear.

The object of the work is to understand Christian understandings of slavery through a proper examination of Christian sources, which has not been undertaken with sufficient rigour, particularly not by recent studies. Although there is a focus on church orders, the author has an extensive knowledge of other early Christian literature; thus the opening, which refers to the Vita Polycarpi and to the Acta Andreae, plunges us directly into the world of unreflective Christians in antiquity.

After setting out the purpose of the work in the first chapter, in the second chapter Vaucher describes and contextualizes the church orders, setting their development in the world of a developing, urbanizing, diverse Christianity. On the basis of function the church orders are seen as prescriptive Christian texts, setting out an ideal which may be in tension with the reality. Hence the title of the work sees Christian discourse regarding slavery setting norms which are not actually achieved. Beyond this, however, the following chapters manifest the extent of unanswered questions regarding early Christianity and slavery. The study is not, however, restricted to the church orders, but to other prescriptive material, or material which might be read as prescriptive. Thus the third chapter focusses on Paul. Vaucher demonstrates the variety of unanswered questions regarding slavery in the Pauline corpus, in particular in the interpretation of Philemon. His overall suggestion is that Paul has an ideal which is eschatological in goal, but which is also not manifested. Such a failure is manifested in the Corinthian Gemeindemahl and in the treatment of slavery. This is rather better than “love-patriarchalism” as an understanding of Paul’s approach, since it takes account of the eschatological nature of the real Christian communities, and sees the disappearance of slavery as part of the yet-unrealized Kingdom.

This leads to the deutero-Pauline literature in the fourth chapter, as in this literature we see something similar to the church orders, as well as the first treatment of the church orders’ directions concerning slavery. Vaucher suggests that the Pauline tension is unresolved, and that there are two streams in early Christianity, broadly “libertarian” or ascetic, a stream later represented by monasticism, and a more bürgerlich stream represented by the church orders as in previous generations by the Haustafel. It is in the course of this chapter that there is one of the many interesting discussions of detail, here in particular over the question of the purchase of slaves by congregations in order that they may obtain their freedom. Vaucher points to the very different versions of the same material in Didascalia 2.62.4 and its parallel in Constitutiones apostolorum, where the latter text indicates the possibility that slaves might be purchased. This is read in the light of the earlier prohibition on the purchase of slaves’ freedom from common funds in the Ignatian Ad Pol., indicating that the practice of post-Constantinian Christianity was different, by virtue of living in a different ecclesial contest.

The theme of lack of resolution continues as the fifth chapter examines the tension which exists between the rhetoric (and ritual) of baptism and the reality of slavery. Here Vaucher raises, and in my opinion answers correctly, a particular issue regarding the demand in Traditio apostolica for a “master’s reference” for a slave-catechumen. The same chapter also considers slave office-holders, though this might better have been discussed separately, as Vaucher returns in a subsequent chapter to the matter of the catechumenate, pointing out in the sixth chapter the extent to which the “forbidden professions” of Traditio apostolica might tend to exclude slaves. The author might reasonably respond to this criticism that the chapter continues the theme of the book overall, which is the tension between the institution of slavery and the practice of slavery; indeed, although the matter of slaves as office-holders has been discussed to some extent already in this blog, the discussion in the book goes far beyond this, suggesting that exclusion was a later phenomenon, but suggesting that certain offices, particularly in the earliest period, might principally have been held by the slaves and freedmen of the episkopos-patron. The brief discussion of the role and origin of the reader is particularly enlightening here.

As already noted, the sixth chapter concerns potential exclusion of slaves from the catechumenate on the basis of forbidden professions. Again, this is an unnoticed area which Vaucher has done well to observe. The chapter may be read alongside the useful appendix setting out the “forbidden professions” as found in the various sources.

The seventh chapter turns to the treatment of slaves. Again the tension within the Christian message and the practice of slavery emerges. As is the case in many of the chapters, a host of sub-questions emerges. In particular the observations regarding the extent to which both the pseudo-Ignatians and the Consitutiones apostolorum expand their Vorlagen considerably in encouraging the proper treatment of slaves, and introduce extensive material which is not in the documents which they are reworking, cause Vaucher to suggest that the authors are facing a real issue in their Antiochene context, and that the poor treatment of slaves is still an issue three hundred years into the life of the Christian movement. The same chapter observes the similarities and differences between the catalogues of those from whom gifts are to be refused in the Didascalia, the Constitutiones apostolorum and in the pseudo-Athanasian material such as the Fides patrum, in particular with regard to the treatment of slaves. The literary puzzle is perhaps insoluble, but its observation is worthwhile, and the extent to which it forms a tradition is noteworthy.

A final chapter compounds the puzzle of unanswered questions by posing the question of slavery and sex, in a society in which slaves were the sexual property of their owners. Could a slave employed for a master’s sexual satisfaction become a Christian or would this pollute the body to an extent that such a person is of necessity excluded? Again one feels that this topic might better have been discussed in the context of catechumenate, but the questions are well-posed nonetheless.

The conclusion repeats the extent of the problematic, and emphasizes the extent to which the institution of slavery goes unquestioned in the Christian sources, even whilst standing in tension to the Christian Gospel.

There are also appendices and excursus. Reference has already been made to the appendix laying out the various versions of the “forbidden professions”; this is preceded by an extensive appendix setting out the various church orders in their interrelated confusion. The interest of this to the readers of the blog is obvious.

The main argument is valuable, but the value of the work goes beyond the overall argument, firstly in the manner in which it provides a worked example of the importance of the church orders as historical documents and at the same time their limitations and secondly, as already indicated, in the individual discussions of disputed and unclear points.

As an example of such, I may take that of concubinage in Traditio apostolica. Vaucher notes the particular arrangements for concubines in Traditio apostolica 16, and the recognition here of the social (and legal) reality of slave-concubines. However, he notes the oddness that there is no mention of the controversy with Kallistos, who had allowed the de facto marriage of free women and enslaved men, something criticized roundly in the Refutatio. It emerges from Vaucher’s discussion that Kallistos’ intention was that Christian women were to have Christian spouses, and thus that there might be difficulty for them to find Christian husbands of their own social status. Thus although Vaucher, who rightly recognizes the “aristokratische Besinning” of Hippolytus, determines in the end that the situation is unclear (249), his discussion actually points us in the direction of some solution here, in that the chapter concerns catechumens, rather than established Christians. As such the situation would not arise, as these male slaves would already be Christians, rather than being catechumens. I would have to revise my opinion of the text of TA 16.14b (derived from the Greek epitome) and now see this as a gloss. In this respect we may also note the important text Constitutiones apostolorum 8.34.13, to which Vaucher directs our attention.

The wealth of such detailed discussions is what makes the work so valuable. Thankfully it is equipped with a Stellenregister to ease the reader who wishes to explore the individual aspects of the texts, as well as an excellent bibliography, which testifies to the depth of the research. It is also printed in a remarkably clear typeface. However, given the value of the contents and the fact that they have taken a subvention for publishing, one might have hoped that Olms would have produced a sturdier product. But the publishers are our masters.

Beyond giving the book a wholehearted commendation and its author warm congratulations, I may perhaps be allowed a personal note of thanks. In a West Indian context we cannot forget the legacy of slavery and the evils which accompanied it, and struggle with the manner in which the Christian churches, particularly the Anglican churches, were complicit in its continuation. Vaucher’s work at least reminds us that this was not a perversion introduced in the seventeenth century but that such confused thinking was a legacy of the earliest period of Christian development.


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The smell of baking bread: Mart. Pol. 15

In Didascalia apostolorum we read: “You set pure bread before him, which is formed by fire and sanctified by the invocation, offering without demur and praying for those who sleep.” (DA 6.22.2.)

In Traditio apostolica 22 we read: “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.”

Dix, (Treatise, 44) suggests that “the bread they are given” should be read instead of “the baked bread”— reading wefoya (delivered) rather than ‘afoya (baked)— a reading which is found in two manuscripts of the later Ethiopic text. Botte (Tradition apostolique, 61 n. 3) suggests that since the same phrase appears in the Ethiopic version at chapter 26 below “baked” must be the correct reading, though he is at a loss as to what the term means. Moreover, the appearance of “baked” in the Aksumite Ethiopic means that “baked” should certainly be read. Similarly the Aksumite version has “baked bread” in TA 26.

In previous publications I have noted this emphasis on the fact that bread is baked, and leaned towards the suggestion that bread might be baked in situ, particularly in the cemeteries (in my works on Didascalia and Vita Polycarpi certainly, and perhaps elsewhere.) The context in Vita Polycarpi was the report that the burning Polycarp gave off the smell of baking bread (Mart. Pol. 15.)

In an increasingly rare lightbulb moment it occurred to me that this may be a reference (and implicit contrast) to the practice of sacrifice. Bread (and Polycarp) are offered, and baked, in the same way that animal sacrifices were cooked with fire. I am also aware of burnt grain offerings, particularly at Roman tombs, but admit that I do not know enough about sacrificial practice to be certain on this point. Nonetheless it all adds up.. If anyone can point me to a beginners’ guide to the practice of ancient sacrifice in the early centuries of the Common Era, particularly in funereal settings, with big print and lots of pictures (or else, with reliable primary source material!) I would be gratified indeed. For the present, I withdraw my suggestion that bread was baked on site and accuse myself of a further error.

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Didascalia apostolorum 2.26.4

Dani Vaucher’s comment below on the “breaf” abstract from the paper on Didascalia 9 has got me thinking.

The reconstruction of passages from Greek writings preserved only in ancient translations is an uncertain business; if only I had paid more attention in Greek prose composition classes as an undergraduate! Didascalia apostolorum 2.26.4 (from chapter 9 of the Syriac) is of particular interest.

The Constitutiones apostolorum reads: ὁ μὲν οὖν ἐπίσκοπος προκαθεζέσθω ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ ἀξίᾳ τετιμημένος (CA 2.26.4). That it is highly paraphrastic at this point (as an adaptation, rather than a translation, of the Didascalia) is evident from both the Latin and the Syriac versions of the Didascalia.

The Latin reads: “hic locum dei sequens sicuti deus honoretur a vobis quoniam episcopus in typum dei praesedet vobis” whereas in the Syriac we read: “But (ܐܠܐ) he leads (ܡܕܒܪ) you in the place of (ܒܕܘܟܬܐ) the Almighty one. He is to be honoured by you as God (ܐܝܟ ܐܠܗܐ) since the bishop sits among you in the place (ܒܕܘܟܬܐ) of God almighty.”

There are thus two major divergences between the versions. The first is in the verb (“following” or “leading”), the second in the statement that the bishop is in the place (Syriac) or as a type (Latin) of God. It is also to be observed that the Syriac supplies an object for the verb which is not present in Latin. Thus the Syriac translator understands this as referring to something that the bishop does,  whereas the Latin understands this to mean that the bishop has second place to God.

In asking which is correct in each part the primary question is that of which Greek verb might lead to either rendition. Given that none is obvious, we ask ourselves which verb might have been misread by either translator. We may suspect the presence of a participle, given that both versions employ participial forms, rather than a simple preposition. One possibility which presents itself is the aorist participle of ἀλλάσσω, ἀλλαχθείς, meaning that the bishop exchanged places with God. This would tend to support the Latin; the suggestion, in turn is that the Syriac translator read this as ἀλλʼ ἀχθείς (thus accounting for the ܐܠܐ in the Syriac) and supplied an appropriate object. As such this is entirely plausible, and so I find that I have persuaded myself, if nobody else.

The distinction between the two versions in the second part of the phrase is easier to explain. We may certainly suspect that the Latin is correct in reading typum, representing τύπος, and that this has been read by the Syriac translator as τόπος, perhaps on the basis that τόπος has appeared immediately beforehand. At Ignatius Magn. 6 we read of the bishop that he is προκαθημένου… εἰς τύπον θεοῦ. Although the MS tradition reads τόπον here. Lightfoot suggested τύπον, and is recently followed, very persuasively, by Brent.

As a result I would venture as a retroversion: ἀλλαχθείς τοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τόπου, ὑφʼ ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ τιμῆσθω (or τετιμημένος ), προκαθημένου τοῦ ἐπισκόπου εἰς τύπον θεοῦ. The use of the genitive absolute in the last clause, rather than ἐπεί or ἐπειδή or some similar conjunction, is a punt on the hypothesis that the Didascalist was citing Ignatius directly. To be honest the use of a conjunction is more probable, given the quoniam of the Latin and the ܐܠܐ of the Syriac, which rather indicates that he is not citing Ignatius directly. Thus: ἀλλαχθείς τοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τόπου, ὑφʼ ὑμῶν ὡς θεοῦ τετιμημένος, ἐπεὶ εἰς τύπον θεοῦ προκαθημένος ὁ ἐπίσκοπος.

At the end of which we ask whether we have really learnt anything. Had I been persuaded by this exercise that the Didascalist had direct knowledge of Ignatius that would be worthwhile, although I suppose the lack of direct correspondence indicates a more widespread tradition. Otherwise it has simply exercised the little grey cells for a while without a great deal in the way of progress.

What is perhaps most interesting is that the Constitutiones apostolorum manifestly do not cite Ignatius. Were the redactor pseudo-Ignatius, as we are often told he is, then that would be decidedly odd.

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Deaconesses in 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.
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.

Update (Dec. 2018): I am revisiting this subject for a conference paper and now seriously doubt much of what I have written above (though my doubts regarding Makrina’s diaconate and suspicion of the Church of England’s historial acumen continue.) I am leaving the post intact as a monument to error!

Update (April 2019): The final draft of the conference paper is now online at academia.edu. The abstract reads:

Deaconesses make occasional appearances in Testamentum Domini, though women’s ministry in this document is primarily that of widows. The appearance of deaconesses is thus enigmatic. This paper argues that this order is appearing in the circles of the redactor (to be placed in fourth century Asia), though is not yet prominent or widespread. This explains their occasional appearance; in time the order would supplant that of widows, but this has not happened in the circle of this “church order.”

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Blidstein, Purity, community, and ritual

I have just had the pleasure of reviewing Moshe Blidstein, Purity, community and ritual in early Christian literature (Oxford: OUP, 2017.)

I will not repeat the review here except to say that this is an excellent work. With consideration of the Didache and the Didascalia, as well as of baptismal and community-forming rituals, it is of natural interest to readers of this blog.

Badger your librarian to get it!

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Benga on the Didascalia

I have just read two articles by Daniel Benga on the Didascalia, “The baptismal ethos of the third-century Syrian Christianity according to Didascalia apostolorumRevista teologica 93 (2011), 183-200 and “’Defining sacred boundaries’: processes of delimitation from the pagan society in Syrian Christianity according to the Didascalia apostolorumZAC 17 (2013), 526-559.

In each Benga observes the obvious, namely that for all the care taken in the Didascalia to distinguish Christians from Jews, the fundamental distinction which underlies this is the distinction between Christians from pagans, a fundamental distinction shared with Judaism. Given, however, that the overwhelming majority of society was neither Christian nor Jewish, the Christian has to negotiate a complex world. Although obvious, it is an observation worth making.

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Collections of Church Orders

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


Name: Apostolic Constitutions

Original language: Greek

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

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

Origin: around 380, maybe Antioch


Name: Verona Palimpsest LV (53)

Original language: Latin

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

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

Origin: 5th century


Name: Aksumite Collection

Original language: Greek

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

Comprises: Traditio Apostolica, material from CA VIII.

Origin: 5th/6th century


Name: Alexandrine Sinodos

Original language: Greek

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

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

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


Name: Clementine Octateuch

Original language: Greek?

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

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

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


Name: Kitab al-Huda

Original language: Syriac?

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

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

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


This list could be extended forever…



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lagarde, P. 1883: Aegyptiaca. Göttingen 1883.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Another translation of the Didascalia

May be found here: http://amsdottorato.unibo.it/6009/1/Ragucci_Valentina_tesi.pdf.pdf There is also a text, though I fear I am unable to read it; possibly I don’t have the right Syriac font installed.

I particularly look forward to reading the notes, which seem fairly extensive.




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The patristische Gemeinschaft again, and some terrible puns

As Dani Vaucher has already mentioned, we are both appearing at the patristische Arbeitsgemeinschaft in January. See: http://ls0091.uvt.nl/wordpress4/. The theme of the conference is Sakramentsgemeinschaft in der frühen Kirche.

My contribution is called: ἐκ Βιῶν εἰς ζωήν: groups, therapy, and the construction of text and community in the Church Order Tradition.

Official abstract: With a particular concentration on the Didache and the Didascalia apostolorum, this paper attempts to utilize the insights of group psychology, pioneered by Bion in the 1940s and developed by Tuckman, to understand the workings of early Christian communities, exploring the psychagogic techniques employed to construct and maintain communities, and the purpose behind their sacramental celebrations.

In essence, rather than exploring what the communities did, sacramentally, I assume that the purpose of their existence is to sacramentalize, and that in order to do so they had to function as communities. Thus I seek to see how the processes of community building are betrayed in the literature. It is a somewhat experimental paper, as I am not sure that anyone has previously employed the material of clinical psychology to explore early Christian communities, but it is worth a try, not the least because early Christian groupings were of a similar size to T-groups. Hopefully somebody better equipped than I will pick up the baton. As somebody said at a seminar once (I think it was Bill Tabbernee), it is better to work as part of a Gemeinschaft than to fall down one. A better wordplay than that in my title, I think.

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