Tag Archives: Eustathians

Clerical celibacy in Apostolic Church Order

I have recently had some correspondence with David Hunter over clerical celibacy in the church orders, and particularly in Apostolic Church Order (K). The origins and history of clerical celibacy are central to his research programme, and so this enquiry was particularly welcome.

The questions he put to me were as follow:

1: In 16.2, there is this prescription about bishops: “It is good should he be unmarried, otherwise he should be of one wife, having some education, and able to interpret the scriptures, even if he is unlettered. He should be generous, and overflowing with love for all, so that a bishop should not come under accusation on any account by the many.”

I was a little puzzled by the ἀπὸ μιᾶς γυναικός. The preposition ἀπό seemed odd. Stefan Heid takes it as “free of one wife,” which is even less likely. But I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this.

2: The second question has to do with 18.2: “Therefore the presbyters should have been a long time in the world, having kept themselves from congress with women in their lives, generous towards the brotherhood, not respecters of persons, struggling alongside the bishop and participating in the mysteries together with him, gathering the people and devoted to the pastor.” There is the phrase τρόπῳ τινί before “having kept themselves from congress with women in their lives.” I don’t see this phrase in your translation, and I’m not sure what it means. I wondered if it could mean “in some manner” in the sense of “in an appropriate manner,” i.e., referring to temporary sexual abstinence prior to celebrating Eucharist.

Inevitably, with such interesting and difficult questions, there was some to-ing and fro-ing. My first instinct was that Heid’s understanding of ἀπό was forced in the extreme, though I have gone back on that to some extent. I also wondered whether the text might be repunctuated to take τρόπῳ τινί with the preceding ἤδη κεχρονικόντας ἐπὶ τῷ κόσμῳ rather than the following ἀπεχομένους, again to change my mind. So rather than create a dialogue out of the correspondence I am writing up my conclusions.

On ἀπό: The versions (Syriac, Sahidic, Arabic and Ethiopic) give no helpful guidance on the disputed issue of interpretation in the Greek text.

What is interesting is the rewrite undertaken on the ἀπὸ μιᾶς γυναικός along the lines of “it is good if he is unmarried, but if he has a wife he should stay with her…” This is in the Sahidic; the Arabic and Ethiopic are (I recollect) dependent on that version, and follow Sahidic on that point. This indicates some controversy around the issue in the line of text which ends up in Egypt.

So the ἀπό is indeed odd. Although the direction that a bishop should be married once is common enough I might take a moment to wonder whether that is what is actually meant here, as I assumed back in 2005/6 when I produced my edition. At some point I now think the bishop became an ascetic like the presbyters (see below), and that this might provide a rationale for the kind of meaning (survived one wife) that Heid puts onto it. But that would constitute a deliberate rewriting of the text, that is to say the insertion of ἀπό, or perhaps something more extensive, probably at the last level of redaction. Thus Heid may well be right, but fails to notice that this is a change of direction reflecting an unusual setting and context. To say that he should have survived a single wife is almost otiose after the statement that it is better that he be ἀγύναιος; the original, I am so led to suspect, simply read that he should be μιᾶς γυναικός (I Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6), but this has been rewritten, retaining the original (as was the way) but changing its meaning utterly.

On τρόπῳ τινί: the phrase τρόπῳ τινί, whilst again slightly odd, is not unknown in statements of qualification, thus: δεῖ δὲ καὶ τοὺς διακόνους ὄντας μυστηρίων Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ κατὰ πάντα τρόπον πᾶσιν ἀρέσκειν (Ign. Trall. 2.3) and τὸν ποιμένα τὸν καθιστάμενον ἐπίσκοπον… οὐκ ἔλαττον ἐτῶν πεντήκοντα, ὅτι τρόπῳ τινὶ τὰς νεωτερικὰς ἀταξίας… ἐκπεφευγὼς ὑπάρχει (CA 2.1.1). Here it means something like “to some extent” (or in Ignatius, to the entire possible extent); in the light of the CA parallel, where time has put some distance between the ordinand and his folies de jeunesse, possibly in K it indicates the time since he last spoke to a woman. That is to say a presbyter is to be an older man, who has long given up on women! I do not think temporary abstinence is meant, because the presbyters did not celebrate the Eucharist in K. The bishop did while the presbyters keep order and undertake the distribution of gifts.

But there is more; I have recently returned to K for a paper I am writing for a conference in Finland (not actually going there, as it is too cold(!) but will be linked up by webcam). The paper is on deacons in K and Testamentum Domini (TD), following on from completing my version of TD last year. It is clear enough that TD has turned the presbyters into an ascetic cadre, male versions of the widows. I am now thinking, in the light of TD, that K is in the process of doing the same thing. I am convinced that K and TD come from the same broad area (Cappadocia/Cilicia), K being slightly earlier than TD, which is mid-4C. The result, as far as deacons is concerned, is that the deacons pick up the slack whilst the presbyters spend their lives in prayer and ascetic direction. Thus if the presbyters are ascetics, then they are celibate, or widowed. We may note by contrast that the deacon might be married. However, to return to the question of temporary abstinence, it is to be noted that the presbyters do not themselves celebrate the Eucharist in TD any more than they do in K, as this is the bishop’s task (though a presbyter can pick up if the bishop has had a wet dream the night before.)

So the presbyters, both in the K community and in the TD community, form an ascetic cadre with their bishop. I think this, rather than any common expectation of episcopal or presbyteral celibacy, is what is going on. This localized asceticism was taken to extremes by the Eustathians, and the canons of Gangra (to which Prof. Hunter had pointed in the course of our exchange), from the same context and period, represent a reaction to this, whereas TD (and K) represent a more moderate version of the Eustathian view.

As far as K is concerned, because of the state of the text and the multiple levels of redaction of what was a traditional text (possibly as old as the first century, certainly no later than the second century, and likely predating I Timothy), I would be very careful indeed about taking anything from this beyond the statement that the presbyters in this community are, by the time of the redaction of the document, forming an ascetic cadre. Monastic celibacy is a very different matter from the celibacy of simple parish priests like myself, and so I do not think that K tells us anything about clerical celibacy outside the monastic context.

Finally note that Prof. Hunter had struggled to find a copy of Apostolic church order, and he is far from being the first to report such a struggle. About a year ago I raised the question of a revised reprint with the publisher, since I had had numerous enquiries about obtaining a copy. They seemed interested in reprinting, having received the same request a number of times, though less in revising. It has gone a bit quiet since then.

I may return to my original suggestion of a revised reprint. In any such revision the blurred lines which Prof. Hunter so successfully observed in my translation (the failure to give full force to ἀπό and the failure to render τρόπῳ τινί) would be addressed. For the moment I can simply admit and advertize the errors here. Like the church orders themselves, my work on these documents is living literature.

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Filed under Apostolic church order, E-rrata