Recently appeared is Joseph G. Mueller, “Marriage and family law in the ancient church order literature” Journal of legal history 40 (2019), 203-221.
Abstract: Numerous ancient texts present prescriptions on Christianity’s ethic, liturgy, leadership, and other institutions. Scholars call ‘church order literature’ a few of them composed in Greek, because of literary dependencies among them that make them an identifiable corpus. The composition of some of them seems to begin in the first century. In the fourth century, Christians began to gather them in various collections. While all these texts and their collections have no common literary genre, they do all purport to convey a tradition of apostolic teaching on the conduct of church life and its institutions. This teaching sees God’s law based on Christian scripture as the only valid law for church life. This article will present the prescriptions of that law conveyed by the ancient church order literature on the following topics: family requirements for membership in the church, prohibitions defining and defending marriage, regulations on family relationships, and restrictions on who may marry. Even in its dispositions on marriage and family, the ancient church order literature attests Christians’ contact with multiple legal regimes in the Roman empire. This literature reflects a view of the ancient Christian family that is typical in its difference from, and its similarity to, Greco-Roman conceptions.
Fr Joseph explains that this is part of an issue of the journal publishing a set of conference proceedings. He was invited to a conference on family law to speak on the church order literature, and this is the result. Thus much of the article is intended to introduce the literature to those to whom it is unlikely to be familiar, and much of what is said of family law within them is descriptive.
Three things nonetheless stand out for me.
Firstly I note his recognition of the church’s acceptance of the legal framework regarding slavery. Daniel Vaucher will be pleased that the topic is aired.
Secondly, because of the manner in which various church orders are treated diachronically we may see the evolution of certain topics across the period of the production of the church orders. This may provide a template for further topical studies.
Thirdly I note the manner in which the lens of “law” is employed to explore the church orders as a group. This chimes in with Bradshaw’s recent essay, and with some thinking that I have been doing myself. This may prove to be a fruitful way in which to understand the base-documents, and their subsequent collection into larger documents, and their subsequent inclusion in collections.
Thank-you Fr Joseph for providing an offprint and for the explanatory note which accompanied it.