Tag Archives: Gnomai of Nicaea

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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Chase on the daily office in Apostolic Tradition

I have just read with interest Nathan Chase, “Another look at the ‘daily office’ in Apostolic traditionStudia liturgica 49 (2019), 5-25.

Abstract: The daily prayer practices outlined in the Apostolic Tradition, their origins, and even the number of prayer hours, have been points of dispute among scholars. However, new sources of the Apostolic Tradition, as well as work on lay ascetical movement in Egypt, call for the reevaluation of this document, its dating, provenance, and interpretation. This article argues that the Apostolic Tradition is a composite document, whose daily prayer cycle in its current form has been shaped by a third- or fourth-century lay ascetical movement in Egypt. The document appears to outline prayer at rising, followed by a communal service of catechesis and prayer, prayer at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, as well as prayer at bed and in the middle of the night. Given the difficulties in interpreting the document it is unlikely that the document, or at least the daily prayer practices outlined in it, were celebrated as written.

For me, the major point emerging from this article is an apparent consensus that the final pattern of daily prayer in early Christian circles is the result of the conflation of distinct patterns. And I think that Chase is right in his reconstruction of the horarium (noting with a certain satisfaction that he agrees with me that prayer at cock-crow is not a distinct hour, but the same as prayer on rising from sleep).

Beyond the headlines, some valuable observations are made, not the least of which is the possibility that Canones Hippolyti 27 is an attempt to make usable the horarium of Traditio apostolica. I think this entirely plausible. Traditio apostolica is confused  as the result (I suggest) of two distinct conclusions being conjoined.

Chase’s overall argument that the horarium is Egyptian, partly based on the possibility that it was employed by lay monastic groups like those envisaged by the Gnomae is, I think, unnecessary. These lay monastic groups are widely known, and may well have emerged from school settings like that I envisage for Traditio apostolica. Nonetheless it gives me a degree of personal satisfaction in seeing the the Gnomae employed as a source in scholarly work.

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Review of Batiffol’s Syntagma Doctrinae (and more!)

Digging around in the learned literature of the late nineteenth century I find a gem, a review by A. Robertson of Batiffol’s Syntagma doctrinae in The Classical Review 6 (8) (1892), 351-354. Far beyond its value as a review is the discussion of earlier work on the Syntagma and the Fides patrum, and in particular a trenchant discussion of Revillout’s theories about the derivation of these documents, alongside the Gnomai, from the Council of Alexandria.

There are also some interesting reflections on the credal form found in the Syntagma, and on the value of the document with regard to the text of the Didache.

Those without easy access to an academic library can find this with relative ease on archive.org.

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Gnomai of Nicaea in print

The Gnomai of the Council of Nicaea is now in print, say Gorgias.

It’s been a convoluted and interesting road to publication. The need for the work occurred to me whilst preparing my work on the two ways, but I did not think I was the right person to do it. I still don’t, but nobody else would take it on. What is particularly interesting is that I started the work around the time that I opened this blog, which means that the journey is recorded.


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The Gnomai of Nicaea, yet again

It is a long time since I reported on progress on the Gnomai of Nicaea. To cut a long story short, I deduced that two pages in the published versions of Revillout and Rossi did not really belong in the Gnomai, and so set out on a search for the missing pages.

One of them turned out to be a page of unedited material. How do I know? Because it had a page number on it! This was a page I had looked at before and dismissed, because its content did not appear to me to part of the Gnomai. And then I noticed the page number, when revisiting the question in complete bafflement. I have put a lot of thought into this, extending over the best part of a year, and to be honest I am not much wiser than I was to start with, except for having gained the wisdom never again to get involved in unedited Coptic manuscripts! Apart from thinking, and having to do other things (like earning a living), I really struggled with reading the codices and only managed with a great deal of help.

Apart from saying “never again”, my final conclusion is that the scribe was working with a disordered original, and that somehow extraneous material got included, though not the material included by Revillout (because, if for no other reason, of the page number!) This page number, however, does prove that my instinct was correct and that Revillout had included extraneous material. In other words, there may not even be anything missing from the Gnomai after all (though there is no way of being sure, unless an independent textual witness turns up.) Nonetheless I have put all the relevant material into the book and each reader can decide what s/he wants to consider to constitute the Gnomai of Nicaea. Somehow, given that these orders are “living literature”, that’s appropriate.

Only today I got the breakthrough (or rather, I got given it) on figuring out the last page of fragments. Tomorrow (hopefully) the book will go to the press (again!), after one last read-through.

It will be St Patrick’s day. On that day, some years ago, I met my beloved wife. Somehow a dedication seems appropriate.

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More on Isaac of Nineveh

Further to my last post I found my copy of Marius Besson, ”Un recueil de sentences attribué à Isaac le Syrien”, Oriens Christianus 1 (1901): 46-60, 288-298. It has also been reprinted by Gorgias and may be obtained (at a price) from http://www.gorgiaspress.com/un-recueil-de-sentences-attribue-a-isaac-le-syrien

I recollect now that the reason I did not include Isaac’s work in my book on the two ways is less that he was remote from the tradition, though he is, but more because the relevant material appears only in a few sentences towards the beginning, whereas there is a great deal of other material. Nonetheless, I realize now that this is another ascetic gnomologion. Given my interest in these, sparked by working on the Gnomai of Nicaea, I do now regret failing to give this work any further attention. It provides yet another instance of the asceticization of the Church Order tradition and the growth of the classical tradition of gnomologia as means of instruction and self-instruction in monastic circles.

Edit: Edited on 1st March 2021 to fix a broken link.

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Progress report

I have now received a scan of one of the two pages at the end of the Turin codex containing the Gnomai of Nicaea. Although it is largely lacunose and, due to the darkness of the papyrus, even what is extant is largely illegible from a photograph, I can at least rest assured that this is not a missing page of gnomai simply because it is written in two columns, whereas the rest of the gnomai are in one. Unfortunately, due to an error, only one of the two pages was sent; the other page which was sent was a duplicate of one I had already received. I have pointed this out and wait… again!

In the meantime, and more positively, the introduction and main text of my second edition of Traditio apostolica has gone into the editorial process. I need only now to check the appendix (containing the Hippolytean homily on the Psalms, as before) and recast the indices. My aim was to have this done by Pentecost, so I may well be on schedule.

A publication date is in the hands of the Press, but I do not anticipate that it will be long delayed. Unlike the Gnomai…


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The Gnomai of Nicaea: progress(?!) report

As reported earlier, the text of my edition of the gnomai of Nicaea went to the publishers. However, there has been something of a glitch. Tito Orlandi, “The Turin Coptic papyri” Augustinianum 53 (2013), 501-530,an article to which reference has already been made, gives a list of the pages in the codex, and includes as part of the gnomai some pages which Rossi had printed as fragments in an appendix, and one unedited leaf. Previously I had regarded the fragments as independent homiletic material and therefore had not included them. On the basis of Orlandi’s claim that these were part of the gnomai I determined that these had to be included, alongside the unedited pages. I had obtained a photograph of the unedited leaf, and translated and transcribed the fragments, when I realized that these probably are not, after all, to be included in the gnomai, not the least because the page numbers, where they are extant, would not add up in that the inclusion of this material would mean that there were more pages than there were numbers. Ergo, I concluded, my initial instinct was correct. However, in the process of counting the pages and considering the correct order of the leaves, I observed that there are two leaves of material which really does not fit; the material shares the mind-set of the gnomologist, but is not in gnomic form, but homiletic. I felt this when I was editing, but now I note that the page numbers of these leaves are lacunose; this material, moreover, comes after the other witnesses break off, so there is no independent check. I therefore suspect that Revillout, in his editio princeps, had included these leaves to make up the numbers, and was followed by Rossi. The upshot is that there may be two missing leaves from the gnomai. However, Orlandi also notes that there are two leaves of unedited and unidentified material which he placed at the end of the codex. Is it possible that this is the missing material? Possible, but probably not, as if they were self-evidently gnomic then surely Revillout would have included them. However, just to make sure, I am in the process of getting hold of scans of these leaves as well. I intend to include transcriptions of all this extraneous material in the edition, in a series of appendices, not least because it may be that Revillout and Rossi were correct in their placement. In the meantime Gorgias is being very patient given that, had it not been for this hiatus, the book would have been out by now. I can only hope that the book will be better as a result, and that I don’t make too much of a pig’s ear of the transcription of the unedited leaves. I would, indeed, be grateful for any offers of assistance.


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The Coptic version of the Canons of Basil

I had decided, on completion of the Gnomai, to gather in a convenient place the extant Coptic fragments of the Canons of Basil, which are otherwise extant solely in Arabic. The usual source for citation is in the (German) translation of a Berlin MS given in Wilhelm Riedel, Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien (repr. of 1900 edition; Aalen: Scientia, 1968), 231-283, though Coptic almost certainly lies behind the Arabic, and Greek, very likely, behind the Coptic.

Some of these Coptic fragments are found among the Turin papyri, in the same collection, transcribed by Rossi in the nineteenth century, which is the principal witness for the Gnomai. So I was interested to learn, from Tito Orlandi, “The Turin Coptic papyri” Augustinianum 53 (2013), 501-530, that there are further fragments there which were not published by Rossi. Rossi, incidentally, had not identified the fragments as from the Canons of Basil as Riedel’s work was not yet published. The identification was subsequently made by W.E. Crum, “The Coptic version of the “Canons of S. Basil”” Proceedings of the Society of biblical archaeology 26 (1904), 57-62, who also provided an English translation of Rossi’s transcription.

However, from the same article I also learned that a complete MS of the Coptic version of the Canons has been discovered and is being edited by Alberto Camplani; as such, to gather the existing fragments would be a waste of time. This does not mean that I won’t do it, but the onset of the cricket season means that I really will have better things to do for the next five months in any event. Nonetheless, we may look forward with eager anticipation to Camplani’s work. There is still a great deal of fundamental work to be undertaken on this outgrowth of the church order tradition.

For the record, Coptic fragments have been published (apart from Rossi’s transcription as translated by Crum) in J. Drescher, “A Coptic lectionary fragment” Annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte 51 (1951), 247-257 and by Paul E. Kahle in Bala’izah: Coptic texts from Deir el-Bala’izah in upper Egypt I (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1954), 412-416. I am happy to provide scans of this material to anyone interested.

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