Tag Archives: Hippolytus

Sklaverei in Norm und Praxis: review

I 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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Yet another attempt to deny Roman provenance to Traditio apostolica

Looking for something else, today I came across Maciej Zachara Mic “Czy Tradycja apostolska jest dokumentem rzymskim?” Ruch biblijny I liturgicznyrok 65 (2012), 3-20. As my Polish is somewhat non-existent (in spite of living in Slough) I am relieved to find the English abstract: ·

The so-called Apostolic Tradition is usually considered an element of the history of the liturgy of the Roman Church. This conviction lays ultimately on two presuppositions: on the attribution of the Apostolic Tradition to St. Hippolytus of Rome and on the presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the baptismal ritual of Apostolic Tradition, which is peculiar exclusively to the Roman liturgy. However, none of these presuppositions is certain. The arguments for St. Hippolytus’ authorship are so weak, that this attribution must be considered highly improbable. The presence of two postbaptismal anointings in the Apostolic Tradition can be explained by the complexity of its baptismal ritual which seems to be a conflation of different traditions. On the other hand, the Roman tradition of two postbaptismal anointings is probably due to the episcopal prerogative to administer the confirmation and to the concession given to presbyters to anoint the neophytes with the chrism at the baptisms administered by them. This presbyteral chrismation was afterwards extended to every baptism. Consequently, the origins of the Apostolic Tradition are far from certain and its Roman provenance is by no means proved.

The article itself can be read here.

Oddly enough this is in line with my argument in my commentary. Although the initiatory section was much revised in the second edition in view of the critique of Bradshaw and Ekenberg, I suggested in both versions that the double post-baptismal anointing was unrelated to that in Gelasianum and should not be considered as evidence for a Roman provenance, and that the document largely reflected the life of an emigré congregation. The argument for Roman provenance rests on neither presupposition identified by Fr Mic. Nuff said.

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Consider a new Church Order

I recently discovered an interesting article by F. Stanley Jones in A. Özen (ed.), Historische Wahrheit und theologische Wissenschaft, Gerd Lüdemann zum 50. Geburtstag, Frankfurt 1996, pp. 87-104. In “The Genre of the Book of Elchesai”, the author collects the fragmentary evidence on the Parthian book of revelation called “book of Elchesai/Elxai”, that was brought to Rome under a “heretic” called Alcibiades towards the end of the 2nd century. Fragments and polemics remain in the works of Hippolyt and Epiphanius as well as in Origens Homily on Psalms 82, preserved in Eus. h.e. 6.38.

Jones argues against former common sense that the Book of Elchasai was an apocalyptic text. Without entering the debate about the nature of Church Orders, he states: “the primary focus of the writing is on regulating the life of Christian, which is a reasonable starting point for defining a church order.” He then lists the fragments that address the life of the Christians, which focus on the renunciation of idolatry “with the lips, not the heart”, baptism, impartation of the secret prayer, astrological instructions, instructions on the direction of prayer,  the avoidance of fire, and more.

He adds further arguments to strengthen his case: the author, who seems to be a “religious authority”, uses first person singular to adress his readers, that is, the congregation. He adds examples to support the casuistic logic – and probably to convince his readers of his demands. Finally, “Elchasai was one of these leaderss who, similar to Paul, was engaged in the process of ordering early Christian life, only Elchesai wrote an actual church order rather than merely sporadic letters to congregations.”

I will have to take some time and check the fragments as well as the secondary literature that links the book of Elchasai to Judaism and Manichaism in order to fully evaluate Jones’ arguments. I tend to agree with Jones’ view, but given the fragmentary state of the book, who knows what the original was like? But the article was very interesting to read; it is a reminder that we should open our eyes in the search for more and lesser-known Church Orders.

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Great book coming out from Gorgias

I don’t mean the Gnomai!

A few years ago I came across a dissertation online providing a critical Georgian text (among other things) of the Hippolytean In Cant. I had long suspected that this commentary reflected mystagogy in the Hippolytean community, and was pleased to find that the author agreed with me.

I contacted Yancy Smith, the author, who now follows this blog, and suggested to him that the work should be published. There have been a few delays but he now tells me that the work will be coming out with Gorgias soon. It is to be called The mystery of anointing. It will probably cost an arm and a leg, but I will ask Santa nicely and promise to be a good boy. It will certainly be worth paying money for, I promise you.

The church-order connection lies in the light that the commentary casts on the multiple anointings in the baptismal rite of Traditio apostolica (on the assumption that this document, likewise, derives from the Hippolytean community.) But even if you are not convinced on this point (there are a few doubters, still!) there is a lot more in it than that. For a start, a usable modern translation for those of us who are Georgian-challenged!

Congratulations and thanks to the author, and to Gorgias for publishing. Respect all round!


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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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Apostolic Tradition on military catechumens

In the Sahidic version of Apostolic Tradition 16 (the Latin being wanting) it is said of a soldier seeking baptism that he shall not “go to the task” if he is ordered, nor swear the oath. The meaning is obscure. The Aksumite Ethiopic, however, is clear that a soldier is not to offer sacrifice, not to swear the oath, and not to wear a wreath. The Canons of Hippolytus likewise reflect the prohibition of swearing and wearing of the wreath. We may thus reasonably believe that the new Ethiopic version retains the closest reflection of the original. “Not to go to the task” may be some corrupted version of the words regarding sacrifice, though I am at a loss to suggest precisely what.

The particular reason for drawing attention to this is an essay by Yoder on military service in the church orders, found at http://www3.nd.edu/~theo/jhy/writings/history/ecdisc%26ord.htm#N_40_, in which Yoder deduces on the basis of this section of Apostolic Tradition that the principal objection to military service was not the issue of the close relationship with the cultus of the emperor, as is often held. He appears to be using a translation based on the Sahidic, though I am a bit confused as to which, as he makes reference to the Latin (which is not extant for this passage!) However, the Aksumite Ethiopic seems to shift the balance somewhat.

There are a number of significant flaws in Yoder’s use of the church order material in his essay, on which I will not expatiate. It is interesting, as he himself notes, that an ethicist might find material in these documents; ethicists, however, should be as cautious in their use as liturgiologists have, in recent years, learnt to be. Which is not to say that they should not use the material, simply that they should handle it with care.

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