Tag Archives: Mystagogy

A textual conundrum in the mystagogia of the Testamentum Domini

In Testamentum Domini 1.28 (part of the mystagogy) the Syriac reads ܕܡܢܗ ܠܠܒܵܘܬܐ ܕܗܢܘܢ ܕܕܚܠܝܢ ܠܗ. This does not make a lot of sense, and so Rahmani emends ܕܡܢܗ to ܕܡܢܗܪ (thus “illuminates the hearts of those who fear him”). Cooper and Maclean, alternatively, suggest ܕܡܢܝܚ, thus “delights the hearts”, based on a reading of the Arabic Didascalia. Yesterday I checked the readings of O. Burmeister, “The Coptic and Arabic versions of the Mystagogia” Le Muséon 46 (1933), 203-235, to find that the Coptic version from the liturgy of Maundy Thursday is the same as the Arabic Didascalia, thus “delights”. But bafflingly the Arabic of the Borgian Arabic MS of the Testamentum has “illuminates”! Baffling, I should clarify, because this text is in the Egyptian tradition, and so the variation cannot be ascribed to circles of transmission. All very odd, as I cannot see how the confusion might come about in Greek, though clearly two versions were circulating.


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A paschal proclamation embedded in a church order?

Three times a year, states the Testamentum Domini (1.28), the bishop is to instruct the people in the mysteries. This is to take place at Pascha, at Pentecost and at Epiphany.

The instruction concerns in particular the harrowing of hell. The only dedicated study of which I am aware is that of Jean Parisot, ”Note sur la mystagogie du “Testament du Seigneur”” Journal asiatique 9.15 (1900), 377-380, who finds some intriguing but not especially enlightening parallels.

However, this “mystagogy” is also found in the Arabic Didascalia (on which see prior posts) but most interestingly is preserved in Bohairic in the Coptic liturgy, at the consecration of the chrism. These texts are edited by O. Burmeister, “The Coptic and Arabic versions of the Mystagogia” Le Muséon 46 (1933), 203-235. What seems to me significant is the paschal context for this, as for the use in the Testamentum Domini. I am led to wonder whether this is a paschal proclamation in origin.

The “mystagogy” is, moreover, a finely-wrought bit of rhetoric:

Thus note the homoiarcton:
He is wisdom,
he is strength,
he is Lord,
he is understanding…

he is our light, salvation, saviour, protector,
helper, teacher, deliverer, rewarder,
assistance, strength, wall…

passible and impassible,
uncreated Son,
dead (yet) living,
Son of the Father,
incomprehensible and comprehensible…

Ethopoiia (as death cries out, homoiarctically by the way):
“Who is this, clothed in the humanity which was subject to me, and who has however conquered me?
Who is this who is wresting from destruction the flesh which was bound by me?
Who is this who is clothed in earth but who is yet of heaven?…”

Anyone familiar with Melito of Sardis, or indeed Polemo of Smyrna, will recognize the style.

I would hesitate to go beyond this, but am confident in claiming this as ante-Nicene, and as deriving from a paschal liturgical proclamation.

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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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Apostolic Tradition 21.39-40, the white stone, and a matter of balancing the Coptic against the Aksumite Ethiopic

Over on hypotyposeis.org I find, over a year later, a discussion of Apostolic tradition 21.39-40; the hyperlinked post is the first of three.

The Sahidic of Apostolic Tradition reads: “We have handed over to you in brief these things about holy baptism and the holy offering, since you have already been instructed about the resurrection of the flesh and the other things according to the Scriptures. Now (δέ) if anything else should be said, the bishop shall say it privately…” There is a significantly different reading in the Aksumite Ethiopic, an understanding which may well stand behind the version offered by the Testament of the Lord. This text reads: “It is therefore convenient to be given this in brief on the washing and on the offering because they have already been instructed. But about the resurrection of the body and everything else in accordance [with the Scriptures] the bishop will reveal and explain as is convenient when they are initiated.” Testament of the Lord is slightly confusing, but the confusion may come about through attempting to make sense of a reading like that of the Aksumite: “They should also be taught about the resurrection of bodies; before being baptized nobody should know the word concerning the resurrection.” Andrew Criddle, for whom I have the utmost respect, believes that the Aksumite reflects a more accurate rendition of the original, given the potential support of Testamentum Domini, and locates the precise matter regarding the resurrection, which is to be held secret, in the teaching regarding the harrowing of hell which is found in Testamentum Domini presented as mystagogy.

I’m afraid that on this occasion I cannot agree. It is as likely that this particular mystagogy is a peculiarity of the Testamentum. The Aksumite Ethiopic may be derived from a Greek text very similar to the Coptic. To demonstrate the point I attempt a retroversion of the relevant phrase(s) without punctuation (and with apologies for the horrible appearance of the Greek): … περὶ τοῦ λουτροῦ καὶ τῆς προσφορᾶς ἐπειδὴ ἤδη κατήχησθε (or ηνται following Ethiopic) περὶ τῆς τῆς σαρκὸς ἀναστασέως καὶ τὰ λοιπά κατὰ τᾶς γραφάς… Now if a full stop or colon is placed after the verb κατήχησθε the meaning is as the Ethiopic (though admittedly the style would be improved with a δέ after the περί), whereas should the full stop or colon be placed after τᾶς γραφάς then the meaning is as the Coptic. It is quite possible that the redactor of the Testamentum Domini (mis)read the text in the same way as the Ethiopic scribe.

I treat the point in the second edition of my Apostolic tradition (now languishing forgotten at the Press) but since the discussion had already entered the blogosphere I thought it worth labouring here at rather greater length than I do in the book.

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