Tag Archives: Sarah Whitear

The reception history of the Didascalia

Sarah Whitear, in a comment below, asks about the reception history of the Didascalia. She asks, “Other than Apostolic Constitutions, are there any later Christian texts which comment or use the DA?” I thought it worth turning an answer into a post, though I should acknowledge that what follows is mostly taken straight from F.X. Funk, Didascalia et Constitutiones apostolorum II (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1905), 3-14.

First up is the one I knew without looking it up! Epiphanius, in his chapter on the Audians (Haer. 70) refers to the Audians’ use of the Didascalia to justify their Quartodeciman practice. The text is called τῶν ἀποστόλων διάταξις; I conclude in my treatment, following many of the learned, that this is indeed the extant Didascalia. Things are slightly confused, however, by a statement elsewhere in the Panarion in which, discussing the “Aerians”, in which Epiphanius states: “If, indeed, I need to speak of the Ordinance of the Apostles (τῆς διατάξεως τῶν ἀποστόλων), they plainly decreed there that Wednesdays and Fridays be fasts at all times except Pentecost and directed that nothing at all be eaten on the six days of the Passover except bread, salt and water; and which day to keep, and that we break our fast on the night before the Lord’s Day. (Epiphanius Haer. 55.6.1). The mention of Wednesdays and Fridays is not derived from the Didascalia; it is not derived from the Didache either (as the Didache does not except the Pentecost), and nor is it Apostolic Constitutions 7. Most puzzling. Unless Epiphanius is quoting from faulty memory.

Finally we may note that in Haer. 45.4.5 Epiphanius states: καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοί φασιν ἐν τῇ διατάξει τῇ καλουμένῃ ὅτι «φυτεία θεοῦ καὶ ἀμπελὼν ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία». This may either be the Didascalia or the Constitutiones, though I’m inclined to think it the Didascalia.

In conclusion, I think we can take it that Epiphanius had some knowledge of the Didascalia, and that the Audians did likewise.

We may next turn to a Coptic version of Athanasius’ Paschal letter, edited by Carl Schmidt, “Der Osterfestbrief des Athanasius vom J. 367” Nachrichten von der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-historische Klasse 1898 (Göttingen: Horstmann, 1898), 167-203. Where the Greek text refers to the Didache, the Coptic refers to ⲧⲇⲓⲥⲕⲁⲗⲓⲕⲏ ⲛ̄ⲛⲁⲡⲟⲥⲧⲟⲗⲟⲥ and adds, “I do not mean that which is said to censure Deuteronomy”. Schmidt suggests that the translator does not know the Didache at all, but has some knowledge of the Didascalia and was therefore confused. This seems entirely reasonable. We may add that the existence of a (lost, apart from a tiny fragment) Coptic translation of the Didascalia would point to some circulation in Egypt.

There are a number of citations of the Didascalia in the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, cited in detail by Funk, though I deal with these rather briefly. There is no doubt that the Didascalia is cited here, but given our total lack of knowledge about the origin of this work, it does not assist us much with tracing a reception history. Perhaps somebody with greater knowledge of the Opus imperfectum could jump in here and assist.

Finally we may note, with Funk, some citations of the Didascalia in Bar-Hebraeus, in his Nomocanon, and in his Ethicon. No surprise here.

R.H. Connolly (Didascalia apostolorum (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929), lxxxiv-lxxxvii) discusses Funk’s work and ventures to suggest that the Didascalia was also known to Aphraahat. As discussed in a recent post, there is certainly a large overlap at significant points between the two, though I would tend to consider this the result of a common cultural and theological milieu, rather than looking for direct influence in one direction or another. In part this comes about because I have dated the Didascalia rather later than Connolly.

Connolly also believes that the ps-Clementines made use of the Didascalia (again, I think this unlikely due to the dating of the Didascalia to the fourth century, though, again, perhaps this could be explored further), and finally suggests that the Apostolic Church Order and Canones Hippolyti knew the work.

I have discussed the relationship between Apostolic Church Order and the Didascalia in my edition, where I suggest that the two do share a common source. I leave the discussion there.

Turning to the Canones Hippolyti Connolly reckons three points of derivation. I do not think any of them can be sustained.

Firstly he points to the gathering of the apostles in the first chapter. However, the Canones do not refer to the apostles; the reference is certainly to a council of some sort, but it could equally well be Nicaea.

He further refers to the paschal provisions of Canones Hippolyti in canon 22. “Every point emphasized here is to be found in chapter xxi of the Didascalia” he states. I deal with these parallels in pp24-27 of my edition of Canones Hippolyti and conclude that they do not point to literary dependence, but to a common paschal practice, rooted, we may add, in the Quartodeciman origins of the communities which produced these documents. This in turn was part of the basis for my argument that the Canones are not Egyptian.

The final parallel to which he points had me stumped for a while. He refers to Canon 22 and to a provision that women being baptized should be assisted by other women in removing their clothing before baptism which is, he suggests, reminiscent of the role of women deacons in the Didascalia. His source is the edition of Hans Achelis, Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechts 1: die Canones Hippolyti (TU 6.4; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1891), who had in turn lifted a Latin translation from D.B. von Haneberg, Canones S Hippolyti Arabice e codicibus Romanis cum versione latina, annotationibus et prolegomenis (Munich: Academia Boica, 1870). Sure enough I do find this in Haneberg’s Latin, but the puzzle is that there is nothing corresponding to it in the Arabic text! How it got there I know not, but on this occasion it has misled Connolly significantly

In summary, the reception history is thin. But the enquiry has been interesting.


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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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