Tag Archives: Sportulae

Food for widows

The following passage appears in Traditio apostolica:

If anyone wishes that widows, who should have attained seniority in age, should have a supper, he should send them home before evening. If, however, he is unable because of the lot which has fallen to him, he should give them food and wine and send them away so that they can partake of the gifts at home when it suits them. TA 30

This is straightforward enough. Support for widows is widespread enough, as is the practice of providing a sportula.

This paragraph does not survive in Testamentum Domini, but is reworked in Canones Hippolyti.

If anyone wishes to feed widows, he should feed them and dismiss them before the sun sets. And if they are numerous, so that they should not become restive and unable to leave before evening, he should give them enough to eat and drink, and they should depart before the onset of the night. CH35

I have long, however, been puzzled by the appearance of the following passage in the Didascalia:

Those who wish to give an agapē, and to invite the widows, should send more frequently for her whom he knows to be in distress. And if anyone gives gifts to widows he should especially send to her whom he knows to be in need. And the portion which is to be set apart for the pastor should be set aside in accordance with the rule, even though he be not present at the agapē or the supper, in honour of Almighty God. DA 2.28.1-2

This is reworked lightly in Constitutiones apostolorum, the main change being that the deacons, rather than the individual patron, are those who ensure that those who in particular need should be invited.

The reason for the puzzle regarding the Didascalia is that it cuts across the fundamental aim of so much of the document to restrict the charity of the church to that provide through the agency of the bishop. I can therefore only assume that it derives from an independent source.

The question which then arises is whether this is the same source as Traditio apostolica. After much consideration I begin to think that it does not (although I do suggest, only suggest mind, that it might in my forthcoming Breaking bread.) There is nothing in Didascalia about dismissing the widows before nightfall, and nothing in Traditio apostolica about a sportula for the absent bishop.

But the very observation that these are probably independent is itself a point of interest. It demonstrates the widespread occurrence of agapic meals for widows provided by private patrons in the third century.


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Filed under Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Tradition, Canons of Hippolytus, Didascalia Apostolorum