Tag Archives: Testamentum Domini

The epiklesis of the Testamentum Domini

I am glad to announce that my translation of Testamentum Domini is going through the processes of the press. At present we are proofing the ms before typesetting.

As a foretaste (and an encouragement to get the thing when it comes out) here is an appendix to the introduction, dealing with the epiklesis of the Testamentum.

Excursus: the “epiclesis”

Particular issues pertain to the Testament’s handling of the so-called epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition.

I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”

Before turning to the justification of the translation offered here we should discuss the history of interpretation.

The initial translation by Rahmani (1899), following the Mosul MS, read as follows: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, O Lord the Holy Spirit… Bring this drink and this food of your holiness, and cause that they may be for us….” The verb is ܐܬܐ which means “to come.” Here it is in what is called the aphel (causative), which may thus mean “bring” and Rahmani understands it in this sense. The form he understands as a feminine singular imperative (ܐܬܐܝ), which he takes as addressed to the Trinity.

For Cooper and McLean (1902) “this scarcely makes sense.” Thus, rather than beginning the request with “bring,” they adopt a reading from the Borgian Syriac MS, ܐܬܐܝܢ, a participle, rather than the imperative ܐܬܐܝ of the Mosul MS, and translate: “We have brought this drink and this food of thy Holiness to thee. Cause that it may be to us….” They find support for this in one Ethiopic version of the anaphora of the Testament, the so-called “Anaphora of Our Lord” published by Ludolf in 1691. The problem with this solution is that the Borgian Syriac text is generally poor.

Although Dix (1937) and Richardson (1947) commented briefly on this passage, in the context of an argument over the epiclesis of Apostolic Tradition, the next major contribution to the debate was that of Botte (1947), responding to Richardson’s brief comment. In particular Botte suggests that the verb ܐܬܐ in the aphel might equally well be a rendition of “send.” This is possible. As a feminine imperative he suggests it is addressed to the Spirit, but that the Syriac translator had failed to understand that in the Greek the word was accusative (the form would be the same in Greek) and that the petition to “send” was not originally addressed to the Spirit but to the Father, and that the Spirit was the object. Thus the original would have read: “Lord, send the Holy Spirit on this holy drink and this food….”

One merit of Botte’s suggestion is that an object is supplied; something, it seems, needs to come, or be sent, onto the gifts so that they may not be for condemnation, and the object is not the food and drink. Thus while it is tempting to accept Cooper and McLean’s adoption of the reading of B and so to make this passage a continuation of the oblation, making the food and drink the objects means that no account is taken of the word ܠ (“to” or “onto”) which precedes these words.

Richardson (1948), in response, found Botte’s suggestions entirely unconvincing. If the Syriac translator had so misunderstood the Greek accusative, he argues, then this would mean that he had completely missed the address to the Trinity, and the threefold “Lord” that it contains. Thus the Spirit cannot be an object, but is simply addressed as part of the Trinity. In seeking an object he turns his attention to the Syriac ܕ which is attached to the word translated “holiness”, and suggests that this represents a partitive genitive. Thus he translates: “Send (O Trinity) a portion of thy Holiness on this drink and food. Cause that it may be to us….” Bouyer (1968) similarly wonders whether the Syriac text is so obscure as to oblige us to have recourse to the suggestion of such a series of errors on the part of the Syriac translator, though in effect his suggestions return us to Rahmani’s reading.

White’s translation (1991) is interesting. He seems to accept the reading of B, with Cooper and McLean, but unlike them takes the whole phrase as addressed to the Holy Spirit: “Lord Holy Spirit, we have brought this food and drink of your holiness; make it be for us….” It seems odd to find an oblation to the Holy Spirit, but it is significant that he can see that the phrase might be addressed to the Spirit. This accounts for the feminine form of the imperative. It seems that he has accepted Botte’s suggestion that the translator had mistaken an accusative for a vocative, but unlike Botte translates the Syriac text as it stands, taking the feminine imperative as addressed to the (feminine) Spirit rather than correcting it (as Botte does) in accordance with a hypothetical Greek original.

More recent treatments have not advanced the debate. McKenna (2009) simply agrees with Botte without any discussion of the Syriac text, and McGowan (2014) likewise pays no mind to the Syriac text, or to any possible underlying Greek, offering us the following translation (in which the debt to Botte is evident), which she has derived from elsewhere:

We offer to you this act of thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Father, from whom all creation and all nature trembles as it flees into itself, Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon this drink and upon this your holy food. Grant that it may not be for us condemnation….

Before discussing the possibilities presented, the one contribution that I may make is to observe that the Arabic edited by Troupeau (2007) clearly understands that the Trinity is addressed. The Trinity is bidden: “make that this holy food and this drink of sanctification may not be condemnation for us…” thus missing out the verb in dispute. The imperative is masculine.

The question may perhaps be reopened in the light of our observation that the prayer as it stands is a result of combining two anaphoras.

We may recollect that Botte’s suggestion was criticized by Richardson on the basis of the violence it did to the address to the Trinity. However, it is possible that, in keeping with other prayers in the Testament, the Trinity as such was not addressed, but rather only the Father and the Son. This would explain the odd order found here, with the Son first. Thus the original, prior to the combination with Apostolic Tradition might have read:

To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling; send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….

The text of Apostolic Tradition facing the redactor is itself an uncertain matter, but it is highly probable that it read (as Botte suggested), “we ask that you should send your Holy Spirit….” As such it is possible that the mention of the Holy Spirit should be taken from Apostolic Tradition, and the words “Holy Spirit” supplied from that source. However much it may seem that the Trinity is addressed in the Testament, this is the result of the juncture of two sources.

The Holy Spirit in Apostolic tradition was the object. However, given the redactor’s freedom with the source, faced with the necessity of combining two prayers, and given that the sentence already had an object (the portion of holiness), I suggest that he deliberately turned this into a vocative, and thus addresses the Holy Spirit directly at this point. There are thus two addresses, one to the Father and the Son, and one to the Holy Spirit. The rightness of White’s translation becomes manifest when it is observed that this mention of the Spirit supplied from Apostolic Tradition has been inserted into an existing prayer. As such the change of case that results is also less significant than Richardson thought. He suggests, against Botte, that it is improbable that the translator would so misunderstand the original as to read an accusative as a vocative; the suggestion here is that there was no misreading, and that this is not the work of a later translator, but that the translator accurately rendered a deliberate change that had already been made by the redactor.

The result is thus a combination of the insights of Botte, who reconstructs the original of Apostolic Tradition, Richardson, who supplies an object by reading ܕ in the Syriac text as representing a partitive genitive, and White, who so punctuates that such that the address to the Spirit stands out, all understood through the lens of the redactor’s layering technique. The address is directed to the Holy Spirit (the mention of whom is supplied from Apostolic Tradition), the object is taken as “a portion of holiness” and the address to the Trinity recognized as an accident of redaction.

As a result of this I have translated: “To you do we offer this thanksgiving, eternal Trinity, O Lord Jesus Christ, O Lord the Father, from whom every creature and every nature escapes into itself in trembling. O Lord, Holy Spirit, send some of your holiness onto this drink and this food….”


Botte, Bernard (1947) “L’epiclèse de l’anaphore d’Hippolyte,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 14 (1947): 241–51

Bouyer, Louis (1968) Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame,)

Cooper, James, Arthur J. Maclean (1902) The Testament of Our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)

McGowan, Anne, (2014) Eucharistic Epicleses Ancient and Modern (London: SPCK)

McKenna, John H. (2009) The Eucharistic Epiclesis: A Detailed History, 2nd ed (Chicago: Hillenbrand)

Rahmani, Ignatius Ephraem II (1899) Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Mainz: Kirchheim)

Richardson, C.C.,(1948) « A Note on the Epicleses in Hippolytus and the Testamentum Domini,” Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 15 (1948): 357–59

Sperry-White, Grant (1991) The Testamentum Domini: A Text for Students (Bramcote: Grove)

Troupeau, Gérard, (2007) “Une version arabe de l’anaphore du Testamentum Domini” in Charles Chartouni, ed., Christianisme oriental: kérygme et histoire; mélanges offerts au père Michel Hayek (Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner), 247–256


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Qilada, Kitāb al-Disqūlīyah and Borg. Ar. 22

In my dialogue with Dani Vaucher below  I make reference to Wilyam Sulayman Qilada (ed.), Kitāb al-Disqūlīyah: taʿālīm al-rusul (Cairo : Dār al-Jīl lil-Ṭibāʿah, 1979).

My parishioner Mohammed Basith Awan (remember that in the Church of England even Muslims are parishioners… they just have to live in the parish!), a far better Arabist than I, has had a look at it, and has determined that this is the “lost Coptic Didascalia” (again, see posts below) described by Baumstark and found in Codex Borg. Ar. 22. This ms also contains an Arabic version of the Testamentum Domini.

Specialists in this field (among whom I do not count myself) may learn with interest that the Vatican Library has digitized this codex. It may be read here. Coptic marginal annotations clearly indicate an Egyptian provenance.


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The church orders which aren’t church orders

Whilst we await the bibliographical and other expansions which Dr Daniel Vaucher (he was never congratulated on his doctorate here, which is a severe oversight) has promised for the conspectus of church orders, I have fiddled again and removed the following item (though I, or Vaucher if he has a mind to, may put it back!) The conspectus is, after all, living literature.

Name: Didascalia Domini (title in one MS)
Original language: Greek
Extant languages with principal published editions: Greek (Nau (1907))
Relationship with other orders or documents: Echoes in apocalyptic section of other “tours of hell”, in particular Apocalypsis Anastasiae, Apoc. Virginis Mariae.
Notes: Post-resurrection interrogation of Christ by named disciples. Issues re Lent, Wednesday and Friday fasting, clerical discipline, apocalyptic section. Other MS calls it “apostolic constitutions”, but is it even a church-order? Closest relative is Epistula apostolorum!

I suppose I was answering, in the negative,  the question I posed for myself: “Is it even a church order?” What raised this was reading S. Dib, “Note sur deux ouvrages apocryphes arabes intitules ‘Testament de notre-Seigneur” ROC 11 (1906), 427-430. In spite of their titles, neither of these is, by any stretch of the imagination, a church-order, and they have nothing to do with the Testamentum Domini we know and love (sort of!)

Dib provides summaries of each. One is an exhortation to perseverance. The other ends with such an exhortation, but appears to be a strange and novelistic apocalyptic history. Fascinating, undoubtedly, in its own way, but definitely not in our bailliwick.

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A peculiar disruption in the use of Traditio apostolica by Testamentum Domini

Whilst incorporating new material, Testamentum Domini strictly follows the order of Traditio apostolica as a source. It may expand, abbreviate or substitute, but the pattern of the original is manifest.

With one exception. Chapters 36-39 in Traditio apostolica read:

36: Every faithful one should be concerned that, before he consumes anything else, he partake in the eucharist. For if he partakes in faith, even if anything deadly is given him, after that it shall not overcome him.
37: Everybody should be concerned that one who is not of the faithful, nor a mouse nor any other animal, should eat of the eucharist, and that none of it should fall and be altogether lost. For it is the body of Christ to be eaten by the faithful, and not to be despised. 38: For, blessing the cup in the name of God, you received, as it were, the antitype of the blood of Christ. For this reason do not pour it out, that no alien spirit might lick it up because you despised it; you shall be guilty of the blood, like one who despises the price with which he has been bought.
39: The deacons and the presbyters should gather daily at the place which the bishop appoints for them. Let the deacons not fail to assemble at all times, unless illness prevents them. 2When all have gathered together, they should teach those who are in the church, and in this way, when they have prayed, each should go to the task which falls to him.

This is within the “longer ending”.

37 and 39 are omitted entirely by Testamentum Domini. This should not cause overmuch alarm as, in particular without chapter divisions, this might simply count as abbreviation. However, what is most odd is that 38 is included out of sequence earlier in the document, in material otherwise derived from Traditio apostolica 22, and 36 is found, again out of sequence, towards the end in the midst of material otherwise parallel to chapter 43.

Who can explore this strange design?

Offers, anyone? Anyone? I would suggest a mislocated page, but this would only account for one displacement, and not the other.

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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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What did the eucharistic celebrants of the Testamentum Domini “make”? The perils of pointing

In the eucharistic rite of Testamentum Domini (1.23) we read: “…taking bread, gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. When ye shall do this, ye make My resurrection.” (translation of MacLean in J. Cooper, A.J. Maclean, The Testament of our Lord (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1902), 73. Other translations read the same.)

The relevant passage in Syriac reads:

ܩܝܡܬܐ ܕܝܠܝ ܥܒܕܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ (qymt) dyly (bdyn )ntwn.)

The critical word here is that translated as “resurrection”, ܩܝܡܬܐ. Translators have pointed this as ܩܝܵܡܬܵܐ . However, were the word pointed ܩܳܝܶܡܬܳܐ then it might be translated “memorial”, albeit in the sense more of a tombstone than a liturgical commemoration.

This is surely the translator’s intention. At the time of Rahmani’s initial translations of Testamentum Domini (1899) Hauler had not yet published the Latin fragments of Traditio apostolica, and at the time of Cooper and MacLean’s publication they were newly published, and so the relationship between the Testamentum and Traditio apostolica was not understood. But with the passage of a century since Connolly, surely we can improve the translation at this point.

Edit, 26th September: I had forgotten the suggestion of W. E. Pitt, “Anamnesis and Institution Narrative in the Liturgy of Apostolic ConstitutionsJEH 9 (1958), 1-7, at 5, that this came about through a misreading of anamnēsis (memorial) as anastasis (resurrection). Obviously this is now to be rejected,. but we may give due recognition to Pitt for seeing the issue.

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The additional chapters of the Arabic Didascalia

As part of my work on Testamentum Domini I have been trying to get my head around the various Arabic versions of this text. Here I have been greatly aided by the extraordinary scholarship of R-G Coquin, “Le Testamentum Domini: problemes de tradition textuelle” Parole de l’Orient 5 (1974), 165-188. Coquin notes three distinct Arabic versions, based on distinct Greek recensions of the text. This to add to the Ethiopic version and the Syriac recension published by Rahmani.

What is particularly interesting to note, in what amounts to a throwaway remark from Coquin on p. 184 of his article, is that the additional chapters of the Arabic Didascalia (see previous posts), whilst taken from Testamentum Domini, reflect a distinct Arabic version of this material.

My own Arabic is somewhat limited. All this steels my determination, however, to improve its standard so that, even if as a retirement project, I can bring this material to publication. In the meantime I hope nonetheless that somebody else does it. So if there is any Arabist reading this blog who is looking for a research project…


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