Tag Archives: Traditio apostolica

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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The smell of baking bread: Mart. Pol. 15

In Didascalia apostolorum we read: “You set pure bread before him, which is formed by fire and sanctified by the invocation, offering without demur and praying for those who sleep.” (DA 6.22.2.)

In Traditio apostolica 22 we read: “On the first of the week the bishop, if he is able, should himself distribute to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break. And the presbyters break the baked bread.”

Dix, (Treatise, 44) suggests that “the bread they are given” should be read instead of “the baked bread”— reading wefoya (delivered) rather than ‘afoya (baked)— a reading which is found in two manuscripts of the later Ethiopic text. Botte (Tradition apostolique, 61 n. 3) suggests that since the same phrase appears in the Ethiopic version at chapter 26 below “baked” must be the correct reading, though he is at a loss as to what the term means. Moreover, the appearance of “baked” in the Aksumite Ethiopic means that “baked” should certainly be read. Similarly the Aksumite version has “baked bread” in TA 26.

In previous publications I have noted this emphasis on the fact that bread is baked, and leaned towards the suggestion that bread might be baked in situ, particularly in the cemeteries (in my works on Didascalia and Vita Polycarpi certainly, and perhaps elsewhere.) The context in Vita Polycarpi was the report that the burning Polycarp gave off the smell of baking bread (Mart. Pol. 15.)

In an increasingly rare lightbulb moment it occurred to me that this may be a reference (and implicit contrast) to the practice of sacrifice. Bread (and Polycarp) are offered, and baked, in the same way that animal sacrifices were cooked with fire. I am also aware of burnt grain offerings, particularly at Roman tombs, but admit that I do not know enough about sacrificial practice to be certain on this point. Nonetheless it all adds up.. If anyone can point me to a beginners’ guide to the practice of ancient sacrifice in the early centuries of the Common Era, particularly in funereal settings, with big print and lots of pictures (or else, with reliable primary source material!) I would be gratified indeed. For the present, I withdraw my suggestion that bread was baked on site and accuse myself of a further error.

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Was chapter 4 a later addition to Traditio apostolica?

Jens Schröter “Die Funktion der Herrenmahlsüberlieferungen im 1. Korintherbrief: zugleich ein Beitrag zur Rolle der “Einsetzungsworte” im frühchristlichen Mahltexten” ZNW 100 (2009), 78-100, at 79-80 in footnote 5, notes that the episcopal eucharistic prayer at TA4 is absent from some versions, and thus suggests that it might have been added to some versions of Traditio apostolica at a later date. The prayer is present in Latin but absent in Sahidic and the Axumite Ethiopic versions. However, turning to the rewritings, it was obviously available to the redactors of Testamentum Domini and Constitutiones apostolicae, though is absent from Canones Hippolyti. So we have to ask ourselves at what later stage this chapter was added, such that it might find its way to Italy, Cappadocia and Antioch within the time-frame. It is not as if a more convincing solution is fairly obvious, given the distribution of the chapter’s presence and absence, namely that it was omitted in the Alexandrian recension, and thus in the versions dependent on that Greek original.

This is yet another example of the knots into which those who seek to deny the Roman and early third-century provenance of Traditio apostolica tie themselves

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The Didache material appended to Traditio apostolica in the Axumite Ethiopic version

In a previous post I have made reference to the fragment of Didache material attached to the Axumite Ethiopic version of Traditio apostolica published by A. Bausi.“La nuova versione etiopica della Traditio apostolica: edizione e traduzione preliminare“ in Paola Buzi and Alberto Camplani (edd.), Christianity in Egypt: literary production and intellectual trends. Studies in honor of Tito Orlandi (Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 2011), 19-69.

I was reminded of this in recent correspondence, and so present this version of the material for comparative purposes, based on the English prepared for my work on the Two Ways Tradition. It falls well short of any scientific standard, and is not for citation, but is offered as an encouragement to anyone considering the textual history of the Didache to take this material into account, given that it diverges significantly from the received Greek version.


Now regarding apostles and prophets act thus, in accordance with the direction of the Gospel. Any apostle who comes to you should remain only a day or two. If he desires to remain a third or delays his departure he is a <false> prophet. Do not test any prophet speaking in the Spirit; do not make discernment because not every sin may be forgiven. Everyone speaking in the spirit is a prophet as long as they are manifesting the conduct of the Lord. The false prophet and the prophet shall be known from conduct. Every prophet ordering in the spirit that a table be set does not eat of it; otherwise he is a false prophet. Every prophet teaching the truth yet not practising what is taught is a false prophet. Every prophet who is tested and true, who works in human company and acts outside the law shall not be judged of you, for he will have judgement with the Lord. For so the ancient prophets acted. Do not listen should anyone say in the spirit “Give me money, or other things.” Yet if he says you should give to others, give it to him without question.

Everyone coming in the name of the Lord should be received; when you have tested him you shall know, for you shall have knowledge of right and left. You should help, as much as you are able, anyone who comes to you as a traveller, who shall not remain with you except for two or three days. If he desires and wishes to stay with you and has a useful trade, if he has no use he should not be kept. If he has no trade act according to your understanding, for an idle person should not live among you. If he does not wish to act in this way he is a Christ-tinker; beware of people like that!

Every prophet wishing to stay with you is worthy of his food. Thus you shall take every firstfruit of the winepress, of wheat, of the threshing floor, of cattle and of sheep, giving the firstfruit to the prophets for they are your <high>-priests. If you have no prophet give them to the destitute. If you make dough, take the first fruit, giving in accordance with the commandment. Likewise take the firstfruit if you open a flask of oil or wine or honey, giving to the prophets. And of money and clothing and every possession, take the firstfruit as seems right to you, giving in accordance with the commandment.

Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week, yet you fast on the Wednesday and the Friday. Nor pray like the hypocrites, <but> as the Lord commanded in the Gospel.

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The difficulties of interpretation in Traditio apostolica 41.6 and a suggested solution

At Traditio apostolica 41.5-6 we read:

And if indeed you are in your house, pray at the third hour and praise God. But if you are elsewhere and the occasion comes about, pray in your heart to God. For at that hour Christ was displayed nailed to the tree. For this reason also in the Old the Law prescribed that the shewbread should be offered at every hour as a type of the Body and Blood of Christ; and the slaughter of the speechless lamb is this, a type of the perfect lamb. For the shepherd is Christ, and also the bread which came down from heaven.

There is a variation in the Aksumite Ethiopic here. The text reads: “Pay careful attention to the time; for at that time we anticipate the return of Christ,” before going on to discuss the types of the shewbread and the lamb.

In any event it is hard to disentangle the logic here.

I have now come across the comments of Wenrich Slenczka, Heilsgeschichte und 9783110810080Liturgie: Studien zum Verhältnis von Heilsgeschichte und Heilsteilhabe anhand liturgischer und katechetischer Quellen des dritten und vierten Jahrhunderts (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 78; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000) at 27-29 (a catchy title if every I saw one.) This I missed, so must admit to an error of omission in the second edition of my commentary.

Slenczka suggests that the verse regarding the shewbread is a gloss on 42B.3 (the following chapter)

This (the protecting power of God) Moses showed in the paschal sheep which was slaughtered. He sprinkled the blood on the threshold and anointed the doorposts, and showed forth that faith in the perfect sheep which is now in us.

This, it must be admitted, is possible though, as Slenczka admits, would have occurred early in the process of transmission. My problem with the suggestion is that, although I can see the connection between Moses’s lamb and Christ (not hard) the logic of the shewbread is less obvious, and the connection between the placarding of Christ (which is the connection with the shewbread) and the protecting power of the blood (which is the context for the mention of the lamb and its blood in chapter 42) creates a tension almost as difficult as the crux of interpretation that the movement of the verse is meant to solve.


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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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