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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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The Canons of Cyril of Jerusalem from the Kitāb al-Hudā

As Paul Bradshaw has observed several times, the church orders tend to survive in churches on the margins. Significantly they are also found, frequently, in collections of canon law from these marginal churches, among other more “canonical” material. Notes on some of these, which contain church order material, may be found in the conspectus below, and in Daniel Vaucher’s post on the Kitāb al-Hudā.

In thinking about this material recently I come to realize that another peculiarity about these collections and their contents is the continued production of pseudonymous canonical and liturgical material. Thus in the Kitāb al-Hudā we find canons attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem. Graf (GCAL 1, 335-337) lists three pages of Cyrilline pseudepigrapha in Arabic, including this. I present a somewhat provisional translation; what is good in it is largely due to the efforts of others (who have requested anonymity). In spite of the uncertainties and frequent lack of clarity, given that these canons are not otherwise extant and have never been translated, I thought it worth making this public. However, I cannot stress too much that there is a great deal of obscurity here, and that on occasion this rendition is little better than guesswork. My sole excuse is that this a first journey into terra incognita without any navigational tools.

The opening line has a striking resemblance to one of the canons among the the otherwise unidentified “A little of the canons of the apostles and the fathers, through which the church of Christ is truly united” which is found in the collection of canonical material in the E recension of the Didascalia apostolorum (see pp 274-275 of my version). Thus compare: Canon 17 of these: “Nor should a presbyter baptize his bodily child, unless death should threaten the child and no other presbyter is there to baptize him” with the opening line of these canons. This is the only direct parallel but the preoccupations of the documents seem largely the same. There is thus a similar concern with who may marry whom, though the concern here is that baptism creates a familial relationship which might put persons unrelated by blood into a familial relationship (water being as thick as blood!) Vööbus (CSCO 402, 42) suggests that the source of the canons found in the Didascalia is the Canons of an otherwise unknown Johanan found in the West Syrian Synodicon, but although the concerns are again similar, there is no evident literary relationship. The three share a milieu, but little else.

Frankly, this material raises as many questions as it does answers, not the least of which being those of date and provenance. All I can say on this is that it is of a date and provenance entirely out of my field of expertise!

The translation is derived from the text of Pierre Fahed, Kitāb al-Hudā ou livre de la direction (Aleppo: Imp. Maronite, 1935), 216-219.

The canons of Cyril of Jerusalem concerning baptism and marriage in the radiant faith

It is not permitted that a presbyter should baptize his son if another priest may be found, except in case of necessity. In case of necessity this is allowable to him. But he abstains from sexual intercourse for forty days. It is likewise not allowed to accept the baptism of the sons of his brothers, or an aunt’s child, or an uncle’s child, or a maternal aunt’s child, or a grandmother’s child. It is not permissible for them to accept baptism for any children of these at all.

A deacon is not permitted to anoint his son with oil. A deacon other than he is to take him down to the baptism and bring him up from it. To him it is not permissible.

It is not permissible at all that a priest should be kissed by a layman; nor should he kiss his son.1 And if he does this he is to separate from his wife for ever, and he is not permitted to take another, and if he marries he is banned from the sacrifice for the period of his life, and so it is for a woman, as for a man.

And if two men receive baptism it is not permitted that either should marry the other’s sister, or his daughter, or his mother, or his daughter’s daughter, nor his son’s daughter, or his sister’s daughter, or his paternal uncle’s daughter, nor his maternal uncle’s daughter, nor his maternal aunt’s daughter, nor the daughter of a half brother2 before the baptism. Even if she was born after the baptism it is not allowed, or even if this is agreed among them prior to the baptism. This is permissible for them if they are unrelated, but if they are for four generations then this is not permissible to them. And if their parents had children, male or female, and they wish to marry them to each other it is permissible for them to do so. This is no crime for them. And if there are sons to the father, or children to the mother,3 then they are not to construct a marriage between their children, or their children’s children at all, nor any of their family line, because baptism has brought about a comprehensive lineage. It is not permissible for that is an offence to Almighty God.

It is not permissible for a woman to kiss a man, or for a man to kiss a female.4 It is not permissible for a man and a woman to receive baptism at the same time, since if they die and they had done this then it is not permissible for their children or their children’s children to marry each other.

And it is not permitted for a deacon to marry a widow, even if she is abandoned. And for a presbyter, even if he is a young man and his wife has died, it is not permitted that he should marry another. And if he marries he commits fornication, and a fornicator does not serve at the altar of God, because he has preferred marriage to the priestly priesthood. Likewise the priestly class is not to marry a widow, even if they were married to priests and are bar adta (children of the church.) Both the presbyterate and the diaconate; and the orders below them, it is not permissible that they be given the priesthood except after they are married.

If they stipulated to themselves5 that they would be steadfast in virginity and purity this is excellent. Whoever breaches his undertaking and gets married after accepting the prayer of ordination should be rejected, because he has violated the covenant of God Almighty and his promise. And God, blessed be his name, will set him afar off and he will not attend the sacred mystery at all.

The deacons and those who are beneath them in their degrees, the sub-deacons (transliterated) and readers and psalmists, let them be received into the order of priesthood a year after their marriage. And if they do not desire marriage and they have a good reputation, and they stipulated concerning themselves to God that they are not to be married, then that is excellent. Yet if they go on to get married they are not to serve at the altar of almighty God. Anyone who has ascended any of the priestly ranks is not permitted to marry two women. Anyone who goes on this way is not to serve the altar of almighty God, such is not permitted by this decree, and so should be removed and rejected, because he has disobeyed, and fallen under judgement because he is like a fornicator, and it will not be forgiven him. It is not permitted that somebody who has committed this sin should appear in his place before the altar at all, because he has preferred marriage to the discipline of Christ. For this reason he is banished from the holy camp, to take his place in this world. If a priest marries a third time, then his face should be spat upon, and he should burn in the fire. And his priestly clothing, and his crown should be removed and he should be prohibited from the sacrifice for the span of his life. And this decree is for the diaconate and the priesthood: whoever has donned the crown of the Lord, and those who are beneath them, like readers and psalmists and ܘܕܝܘܢܐ ܘܪܣܡܐ.6

They shall distribute the body at the gate of the holy house and they shall not approach the altar at all. And to a laymen likewise they should not distribute the body from the altar, even if they are honoured patrons, but they shall distribute the sacrifice to him outside the door.

Such are the canons.

1Reading the verb qbl as a form II and accepting that there is a double object (as found often in Syriac texts). Otherwise the sentence might be construed: “It is not permissible for a priest to receive it, a layman will not kiss his son.” This does not make much sense to me. But even this version has its problems!

2Literally “nor the daughter of a companion in birth”. Taken here to mean a half brother through a different father.

3Taken as meaning stepchildren.

4Again reading qbl as a form II. Cf. Traditio apostolica 18.4.

5Literally “to their souls”.

6I can make nothing of these two Syriac words! My understanding is that the karshuni MSS were derived from MSS in Arabic script, and possibly by scribes with no knowledge of Syriac. The scope for confusion is thus extensive. Note that the previous words, readers and psalmists, are also found in Syriac here.

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The date of the translation of the Didascalia into Syriac

An interesting question greeted me this morning on the date of the Syriac translation of Didascalia apostolorum. My correspondent points out that Vööbus and Connolly suggest the mid-4th century whereas Brock and Schöllgen think late 5th/early 6th century.

I had to respond that I am something of a rudus in such matters, and that this was a matter on which I did not think I could bring any real insight. Late 5th century is a reasonable date as there is concrete evidence that the Greek text was circulating in Syriac speaking areas at that time (namely the fragment published in Bartlet, “Fragments of the Didascalia apostolorum in Greek” JTS 18, (1917), 301–309), but this is not of particular probative value as the probability is that the text was produced in a bilingual part of Syria anyway. Connolly is, I think, too early in putting it in the first quarter of the third century as I do not think even the Greek text was completed at that point. Which brings me back to the observations on vocabulary in Vööbus (CSCO 402), 25-28. Given that the text originated in a bilingual area a very early translation, as Vööbus suggests, is entirely plausible.

However, I am wondering whether anyone out there has any particular insight.

PS: Some time later I received the follow-up question as to the version in which the redactions of the Didascalia were carried out. I had no hesitation in suggesting that the major redactions were carried out in Greek; the Latin version, derived from Greek, has elements of all the redactional levels, though it is possible that a few minor glosses and interpolations may have taken place within the Syriac version.
The recension which I term the E recension, however, with its large omissions towards the end and the additional material added to the third chapter, was a recension of the Syriac version. The location of the new material at the end of the third chapter indicates that the chapter divisions were established, and more to the point much, though not all, of this additional material is of Syriac origin.

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