Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 4

Introduction to early church history 4 
 Jean Paul


Studying the Didache gives us an insight into the move from the initially Jewish roots of the Christian community to a separate Christian identity.

Chapter VIII - covers ideas on fasting and the daily prayer. 

The hypocrites referred to are any Jews that have not converted to Christianity (rather than the religious leaders referred to as hypocrites in the gospels).  Jews fast twice a week on Monday and Thursday - the Didache keeps this concept for Christians but changes the days to Wednesday and Friday, no reason is given for choosing these particular days (this practice of twice weekly fasting has been maintained in the teaching of the Church until fairly recently and some monastic communities still follow it).

Christians are commanded by the Lord to say the Lord’s prayer from the Gospel (at this stage it wasn’t the written Gospels we have today but the term covers the teaching of the Lord).  The text of the Lord’s prayer is similar to Matthew’s version but there are some differences: the word heaven in the Greek of Matthew’s gospel is plural (indicating the different levels of heaven  - the idea that heaven has different levels comes from semitic thought) here it is singular. 
The text initially uses a third party imperative but changes to a 1st person imperative with “give us today our daily bread” - the Greek word translated as daily is difficult to translate - a better phrase might be the bread of our necessity.
Debt is singular rather than plural - and the Greek word means debt rather than sins, rather than saying “as we forgive our debtors” a better translation might be “as we have forgiven our debtors”.
A doxology has been added at the end as this prayer was used liturgically - in Jewish worship it was common to end a prayer with some words of honour or praise.

As an aside the English version matches neither the Didache nor the version from Matthews gospel as it is a translation of the vulgate (Latin) version.

An important point is that the Our Father is very different to Jewish prayer - the Jews would never call God “Our Father” - they avoided all mentions of the name of God and substituted the word “Lord”.

The instruction to pray 3 times a day was from Jewish were they were expected to say the Schema 3 times a day “Hear O Israel the Lord is your God, the Lord is one”.  This prayer is taken from the Tefillah (The Prayer) also known as the 18 benedictions or blessings.  It covered private prayer and synagogue worship (remember that the Synagogue was not in use everyday but was open on days like market days).  The obligation to pray was on all Jews in the oral law - this is very unusual as such things usually excluded women.

The Didache makes no mention of where prayer should be said (earlier sections cover confession of sin in the assembly or the group - the word used is ecclesia which has not yet taken the meaning of a building).

Prayer continues to use the Jewish tradition but there’s an independent Christian way of prayer included.

Chapter IX and X
These chapters discuss the Eucharist.  First on the separate sheet there are the 4 new testament accounts of the Last Supper - note the different emphases:

Luke’s Gospel:
A cup is blessed, bread is blessed, a meal is eaten and then a cup is blessed.  This imitates the Jewish customs of the time.
Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians:
The structure is simplified - the community at Corinth was largely gentile converts and were not used to the Jewish customs and wouldn’t need to liturgically imitate them.  The structure now is: bread blessed, meal, cup blessed.
The importance for Paul is the statement “Do this in memory of me” which is repeated twice.  Paul’s account also includes a theological evaluation: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

In the move from Luke to Paul there’s a gradual move to the liturgical form, Luke was probably giving us the actual structure of the meal but Paul wanted to pass on a liturgical form.

This liturgical form is even clearer in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  Here the meal is in the background (“while they were eating”) and here we see just the bread blessed and then the cup blessed.  Mark also includes extra rubrics “said to them”.  “This is the blood of the covenant” in these Gospels rather than Luke’s version : “covenant in my blood” is a move away from the Jewish terminology.

Now the focus has moved from the meal to the blessing of the bread and cup.  It is possible that the meal wasn’t mentioned because of problems in the Christian community about the standard of the meal served to the poor and rich - this is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Additionally Matthew adds “forgiveness of sins” and adds the commands to eat and drink as invitations to the Eucharist, but overall uses the same structure as Mark.

So accounts of events that lead to liturgical actions vary from strict description of the event itself to descriptions of the liturgical events.

In the Didache the description of the Eucharist is similar to that of Luke.  The Acts of the Apostles uses the term “Breaking of bread” but here we see another term: Eucharist.  Breaking of bread referred to the Hebrew custom were bread was broken at the start of a meal and distributed to those present, away from the Jewish culture this term had little meaning hence the Eucharist.

The Didache starts with the cup, then the bread (which had already been broken - the Greek can be translated as a piece of bread) and then the meal.  The prayers are of a Jewish form of thanksgiving.  The translation of child (as in Jesus thy Child) is from the Greek word pais which can mean child, servant, slave, this is a link to Jewish tradition were King David is referred to in the same way.  The Didache doesn’t mention body and blood it is concerned with prayers of thanksgiving.  This reference to Child is removed later during the Arian heresy - as the Arians used it to say that the Son wasn’t equal to the Father.

The prayer “Gather thy Church” shows that the Eucharist already has an ecclesiological dimension, the reference to the bread scattered on the mountain may show that this was a community in the hill country who had to gather the wheat from the hills.

There are then practical comments - only the baptised should take part (this is justified with a quote from the Lord “Give not what is holy to dogs” in the New Testament this is used in a different context - about not teaching people who can’t understand and not in the context of the Eucharist.

Chapter X then continues with “after you are satisfied with food” so a meal is eaten there are prayers of thanksgiving (Eucharist), the form is similar to the Our Father.  Note the similarity between the phrase “tabernacle of our hearts” and John 1:14 “he pitched his tent (tabernacle) amongst us” - but the statement in the Didache is intensified rather than being in our midst the Lord is in our hearts.

In Chapter X part 3 onwards there is an ecclesiological addition based on Genesis 2 and 3 - the Lord gave food and drink for the enjoyment of men - but here there’s spiritual food and drink. 
Part 6 is a series of exclamations in praise of God.  Ending with the word “Maranatha” - this has a number of possible meanings depending on where you break the word: maran ata - means “Our Lord has come” or “Our Lord is coming” marana ta is the imperative “Come Lord”.  It can not have s future tense meaning.

The very last part of Chapter X has the phrase “Let the prophets hold the Eucharist as they will” - there are two things to note from this - first that there were a group in the early church regarded as inspired and thought of as prophets and secondly that this form of celebration wasn’t fixed it was only one way of celebrating.

Chapter XI onwards

This concerns the ministry of the early church and shows some of its evolution to the structure of today.

Initially there are criteria for accepting or rejecting those that come to the community as teachers - this will later become known as orthodoxy, so this is that the teachers follow the teaching of the Didache.
It also says that if a teacher increases the righteousness of the community they are to treat him like the Lord.

There are two types of teachers: Apostles and prophets, these are both charismatic ministers (or groups).

An Apostle was an itinerant missionary - moving from place to place.  This may reflect the way the early church worked - there’s little information about the movements of the Apostles (except later tradition) and this is probably because they moved around so much.  The exceptions to this are Peter and Paul the New Testament does give some details about them.  An Apostle was allowed to stay for up to 3 days - beyond this he was regarded as a false teacher, again he could ask only for bread for the next stage of his journey and request for money made him a false teacher.

Prophets were regarded as inspired by the Holy Spirit - there is evidence of their activity up to the 2nd Century, to test them was regarded as a sin against the Holy Spirit and the Lord had said that these sins would not be forgiven.

However not everyone one that speaks in the spirit was to be regarded as a prophet - a true or false prophet could be discerned from their behaviour in the way in which they led their lives.  If a prophet doesn’t act according to his teaching he is to be regarded as a false prophet, but just because a prophet behaves in an add way doesn’t mean that he is false, his actions will be judged by God (although he should not teach others to behave in the same odd way).

There’s further teaching about recognising false prophets: those that ask for money for themselves, they may ask for money for others (as Paul did in making his collection for the Church in Jerusalem).

Other travellers were also allowed to remain for 2 or 3 days - all who come in the name of the Lord should be received - but their belief should be tested.

If a traveller wished to settle - provided that he has passed the tests - if he has a craft he should be allowed to practice it, if he has none he should be given an occupation, but if he refuses then he shouldn’t be trusted.

Chapter XIII discusses prophets who wish to settle in the community - in being a prophet he is worthy of his food - there’s no mention of Apostles in this who were always itinerant.  If a true teacher is worthy of his food where does this come from?  The Didache uses Old Testament tradition - they should be given the first fruits, it is then very explicit in listing what this means: wine, grain, meat, etc..  The prophets were to be thought of as the high priests of the Old Testament.  If there is no settled (stable) prophet the first fruits were to be given to the poor.  This is the origin of the system of tithes that continued until recent times in the Church.  The list of first fruits also includes money and clothing which wasn’t part of the Jewish tradition - this is an extension of it in the Didache.  However the Didache adds the phrase “As it seems best to you” - there were no fixed amounts to be given it was up to each individual to make that decision.

We see here the first move from purely itinerant teachers: prophets and Apostles towards settled teachers - these were only prophets Apostles were always regarded as itinerant.

Chapter XIV gives details of Sunday - it makes the point that this is not the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) - it calls Sunday the day of the Lord.  The community should break bread and hold a Eucharist - but first any transgressions had to be confessed so that the offering would be pure.  Why would this make the offering pure?  In Matthew Chapter 5 “If you bring your offering to the alter and there remember that you have something against your brother, leave your offering and go and be reconciled with your brother first and then present your offering”.  However if anyone won’t be reconciled with his brother he may not take part in the sacrifice.  This is the first time the idea of sacrifice is mentioned - so the Breaking Of Bread is now being interpreted with the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

In Chapter XV we see another step in the development of the Church, Bishops and Deacons are introduced although there seems to be some resistance to this change.

Bishops and Deacons were to be appointed (elected by show of hands) from amongst the community.  Notice first the plural: bishops - the concept of presbyter isn’t mentioned - it’s possible presbyters and bishops are included in the one group, as time goes on one takes charge (running things by committee is never great) and so we see the start of the current monarchical structure of the church - the first known bishop that used the current structure of bishop, presbyters and deacons was St Ignatius of Antioch, it is mentioned in his writings on his way to Rome to be martyred (110AD).

Those involved in these ministries were to be worthy of the Lord, meek, not lovers of money, truthful and approved (by the community).  The Didache goes on to say that they would minister as the prophets and teachers had and that they were not to be despised (indicating some resistance to the change).  There is no clear distinction between what Deacons and Bishops do - we have no idea of what the fuction of a Deacon was at this time.

This marked a change from teachers and prophets that came from outside the community - so Bishops and Deacons that were elected from the community.

The second part of paragraph XV covers fraternal correction- not to reprove in wrath but to use brotherly correction.  If someone has offended his neighbour and refuses to repent then he is not to be spoken to.

The Didache was an instruction for a local church - in it we can see the struggle to move from the Jewish roots to a separate Christian identity.

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