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Church History: The Didache
Historical research has spurred the discovery of many documents that are related to Christianity. Several writings of this kind have given precious insights into the epochs before and after the founding of the Catholic Church. One particular writing, part of the Patristic corpus (i.e. writings of the Church Fathers), has shed valuable light on Catholicism: "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," better known as The Didache.
A Greek copy of The Didache was first discovered in 1873; a text that was part of an 11th century manuscript entitled Codex Hierosolymitanus (circa 1056). The ecclesiastic of Nicomedia, a gentleman named Bryennios, is credited with finding this codex, published in 1883. Since the initial discovery in the 19th century, The Didache has been found in fragments (Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac) and in complete translation (Georgian). Today, The Didache is readily accessible in English, and an integral part of many studies on Church history and theology.
As the case with several writings from antiquity, speculation surrounds some aspects of The Didache. The writer is unknown, as well as its place of composition. This treatise is believed to have originated from the East: candidates have been Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Dating is less speculative: The Didache is believed to have been written between the first and second centuries. Patristic scholars are confident that this work is one of the earliest Christian tomes of the Catholic Faith. Later studies have shown that The Didache has been referenced in other known documents, such as the Apostolic Constitutions, a work dated to the fourth century.
More crucial than any speculation on The Didache is its substance. The title, as indicated, reflects a summary of the doctrines of the Lord Jesus Christ that were taught by the Apostles to the world. The Didache contains 16 chapters, which can be divided into four topical sections: moral catechesis (1-6), liturgical instruction (7-10), disciplinary regulations (11-15), and the doctrine of the Second Coming (16). This work has been utilized by the Magisterium; The Didache is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1331, 1403, 1696, 2271, 2760 and 2767). It is hoped that the following brief excerpts from The Didache will encourage further study and reflection.
The Didache 1.1 is clear enough: "There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways." This implies one of the most basic (and necessary) principles of the Christian life: by Gods grace, strive to do good and avoid evil. This fact is rooted in Sacred Scripture (cf. Dt 30:19; Mt 7:21). The opening line in this Patristic work is refreshing, especially useful in our day, when some wish to cloak vice under the mantle of "personal freedom" or "individual rights."
Addressing the duties of parents, The Didache reads: "You shall not withhold your hand from your son or from your daughter, but you shall teach them the fear of God from their youth" (4.9). This mandate, one of instructing children in the truths of the Catholic Faith, reiterates the common theme that the home is the "domestic Church." The Magisterium continues this Patristic concept, stating in the1981 document Familiaris Consortio (Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) No. 36, the special role of parents as the primary educators for their children.
"But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist," states The Didache 9.5, "except those who have been baptized in the Lords name." It is evident that from the earliest days of the Catholic Church, some restrictions were in place for denying access to the Blessed Sacrament. Even today, the Code of Canon Law still maintains certain regulations for reception of the Sacrament of the Altar (cf. Canons 912-919).
A deeper examination of The Didache is highly profitable for the student of history or theology. This work of the Patristic corpus is certainly one of the most insightful writings dated near the Apostolic era. The document touches upon faith, morals, and discipline; a pattern that would be followed by many Magisterial pronouncements throughout the ages.
Ciresi serves on the faculty at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.
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