Wednesday, September 29, 2010

being traditioned

I come from a self-orphaned church tradition. Little did I know it at the time, but the church where I was baptized into Christ comes from a movement of churches that split from other church traditions to focus on scripture and unity. The irony is staggering, if not also somewhat depressing. One of the unfortunate results of the "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible" dictum is that restoration movement churches are willfully ignorant of church tradition. One of my chosen assignments for my "Early Christian Centuries" class this semester is to read through the Apostolic Fathers. I hope this will be a helpful way for me to learn about the developing traditions of the early Christians. In turn, I expect I will be forced to wrestle with the inherent values and pitfalls of the traditions that have traditoned me even if I had not yet recognized them.

I will be reading through the Loeb translations (vols. 1 & 2 which include the Greek text as well) by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a notable historian and scholar who has written numerous works on early Christianity. Though Ehrman did his undergraduate work at conservative evangelical schools (Wheaton and Moody) he has since described himself as an agnostic and has written two books challenging typical conservative assumptions about the text of the New Testament (provocatively titled Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted). Ehrman's journey from conservative evangelical to historical skeptic merits a blog post on its own, but that's not my purpose here.

I plan to blog through my assignment as a way to both keep me on track with reading and force myself to process the material through writing.

The Apostolic Fathers "represent a disparate collection of early Christian writings" (1) that is an invention of the seventeenth century. Erhman even refers to the collection as a "modern fabrication" (11). Today the collection includes:

  • 1 Clement
  • 2 Clement
  • Letters of Ignatius of Antioch
  • Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
  • Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • Didache
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Papias and Quadratus
  • Epistle to Diognetus
  • Shepherd of Hermas
The unifying feature of these letters is that the authors are generally considered to be connected with apostles. Thus, they represent the "next generation" of writings after the NT. In some cases, however, these books were written around the same time as the NT and perhaps earlier. Also, it is not historically verifiable that all the authors were actually connected to the apostles. Even if the collection of books is a modern invention, it is still representative of the early developing Christian traditions.


DKiges said...

I would be interested to hear what you think about what each of these texts are saying about "normative" practices in the liturgy and worship. I am currently in a class on the History of Worship and Sacraments and out of the texts in the "Apostolic Fathers" the only we have looked has been the "Didache".

Also, (allow me to ask a question I should not) what is the geographical range of these texts? Are they including the Egyptian churches and later Syriac churches?

I guess what I am saying is what would these texts tell us about Christian practices, acknowledging that what one of these texts says may not be indicative of the entire Christian tradition?

Cool stuff. And I like that you are blogging on this Tyler.

Grace, Peace and Love

Unknown said...


First let me say welcome. I think this is the first time you've commented here and I'm glad for it.

It is interesting that you've only focused on the Didache. It is certainly early and finds its way into the discussion of the patristics, but after the 4th century it virtually disappeared. It wasn't until we found Codex Hierosolymitanus (which dates to 1056) and was first published in 1887 that we had a complete edition of it. It is found on Oxyrhynchus Papyrus (4th century), a fifth century incomplete coptic text and in book 7 of "Apostolic Constitutions." So, while the Didache is certainly early it was not well-preserved. 1 Clement has better witnesses but not by much. I'm not sure about the others at this point.

I would suggest that these texts represent developing traditions. Sometimes these traditions conflict. For example, Shepherd of Hermas and 1 Clement are described by Ehrman as representing "radically different views of church structure and the relationship of Christians to Roman rule" (Vol 1. pg 11). Disagreement was common in the early church and certain texts were privileged over others in different places.

It's a good question that I'll pay attention to in the introductions to each book and as I'm reading.

DKiges said...

I am guessing that we haven't looked at those texts too much because they do not say much concerning the actual practices of worship (which is the focus of the course). We have looked at the "Apostolic Constitutions" and several writings from Ignatius and Justin Martyr/Jerome (I can't remember right now) as well as the "Didaskalia," "Apostolic Tradition of (PS)-Hippolytus." We did look at one part of the "Apostolic Fathers," again, I just forget what.

Either way, I realize that this is not what you are (specifically) looking for reading these texts. Because you are all about how the NT uses the OT. If you come across something that you see as dealing with the practices of liturgy and worship I would be very interested in your take.

Also, thanks for welcoming me to such a wonderful place of scholarship (which I ruin by my very presence).

And I believe a belated Happy Birthday is in order for you as well, so Happy Birthday.

Unknown said...


Thanks for the birthday wishes.

Church order is actually a major issue in 1 Clement, so I'm a bit surprised you didn't talk about it. Also, I think all these documents are relevant to early Christian worship practices because they were read in the context of worship.

I do, however, see your point. I'll keep an eye out for worship practices and post any relevant observations.