A short treatise which was accounted by some of the Fathers as next to Holy Scripture. It was rediscovered in 1883 by Bryennios, Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Nicomedia, in the codex from which, in 1875, he had published the full text of the Epistles of St. Clement. The title in the MS. is Didache kyriou dia ton dodeka apostolon ethesin, but before this it gives the heading Didache ton dodeka apostolon. The old Latin translation of cc. i-v, found by Dr. J. Schlecht in 1900, has the longer title, omitting “twelve”, and has a rubric De doctrin’ Apostolorum. For convenience the contents may be divided into three parts: the first is the “Two Ways”, the Way of Life and the Way of Death; the second part is a rituale dealing with baptism, fasting, and Holy Communion; the third speaks of the ministry. Doctrinal teaching is presupposed, and none is imparted.
The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius after the books of Scripture (H. E., III, xxv, 4): “Let there be placed among the spuria the writing of the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle known as that of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also . . . the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought fit . . .” St. Athanasius and Rufinus add the “Teaching” to the sapiential and other deutero-canonical books. (Rufinus gives the curious alternative title “Judicium Petri”.) It has a similar place in the lists of Nicephorus, Pseudo-Anastasius, and Pseudo-Athanasius (Synopsis). The Pseudo-Cyprianic “Adversus Aleatores” quotes it by name. Unacknowledged citations are very common, if less certain. The “Two Ways” appears in Barnabas, cc. xviii-xx, sometimes word for word, sometimes added to, dislocated, or abridged, and Barn., iv, 9 is from Didache, xvi, 2-3, or vice versa. Hermas, IrenÊus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen seem to use the work, and so in the West do Optatus and the “Gesta apud Zenophilum”. The Didascalia Apostolorum (q. v.) are founded upon the Didache. The Apostolic church ordinance has used a part, the Apostolic Constitutions have embodied the Didascalia. There are echoes in Justin, Tatian, Theophilus, Cyprian, and Lactantius.
The Way of Life is the love of God and of our neighbour. The latter only is spoken of at length. We first find the Golden Rule in the negative form (cf. the “Western” text of Acts, xv, 19 and 29). Then short extracts from the Sermon on the Mount, together with a curious passage on giving and receiving, which is cited with variations by Hermas (Mand., ii, 4-6). The Latin omits ch. i, 3-6 and ch. ii, 1, and these sections have no parallel in Barnabas; they may therefore be a later addition, and Hermas and the present text of the Didache may have used a common source, or Hermas may be the original. The second chapter contains the Commandments against murder, adultery, theft, coveting, and false witness – in this order – and additional recommendations depending on these. In ch. iii we are told how one vice leads to another: anger to murder, concupiscence to adultery, and so forth. This section shows some close likenesses to the Babylonian Talmud. The whole chapter is passed over in Barnabas. A number of precepts are added in ch. iv, which ends: “This is the Way of Life.” The Way of Death is a mere list of vices to be avoided (v). Ch. vi exhorts to the keeping in the Way of this Teaching: “If thou canst bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou canst not, do what thou canst. But as for food, bear what thou canst; but straitly avoid things offered to idols; for it is a service of dead gods.” Many take this to be a recommendation to abstain from flesh, as some explain Rom., xiv, 2. But the “let him eat herbs” of St. Paul is a hyperbolical expression like I Cor., viii, 13: “I will never eat flesh, lest I should scandalize my brother”, and gives no support to the notion of vegetarianism in the Early Church. The Didache is referring to Jewish meats. The Latin version substitutes for ch. vi a similar close, omitting all reference to meats and to idolothyta, and concluding with per d. n. j. C . . . . in sÊcula sÊculorum, amen. This is the end of the translation. We see that the translator lived at a day when idolatry had disappeared, and when the remainder of the Didache was out of date. He had no such reason for omitting ch. i, 3-6, so that this was presumably not in his copy.
This (vii-x) begins with an instruction on baptism, which is to be conferred “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” in living water, if it can be had – if not, in cold or even hot water. The baptized and, if possible, the baptizer, and other persons must fast for one or two days previously. If the water is insufficient for immersion, it may be poured thrice on the head. This is said by Bigg to show a late date; but it seems a natural concession for hot and dry countries, when baptism was not as yet celebrated exclusively at Easter and Pentecost and in churches, where a columbethra and a supply of water would not be wanting. Fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites” (i.e. the Jews), but on Wednesday and Friday (viii). Nor must Christians pray with the hypocrites, but they shall say the Our Father thrice a day. The text of the prayer is not quite that of St. Matthew, and it is given with the doxology “for Thine is the power and the glory for ever”, whereas all but a few MSS. of St. Matthew have this interpolation with “the kingdom and the power” etc.
Ch. ix runs thus: “Concerning the Eucharist, thus shall you give thanks: ‘We give Thee thanks, our Father, for the holy Vine of David Thy Child, which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy Child; to Thee be the glory for ever’. And of the broken Bread: ‘We give Thee thanks, our Father, for the Life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy Child; to Thee be glory for ever. For as this broken Bread was dispersed over the mountains, and being collected became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom, for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.’ And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of Christ; for of this the Lord said: ‘Give not the holy Thing to the dogs’.” These are clearly prayers after the Consecration and before Communion. Ch. x gives a thanksgiving after Communion, slightly longer, in which mention is made of the “spiritual food and drink and eternal Life through Thy Child”. After a doxology, as before, come the remarkable exclamations: “Let grace come, and this world pass away! Hosanna to the Son of David! If any is holy, let him come. If any be not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen”. We are not only reminded of the Hosanna and Sancta sanctis of the liturgies, but also of Apoc., xxii, 17, 20, and I Cor., xvi, 22. In these prayers we find deep reverence, and the effect of the Eucharist for eternal Life, though there is no distinct mention of the Real Presence. The words in thanksgiving for the chalice are echoed by Clement of Alexandria, “Quis div.”, 29: “It is He [Christ] Who has poured out the Wine, the Blood of the Vine of David, upon our wounded souls”; and by Origen, “In i Judic.”, Hom. vi: “Before we are inebriated with the Blood of the True Vine Which ascends from the root of David.” The mention of the chalice before the bread is in accordance with St. Luke, xxii, 17-19, in the “Western” text (which omits verse 20), and is apparently from a Jewish blessing of wine and bread, with which rite the prayers in ch. ix have a close affinity.
The Third Part
The Third Part speaks first of teachers or doctors (didaskaloi) in general. These are to be received if they teach the above doctrine; and if they add the justice and knowledge of the Lord they are to be received as the Lord. Every Apostle is to be received as the Lord, and he may stay one day or two, but if he stay three, he is a false prophet. On leaving he shall take nothing with him but bread. If he ask for money, he is a false prophet. Similarly with the order of prophets: to judge them when they speak in the spirit is the unpardonable sin; but they must be known by their morals. If they seek gain, they are to be rejected. All travellers who come in the name of the Lord are to be received, but only for two or three days; and they must exercise their trade, if they have one, or at least must not be idle. Anyone who will not work is a Christemporos – one who makes a gain out of the name of Christ. Teachers and prophets are worthy of their food. Firstfruits are to be given to the prophets, “for they are your High Priests; but if you have not a prophet, give the firstfruits to the poor”. The breaking of bread and Thanksgiving [Eucharist] is on Sunday, “after you have confessed your transgressions, that your Sacrifice may be pure”, and those who are at discord must agree, for this is the clean oblation prophesied by Malachias, i, 11, 14. “Ordain therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord . . . for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers”. Notice that it is for the sacrifice that bishops and deacons are to be ordained. The last chapter (xvi) exhorts to watching and tells the signs of the end of the world.
It is held by very many critics that the “Two Ways” is older than the rest of the Didache, and is in origin a Jewish work, intended for the instruction of proselytes. The use of the Sibylline Oracles and other Jewish sources may be probable, and the agreement of ch. ii with the Talmud may be certain; but on the other hand Funk has shown that (apart from the admittedly Christian ch. i, 3-6, and the occasional citations of the N. T.) the 0. T. is often not quoted directly, but from the Gospels. Bartlet suggests an oral Jewish catechesis as the source. But the use of such material would surprise us in one whose name for the Jews is “the hypocrites”, and in the vehemently anti-Jewish Barnabas still more. The whole base of this theory is destroyed by the fact that the rest of the work, vii-xvi, though wholly Christian in its subject-matter, has an equally remarkable agreement with the Talmud in cc. ix and x. Beyond doubt we must look upon the writer as living at a very early period when Jewish influence was still important in the Church. He warns Christians not to fast with the Jews or pray with them; yet the two fasts and the three times of prayer are modelled on Jewish custom. Similarly the prophets stand in the place of the High Priest.
There are other signs of early date: the simplicity of the baptismal rite, which is apparently neither preceded by exorcisms nor by formal admission to the catechumenate; the simplicity of the Eucharist, in comparison with the elaborate quasi-Eucharistic prayer in Clem., I Cor., lix-lxi; the permission to prophets to extemporize their Eucharistic thanksgiving; the immediate expectation of the second advent. As we find the Christian Sunday already substituted for the Jewish Sabbath as the day of assembly in Acts, xx, 7 and I Cor., xvi, 2, and called the Lord’s day (Apoc., i, 10), there is no difficulty in supposing that the parallel and consequent shifting of the fasts to Wednesday and Friday may have taken place at an equally early date, at least in some places. But the chief point is the ministry. It is twofold: (1) local and (2) itinerant. – (1) The local ministers are bishops and deacons, as in St. Paul (Phil., i, 1) and St. Clement. Presbyters are not mentioned, and the bishops are clearly presbyter-bishops, as in Acts, xx, and in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul. But when St. Ignatius wrote in 107, or at the latest 117, the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons were already considered necessary to the very name of a Church, in Syria, Asia Minor, and Rome. If it is probable that in St. Clement’s time there was as yet no “monarchical” bishop at Corinth, yet such a state of things cannot have lasted long in any important Church. On this ground therefore the Didache must be set either in the first century or else in some backwater of church life. The itinerant ministry is obviously yet more archaic. In the second century prophecy was a charisma only and not a ministry, except among the Montanists. – (2) The itinerant ministers are not mentioned by Clement or Ignatius. The three orders are apostles, prophets, and teachers, as in I Cor., xii, 28 sq.: “God hath set some in the Church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors [teachers]; after that miracles, then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?” The Didache places teachers below apostles and prophets, the two orders which St. Paul makes the foundation of the Church (Eph., ii, 20). The term apostle is applied by St. Paul not only to the Twelve, but also to himself, to Barnabas, to his kinsmen, Andronicus and Junias, who had been converted before him, and to a class of preachers of the first rank. But apostles must have “seen the Lord” and have received a special call. There is no instance in Holy Scripture or in early literature of the existence of an order called apostles later than the Apostolic age. We have no right to assume a second-century order of apostles, who had not seen Christ in the flesh, for the sake of bolstering up a preconceived notion of the date of the Didache. Since in that work the visit of an apostle or of a pretended apostle is contemplated as a not improbable event, we cannot place the book later than about 80. The limit, would seem to be from 65 to 80. Harnack gives 131-160, holding that Barnabas and the Didache independently employ a Christianized form of the Jewish “Two Ways”, while Did., xvi, is citing Barnabas – a somewhat roundabout hypothesis. He places Barnabas in 131, and the Didache later than this. Those who date Barnabas under Vespasian mostly make the Didache the borrower in cc. i-v and xvi. Many, with Funk, place Barnabas under Nerva. The commoner view is that which puts the Didache before 100. Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70.
As to the place of composition, many suggest Egypt because they think the “Epistle of Barnabas” was written there. The corn upon the mountains does not suit Egypt, though it might be a prayer borrowed from Palestine. There are really no materials even for a conjecture on the subject.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.