Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Patristics-The Didache

I'm also taking a Patristics (the early Church fathers' writings)class this summer. We are reading selections from William A. Jurgens book The Faith of the Early Fathers: Volume 1-3.

The first ancient text we discussed was the Didache, known as the "teaching of the twelve." The original was lost until 1883 and most likely written around 80 A.D. when the apostles were still alive and spreading the Gospel. (If you want to argue with this date, my professor recommends John A.T. Robinson's work, Redating the New Testament.)

Unlike today's evangelization techniques, the early Christians searched out the people who were morally serious to introduce and propose the Christian Faith. The first thing the Didache did was to confront morality. Catechesis was first on morals and then led to the sacraments. The sacraments were the end game, not the starting point.

I like how the Didache begins, it's very blunt:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death: and great is the difference between the two ways.

A really interesting point the Didache makes is to be intelligent in your charitable giving decisions:

Let your alms perspire in your hands, until you know to whom you are giving.

Try this on for size:

You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new-born child.

This is from the *earliest* non-canonical apostolic writing--in case you needed that. Otherwise, it should be so utterly morally obvious to oppose the intentional murdering of innocents.

The sentence right before:

You shall not use potions.

Potions for what, you ask?

In the very promiscuous Greek culture, there were two types of potions: love potions and (drum roll) contraceptive potions.

Interesting. All along the Catholic Church (and only only only the Catholic Church!) has related the widespread use of contraception to the increase in abortions. (Not to mention affairs, domestic violence, divorce, etc. etc. etc.) And here, this oldest document of the apostles, mentions them one after the other.

First comes contraception, then abortion.

(If you need more education/formation on this topic regarding the Catholic Church's teaching, I highly recommend Janet Smith's audio CD "Contraception: Why Not?" You can order it for FREE!)

The Didache is a treasure and there are many nuggets in the work, I leave you with one of them:

Whoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not.

I would find this troubling were I a Protestant today.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. +


Anonymous said...

Oohhh I have all three volumes of Jergens! I love them. I was a tad bit worried however that they possibly were handpicked quotes to reflect a biased Catholic perspective, so I got the whole Church Fathers on CD...you can buy it pretty cheap. But anyway as much as I have read I don't notice any bias in the Jergens books.

Just curious, do you think the early Christians were correct in evangelizing only those who had a moral foundation already, or as you put it, morally serious?

I love the Didache but I haven't read it for some time. You state it is "apostolic," but has it been verified as being written by an apostle? Does it claim such? I can't remember. There's no doubt that it was written in apostolic times, though. I agree with the early dating of it.

Great post as usual, Simone.

Simone said...

Wow, that's great!

It is not written or at least attributed to a particular apostle, that fact is unknown. It is referred to as the "Teaching of the Twelve" or the "Teachings of the Apostles," by Eusebius for example and hence it is considered by scholars an apostolic work.

Regarding your evangelization question, my first reaction to learning that in class was, "Well, I bet they had a better success rate that way!"

We are told not to throw pearls at swine after all.

It seems to me the Good News should be preached to all, but perhaps with those living an immoral life more by way of example and with those living a moral life by way of conversation and persuasion.

I say that because if you take two people, both living equally moral lives, it makes sense that the part that is missing is the proposal, "So why Christ?" This would merit conversation.

Regarding the immoral, it would perhaps be more persuasive for them to see Christians living happy, abundant lives, begging the question, "Why do they live as they do? Why are they happy when it seems like they follow so much more 'rules', etc."

These are just some random, and tired thoughts.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty good insight you have on how to evangelize. I like that approach a lot. It does have the highest success rate, no doubt. But I also believe that other forms of evangelization have their place and are needed, even though not as beneficial.

For instance, I used to go knocking door-to-door for the Legion of Mary. This is what I call "shotgun evangelization." I think it's needed because there are too many nonChristians and too few Christians. Thus, regardless of morality, people may never see a Christian's happiness, or abundant life. So to me it seems there is a need to fill by attempting to have a quick gospel conversation with as many people as possible without taking the time to even determine their morality, and hence only approach it from the converstation standpoint.

Basically it's concentrate on a few moral people and allow some people to remain ignorant or spread yourself thin on all people in hopes of catching one.

One way is better than the other, but both are needed.

I hope that makes sense, I'm mad tired myself. Haha.

Simone said...

I agree with you. Actually, I was just introduced to the great work of the Legion of Mary!

There are some people who are just waiting for you to knock on their door, for someone to show they care.

Sometimes, all they need is an invitation or someone to say, "You are invited to mass on Sunday!"


Thanks for your witness.

James said...

Cool stuff Simone ... I love that the earliest non-canonical writings we have from the Fathers (or probably Apostles) condemn both abortion and contraception.

Do you have any more info to back up the claim that the "potions" referred to in the Didache are contraceptives? The New Advent translation I was reading renders that passage as:

you shall not steal, Exodus 20:15 you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.

In this translation it isn't obvious that "potions" means contraceptives -- it could be magic/witchcraft, right? So how should I explain to a Protestant that the Apostles condemned contraceptives in the Didache?

Simone said...


I'm going to ask my professor. :)

Also, you can always point to Scripture, Genesis 38. God strikes Onan dead for "spilling his seed" so that he would not impregnate Tamar.

Hence, contraception as mortal sin.


Thackery said...


This is Rebekah. (I don't think I mentioned that I have a super-secret blog name: Thackeray.)

Did you ever get an answer from your prof about the contraceptives question?


Simone said...


Love the super secret name! My professor recommended the book Contraception by John T. Noonan. He's a Protestant who tries to find something in the early fathers to defend contraception but his research leads him elsewhere. He still supports contraception but he is an honest scholar and makes it clear in the book that his position can't be supported by the fathers. That is the explanation my Prof gave me. He also gave a me a 12 page article of his called "Church Teaching against Contraception prior to 1054." I'm going to make a copy for James, so if you like, I will make one for you as well!



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