Friday, February 29, 2008

"Appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons"

Abu Daoud, an Anglican "Christian lving in the Middle East," is discussing the Didache on his blog, Islam and Christianity.

Dating on the Didache, "the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" is disputed, but the range is somewhere between AD 70 and AD 110. For various reasons, AD 85-100 is probably the most likely time period.

There are many things of interest in the Didache, the first part of which concerns Christian ethics. Among them are instructions about baptism, a call to fast twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, references to the Eucharist as "sacrifice" along with an allusion to Malachi 1:11 as a prophecy of the Eucharist, and an admonition for Christians to pray the Lord's Prayer three times daily.

However, what Abu Daoud's particular post highlights here has to do with Church order. In the Didache, "apostles" and "prophets" are functionally equivalent. When present, they preside at the Eucharist. In their absence, a bishop presides. All three are "high priests".

There is also the directive quoted in the title of the present piece. We know that Clement of Rome, writing around AD 96, documents the succession of bishops from the apostles as being of apostolic institution. Therefore, it seems likely that the "apostles and prophets" of the Didache are transitional figures in a process which leads to the prevelance of the monarchical episcopate of Ignatius of Antioch, already present in the New Testament in Jerusalem, where James the Just is found presiding with "the elders" (presbyters).

But what of the mandate to the congregation to "appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons"? It is, possibly, a temporary provision, based upon the absence of "prophets and apostles." It is certainly not documented as having continued in the early Church, beyond the role of the community in assenting to, or even selecting, candidats for ordination by a bishop or bishops. At the same time, I wonder if this provides some wiggle room for the acceptance of clergy who have not been ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession, everything else being equal. Since, in virtually all cases, everything else is NOT equal when it comes to faith and practice, such wiggle room would only be available to a body such as the Evangelical Orthodox Church.


Abu Daoud said...

I'm wondering if there is a difference between "appointing" and ordaining. That is, could it be that they appointed or chose their own leaders, who then received the laying on of hands from others?

I know this is very speculative. It is one of the problems with a document like the Didache which has so little in it regarding where and by whom it was written, which would help us interpret it correctly.

FrGregACCA said...

The word in question, which literally refers to "choosing with the hands," is translated as "ordained" once in the KJV, in Acts 14:23. The RSV translates it as "appointed". It apparently has little or nothing to do with "the laying on of hands", but rather refers to "hand-picking". So the immediate issue is not so much the method of installation, but who chooses those who are so installed. In the Acts citation, Paul and his companions are the ones doing the choosing. Historically, while the community at least has had some degree of veto over choosing who is ordained, the ordination, with prayer and laying on of hands, has been performed by bishops, themselves so ordained previously. Given the consistency of the Church's practice, first documented in the New Testament, involving prayer and the laying on of hands, a ritual apparently inherited from the practice of rabbis admitting others to the rabbinical state, I have to think that if the bishops and deacons in the Didache were not in this way instituted by the "apostles and prophets," we are simply dealing with a transitional, provisional, and probably isolated situation.

Thanks for the welcome to blogdom.