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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > D > Didascalia Apostolorum

Didascalia Apostolorum

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A treatise which pretends to have been written by the Apostles at the time of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), but is really a composition of the third century. It was first published in 1854, in Syriac. In 1900 a Latin translation, perhaps of the fourth century, was discovered, more than half of which has perished. The original was in Greek, and this can be to some extent restored by a comparison with the Apostolic Constitutions, the first eight books of which are simply a revised and enlarged edition of the Didascalia. The attempt at restoration made by Lagard was a failure but an excellent guide is now at hand in the new edition (1906) by Funk, in which the Greek of the Apostolic Constitutions is printed side by side with the Latin of the Didascalia, a translation from the Syriac supplying the lacunae of the old Latin version. Everything in the Apostolic Constitutions which is not found in the Didascalia is underlined, so that the relations of the two documents, and to a great extent the original Greek of the Didascalia, can be seen at a glance.

The full title given in the Syriac is "Didascalia, that is, the Catholic doctrine of the twelve Apostles and the holy disciples of our Lord". The contents are the same as those of the corresponding books of the Apostolic Constitutions. Especially noticeable is the treatment which bishops are ordered to give to penitents. Even great sinners, on repentance, are to be received with kindness. No sins are excepted. The canonical penance is to be of two to seven weeks. This legislation is obviously subsequent to Novatianism; it is not so certainly aimed against Novatianism. The church officials are bishops, deacons, priests, widows (and orphans); deaconesses are also added, in one place rectors, and once subdeacons. These last may have been interpolated. This organization is behind that of Rome under Pope Cornelius in 251; hence Funk in 1891 placed the date of the work in the first half of the third century. But the whole Western system never spread to the East, and the development was uneven. Funk therefore withdrew this opinion in 1901, giving the second half of the century as the true date. The heresies mentioned are those of Simon Magus and Cleobius (this name is given also by Hegesippus), with Gnostics and Ebionites. Against these, Christians must believe in the Trinity, the Scriptures, and the Resurrection. The original Law of Moses is to be observed, but not the Second Law, or Deuterosis, which was given to the Jews on account of the hardness of their hearts. The Old Testament is frequently quoted, and often at great length. The Gospel is cited by name, usually that of St. Matthew, the others less often, and that of St. John least of all, as it was traditionally held to have been written at a much later date than that which the Didascalia claims for itself. Acts and nearly all the Epistles are freely employed, including Hebrews, but the Apocalypse is not cited. None of these could be named. Harnack has gone quite wrong in arguing that the only place in which the Fourth Gospel is quoted formally as the Gospel is an interpolation, with the inference (at which he naturally expresses his surprise) that the author did not know or did not esteem that Gospel. (A quotation of the pericope de adulterâ, John 8, is important.) Harnack further holds that the gentle treatment of sinners is an interpolation intended against Novatianism, and that the deaconesses as well as the subdeacon are a later addition, He dates the original form in the first half of the third century, and the additions in the last quarter of it; but the reasons given are very weak. Achelis leaves the whole of the century open, but says that the later the work is placed in it, the better he feels he understands it.

The earliest mention of the work is by St. Epiphanius, who believed it to be Apostolic. He found it in use among the Audiani, Syrian heretics. The few extracts he gives do not quite tally with our present text; but then he is notoriously inexact in his quotations. Next we find the whole work incorporated into the Apostolic Constitutions, at the end of the fourth century, and soon afterwards it is quoted in the Pseudo-Chrysostom's "Opus Imperfectum in Matt." But the work never had a great vogue, and it was superseded by the Apostolio Constitutions. The place of composition was Syria, though what part cannot be determined. The author was apparently a bishop, and presumably a Catholic. His book is badly put together, without logic, but not without some good sense. It never touches upon dogma but concerns itself entirely with practice. It has been called the earliest attempt to compile a Corpus juris canonici.


A few specimens of the text in German were published in 1843 by BICKELL in his Gesch. des Kirchenrechts; the whole in Syriac by LAGARDE (under his earlier name of BOTTICHER), Didascalia A postolorum Syriace (Leipzig, 1854). His attempted restoration of the Greek text was published in BUNBEN, Analecta Antenicaena (London, 1854), with the title Didascalia purior, for he gratuitously omitted a good deal as interpolated. Another Syriac ed. from other MSS. by GIBSON, The Didascalia Ap. in Syriac, tr. EADEM, The Didasc. Ap. in English (both at Cambridge Univ. Press, 1903, as Horae Semiticae, I and II); French tr. by NAU, Ancienne litterature syriaque (extrait du Canoniste Contemporain, Feb., 1901, May, 1902). The Latin version, from a palimpsest at Verona, was published by HAULER Didascaliae Apostolorum fragmenta Veronensia latina (Leipzig, 1900). FUNK'S writings on the subject include the monograph Die apostolischen Konstitutionen (Rottenburg, 1891), La date de la Didascalie des Apôtres (Rev. d'hist. eccl., 1891, Oct.), reprinted in German in his Kirchengesch. Abhandlungen (Paderborn 1907), III, 13, articles in the Theol. Quartalschrift (1893, and 1903-4), and the great edition already mentioned, Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum edidit F. X. Funk (2 vols. Paderborn, 1906). HARNACK's views are found in Texte und Untersuchungen, II, i, 2 (1884) and v (1886), IX, ii, 2 (1893), and in Gesch. der atlchr. Lit., I, 515, and II, 2 (i.e. Chronol., II), 488, where a good bibliography will be found; HOLZHEY, Die Abhangigkeit der Syr. Didasc. v. d. Didache (Compterendu du 4me Congres sc. internat. des Cath., 1898, I), Die beiden Rezensionen der Ign. Briefe u. die ap. Didasc.(Theol. Quartalschr., 1898, 380), and Dionys v. Alex. und die Didasc. (Theol.-pract. Monatschr., 1901, 515 he attempts to distinguish three recensions, the first being known to Dionysius, but he has not convinced Funk or Harnack). ACHELIS AND FLEMMING, Die syrische Didascalia ubersetzt und erklart (Texte und Unters., XXV, ii, 1904, an important contribution). See also BABDENHEWER, Gesch. der altkirchl. Lit. II, and EHRHARD, Altchr. Lit. bis 1900, for further bibliography. The so-called Arabic Didascalia is merely a version of the Apostolic Constitutions. Only fragments of it have been published; they will be found in FUNK'S ed. of the Apostolic Constitutions, II (1906), 120, see also p. xxviii, and his earlier monograph (1901), 207; RIEDEL, Die Kirchenrechts Quellen des Patriarchats Alex. (1900). A variety of this version was found lately in the Propaganda library, by BAUMSTARK. He describes it in Oriens Christianus, III, 201 (1903). On this discovery see FUNK in Th. Quartalschr. (1904), 233, reprinted in his Kirchengesch. Abh. (1907), III, xviii.

About this page

APA citation. Chapman, J. (1908). Didascalia Apostolorum. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Chapman, John. "Didascalia Apostolorum." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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