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Home > Fathers of the Church > Apostolic Constitutions > Book I

Apostolic Constitutions (Book I)

Concerning the Laity.

Section 1. General Commandments

The apostles and elders to all those who from among the Gentiles have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; grace and peace from Almighty God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied unto you in the acknowledgment of Him.

The Catholic Church is the plantation of God and His beloved vineyard; Isaiah 5:7, 2 containing those who have believed in His unerring divine religion; who are the heirs by faith of His everlasting kingdom; who are partakers of His divine influence, and of the communication of the Holy Spirit; who are armed through Jesus, and have received His fear into their hearts; who enjoy the benefit of the sprinkling of the precious and innocent blood of Christ; who have free liberty to call Almighty God, Father; being fellow-heirs and joint-partakers of His beloved Son: hearken to this holy doctrine, you who enjoy His promises, as being delivered by the command of your Saviour, and agreeable to His glorious words. Take care, you children of God, to do all things in obedience to God; and in all things please Christ our Lord. For if any man follows unrighteousness, and does those things that are contrary to the will of God, such a one will be esteemed by God as the disobedient heathen.

Concerning Covetousness.

I. Abstain, therefore, from all unlawful desires and injustice. For it is written in the law, You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, nor his field, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbour's; Exodus 20:17 for all coveting of these things is from the evil one. For he that covets his neighbour's wife, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, is already in his mind an adulterer and a thief; and if he does not repent, is condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ: through whom glory be to God for ever, Amen. For He says in the Gospel, recapitulating, and confirming, and fulfilling the ten commandments of the law: It is written in the law, You shall not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that is, I said in the law, by Moses. But now I say unto you myself, Whosoever shall look on his neighbour's wife to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart. Such a one is condemned of adultery, who covets his neighbour's wife in his mind. But does not he that covets an ox or an ass design to steal them? To apply them to his own use, and to lead them away? Or, again, does not he that covets a field, and continues in such a disposition, wickedly contrive how to remove the landmarks, and to compel the possessor to part with somewhat for nothing? For as the prophet somewhere speaks: Woe to those who join house to house, and lay field to field, that they may deprive their neighbour of somewhat which was his. Wherefore he says: Must you alone inhabit the earth? For these things have been heard in the ears of the Lord of hosts. And elsewhere: Cursed be he who removes his neighbour's landmarks: and all the people shall say, Amen. Deuteronomy 27:17 Wherefore Moses says: You shall not remove your neighbour's landmarks Deuteronomy 19:14 which your fathers have set . Upon this account, therefore, terrors, death, tribunals, and condemnations follow such as these from God. But as to those who are obedient to God, there is one law of God, simple, true, living, which is this: Do not that to another which you hate another should do to you. Tobit 4:16 You would not that any one should look upon your wife with an evil design to corrupt her; do not, therefore, look upon your neighbour's wife with a wicked intention. You would not that your garment should be taken away; do not, therefore, take away another's. You would not be beaten, reproached, affronted; do not, therefore, serve any other in the like manner.

That We Ought Not to Return Injuries, Nor Revenge Ourselves on Him that Does Us Wrong.

II. But if any one curse you, bless him. For it is written in the book of Numbers: He that blesses you is blessed, and he that curses you is cursed. Numbers 24:9 In the same manner it is written in the Gospel: Bless those who curse you. Luke 6:28 Being injured, do not avenge yourselves, but bear it with patience; for the Scripture speaks thus: Say not, I will avenge myself on my enemy for what injuries he has offered me; but acquiesce under them, that the Lord may right you, and bring vengeance upon him who injures you. Proverbs 20:22 For so says He again in the Gospel: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; and you shall be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and rains on the just and unjust. Matthew 5:44-45 Let us therefore, beloved, attend to these commandments, that we may be found to be the children of light by doing them. Bear, therefore, with one another, you servants and sons of God.

Section 2. Commandments to Men

Concerning the Adornment of Ourselves, and the Sin Which Arises from Thence.

Let the husband not be insolent nor arrogant towards his wife; but compassionate, bountiful, willing to please his own wife alone, and treat her honourably and obligingly, endeavouring to be agreeable to her; (III.) not adorning yourself in such a manner as may entice another woman to you. For if you are overcome by her, and sinnest with her, eternal death will overtake you from God; and you will be punished with sensible and bitter torments. Or if you do not perpetrate such a wicked act, but shakest her off, and refusest her, in this case you are not wholly innocent, even though you are not guilty of the crime itself, but only in so far as through your adorning you enticed the woman to desire you. For you are the cause that the woman was so affected, and by her lusting after you was guilty of adultery with you: yet are you not so guilty, because you did not send to her, who was ensnared by you; nor did you desire her. Since, therefore, you did not deliver up yourself to her, you shall find mercy with the Lord your God, who has said, You shall not commit adultery, and, You shall not covet. For if such a woman, upon sight of you, or unseasonable meeting with you, was smitten in her mind, and sent to you, but you as a religious person refused her, if she was wounded in her heart by your beauty, and youth, and adorning, and fell in love with you, you will be found guilty of her transgressions, as having been the occasion of scandal to her, Matthew 18:7 and shall inherit a woe. Wherefore pray to the Lord God that no mischief may befall you upon this account: for you are not to please men, so as to commit sin; but God, so as to attain holiness of life, and be partaker of everlasting rest. That beauty which God and nature has bestowed on you, do not further beautify; but modestly diminish it before men. Thus, do not permit the hair of your head to grow too long, but rather cut it short; lest by a nice combing your hair, and wearing it long, and anointing yourself, you draw upon yourself such ensnared or ensnaring women. Neither do you wear over-fine garments to seduce any; neither do you, with an evil subtlety, affect over-fine stockings or shoes for your feet, but only such as suit the measures of decency and usefulness. Neither do you put a gold ring upon your fingers; for all these ornaments are the signs of lasciviousness, which if you be solicitous about in an indecent manner, you will not act as becomes a good man: for it is not lawful for you, a believer and a man of God, to permit the hair of your head to grow long, and to brush it up together, nor to suffer it to spread abroad, nor to puff it up, nor by nice combing and platting to make it curl and shine; since that is contrary to the law, which says thus, in its additional precepts: You shall not make to yourselves curls and round rasures. Nor may men destroy the hair of their beards, and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the law says: You shall not mar your beards. For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men. But if you do these things to please men, in contradiction to the law, you will be abominable with God, who created you after His own image. If, therefore, you will be acceptable to God, abstain from all those things which He hates, and do none of those things that are unpleasing to Him.

That We Ought Not to Be Over-Curious About Those Who Live Wickedly, But to Be Intent Upon Our Own Proper Employment.

IV. You shall not be as a wanderer and drifter abroad, rambling about the streets, without just cause, to spy out such as live wickedly. But by minding your own trade and employment, endeavour to do what is acceptable to God. And keeping in mind the oracles of Christ, meditate in the same continually. For so the Scripture says to you: You shall meditate in His law day and night; when you walk in the field, and when you sit in your house, and when you lie down, and when you rise up, that you may have understanding in all things. Joshua 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:7 Nay, although you are rich, and so do not want a trade for your maintenance, be not one that wanders about, and walks abroad at random; but either go to some that are believers, and of the same religion, and confer and discourse with them about the lively oracles of God:

What Books of Scripture We Ought to Read.

V. Or if you stay at home, read the books of the Law, of the Kings, with the Prophets; sing the hymns of David; and peruse diligently the Gospel, which is the completion of the other.

That We Ought to Abstain from All the Books of Those that are Out of the Church.

VI. Abstain from all the heathen books. For what have you to do with such foreign discourses, or laws, or false prophets, which subvert the faith of the unstable? For what defect do you find in the law of God, that you should have recourse to those heathenish fables? For if you have a mind to read history, you have the books of the Kings; if books of wisdom or poetry, you have those of the Prophets, of Job, and the Proverbs, in which you will find greater depth of sagacity than in all the heathen poets and sophisters, because these are the words of the Lord, the only wise God. If you desire something to sing, you have the Psalms; if the origin of things, you have Genesis; if laws and statutes, you have the glorious law of the Lord God. Therefore utterly abstain from all strange and diabolical books. Nay, when you read the law, think not yourself bound to observe the additional precepts; though not all of them, yet some of them. Read those barely for the sake of history, in order to the knowledge of them, and to glorify God that He has delivered you from such great and so many bonds. Propose to yourself to distinguish what rules were from the law of nature, and what were added afterwards, or were such additional rules as were introduced and given in the wilderness to the Israelites after the making of the calf; for the law contains those precepts which were spoken by the Lord God before the people fell into idolatry, and made a calf like the Egyptian Apis— that is, the ten commandments. But as to those bonds which were further laid upon them after they had sinned, do not draw them upon yourself: for our Saviour came for no other reason but that He might deliver those that were obnoxious thereto from the wrath which was reserved far them, that He might fulfil the Law and the Prophets, and that He might abrogate or change those secondary bonds which were superadded to the rest of the law. For therefore did He call to us and say, Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 When, therefore, you have read the Law, which is agreeable to the Gospel and to the Prophets, read also the books of the Kings, that you may thereby learn which of the kings were righteous, and how they were prospered by God, and how the promise of eternal life continued with them from Him; but those kings which went a-whoring from God did soon perish in their apostasy by the righteous judgment of God, and were deprived of His life, inheriting, instead of rest, eternal punishment. Wherefore by reading these books you will be mightily strengthened in the faith, and edified in Christ, whose body and member you are. Moreover, when you walk abroad in public, and have a mind to bathe, make use of that bath which is appropriated to men, lest, by discovering your body in an unseemly manner to women, or by seeing a sight not seemly for men, either you get ensnared, or you ensnare and entice to yourself those women who easily yield to such temptations. Take care, therefore, and avoid such things, lest you admit a snare upon your own soul.

Concerning a Bad Woman.

VII. For let us learn what the sacred word says in the book of Wisdom: My son, keep my words, and hide my commandments with you. Say unto Wisdom, You are my sister; and make understanding familiar with you: that she may keep you from the strange and wicked woman, in case such a one accost you with sweet words. For from the window of her house she looks into the street, to see if she can espy some young man among the foolish children, without understanding, walking in the market-place, in the meeting of the street near her house, and talking in the dusk of the evening, or in the silence and darkness of the night. A woman meets him in the appearance of an harlot, who steals away the hearts of young persons. She rambles about, and is dissolute; her feet abide not in her house: sometimes she is without, sometimes in the streets, and lies in wait at every corner. Then she catches him, and kisses him, and with an impudent face says unto him, I have peace-offerings with me; this day do I pay my vows: therefore came I forth to meet you; earnestly I have desired your face, and I have found you. I have decked my bed with coverings; with tapestry from Egypt have I adorned it. I have perfumed my bed with saffron, and my house with cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning; come, let us solace ourselves with love, etc. To which he adds: With much discourse she seduced him, with snares from her lips she forced him. He goes after her like a silly bird. And again: Do not hearken to a wicked woman; for though the lips of an harlot are like drops from an honey-comb, which for a while is smooth in your throat, yet afterwards you will find her more bitter than gall, and sharper than any two-edged sword. And again: But get away quickly, and tarry not; fix not your eyes upon her: for she has thrown down many wounded; yea, innumerable multitudes have been slain by her. If not, says he, yet you will repent at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and will say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart has avoided the reproofs of the righteous! I have not hearkened to the voice of my instructor, nor inclined mine ear to my teacher. I have almost been in all evil. But we will make no more quotations; and if we have omitted any, be so prudent as to select the most valuable out of the Holy Scriptures, and confirm yourselves with them, rejecting all things that are evil, that so you may be found holy with God in eternal life.

Section 3. Commandments to Women

Concerning the Subjection of a Wife to Her Husband, and that She Must Be Loving and Modest.

VIII. Let the wife be obedient to her own proper husband, because the husband is the head of the wife. 1 Corinthians 11:3 But Christ is the head of that husband who walks in the way of righteousness; and the head of Christ is God, even His Father. Therefore, O wife, next after the Almighty, our God and Father, the Lord of the present world and of the world to come, the Maker of everything that breathes, and of every power; and after His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom glory be to God, you fear your husband, and reverence him, pleasing him alone, rendering yourself acceptable to him in the several affairs of life, that so on your account your husband may be called blessed, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, which thus speaks: Who can find a virtuous woman? For such a one is more precious than costly stones. The heart of her husband does safely trust in her, so that she shall have no need of spoil: for she does good to her husband all the days of her life. She buys wool and flax, and works profitable things with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships, she brings her food from far. She rises also while it is yet night, and gives meat to her household, and food to her maidens. She considers a field, and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms. She tastes that it is good to labour; her lamp goes not out all the whole night. She stretches out her arms for useful work, and lays her hands to the spindle. She opens her hands to the needy; yea, she reaches forth her hands to the poor. Her husband takes no care of the affairs of his house; for all that are with her are clothed with double garments. She makes coats for her husband, clothings of silk and purple. Her husband is eminent in the gates, when he sits with the elders of the land. She makes fine linen, and sells it to the Phœnicians, and girdles to the Canaanites. She is clothed with glory and beauty, and she rejoices in the last days. She opens her mouth with wisdom and discretion, and puts her words in order. The ways of her household are strict; she eats not the bread of idleness. She will open her mouth with wisdom and caution, and upon her tongue are the laws of mercy. Her children arise up and praise her for her riches, and her husband joins in her praises. Many daughters have obtained wealth and done worthily, but you surpass and excellest them all. May lying flatteries and the vain beauty of a wife be far from you. For a religious wife is blessed. Let her praise the fear of the Lord: give her of the fruits of her lips, and let her husband be praised in the gates. And again: A virtuous wife is a crown to her husband. And again: Many wives have built an house. You have learned what great commendations a prudent and loving wife receives from the Lord God. If you desire to be one of the faithful, and to please the Lord, O wife, do not superadd ornaments to your beauty, in order to please other men; neither affect to wear fine broidering, garments, or shoes, to entice those who are allured by such things. For although you do not do these wicked things with design of sinning yourself, but only for the sake of ornament and beauty, yet will you not so escape future punishment, as having compelled another to look so hard at you as to lust after you, and as not having taken care both to avoid sin yourself, and the affording scandal to others. But if you yield yourself up, and commit the crime, you are both guilty of your own sin, and the cause of the ruin of the other's soul also. Besides, when you have committed lewdness with one man, and beginnest to despair, you will again turn away from your duty, and follow others, and grow past feeling; as says the divine word: When a wicked man comes into the depth of evil, he becomes a scorner, and then disgrace and reproach come upon him. Proverbs 18:3 For such a woman afterward being wounded, ensnares without restraint the souls of the foolish. Let us learn, therefore, how the divine word triumphs over such women, saying: I hated a woman who is a snare and net to the heart of men worse than death; her hands are fetters. Ecclesiastes 7:26 And in another passage: As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is beauty in a wicked woman. Proverbs 11:22 And again: As a worm in wood, so does a wicked woman destroy her husband. And again: It is better to dwell in the corner of the house-top, than with a contentious and an angry woman. You, therefore, who are Christian women, do not imitate such as these. But you who design to be faithful to your own husband, take care to please him alone. And when you are in the streets, cover your head; for by such a covering you will avoid being viewed of idle persons. Do not paint your face, which is God's workmanship; for there is no part of you which wants ornament, inasmuch as all things which God has made are very good. But the lascivious additional adorning of what is already good is an affront to the bounty of the Creator. Look downward when you walk abroad, veiling yourself as becomes women.

That a Woman Must Not Bathe with Men.

IX. Avoid also that disorderly practice of bathing in the same place with men; for many are the nets of the evil one. And let not a Christian woman bathe with an hermaphrodite; for if she is to veil her face, and conceal it with modesty from strange men, how can she bear to enter naked into the bath together with men? But if the bath be appropriated to women, let her bathe orderly, modestly, and moderately. But let her not bathe without occasion, nor much, nor often, nor in the middle of the day, nor, if possible, every day; and let the tenth hour of the day be the set time for such seasonable bathing. For it is convenient that you, who are a Christian woman, should ever constantly avoid a curiosity which has many eyes.

Concerning a Contentious and Brawling Woman.

X. But as to a spirit of contention, be sure to curb it as to all men, but principally as to your husband; lest, if he be an unbeliever or an heathen, he may have an occasion of scandal or of blaspheming God, and you be partaker of a woe from God. For, says He, Woe to him by whom My name is blasphemed among the Gentiles; and lest, if your husband be a Christian, he be forced, from his knowledge of the Scriptures, to say that which is written in the book of Wisdom: It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman. You wives, therefore, demonstrate your piety by your modesty and meekness to all without the Church, whether they be women or men, in order to their conversion and improvement in the faith. And since we have warned you, and instructed you briefly, whom we do esteem our sisters, daughters, and members, as being wise yourselves, persevere all your lives in an unblameable course of life. Seek to know such kinds of learning whereby you may arrive at the kingdom of our Lord, and please Him, and so rest for ever and ever. Amen.

About this page

Source. Translated by James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07151.htm>.

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