Friday, June 17, 2011

The Didache: The First Catechism

Fr. Dale Matson

The Didache (Training) was written in the early first century, may have existed earlier as oral tradition and the author is unknown. The Didache was well known to the early fathers and accepted by some as Apocrypha but not as part of the New Testament canon. It is older than the canonical Gospels and developed independently from them.

“This Didache reveals more about how Christians saw themselves and how they lived their everyday lives than any book in the Christian Scriptures.” (A. Milavec, “The Didache”, ix, 2003).

The Didache is divided into five sections with almost half in section one (1) which deals with the “way of life”. The focus of the Didache was on Christian formation in a pagan world. Thus there is less emphasis on doctrine (which was still developing) and more on reformation of conduct. My intention is to briefly cover some of the main points of sections one 1:1-6:2) and two (6:3-11-2). This is approximately the first two thirds of the total content.

1:1 “There are two ways: one of life and one of death!” Thus begins the Didache which sounds a lot like the following from Deuteronomy, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” (30:19).

The way of life is defined as loving God and loving neighbor and the golden rule stated in the negative. This is also followed by a brief narrative possibly taken from portions of the Sermon on the Mount. The second rule deals with the commandments and adds six more. This is probably because many of the new converts were pagans not Jews.

1. You will not practice magic.
2. You will not be involved in potions (drugs).
3. You will not murder offspring by means of abortion.
4. You will not kill infants.
5. You will not corrupt boys.
6. You will not have illicit sex.

In addition there were rules for changing speech, attitude and cautions for vigilance that specific minor sins could lead to greater sins. All of this was guided by a spiritual mentor. The final admonition was a “warning against Innovators” (Ibid. p.61). There was also an opportunity for Reconciliation and this may have been a prototype of the Sacrament of Penance.

Section two deals with The Lord’s Prayer which should be prayed three times a day and was possibly used as template much like we have for our prayers of the people. Fasting was encouraged and a preference for “flowing water” baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those who were not baptized were not allowed to participate in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist was celebrated with the bread and wine being consecrated by the celebrant and following the prayers of the celebrant, the itinerant “Prophets” would offer prayers as led by the Spirit for as long as the Spirit gave them utterance. Some of the comments about prophets indicate that they were not always trustworthy. It is possible that this eventually became the Preaching.

Much of Catechesis today focuses on learning the doctrines of the Church which continued to develop toward and find agreement in the ecumenical Church Councils that also determined the canon of Scripture. As the West becomes increasingly pagan and less Christian, we may find that the conduct trained into converts in the Didache, may need to be combined with the Orthodox doctrine of the church during Catechesis. The commandments of the Didache are a stunning reminder of the extent to which the pagan world has found its way into the contemporary church. Amen


Sibyl said...

If the Anglican and Roman Church give in to the gay agenda sexual identity and orientation paradigm and their concepts and labels, which conflict with Scripture and oppose the Gospel, they will grow sick and die. Allowing an unrepentant, predatory, 'gay' self-identified sub-culture to operate within the priesthood, without scrutiny, accountability, transparency and with impunity, has already cost at least the Roman Church dearly in credibility and money. So far, TEC and the other Western provinces have not had to pay their piper.

Where are the bishops, preachers, theologians, teachers and writers who will teach carefully and patiently teach those who have gullibly swallowed the deceptions of the age, the truth about identity and behavior without compromise or apology?

Yes! - Bring back the Didache and bring back true integrity in Christ and sanity. This will bring back practice in pastoral care and way of life that matches Scripture and doctrine. This will bring back accountability, transparency, healthy Christianity in the church body, and in the individual human spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body, in families. This will bring back to the abundant corporate and individual Christian body - righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

The Didache was indicative to me, of the careful scrutiny and care given to prepare converts from paganism, sexual sin and addictions to know what Christianity entails (total surrender!) to count the cost and to make a sound and informed decision to 'set their faces toward Jerusalem' and walk out the Christian life day by day in Community.

Sibyl said...

Fr. Matson, Sorry - In the comment I just posted, I didn't copy all of it.
Here is the first part:
The Didache is an important catechetical tool as much as the more conventional doctrinal instruction. Conversion of spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions), body (behaviors, responses and living) are essential for success. Being unconverted and unrepentant at all levels from top to bottom seems to have caused problems at all the fractals of the church, from the global church to the individual believer.

Please feel free to post any part or none of my thoughts.

Dale Matson said...

"But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” And He said, 'Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain'."

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM' has sent me to you."

Notice Moses states "Who am I?" God (“I AM WHO I AM”) then says to Moses that he will be with him. We have no identity apart from God. We are not on this earth to discover or celebrate our identity (idolatry). We are here to Love God and serve His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

Dale Matson said...

I find that it is a more sound approach to teach the truth than to combat error. We can become what we fight against. St. Paul had the best advice for mental health. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Phil. 4:8)

Sibyl said...

Thanks so much, Fr. Matson.

Yesterday I printed out your posts on Depression (you mention identity here several times) and ADLs (which I have subtitled, 'Disciplines' or Rule of Life).

Your blog has been invaluable to me...really like discovering gold or a pearl of great price.

PLEASE - keep writing! The Lord is with you and inspiring you in this work.

Dale Matson said...

Thanks for the encouragement and affirmation. Can you think of any better vehicle to transmit the Gospel of Jesus Christ than a blog that goes out to the whole world 24/7 and is available in any language through Google technology? How's that for honoring the Great Commission in the 21st Century.