Deuterosis in Didascalia Apostolorum II

Continuing from here, a presentation of R. Hugh Connolly’s material on deuterosis from the introduction to his translation of the Didascalia Apostolorum, pp lxii-lxix

I do not think this is too strong a statement of the case. And yet it is probably that some allowance is to be made for the practical issues with which the author was faced, and for the fact that he speaks in the Didascalia as a preacher rather than as a theologian. We must note also that he allows a typical or figurative value to certain institutions of the Old Law—the tabernacle with its ministry and sacrfices, the Sabbath and circumcision. Whether for him these institutions formed a special subdivision of the Deuterosis there is no means of telling: we shall see that they constituted a separate class of typica in at least one Gnostic discussion of the Law. Yet when all is said, we cannot resist the impression that our author’s attitude to the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant was one of hostility rather than of piety and reverence.

How different is his tone, and his whole treatment of the problem, from that which we are accustomed to in the reverent words and solemn periods of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews [I cannot do better than quote the words of Dr. Armitage Robinson] addressed himself to Jewish readers, who had accepted Christianity, but under the pressure of some great crisis were looking wistfully back to the religion of their fathers. With passionate earnestness he warned them against apostasy. And he brought them a great message of hope. He bade them see that the Christ was more than they had ever supposed, even in the enthusiasm of their first acceptance of Him. He was the Fulfiller of the past—that sacred past in which fragments of the eternal truth had been enshrined in temporary ordinances, whose only abrogation lay in their complete fulfilment. One great thought he was inspired to give them—the Eternal High-priesthood of Christ. The sacred past was theirs because it was a part of their loyalty to the Fulfiller.” [Note: Barnabas, Hermas, and the Didache (S.P.C.K., 1920), p. 3.] To the author of the Didascalia the Deuterosis was something of which the only fulfillment lay in its complete abrogation. He definitely excludes it from fulfilment.

Another early effort to grapple with the same problem is found in the “Epistle of Barnabas”. This is an obscure and disorderly treatise, and its root idea is that a special gnosis or spiritual enlightenment is needed to understand the ceremonial ordinances of the Law. It is not merely that the things commanded had a spiritual as well as a literal meaning: some at least of them were not even spoken in a literal sense, but were parabolic utterances which required to be spiritually translated before they could be obeyed at all. [Note: See especially the tenth chapter, in which the author deals with the distinction of clean and unclean animals; and compare also the fifteenth, on the Sabbath, a chapter which I have no doubt was used by the writer of the Didascalia.] In a word, the Law needed to be allegorized from the first. Unlike the author of the Didascalia, “Barnabas” makes no distinction of higher and lower standards within the Law; all its ordinances are high and spiritual, but the Jews had not the spiritual endowment to discern their true meaning.

The Catholic writer who in his treatment of the Law comes nearest to the ideas expressed in the Didascalia is St. Irenaeus. And this is but natural, for I have no doubt at all that our author used and was much influenced by him. Irenaeus too makes a clear distinction between the Decalogue and the ceremonial Law: there were on the one hand the “naturalia praecepta” given directly by God Himself, eternal, and needing only to be “fulfilled”, that is developed, extended, enlarged by Christ (superextendi, augeri, dilatari); and on the other hand there were the “uincula seruitutis” which were afterwards delivered through Moses and imposed upon the People for sin, and which when they had served their purpose had perforce to be abrogated and removed (“necesse fuit auferri”). Irenaeus’s formal discussion of the Law is to be found in the fourth book of the Heresies, chapters xxiv–xxix, from which I have quoted some phrases in the notes. There is one feature, however, in Irenaeus’s treatment of the ceremonial Law which finds no parallel in the Didascalia, and which the author has either neglected or rejected as unsuited to his own purpose. As already said, the Didascalia seems to leave no room for the Deuterosis as a factor in the spiritual education of the People: it was a punitive measure, and whether intended at first to be corrective or not, it proved in effect to be the opposite. The People went from bad to worse, until (apparently as a second instalment of the Deuterosis) that word in Deuteronomy, “Cursed is every one that is hanged upon a tree”, was set down “for their blinding” and as a positive obstacle, that when Christ was come they might not be able to recognize Him but should suppose that He too was one of the accursed. We must say, I think, that the author finds no place for the Deuterosis as an educative factor. It is otherwise with Irenaeus, as two passages will suffice to show:

Etenim lex, quippe servis posita, per ea quae foris erant corporalia animam erudiebat, uelut per uinculum attrahens eam ad obedientiam praeceptorum, uti disceret homo servire Deo. Uerbum autem liberans animam, et per ipsam corpus uoluntarie emundari docuit. Quo facto necesse fuit auferri quidem uincula seruitatis, quibus iam homo assueuerat et sine uinculis sequi Deum (IV xxiv 2).

And again:
Sic autem et populo tabernaculi factionem et aedificationem templi et Leuitarum electionem, sacrificia quoque et oblationes et mundationes, [Note: The current text has “et monitiones”; Dr. Armitage Robinson informs me that the Armenian version has “and purifications”, which is far more suitable in the context, and from which I venture to adopt the above emendation—I do not know whether the form “munditiones” would be possible.] et reliquam omnem legis statuebat deseruitionem. Ipse quidem nullius horum est indigens; …faciliem autem ad idola reuerti populum erudiebat, per mutas uocationes praestruens eos perseuerare et seruire Deo: per ea quae erant secunda ad prima uocans, hoc est per typica ad uera, et per temporalia ad aeterna, et per carnalia ad spiritalia, et per terrena ad caelestia…. Per typos enim discebant timere Deum et perseuerare in obsequiis eius. Itaque lex et disciplina erat illis et prophetia futurorum (IV xxv 3).

The contrast here with the Didascalia is striking; but we must not forget the different situations in which the two writers were placed. Irenaeus had to defend the Church’s view of the Old Testament against the heretic Marcion, who rejected it as unworthy of the Supreme God and as the work of some inferior Being. The author of the Didascalia had to meet a danger from the opposite side, and to remind Christians that for them the ceremonial ordinances of the Old Law are gone irrevocably, and may not under any pretext be revived. It was natural for him therefore to stress, and even over-stress, the shortcomings of the Deuterosis, and, representing it as historically a failure, to ascribe the failure, not indeed to its Author, but to the circumstances which made such a legislation possible and necessary.

I am coming to feel that the author of the Didascalia was not quite so unsophisticated and isolated a writer as parts of his book are apt to suggest, indeed that on the whole, and for his time, he was well informed and well read. Since, then, the great question of the Old Law was one to which he had evidently given much attention, it seems that we ought to reckon with the possibility that his reading on this subject had led him beyond the circle of Catholic writers, and that his unfriendly attitude to the Deuterosis may be due in part to an unconscious bias derived from other influences. Whether this be so or not, it will not be out of place here to give some account of yet another early attempt to solve the problemof the Law—the attempt this time of a writer who was not of the Church. The Letter of Ptolemaeus to Flora (a lady otherwise unknown) has the uniqe interest that it gives us at some length, and in the form of a complete document, the ipsissima verba of a member of one of the great Gnostic sects. The writer was of the Italian branch of the Valentinian school of Gnostics, and his letter is thought to have been writter about the year 160. [Note: The letter is preserved by Epiphanius, Haer. xxxiii, and may be read in Migne P. Gr. xli 555. There is a handy edition by Harnack in Lietzmann’s Kleine Texte (Bonn), no. 9.]

After a short introduction he explains to Flora that the whole legislation of the Pentateuch needs first to be sorted out into three component parts: (1) that which comes from God; (2) those things which Moses set down of his own authority and devising (as the permission of divorce); and (3) the additions of the Elders (Corban is cited as an instance). Then, passing over (2) and (3), he further explains that even (1), the portion of the Law which comes from God Himself, is likewise to be distinguished into three elements. First there is the pure Law unmixed with evil, “which also is properly called the Law” and which the Saviour “came not to destroy but to fulfil”. Secondly there is that which has an admixture of evil and unrighteousness, which the Saviour abolished as being foreign to His own nature. And thirdly there are certain things which are merely typical and symbolical, being ordained as figures of better and spiritual things.

The first of these elements consists of the Decalogue, the Ten Words disposed on the two tables. These, though pure and unmixed with evil, yet came short of perfection, and had need therefore of fulfilment (πληρωσεως) by the Saviour. As examples of the second element are adduced the lex talionis and the command to slay a murderer. As to the latter, the writer says that He who has condemned murder by the command “Thou shalt not kill”, by making a second law (δευτερον νομον) that the slayer should be slain shows that He has allowed Himself to be forced into inconsistency. To the third, or typical, element belong the laws regarding sacrifices (προσφοραι), circumcision, Sabbath, fasting, Passover, unleavened bread, and the like. “All these, being images and symbols, were changed when the truth was made manifest”; that is to say, their outward and material observance was abolished, but in their spiritual content they were carried on, the names remaining the same, but the things undergoing a change: “For the Saviour also commanded us to offer oblations, but not by means of dumb animals or with incense of this sort, but with spiritual praises and doxologies (δοξων) and thanksgiving, and by liberality and beneficience towards our neighbours.” And the other typica are similarly explained.

Then the writer comes to the crucial question: “Who then is this God who gave the Law?” It could not be the Perfect God, for the Law at its best was not perfect; neither could it be the Devil. It must therefore have been one who stood midway between, and who, being neither good nor bad, nor yet unjust, may properly be called Just and the arbiter of such justice (or righteousness) as is according tho himself. And this is the Demiurge and maker of this universe with all that is in it, who is still other in nature than the universe itself.

Whether or no the author of the Didascalia had read this letter it is impossible to say; but it is likely enough that he was acquainted at first hand with analogous discussions of the Old Law. Thus he speaks of “those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, those who lightly and in hypocrisy blaspheme God Almighty, those heretics who receive not His holy Scriptures, or receive them ill, in hypocrisy with blaspheming, who with evil words blaspheme the Catholic Church which is the receptacle of the Holy Spirit” [Note: p. 212.]: words which have every appearance of being aimed at Marcion or other heretics who either rejected the Old Testament or refused to regard it as coming from God Himself. It may not be altogether idle therefore to note that there are one or two points in the language of the letter of Ptolemaeus that are apt to recall the Didascalia. When the writer says of the best portion of the Law, the Decalogue, that is it that “which is also properly called the Law” (ος κει κυριως νομος λεγεται), we are reminded of a puzzling expression in the Didascalia (pp. 218-19) where the Latin reads: “Lex ergo est decalogus et iudicia … Nam lex uocata est specialiter propter iudicia.” For “specialiter” the Syriac has “truly”, but I suspect that these are both renderings of κυριως. The original therefore may have been νομος γαρ κυριως λεγεται δια τας κρισεις. [Note: In Apost. Const.: the passage is written: νομος δε εστιν η δεκαλογος … οyτος δε δικαιος εστιν, διο και νομος λεγεται δια το φυσει δικαιως τας κρισεις ποιεισθαι.] Now our author has said again earlier (p. 14) that the Law consists of “the Ten Words and the Judgements”, and I take these “Judgements” to mean the formally legal enactments in Exod. xxi-xxiii, which in the LXX are called the δικαιωματα, but in the Hebrew simply “the judgements”. [Note: But the word used in Didasc. was apparently not δικαιωματα but κρισεις, as in Apost. Const.; the former would more probably have been rendered “iustificationes” in the Latin. The note on p. 14 is therefore to be read with this qualification: though in that passage Apost. Const. omits “and the Judgements.”] The Didascalia, then, pointedly attaches these laws to the Law proper and excepts them from the Deuterosis. But by Ptolemaeus they are expressly classed with that portion of the Law which has an admixture of evil, being thereby distinguished from the Decalogue; and from them he takes his two examples of this inferior element in the Law, viz. the law of retaliation and the command to slay the murderer. This it seems possible to read the above words in the Didascalia as a direct retort against Ptolemaeus and his assertion that the Decalogue alone “is properly called the Law”. Not only is the command to slay the murderer good, but it is a necessary sequel to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”; this and the other “Judgements” in fact justify the term “law” as applied to the moral precepts of the Decalogue, which are not strictly legal in form and content.

Again, the writer of the Letter admits that the sacrificial ordinances of the Law were figures of the “spiritual praises and doxologies and thanksgiving” [Note: πνευματκιων αινων και δοξων καυ ευχαριστιας.] which were the oblations that the Saviour commanded His followers to offer. And in the Didascalia we read: “instead of the sacrifices which then were, offer now prayers and petitions and thanksgivings”. [Note: ευχαι και δεησεις και ευχαριστιαι Apost. Const. without “offer” (and so Lat.).]

If it be asked what parts of the Pentateuch constituted the Deuterosis, the answer is not easy to give; nor do I imagine that the author himself could readily have supplied it. Large portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy ought logically to be excluded from “the Law”. But Law and Deuterosis were interwoven, it would seem, in all the books, and we are told that it is one of the first qualifications of a Christian bishop to be able to separate the one from the other: “But before all let him be a good discriminator between the Law and the Second Legislation, that he may distinguish and show what is the Law of the faithful, and what are the bonds of them that believe not” (p. 34).

The word δευτερωσις at first puzzled the Latin translator. On its first appearance (see p. 13, l. 14) the clause containing it is passed over, though perhaps only by a clerical error. Then at l. 17 we find an untranslatable “bis”, representing only part of the word, i.e. δευτερος. A few lines on (l. 20) there appear “secund legatio” and “repetita alligatio” (? for “legatio”). But on p. 15, l. 7, we meet with “secundatio legis”; and this, or “secundatio” alone, is henceforth regularly employed.

The Syriac translator has no hesitation: he adopts from the outset tenyān nāmōsa, “repetition (or double) of the Law”. This is really the Syriac title of the book of Deuteronomy, which was taken no doubt from the Greek δευτερονομιον. [Note: In the Hebrew the fifth book of Moses is called by the words with which it begins, “These are the words”. The Greek name Deuteronomy appears to have been derived by misunderstanding from a phrase in xvii 18, where it is directed that the future kind “shall write him a copy (mishneh not mishnāh) of this law in a book.” This is rendered in the Greek και γραψει αυτω το δευτερονομιον τουτο εις βιβλιον.] He nowhere uses tenyāna alone in the way the Latin translator uses “secundatio”; and indeed it would hardly be intelligible in Syriac. I have adopted the rendering “Second Legislation”, not because it is a real translation of the Syriac, but because it conveys to the reader with fair accuracy the author’s own interpretation of the Deuterosis.

Deuterosis in Didascalia Apostolorum I

Following is a section from the Introduction by R. Hugh Connolly in his Didascalia Apostolorum: The Syriac Version Translated and Accompanied by the Verona Latin Fragments (Oxford, 1929), pp lvii-lxii. I have previously posted the full text of Connolly’s translation of the Syriac here. This selection from the introduction covers in particular the unusual usage of deuterosis in the Didascalia, a term which elsewhere in Patristic writings denotes the Mishnah and/or Oral Torah of Rabbinic Judaism. Considering the timing of the writing of the Didascalia, early to mid third century, and the appearance in the same time period of the Mishnah of Rabbinic fame, one would be hard put to recognize in the Didascalia a connection of some sort, whether of polemic (more likely) or miscomprehension (less likely). In light of this, it’s also interesting to note that the author of the Didascalia does place the origin of the deuterosis as Sinai, though in a less than flattering context (see below). This could be the earliest attestation, external to Rabbinic Judaism, of the belief that the Oral Torah originated at Sinai, though polemically distorted.

The reader will meet many times in these pages with the terms “Second Legislation” and, in the Latin version, secundatio or secundatio legis. The Greek word of which these are renderings was δευτερωσις, as is shown by passages retained in the Apostolic Constitutions. This Deuterosis was something about which our author had cause to be deeply concerned, and about which also he has much to say. An attempt must be made therefore to trace the use of the term, to explain in what sense it is here employed and to indicate the part it plays in the author’s exegesis of the Old Testament. For its Hebrew or Aramaic background I can do little more than follow what Schürer and other writers have to tell us, as I have no direct acquaintance with the Rabbinic literature. [Note: For this I make use especially of Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes in Zeitalter Jesu Christi; H. Hody, De bibliorum textibus originalibus (1705); Schechter’s article ‘Talmud’ in the extra volume of Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; and Stephanus’s Thesaurus under δευτερωσις, δευτεροω, δευτερωτης.]

We are familiar with the word Mishna (properly mishnāh, fem.) as the general title of certain post-biblical Jewish treatises of a legal character. It is formed from the verb shānāh, to do something a second time, repeat. But the kind of repetition commonly implied by this verb (at least in the Aramaic form tĕnā) was the oral repetition employed in teaching or learning; and hence it came to mean simply to teach or to learn.

The substantive mishnāh correspondingly denoted oral teaching, and particularly that of the traditional law as distinguished from the miķrā, that which was read, the Scripture text. But it also denoted the tradition itself, or what is called in the Gospel “the tradition of the elders”. This tradition, codified and reduced to writing somewhere between 160 and 220 A.D., is the Mishna. “The Mishna”, says Dr. Schechter, “meaning a ‘teaching’, a ‘repetition’, is a designation most appropriate for the work generally looked upon as the main depository of the contents of the Oral Law, which (in contradistinction to מקרא, reading matter, or the Scriptures) could be acquired only by means of constant repetition”. [Note: Op. cit. p. 60.] He tells us, however, in a footnote that there is another explanation of the name, also represented in Rabbinic literature, which connects it wih the masculine noun mishneh, a double or second, and that according to this the Mishna is “second to the Torah”—in other words, as I understand it, a second or secondary Law. And this explanation, he says, is supported by the patristic rendering δευτερωσις.

The Greek verb answering to shānāh was δευτεροω, which also means to do or say a seond time, to repeat. And in technical Jewish language it meant particularly to teach the traditions. The substantive corresponding to mishnāh was δευτερωσις (more often found in the plur.) which likewise denoted especially an oral teaching of the traditions, or the traditions themselves. And a teacher of the traditions was a δευτερωτης. These meanings were fixed and clear before the end of the fourth century A.D. They admit of abundant illustration, chiefly from the writings of SS. Jerome and Epiphanius, but the following examples may suffice for the present purpose.

1. Δευτεροω.— “Uidetur igitur obseruationes Iudaicae apud imperitos et uilem plebeculam imaginem habere rationis humanaeque sapientiae. Unde et doctores eorum σοφοι, hoc est sapientes, uocantur. Et siquando certis diebus traditiones suas exponunt discipulis suis, solent dicere οι σοφοι δευτερουσι, id est, Sapientes docent traditiones” (Jerome). [Note: Ep. cxxi 10, ad Algasiam.]

2. Δευτερωσις.— “Quantae traditiones Phariseorum sint, quas hodie vocant δευτερωσεις, et quam aniles fabulae, euoluere nequeo” (Jerome). [Note: Ibid.]

“Hic (Papias) dicitur mille annorum Iudaicam edidesse δευτερωσιν” (Jerome). [Note: De uiris illustr. xviii.]

Αι γαρ παραδοσεις των πρεσβυτερων δευτερωσεις παρα τοις Ιουδαιοις λεγονται (Epiphanius). [Note: Haer. xxxiii. 9.]

“Nescit (sc. adversarius) habere praeter scripturas legitimas et propheticas Iudaeos quasdam traditiones suas, quas non scriptas habent sed memoriter tenent et alter in alterum transfundit, quas deuterosin uocant” (Augustine). [Note: Contra adversarium Legis et Prophetarum lib. ii c. 1 § 2.]

3. Δευτερωτης.— Ναι μην και των πρωτων μαθηματων δευτερωται τινες ησαν αυτοις (Eusebius). [Note: Praep. evang. xi 5.]

Ιουδαιων αιρεσεις επτα· γραμματεις, οιτινες νομικοι μεν ησαν και δευτερωται παραδοσεων των παρ’ αυτοις πρεσβυτερων, κτλ. (Epiphanius). [Note: Rescript. ad Acacium et Paulum, Migne P. Gr. xli 172 A.]

“Audiui Liddae quemdam de Hebraeis, qui sapiens apud illos et δευτεροτης uocabatur, narrantem huiusmodi fabulam” (Jerome). [Note: In Habac. ii 15.]

Many more passages are cited by Hody (pp. 233 ff.), Schürer and Stephanus, but no reference is given to any writer earlier than Eusebius. In Rufinus’s translation of Origen’s Commentary on the Canticle, however, I find the following:
“Sed et illud ab eis accepimus custodiri, quoniamquidem moris est apus eos omnes scripturas a doctoribus et sapientibus tradi pueris, simul et eas quast δευτερωσεις apellant, ad ultimum quattuor ista reseruari” (sc. the beginning of Genesis, the beginning and end of Ezekiel, and the Canticle). [Note: Berlin ed. vol. viii p. 62.]

It seems improbably that the use of δευτερωσις to denote the oral traditions of the Jews was only a development of the fourth century; and hence there can be little doubt that the author of the Didascalia was familiar with that sense of the term. It is surprising therefore to find that he gives it an entirely different content. He does not employ it to describe any “tradition of the elders”, whether written or oral, but comprises under it the whole ceremonial legislation of the Pentateuch—as to sacrifices, the Sabbath, circumcision, clean and unclean animals, ceremonial defilement and purification.

Moreover, the Deuterosis of which he speaks is distinctly a “second legislation”: it is not the Law, but was added after the Law. The Law “is that which the Lord God spoke before the People had made the calf and served idols, which consists of the Ten Words and the Judgements. But after they had served idols, He justly laid upon them the bonds, as they were worthy.” [Note: p. 14; cf. 224.] The Deuterosis was added as a punishment for sin, and laid as a grievous yoke upon those who had shown themselves unfaithful. It was not this that Christ came to fulfil, but only the moral Law enshrined in the Decalogue, in which He had set His own Name: for Iota stands for ten, and is also the first letter of the Name of Jesus. [Note: pp. 216-19.] “For in the Gospel He renewed and fulfilled and affirmed the Law; but the Second Legislation He did away and abolished. For indeed it was to this end that He came, that He might affirm the Law and abolish the Second Legislation.” [Note: p. 224.] The abrogation of the Deuterosis was foretold by the prophets: “If, then, even before His coming He made known and revealed His coming, and the disobedience of the People, and spoke of the abolition of the Second Legislation, much more, being come, did He fully and completely abolish the Second Legislation.” [p. 226; cf. 224-5.]

It was for a punishment, then, that the Deuterosis was laid upon the People, as a bondage and a burden and a hard yoke: “Therefore the Lord was angry; and in His hot anger—(yet) with the mercy of His goodness—He bound them with the Second Legislation, and laid heavy burdens upon them, and a hard yoke upon their neck”. [Note: p. 222.] But not even so were they brought to obedience, and there was added to them further a blindness and hardening of their heart: “For because of manifold sins there were laid upon them customs unspeakable; but by none of them did they abide, abut they again provoked the Lord. Wherefore He yet added unto them by the Second Legislation a blindness worthy of their works, and spoke thus: If there be found in a man sins worthy of death, and he die, and ye hang him upon a tree; his body shall not remain the night upon the tree, but ye shall surely bury him the same day: for cursed is every one that is hanged upon a tree; that when Christ should come they might not be able to help (?) Him, but might suppose that He was guilty of a curse. For their blinding therefore was this spoken.” [Note: Ibid.] And again: “Hence also the word aforesaid in the Second Legislation was for the blinding of a blind people, to wit: Cursed is every one that is hanged upon a tree…. Wherefore…that word was set down for the blinding of the People; and it was a bar that they might not believe and be saved…. For by this word, because of their works, their eyes were blinded, and their ears made deaf like Pharaoh’s.” [Note: p. 230.] To this text of Deuteronomy (xxi 23: cf. Gal. iii 13) the author returns again and again. A Christian who meddles with the Deuterosis, imagining himself to be bound by any of its ordinances, is said to “affirm the curse against our Saviour”, that is to deny Christ, and to take upon himself the idolatry for which the Second Legislation was imposed: “for if thou take upon thee the Second Legislation, take (or thou takest, Lat.) also idolatry, for because of idolatry the Second Legislation was imposed.” [Note: p. 250.]

The author’s treatment of the problem of the Old Law is doubtless influenced by St. Paul, and especially the Epistle to the Galatians. But he is more daring and explicit in his formulation of it. St. Paul would not indeed have included the moral precepts of the Decalogue in “the Law” which he rebukes the Galatians for clinging to: by “the Law” or “the works of the Law” he means the ceremonial ordinances; but he does not expressly draw the distinction. The author of the Didascalia, on the other hand, sharply divides the ceremonial from the moral law, and brands it with a distinctive and ominous name. But he differs more widely from St. Paul in his estimate of the purpose and value of the ceremonial law. It would probably be unjust to him to say that he had no conception of the formative purpose of that legislation, as a factor and stage in the spiritual education of the race; but this aspect of it is not developed, and is barely even indicated, in the Didascalia. Moreover, the emphasis on the punitive and repressive character of the Deuterosis is here so strong that it hardly leaves place for the thought that the Law, even in its ceremonial ordinances, was “our tutor unto Christ”, or par of a progressive revelation which was to reach its goal in the Gospel and the Church. It may almost be said that in the author’s mind the Didascalia was nothing more than an interim measure, forced as it were on the Divine Legislator, and no part of His own plan. It admitted of no fulfillment or perfection, and waited only to be clean swept away. A praeparatio evangelica is to be sought only in the Law properly so called and in the Prophets.

(to be continued)

Spider Silk

Once, when I gashed my finger, Grandmother
Led me to the closet down the hall.
There towels and bedsheets lay in fragrant folds
And an old, outgrown doll with bright-blink eyes
That scared me stiff with its hilarity
Drooled sawdust from its mouth onto a shelf.

Grandma pulled me close to her until
I understood the comfort of her touch.
She poked her free hand in the crevices
And spooled a spiderweb around her nails.
She wound the web again around my wound.
She daubed it tenderly until the clots of silk
Touched my blood and then my bleeding stopped
Almost at once.

                              There, among the smell of sheets,
In the cold, fresh, dark place that had scared me so,
Grandmother gave me her most secret smile.
Since that day,
Learning to love the doublness of things,
I think the spider silk is in my blood.

Eric Ormsby. Time’s Covenant—Selected Poems (Biblioasis, 2007). This poem originally appeared in For A Modest God, 1997.

Professor Ormsby is Chief Librarian at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London in addition to being among the foremost English poets and a fine literary critic (see his Facsimiles of Time—Essays on Poetry and Translation (Erin, Canada: The Porcupine’s Quill, 2001). Dipping into Time’s Covenant is always richly rewarding. It’s one of the ways I escape, being carried along by a master of the language. Consider it highly recommended.

Mysticism’s morass

What I hope I have shown by this brief survey of what has come to be known as the Christian mystical tradition, starting from the Fathers, and looking at it from the perspective they suggest, is that mysticism is not some settled concept, with a clear definition; rather it is the name for a religious strategy: in origin the name of a particular religious strategy that belongs to early modern Europe (though already under way in late medieval Europe—we cannot now go into the argument as to where the caesura between ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ occurs, though this case is part of the argument for seeing the twelfth century as more decisive than the fifteenth or sixteenth). It is a strategy to which there may well be analogies in the histories of other religions: but we shall not discover that by confining our attention to ‘mystical writings’, we shall need to cast our nets much more widely. Briefly, I would say that something like what is called comparative mysticism may well have a role in comparative religion, but that both of these need to see themselves as part of a much wider attempt to compare different historical cultures: religions cannot be abstracted from the cultures in which they answer people’s social and spiritual needs (that does not mean that religions cannot pass from one culture to another: they evidently can, but we must not suppose that there is some ‘essence’ of religion that can be isolated, which is that which has passed from one culture to another—the situation is much more complex than that, and the question of religious identity not so easily solved), nor can ‘mysticism’ be abstracted from the religions that foster deep, prayerful commitment. ‘Comparitive mysticism’ is too easy, and unhistorical: it simply lulls us into thinking that we can regard as fundamentally significant (‘mystical’ has never lost the connotation of what really matters, what is ultimately powerful) what appeals to the individualized consciousness of the West—religious literature that aspires to the form of poetry, devoid of dogmatic content or ritual expression.

Fr Andrew Louth. The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition—New Edition (Oxford, 2007). From the Afterword of 2006, p. 213.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth

The bride Moses loved the Bridegroom in the same way as the virgin in the Song who says, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; and through the face-to-face converse accorded him by God (as the Scripture testifies [cf Num 12.8]), he became after these theophanies more intensely desirous of such kisses, praying to see the object of his yearning as if he had never glimpsed him. In the same way, none of the others in whom the divine yearning was deeply lodged ever came to a point of rest in their desire. And even as now the soul that is joined to God is not satiated by her enjoyment of him, so too the more abundantly she is filled up with his beauty, the more vehemently the longings abound. For since the words of the Bridegroom are “spirit and life” (John 6.63), and everyone who is joined to the Spirit becomes spirit, while everyone who is attached to life “passes from death to life” (John 5.24) according to the Lord’s word, it follows that the virgin soul longs to approach the fount of the spiritual life. That fount, however, is the mouth of the Bridegroom, whence “the words of eternal life” (John 6.68) as they gush forth fill the mouth that is drawn to it, just as the prophet does when drawing spirit though his mouth (cf Ps 118.31 LXX=119.131). Since then it is necessary for the one who draws drink from the fount to fix mouth to mouth, and the fount is the Lord who says, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7.37), it follows that the soul, thirsty as she is, wills to bring her own mouth to the mouth that pours out life, saying, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.

St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily 1. The Church’s Bible: The Song of Songs. Translation by Richard A. Norris, Jr

St Isaac the Syrian on theThree Degrees of Knowledge

On the First Degree of Knowledge

When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions: wealth, vainglory, honour, adornment, rest of the body, special means to guard the body’s nature from adversities, assiduity in rational wisdom, such as is suitable for the governance of the world and which gushes forth the novelties of inventions, the arts, sciences, doctrines, and all other things which crown the body in this visible world. Among the properties of this knowledge belong those that are opposed to faith, which we have stated and enumerated above. This is called shallow knowledge, for it is naked of all concern for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational impotence, and its concern is totally for this world. This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over a man, nor any Divine care that shelters and takes concern for him. It takes no account of God’s providential governance; but on the contrary, it attributes to a man’s diligence and his methods every good thing in him, his rescue from what harms him, and his natural ability to avert the plights and many adversities that secretly and manifestly accompany our nature. This degree of knowledge presumes that all things are by its own providence, like those men who assert that there is no Divine governance of visible things. Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body. Therefore it is a prey to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of the demons, trepidation before men, the rumour of thieves and the report of murders, anxiety over illnesses, concern over want and the lack of necessities, fear of death, fear of sufferings, of wild beasts, and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea made turbulent by great waves at every hour of the night and day. For knowledge does not know how to cast its care upon God through the confident trust of faith in Him; wherefore in all things that concern it, it is constantly engaged in devising devices and clever contrivances. But when in some instance the modes of its contrivances prove fruitless, it strives with men as though they hindered and opposed it, since it does not see in this the mystical hand of providence.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that uproots love, is implanted in this very knowledge. It investigates the small faults of other men and the causes thereof, and their weaknesses; and it arms a man for stubbornly upholding his opinion, for disputation, and aids him in cunningly employing devices and crafty contrivances and other means which dishonour a man. In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer it to God.

Faith, however, attributes its works to grace. For this reason it cannot be lifted up with pride, as it is written: “I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me”; and again, “Not I, but the grace of God which is in me”; and also “Knowledge puffeth up”; which the blessed Apostle said of this same knowledge, since it is not mingled with faith and hope in God, but he said it not concerning true knowledge, far be it!

By humility true knowledge makes perfect the soul of those who have acquired it, like Moses, David, Esaias, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the saints who have been accounted worthy of this perfect knowledge to the degree possible for human nature. And by diverse theorias and divine revelations, by the lofty vision of spiritual things and by ineffable mysteries and the like, their knowledge is swallowed up at all times, and in their own eyes they reckon their soul to be dust and ashes. But that other knowledge is puffed up, even as is meet, since it walks in darkness and values that which belongs to it by comparison with things of earth, and it does not know that there is something better than itself. And so all who cling to such knowledge are seized by the uplifting of pride, because they measure their discipline according to the standard of the earth and the flesh, they rely upon their works, and their intellects do not enter into incomprehensible matters. But as many as reflect upon the waves of the glorious splendour of the Godhead, and whose labour is on high, their minds do not turn aside with inventions and vain thoughts. For those who walk in the light cannot go astray, and for this reason all those who have strayed from the light of the knowledge of the Son of God, and have turned away from the truth, journey in these pathways just mentioned. This is the first degree of knowledge; in it a man follows the desire of the flesh. We find this knowledge blameworthy and declare it to be opposed not only to faith, but to every working of virtue.

On the Second Degree of Knowledge

But when a man renounces the first degree and turns toward deep reflections and the love of the soul, then he practises the aforementioned good deeds with the help of his soul’s understanding, in co-operation with the senses of his body, and in the light of his soul’s nature. These deeds are: fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the divine Scripture, the modes of virtue, battle with the passions, and the rest. For all these good things, all the various excellences seen in the soul and the wondrous means that are employed for serving in Christ’s court in this second degree of knowledge, are made perfect by the Holy Spirit through the action of its power. This knowledge makes straight the pathways in the heart which lead to faith, wherewith we gather supplies for our journey to the true age. But even so, this knowledge is still corporeal and composite; and although it is the road that leads us and speeds us on our way toward faith, yet there remains a degree of knowledge still higher than it. If it goes forward, it will find itself raised up by faith with the help of Christ, that is, when it has laid the foundation of its action on seclusion from men, reading the Scriptures, prayer, and the other good works by which the second degree of knowledge is made perfect. It is by this knowledge that all that is excellent is performed; indeed, it is called the knowledge of actions, because by concrete actions, through the senses of the body, it accomplishes its work on the external level.

On the Third Degree of Knowledge,
which is the Degree of Perfection

Hear now how knowledge becomes more refined, acquires that which is of the Spirit, and comes to resemble the life of the unseen hosts which perform their liturgy not by the palpable activity of works, but through the activity accomplished in the intellect’s meditation. When knowledge is raised above earthly things and the cares of earthly activities, and its thoughts begin to gain experience in inward matters which are hidden from the eyes; and when in part it scorns the recollections of things (whence the perverseness of the passions arises), and when it stretches itself upward and follows faith in its solicitude for the future age, in its desire for what has been promised us, and in searching deeply into hidden mysteries: then faith itself swallows up knowledge, converts it, and begets it anew, so that it becomes wholly and completely spirit.

Then it can soar on wings in the realms of the bodiless and touch the depths of the unfathomable sea, musing upon the wondrous and divine workings of God’s governance of noetic and corporeal creatures. It searches out spiritual mysteries that are perceived by the simple and subtle intellect. Then the inner senses awaken for spiritual doing, according to the order that will be in the immortal and incorruptible life. For even from now it has received, as it were in a mystery, the noetic resurrection as a true witness of the universal renewal of all things.

These are the three degrees of knowledge wherein is brought together a man’s whole course in the body, in the soul, and in the spirit. From the time when a man begins to distinguish between good and evil until he takes leave of this world, his soul’s knowledge journeys in these stages. The fullness of all wrong and impiety, and the fullness of righteousness, and the probing of the depths of all the mysteries of the Spirit are wrought by one knowledge in the aforementioned three stages; and in it is contained the intellect’s every movement, whether the intellect ascends or descends in good or in evil or in things midway between the two. The Fathers call these stages: natural, supranatural, and contranatural. These are the three directions in which the memory of a rational soul travels up or down, as has been said: when the soul works righteousness in the confines of nature, or when through her recollection she is caught away to a state higher than nature in the divine vision of God, or when she recedes from her nature to heard swine, as did that young man who squandered the wealth of his discretion and laboured for a troop of demons.

From Homily Fifty-two, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Partial photocopies of this beautiful but very hard to find book are available from the monastery, here. The copies include all the homilies, but lack the introduction and appendices. They’re worth every penny spent on them.

La Berceuse des Saints

Thou, flood of light, poured into a manger!
Thou, hope and promise!
Tottering from the shadows to the sky.
Thou, eternal dream of the universe!
Thou, song of heaven’s blessing!
Sleep, sleep, O springtime of salvation!
Thy star lightens the horizon,
And burns away the darkness of ignorance.
By Thy coming redemption is enkindled
With love and light,
And the world recovers its existence.

Sœur Marie Keyrouz OSB, from her Cantiques de l’Orient, 1996.
English translation of Arabic lyrics

A mysterious conversation

It was nearly a quarter of a century ago. The teenaged boy and his mother went to the newly restored Mission La Purisima near Lompoc, California, the full name of which is Mision La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning, warm and clear, and the nave was so full that it was standing room only by the time they arrived. Not long into the service, however, the young man, overdressed for the heat and suffering from the closeness of the centuries old, unventilated church, began to feel unwell. Though he was distressed at leaving in the midst of Holy Mass, he was afraid that he might become sick in the church itself, which was not an option. So he excused himself from his mother and stepped outside. Finding a bench in the shade near a small fountain in the gardens, he sat down to catch his breath and allow his stomach to settle. Not long afterward, a woman in a sky-blue nun’s habit joined him on the bench opposite. The young man thanked her, of course, for her concern for his well-being, and the two continued to talk for some time, with the young man feeling better as time passed. At one point, he saw his mother briefly leave the church and approach, checking on him. She returned to the Mass and her son continued to talk with the kind nun. Eventually taking his leave of the sister, he rejoined his mother for the rest of the Mass. On the way home, the young man mentioned the conversation with the nun, and how much he enjoyed it. His mother, surprised, noted that she didn’t see anyone talking with him on the other bench by the fountain, which fact surprised him indeed. For the woman was there, as plain as day, and they had a good conversation.

Yet to this day I can’t remember what we talked about for all that time….

A necessity of progress

The Logos justifiably rebukes the tardiness of those who drag out their time in the practice of the virtues and do not wish to advance beyond this and to rise to the higher state of contemplation. “Fools and slow of heart” He calls them—slow to place their trust in Him who can reveal the meaning of the contemplation of the inner principles of the created world to all who spiritually explore the depths of the Spirit. For not to wish to progress from the initial struggles to those that are more advanced, and to pass from the “exterior” or literal meaning of Holy Scripture to its inner or spiritual meaning, is a sign of the sluggish soul, one with no taste for spiritual profit and extremely resentful about its own advancement. Such a soul, since its lamp has gone out, will not only be told to go and buy oil from those that sell it; but, finding the bridal chamber closed to it, it will also hear the words, “Go away, I do not know you or whence you come.”

Nikitas Stithatos (c 1020-1100), On the Inner Nature of Things, 97. Philokalia 4.136.

Cohen, Maccabees to Mishnah

Several months ago, a friend at church asked me for a good book about the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He’s a numismatist and familiar with Greek and Roman history, but not so much on the Jewish history of the so-called Intertestamental Period. “How do we get from there to here?” I recall him asking. I hadn’t a recommendation for him at the time. After asking around, I picked up a few different books to read through, intending to hand over to him whichever I might find to be the best of the bunch. So, consider that the context of this short review.

I’ve just finished reading Shaye J. D. Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, second edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). The first edition was volume seven of the Library of Early Christianity series edited by Wayne Meeks; apparently this second edition is not to be considered part of that series, oddly enough. The cover is unlike the standardized cover of the series, as one may see here. At xiv + 250, it is neither too short nor particularly detailed, and footnotes are kept to a minimum, and extremely economical even at that. There is a glossary and general index, and the whole is certainly geared to “students and other nonspecialists” as Cohen notes in the Preface to the First Edition (p. xi).

The book is an introduction to Jewish history between roughly 200 BCE and 200 CE, thus the “Maccabees to the Mishnah” of the title. Note my careful choice of phrasing: it is an introduction to Jewish history of that period, and not a history of the period in itself. This I find to be the case in that the chapters are thematically rather than chronologically arranged. After the Foreword to the First Edition by Wayne Meeks, and the Prefaces to the First and Second Edition of this book by Cohen, chapter one, “Ancient Judaism: Chronology and Definitions” (which is really the Introduction to the work, discussing concerns of phraseology for the period and other issues) is followed by a Timeline. One might at this point, particularly in light of the title, expect the work to be arranged chronologically, but this is not the case. As I mentioned, the book is arranged thematically, in the following chapters:
2. Jews and Gentiles
3. The Jewish “Religion”: Practices and Beliefs
4. The Community and Its Institutions
5. Sectarian and Normative
6. Canonization and Its Implications
7. The Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism
There then follows a helpful thirteen pages of annotated “Suggestions for Further Reading,” arranged by chapter, and then the glossary and general index.

The thematic arrangement I found to be a distraction, in all honesty. The book is well-written and clearly up-to-date, being an especially clear presentation for those who might be new to the subject. Cohen shows himself an adept at summarizing without oversimplifying. But I found myself often relying on my own fund of knowledge in order to fill in the gaps, as I ran into explanations that were at times too drastically curtailed, no doubt due to limited space. Yet I especially thought that more of a chronological arrangement would have made the book that much more valuable and useful. As it is, I would need to recommend this book in conjunction with another, something like Julius Scott’s Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Baker Academic, 1995) or Anthony Tomasino’s Judaism before Jesus: The Events & Ideas That Shaped the New Testament World (Intervarsity Press, 2003). [As an aside, how many books on this period are going to be titled alliteratively? “From the Greeks to the Godfearers” “Persians to Pharisees” “Apocalyptic and Afikomen”] Scott’s book is particularly successful at combining chronological and thematic chapters, and that, I think, would be much more useful to the kind of audience that Cohen’s book is aimed at: the “students and other nonspecialists.” One might hope for a vastly reworked third edition in not so limited a format (223 pages of text really is too short; Scott is just over 350 pages of text, and Tomasino just over 300) in which Cohen could “go to town” on the subject, rather than being so limited and therefore occasionally too terse.

We might not expect a third edition to come from the same publisher, however. As Cohen notes in an addition to his preface for this addition, dated December 2005:

The first edition of this book was published by Westminster Press in 1987 in the Library of Early Christianity series edited by Wayne Meeks. I was delighted then to be associated with a Presbyterian publishing house. It is one of the blessings of America that a Presbyterian publisher would commission a Jew to write a book on early Judaism for a series oriented to students of the New Testament. This never happened in the old country. Eighteen years later I am grateful to Westminster John Knox Press for publishing this second edition and remain grateful to the press for its courtesies to me over the years. I am no longer happy, however, to be associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the parent body of WJK, because I am deeply pained by the recent anti-Israel turn in its policies. The fact that WJK is editorially and fiscally independent of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affords small consolation; by publishing this book with WJK I am associating myself perforce with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an organization whose anti-Israel policies I condemn and distrust.

Bravo, Professor Cohen.