Liturgical Traditions in the Didache


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Originally published at: https://library.hrmtc.com/2018/05/07/liturgical-traditions-in-the-didache/

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Liturgical Traditions in the Didache by Arthur Vööbus.

Vööbus Liturgical Traditions in the Didache

The Didache is the earliest preserved Christian Church Order, discovered in 1873 as part of the Jerusalem Codex of 1056. It is a manual of catechism, ceremony, and congregational organization. In this slightly abstruse monograph, Arthur Vööbus analyzes the portions of the Didache text that describe and reflect primitive Christian liturgy, specifically baptism and the Eucharist.

The baptismal instructions show evidence of a liturgical tradition in flux, adding affusion to the tradition of immersion, and allowing for other than “living water” in the procedure. The verbal formula is baptism “in the name of the Lord,” an earlier and simpler form than the eventual Trinitarian baptism of traditional Christianity. A good amount of space here is devoted to arguments over the purpose of the ointment prayer.

Vööbus discusses controversy regarding the Agape and the Eucharist, and which of the two was intended by chapters IX, X, and XIV of the Didache. He concludes that the Didache belongs to a stage at which these two were not yet differentiated in any considerable measure, and that the text throughout refers to a sacramental meal that was both “sacral” (Eucharist) and “satisfying” (Agape). Moreover, he is able to exclude impertinent Christological readings of the Eucharist from the practice found in the text. There are no liturgical words of institution, and the meal is not identified with the Last Supper of the Gospel accounts. It is not a sacrificial partaking of the body and blood of Jesus, but rather a thanksgiving trained on the substances of wine and bread–in that order, rather than the opposite one that came to predominate. Wine is “the Vine of David,” indicating the heritage of Hebrew piety, while bread represents the unity of the Christian believers.

The Didache liturgy pervasively considers Jesus as God’s Servant rather than God’s Son, again reflecting a pre-Trinitarian theological orientation. In discussing the relationship between the Didache and the Fourth Gospel, Vööbus holds the Didache to be far more theologically primitive. Gratifyingly, however, this book uses theology as an index of liturgical development with an eye to understanding the latter, not vice versa.

A final major discussion in the text concerns the extent to which the Didache liturgy may be reduced to Hellenized versions of the kiddush and other pre-Christian Hebrew prayers. Vööbus establishes well enough for my taste that the Jewish liturgical antecedents have been significantly transformed in ways more profound than linguistic translation to Greek, but I wonder if he has given full credit to the significance of “Hellenization.” He implies that the functional change is due simply to the unique genius of Jesus and/or the original Christians, where I suspect an application of the liturgical modes common to the mystery cults of Hellenistic antiquity. [via]