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p. 387  

Introductory Notice


Constitutions of the Holy Apostles.


Having learned from the erudite Beveridge what I long supposed to be a just view of the Constitutions, I have found in the recent literature of the subject not a little to increase my confidence in the general conclusions to which he was led by all that could be known in his times. The treatise of Krabbe guided me to some results of more modern investigations; and Dr. Bunsen, though not apart from his critics, has enabled me still further to correct some of my impressions. But, in connection with the late discovery of Bryennios, the field of discussion and inquiry has been so much enlarged, that I have felt it due to the readers and students of this republication to invoke the aid of Professor Riddle, who is able to enrich the work with the results of genuine learning and much patient research. Whatever may be my own convictions on some subordinate points, I have been glad to secure the judgment of a critical scholar who, I am persuaded, aims to shed upon the subject the colourless light of scientific investigation. This is all I can desire, anxious only to see facts clearly established and historic truth illustrated, no matter to what results they may seem to point. Where the professor’s decisions coincide with my own impressions, I am naturally gratified by his valued and independent corroboration: where the case is otherwise, I am hardly less gratified to present my indulgent readers with opinions deserving of their highest respect, and by which they will be stimulated, as well as influenced, in forming convictions for themselves.  

The Constitutions are so full of material on which it is well for one in my position not to speak very freely in such a work as this, that I rejoice all the more to confide the task of annotation almost exclusively to another and to one from whom American Christians must ever be glad to hear on subjects requiring in an almost equal degree the skill of an expert critic and the candour of a conscientious Christian.  

I prefix Professor Riddle’s Preface to the Introductory Notice of the Edinburgh editor, as follows:—  


New interest has been awakened in the Apostolic Constitutions by the discovery of an ancient manuscript in Constantinople. 2524 While it does not contain the Constitutions, it affords much material for discussion respecting the sources and authorship of this compilation. The so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, found in the Codex at Constantinople, and published by Bryennios in 1883, is recognised as the basis of the seventh book of the Constitutions. The verbal coincidences, the order of topics, and other obvious phenomena, leave little room for reasonable doubt on this point. That the reader may be in possession of the main facts, the corresponding portions have been indicated both in book vii. of the Constitutions and in the version of the Teaching inserted in this volume. This literary connection has some bearing on p. 388 the discussion as to the age of the Constitutions. If the Teaching is substantially the early work bearing that name, then some of the references by early writers which have been applied to the larger work must now be regarded as pointing to the Teaching; still, this only bears against the theory of a date as early as the third century. The new critical material furnished by the Bryennios manuscript for the Ignatian controversy has a bearing on the question respecting the work before us. The opinion has been strengthened (see below), that the same hand enlarged the Ignatian Epistles and adapted earlier matter (such as the Teaching) for the Apostolic Constitutions.  

We may accept as established the following positions:—  

1. The Apostolic Constitutions are a compilation, the material being derived from sources differing in age.  

2. The first six books are the oldest; the seventh, in its present form, somewhat later, but, from its connection with the Teaching, proven to contain matter of a very ancient date. The eighth book is of latest date.  

3. It now seems to be generally admitted that the entire work is not later than the fourth century, although the usual allowance must be made for later textual changes, whether by accident or design.  

Dr. Von Drey 2525 regards the first six books as of Eastern origin (mainly Syrian), and to be assigned to the second half of the third century. The seventh and eighth were more recent, he thinks, but united with the others before a.d. 325. With this, Schaff (in his Church History, vol. ii, rev. ed., p. 185) substantially agreed; but, in his later work on the Teaching, seems to assign the completion of the compilation to a date somewhat later. This is the view of Harnack, who, “by a critical analysis and comparison, comes to the conclusion 2526 that pseudo-Clement, alias pseudo-Ignatius, was a Eusebian, a semi-Arian, and rather worldly-minded anti-ascetic Bishop of Syria, a friend of the Emperor Constantius between 340 and 360; that he enlarged and adapted the Didascalia of the third and the Didache of the second century, as well as the Ignatian Epistles, to his own view of morals, worship, and discipline, and clothed them with Apostolic authority.” 2527  

This is, at all events, a more reasonable view than that of Krabbe, who assigns the first six books to the end of the third century, and the eighth to the beginning of the fifth. The latter, it is true, he regards a compilation from older sources. The purpose of the whole, in his view, was to confirm the episcopal hierarchy, and to establish the unity of the Catholic Church on the basis of the unity of the priesthood, etc. But it is now generally held that the purpose of the compilation was merely to present a manual of instruction, worship, polity, and usage for both clergy and laity. Had it been designed to further some ecclesiastical tendency, it would be far less valuable, since it would less fairly reproduce the ecclesiastical life of the age or ages in which it originated. Bishop Beveridge at first attributed the Constitutions to Clemens Alexandrinus (end of second century), but afterwards accepted the third century as the more probable date. The views now prevalent do full justice to his opinions, but seem to be better sustained in detail.  

The collection of Canons at the close of the Constitutions is undoubtedly a compilation. Some are evidently much more ancient than others, and there is every evidence that various collections or recensions existed. That of Dionysius (about a.d. 500), in Latin, contained fifty canons; that of John (Scholasticus) of Antioch (about a.d. 565) contained eighty-five canons: and “it is undeniable that the Greek copy which Dionysius had before him belonged to a different p. 389 family of collections from that used by John Scholasticus, for they differ frequently, if not essentially, both in text and in the way of numbering the canons.” 2528  

Bishop Beveridge sought to trace these to the synods of the first two centuries, while Daillé held that the collection was made as late as the fifth century. The latter view is not generally accepted, though the existence of a variety of collections tells against some of the views of Bishop Beveridge. 2529 It is impossible to enter into a full discussion here. It seemed better to annotate the Canons from the results of Drey and Hefele, two most candid and scholarly Roman-Catholic investigators. 2530 The brief notes indicate the sources according to these authors. The reader will at once perceive from the views thus suggested, as well as from the contents of the Canons, that, while some canons are presumably quite ancient, a number belong to the fourth century, and that, as a complete collection, they cannot antedate the compilation of the Apostolic Constitutions. Indeed, Drey, who accepts the latter as Ante-Nicene (see above), thinks five of the canons (30, 67, 74, 81, 83) were derived from the canons of the Fourth Œcumenical Council at Chalcedon, a.d. 451, and quite a number of others he traces to synods and councils of the fourth century. Hefele doubts the positions taken by Drey in regard to most of these. He does not, however, insist that the collection is Ante-Nicene, while he traces the origin of many of the canons to the Apostolic Constitutions.  

 [The following is Dr. Donaldson’s Introductory Notice:—]  


There has always existed a great diversity of opinion as to the author and date of the Apostolical Constitutions Earlier writers were inclined to assign them to the apostolic age, and to Clement; but much discussion ensued, and the questions to which they give rise are still unsettled.  

The most peculiar opinion in regard to them is that of Whiston, who devoted a volume (vol. iii.) of his Primitive Christianity Revived to prove that “they are the most sacred of the canonical books of the New Testament;” for “these sacred Christian laws or constitutions were delivered at Jerusalem, and in Mount Sion, by our Saviour to the eleven apostles there assembled after His resurrection.”  

Krabbe, who wrote an elaborate treatise on the origin and contents of the Apostolical Constitutions, tried to show that the first seven books were written “towards the end of the third century.” The eighth book, he thinks, must have been written at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth.  

Bunsen thinks that, if we expunge a few interpolations of the fourth and fifth centuries, “we find ourselves unmistakeably in the midst of the life of the Church of the second and third centuries.” 2531 “I think,” he says, “I have proved in my analysis, more clearly than has been hitherto done, the Ante-Nicene origin of a book, or rather books, called by an early fiction Apostolical Constitutions, and consequently the still higher antiquity of the materials, both ecclesiastical and literary, which they contain. I have shown that the compilers made use of the Epistle of Barnabas, 2532 which belongs to the first half of the second century; that the eighth is an extract or transcript of Hippolytus; and that the first six books are so full of phrases found in the second interpolation of the Ignatian Epistles, that their last compiler, the author of the present text, must either have lived soon after that interpolation was made, or vice versa, or the interpolator and compiler must have been one and the same person. 2533 This last circumstance renders it probable p. 390 that at least the first six books of the Greek compilation, like the Ignatian forgeries, 2534 were the produce of Asia Minor. Two points are self-evident—their Oriental origin, and that they belong neither to Antioch nor to Alexandria. I suppose nobody now will trace them to Palestine.” 2535  

Modern critics are equally at sea in determining the date of the collections of canons given at the end of the eighth book. Most believe that some of them belong to the apostolic age, while others are of a comparatively late date. The subject is very fully discussed in Krabbe.  

Bovius first gave a complete edition of the Constitutions (Venice, 1563), but only in a Latin form. The Greek was first edited by the Jesuit Turrianus (Venice, 1563). It was reprinted several times. Cotelerius gave it in his Apostolical Fathers. In the second edition of this work, as prepared by Clericus (1724), the readings of two Vienna manuscripts were given. These V. mss. and Oxford ms. of book viii. are supposed by Bunsen to be nearer the original than the others, alike in what they give and in what they omit. The Constitutions have been edited by Ültzen (1853), and by Lagarde in Bunsen’s Analecta Ante-Nicœna, vol. ii. (1854). Lagarde has partially introduced readings from the Syriac, Arabic, Æthiopic, and Coptic forms of the Constitutions. Whiston devoted the second volume of his Primitive Christianity to the Constitutions and Canons, giving both the Greek and English. It is his translation which we have republished, with considerable alterations. We have not deemed it necessary to give a tithe of the various readings, but have confined ourselves to those that seem important. We have also given no indication of the Syriac form of the first six books. We shall give this form by itself. The translation of Whiston was reprinted by Irah Chase, D.D., very carefully revised, with a translation of Krabbe’s Essay on the Origin and Contents of the Constitutions, and his Dissertation on the Canons (New York, 1848). 2536  



See the brief account prefixed to the version of the Teaching, p. 372, supra.  


Neue Untersuchungen über die Constitut. u. Kanones der Ap., Tübingen, 1832. Hefele (Conciliengeschichte, i., Freiburg, 1855, 2d ed., 1873, Edinb. trans., 1871, p. 449) speaks of this as the best work on the subject.  


[Needless to say that this seems to me utterly inconsistent with admitted facts.]  


Schaff, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, New York, 1885, pp. 134, 135. Comp. Harnack on the Teaching in Texte und Untersuchungen, u. s. w., ii. pp. 246–268, Leipzig, 1884. Bishop Lightfoot (Epistles of St. Ignatius, London and Cambridge, 1885), differs from Harnack, who further discusses the topic in the Expositor, January, 1886.  


Hefele, History of Councils, i. p. 460.  


The Ethiopic form of these Canons has recently appeared in an English translation (Journal of Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1885, pp. 63–72). Professor George H. Schodde, Ph D., the translator, has made use of the edition of Winand Fell (Cologne, 1871) with a Latin version. The Canons in this form contain most of the matter given in the Edinburgh version from the Greek, and in the same order. But the number is only fifty-seven, in many cases several Greek canons being combined as one in the Ethiopic. Some modifications are found, but very little that differs materially from the Greek. This collection is not part of the Apostolical Church Order published by Tattam, Lagarde, Harnack, and others. Comp. Schaff, Teaching, pp. 237–247.  


[However candid, even Hefele, unquestionably learned, has been enslaved to “Infallibility,” and was never a freeman.]  


Christianity and Mankind, vol. ii. p. 405.  


[Evidently the Teaching must now be substituted for the Epistle of Barnabas.—R.]  


[So Harnack, most decidedly; but Bishop Lightfoot opposes this view.—R,]  


[Bunsen’s magisterial views on many subjects are swept away by the recent work of Bishop Lightfoot on the Ignatian lierature.]  


Christianity and Mankind, vol. ii. p. 418.  


[A valuable work, apart from many of Dr. Chase’s personal ideas not generally received by critics.]  

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