The purifying confession of failings required by the Didache’s eucharistic sacrifice
This study begins by exploring the meaning of the DIDACHE against the backdrop of the “spiritualization” of sacrifice that was widespread as a Jewish response to the traditional piety of offering animal sacrifices. In order to insure a “pure sacrifice,” the Didache community was set up two distinct safeguards: no unbaptized or unreconciled person was admitted (DIDACHE 9: 5) and the confession of failings was to be held prior to the eucharist on the Lord’s Day (DIDACHE 14: 1). These practices had the effect of enforcing the standards of holiness cherished by the community members. No one could keep coming week after week and repeatedly confess the same failing. Thus, for a community out of step with the rest of society, the confession of failings served to recall both backsliders and forgetters to the perfection (the Way of Life) to which they were called at the time of their preparation for baptism.
The DIDACHE reveals more about how Christians saw themselves and how they operated on a day-to-day level than any other book This study begins by exploring the meaning of the DIDACHE against the backdrop of the “spiritualization” of sacrifice that was widespread as a Jewish response to the traditional piety of offering animal sacrifices. To insure a “pure sacrifice,” the DIDACHE community was set up with two distinct safeguards: no unbaptized or unreconciled person was admitted (DIDACHE 9: 5), and the confession of failings was to be held prior to the eucharist on the Lord’s Day (DIDACHE 14: 1). These practices had the effect of enforcing the standards of holiness cherished by the community members. No one could keep coming week after week and repeatedly confess the same failing. Thus, for a community out of step with the rest of society, the confession of failings served to recall both backsliders and forgetters to the perfection (the Way of Life) to which they were called at the time of their preparation for baptism in the Christian Scriptures. The DIDACHE is not a gospel and, accordingly, it does not attempt to offer guidance by narrating a life of Jesus. In fact, it is older than the canonical Gospels and was written in the generation following the death of Jesus when the message of Jesus was not yet encapsulated in stories about Jesus (Rordorf 1991; Milavec 2003: 695-738). Nor is the DIDACHE a letter like those of Paul. In fact, the DIDACHE was created at the time of Paul’s mission to the gentiles but shows not the slightest awareness of this mission or of the theology that undergirded it.
The DIDACHE is an anonymous document. Like so many books in the Christian Scriptures, it didn’t belong to or originate with a single individual. It belonged to a community of householders who had received a revealed Way of Life transmitted by the Father through “his servant” Jesus. The senior mentors of this community had formulated the DIDACHE over a period of years based upon their own successful pastoral practice (Milavec 2003: 70-97).
The DIDACHE represents the first concerted attempt by householders (Crossan 1998: 363-73) to live the way of Jesus adapted to the exigencies of family, of occupation, of home–the very things that Jesus and his wandering apostles had left behind (Theissen: 10-14). The senior members of the community had formulated the DIDACHE over a period of years based upon their own successful practice initiating gentiles to become full participants in their shared life. One overhears a candidate being trained from scratch by a mentor who becomes his beloved “father” or “mother.” One witnesses the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably, by immersion in flowing water. One overhears the daily prayers and the weekly eucharist-both of which are sketched out in full detail. One learns how visiting prophets were a blessing and a danger at the same time (Milavec 1994b; 2003: 428-75). One comes to understand how manual work, the sharing of resources, and the cultivation of gratitude worked together to provide an economic safety net in a world wherein crushing poverty could easily overtake unprotected family businesses (Milavec 1996b; 2003: 176-82). One learns how the confession of failings, the correction of backsliders, and the shunning of recalcitrant members worked to maintain the community’s standards of excellence among a diversified group of individuals. Finally, one discovers how a community poised on the threshold of the end times could fashion its daily life sharing the same passionate expectation of the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus (Milavec 1992; 1995b; 2003: 324-30, 628-72). All in all, therefore, the DIDACHE provides a comprehensive and detailed schema used to train gentiles for full and active inclusion within the DIDACHE communities of the mid-first century.
In many ways, the DIDACHE manifests a pioneering spirit. The offering of first fruits, for example, represents a unique rite of gratitude for the Lord’s bounty that finds no parallel in the whole of the Christian Scriptures. In this essay, however, attention will be centered upon two other pioneering domains:
First, the DIDACHE offers the “oldest explicit instance of the understanding of the Lord’s Supper [eucharist] as a sacrifice” (Niederwimmer 1998: 197). Furthermore, the DIDACHE offers the first instance in which the eucharistic meal was held weekly on a day honored as “the day of the Lord.” One has to wait until the writings of Justin Martyr (150 CE) before one finds a second instance of the eucharist being presented as a “sacrifice” celebrated on Sunday mornings.
2. The DIDACHE also discloses that, prior to each eucharistic meal, members of the community would have “confessed in full” (DIDACHE 4:14, 14:1) their failings and resolved any interpersonal conflicts (DIDACHE 14:2). Nowhere in the Christian Scriptures does one find any reference to a public confession of failings in connection with the eucharist. Historically speaking, therefore, the DIDACHE provides the first instance wherein confession and reconciliation were perceived as the necessary conditions (in addition to baptism) for participation in the weekly eucharist.
Within the context of the early churches, therefore, the DIDACHE provides the most primitive vision of how the confession of failings and the notion of sacrifice came to be associated with the eucharistic experience. The purpose of this essay is to explore the character and implications of this groundbreaking vision.
The Confession of Failings and the Eucharistic Sacrifice
The confession of failings in DIDACHE 14 does not come as a complete surprise. At the very end of the catechumenate, the novice was told, “You will not leave behind the rules of the Lord” (DIDACHE 4:13), and immediately thereafter he/she was given the means to be used to sustain this attachment to the rules of the Lord: “In the church, you will confess-in-full your failings, and you will not go to your prayer with a bad conscience” (DIDACHE 4:14).
Two factors were thus inculcated: confession and a good conscience. Few particulars were given. Both were described in the future tense since both took place in the context of the eucharist, of which the novice had no direct experience. Mentors, consequently, must have deliberately avoided excessive details at this point for they were well aware that there would be ample time, following the first eucharist, to prepare novices for the confession and the reconciliation which would be part and parcel of every subsequent eucharistic meal.
When DIDACHE 4:13 and DIDACHE 14:1-3 are placed side by side (see the box at the top of the next page), one can see that the progression of topics in both cases is the same. (In this translation, the plural “you” is written as “you.”)
According to the earlier formulation (DIDACHE 4:14), one discovers that the confession of faults takes place “in the church,” i.e., when the members are called together as an “assembly.” While being trained in the Way of Life, the novice knew little or nothing of the eucharist; hence it was fitting to omit any mention of it. Later, however, precise details would be given: namely, that this confession would take place when the community gathered on each Lord’s day to break bread and celebrate the eucharist. Likewise, the earlier formulation provided no motivation for the confession. Later, however, the notion of “pure sacrifice” would be introduced to explain the necessity of this confession. The earlier formation indicated that one would not go to pray (in the assembly) with a “bad conscience.” The novice was not offered any details by way of explaining how this was to be avoided. The later formulation filled this gap: “You will not go to your prayer” (DIDACHE 4: 14b) if you have an unresolved “conflict” (DIDACHE 14: 2) with a “companion/associate/friend” (hetairou), and you will be prevented from doing so until you “be reconciled” (DIDACHE 14: 2). Also, a motivation is provided: “that your sacrifice not be defiled” (DIDACHE 14: 2c).
A semantic parallel is evident. The positive activity of confessing has the positive effect of producing a pure sacrifice; the negation or absence of conflict has the effect of avoiding the negation of the pure sacrifice, namely, defilement. In both instances, the motivation is clearly drawn in the direction of assuring the community that its sacrifice is “pure.” The citation from the Lord nails down the requirement that a “pure sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14:3) was an absolute requirement for the Lord is a great king whose name must be “wondrous among the gentiles” (DIDACHE 14:3c).
The Language of Sacrifice
The DIDACHE finds no need to define “sacrifice” (thysia) or “pure sacrifice” (kathara thysia). This is so because “sacrifice permeated the ancient world, and it was a fact of life” (Stevenson: 11); hence both Jews and gentiles stood in a cultural milieu wherein such things were generally understood and taken for granted. Sacrifice made sense to them even if and when it does not entirely, any longer, make sense to us (Malina 1996: 260. Similarly, those who approached a God to offer a sacrifice would have been conscious of whether they had the requisite “purity” (katharsis). Here again, notions of purity associated with sacrifice were prevalent not only among the Jews (Cooke) but among all other ancient peoples as well (Farnell; Reid).
The Greek language distinguished between “sacrifice” and “holocaust” (enagismos). A “sacrifice” was “typically a festive daytime celebration with music and procession toward the temple” (Jay: 22). A “holocaust” was “commonly a nighttime ritual” (Jay: 22) performed in silence (Jay: 23), with the procession “leading away from the temple or city” (Jay: 22). In both Roman and Greek circles, a “sacrifice” had the effect of “joining people together in an alimentary [meal-sharing] community; it was life-enhancing and life-maintaining” (Malina 1996: 33). On the other hand, the “holocaust” had the effect of “separating the person and group from defilement and danger; it was life-protecting” (Malina 1996: 33). A “holocaust” was entirely burnt upon the altar and made no provisions for a fellowship meal to follow.
The sacrificial traditions of Israel differed from those of the Romans and Greeks; yet a clear demarkation was made between “sacrifice” (zebach shelamim–“sharing offerings” as in Leviticus 3) and “holocaust” (olah–“burnt offering” as in Leviticus 4) (Malina 1996: 36). In the case of a “sacrifice,” Leviticus directs that the blood be poured out “on the borders of the altar” (Lev 3:13) and that the kidneys and the fat on the entrails be burnt (Lev 3:15F). The rest was eaten in the context of a festive meal. In the case of a “holocaust,” however, the “bull’s skin, all its flesh, its head, legs, entrails and dung … must be carried outside the camp … and the bull must be burnt there” (Lev 4:11f). Nothing was eaten. Malina summarizes as follows:
Thus in terms of the sacrifices described in Leviticus there
are two major triggers that require sacrifice. In the first case,
when persons seek to celebrate life with their Lord God, to
honor the Lord and share with friends…. On the other
hand, sacrifice [the “holocaust”] is likewise required when
somebody inadvertently offends the honor of the deity to
such an extent that only death or equivalent seems reasonable
(adequate for satisfaction of that honor) [1996: 36].
The language of the DIDACHE is entirely centered upon “sacrifice”; the term “holocaust” nowhere appears. This is entirely to be expected since “sacrifice” in the ancient world was commonly associated with a fellowship meal (Sered: 136-38). Thus, both Jews and gentiles would have been disposed to regard the eucharistic meal as a kind of “sacrifice” even though (as will be explained later) no animal was ritually killed. The absence of the term “holocaust,” signals, at any rate, that both Jews and gentiles would not have been inclined to regard the confession of failings or the discipline of reconciliation as being motivated by the need for the forgiveness of sins or for the atonement of guilt. The key motive is offering a “pure sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14:1f)–a concept which will become clear as our investigation continues.
Whether an Individual Confession of Failings Was Practiced
The DIDACHE does not define what “failings” were to be publicly and communally confessed (Rordorf 1978: 68). The Greek term found in both DIDACHE 4:14 and DIDACHE 14:1 is parantomatos, which signifies literally “a false step.” Three considerations are in order here:
Infractions Against the Way of Life.
The term parantomatos harmonizes well with the notion that the members of the community were being trained to walk on “the path of life.” A “false step,” consequently, would include anything that deviated from the specifics given in DIDACHE 1-4. In effect, this could include anything from murder (DIDACHE 2:2, 3:2) to grumbling (DIDACHE 3:6). One might even be tempted to say that the specifics drawn out in the “way of death” illustrate the kind of “faults” that might have been confessed at one time or the other in the community. In any case, the examination that follows will suggest that the principal benefit gained when confessing such failings was to solicit the practical support necessary to aid individuals in their striving for perfection.
Everyday Infractions against Another.
The term parantomatos also harmonizes well with the notion that the members of the community were preparing to share a festive meal (the eucharist) and were living in close proximity–sharing meals, work, and (in many cases) lodging. A “false step,” consequently, might also include day-to-day matters that caused grief or injury, e.g., failing to comb wool properly for spinning or misplacing a tool due to negligence. The DIDACHE does not expressly list such matters; yet, insofar as such matters could cause “a conflict” (DIDACHE 14:2), they might well be included. The following examination will indicate that the principal benefit gained when confessing such everyday failings was to renew the human bonding necessary for harmonious community living and the joyful celebration of the eucharist.
Grave Infractions That Led to Shunning.
Given the fact that “everyone having a conflict with his/her companion” had to be excluded “in order that your sacrifice may not be defiled” (DIDACHE 14:2), one can surmise that, on these occasions, the confession of failings functioned by way of publicly acknowledging “a false step” which had led to that exclusion and to public shunning by the entire community (DIDACHE 15:3). The examination that follows will indicate that the principal benefit gained when confessing such grave failings was to readmit someone who had for a period of time been publicly shunned because of his/her bad conduct.
It would seem insufficient, as Rordorf suggests (1973: 286, 1978: 68; Poschmann: 89-91), to reduce the confession of failings to a general formula or a collective prayer acknowledging one’s sinfulness:
Only one thing is certain: it [the confession of failings] does
not consist in a penitential prayer, individual and detailed,
but in a prayer of the community. But this would not be the
Our Father because it is already recited three times daily as
we have seen. Now, FIRST CLEMENT has preserved for us a
community prayer of the confession of sins which can give
us an idea of the prayer of the DIDACHE: “[God], merciful
and compassionate, pardon our iniquities and our unrighteousness,
our faults and negligence. Do not take into
account any sin of your servants [male] and servants
[female], but cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth and
guide us such that we might walk entirely in holiness of
heart and might do that which is good and agreeable in your
eyes” (1 CLEMENT 60: 1-2) [Rordorf 1973: 287].
This interpretation of the DIDACHE on the part of Rordorf faces three difficulties:
First, whenever thematic and stylized prayers are intended, the DIDACHE spells these out in detail (DIDACHE 8: 1-2, 9-10). One can readily accept Rordorf’s suggestion that, if the Our Father was the intended prayer, this would have been specified. It remains difficult to imagine, however, why the DIDACHE would not have provided an outline of this public prayer if, as Rordorf assumes, such a prayer was traditionally used on a weekly basis.
In the second place, whenever collective prayers are envisioned, the DIDACHE routinely introduces them using the plural imperative (DIDACHE 8: 2, 9: 2ff). DIDACHE 14: 1 does use the plural. Earlier, however, the novice is told “you [singular] will confess in full your [singular] failings” (DIDACHE 4:14). It seems difficult to escape the fact, therefore, that an individual confession of personal failings was practiced and the novice had to be given notice of what would someday be expected of him/her.
And finally, going beyond this, nothing in the DIDACHE supports the assumption that the “confession of failings” takes the form of a prayer. Rordorf comes to this conclusion because he likewise assumes that (a) only “sins” were being confessed (b) “before God” (c) with the understanding that, at DIDACHE 10: 6, only those who have regained their “lost holiness” (1978: 229) of baptism were to be permitted to come forward to receive communion. Finally, when the community prayer from FIRST CLEMENT is examined in its own context, one finds that it has nothing to do with a “confession of failings” or with the “eucharist.”
In sum, therefore, it seems more prudent to set aside the untested assumptions of Rordorf and to return to the text itself, which, as shown above, favors an audible and individual confession of specific failings when assembling prior to celebrating the eucharist. From what follows, this conclusion will become all the more evident.
The Confession of Failings and the Forgiveness of Sins
When the confession of failings prior to the eucharist is explicitly said to insure a “pure sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14: 1), one would be mistaken to understood this confession as a primitive form of the Sacrament of Confession. The church of the early centuries practiced shunning and excommunication in order to deal with serious sins and only, in the sixth century, did the confession of sins to a monk or priest emerge as a practice recommended to the laity–a practice which caught on so well that it eventually became established as a Sacrament in the medieval church.
Within early Judaism as well as in early Christianity, it was understood that the Lord forgives transgressions as soon as a person approaches him and confesses his/her failings (Sanders 1977:175-82). This may, at first glace, look like a “Protestant approach” to the issue; yet, it must be remembered that, relative to minor sins, even Catholics have always maintained the same understanding. Thus, the psalmist prays:
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and
you forgave the guilt of my sin (Ps 32:5).
Within early Judaism, therefore, public confession was neither implied nor necessitated. In actual practice, if someone was bringing a sin-offering to the temple, he/she had to confess to the priest the sin involved so that sacrifice could be treated as a “holocaust” (Buchler: 417). In cases involving fraud (Lev 5:21-26), the priest had to ascertain whether suitable restitution had been made. Bystanders had no way of discerning what kind of offering was being made until they saw how it was handled by the priest (Buchler: 417). Within later rabbinic Judaism, “so long as the sins were committed in private, the repentance of them could be a private matter of the sinner’s heart; but after sinning publicly, repentance would have to be accompanied by a public confession of sins” (Buchler: 423). Nothing of this, however, shows up in the DIDACHE.
All in all, the DIDACHE was concerned with perfection in the Way of Life (esp. DIDACHE 6: 2, 10: 6, and 16: 2). When the forgiveness of sins is considered, the use of the aorist tense in the Lord’s Prayer makes clear that only a final (one-time only) forgiveness is sought when the Lord comes (Brown 1961: 200-01). Outside of this, the sharing of one’s resources is done “for the ransoming of your sins” (DIDACHE 4: 6)–a typical Jewish perspective. Beyond this, nothing is said. It would be a mistake, therefore, to try to read into the “confession of failings” anything of the penitential system that emerged in early monasticism.
With even greater force, one must be careful not to allow medieval theology to interpret the DIDACHE. Medieval theology was built on the premise that the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden infected all their children in all generations, making them enemies of God. Jesus and Jesus alone, among all those born of women, was just and holy and entirely without sin. Thus, within this horizon of understanding, Jesus and Jesus alone was capable of offering an acceptable sacrifice to God. The sacrifices offered by God’s just and devoted servants (e.g., Abel, Noah, Abraham) were demoted in importance and given the status of “prefiguring” the one and only true sacrifice acceptable to God. Jesus’ sacrificial death on Calvary was thus elevated as the sacrifice, which gained infinite merits and which, over the course of time, secured the forgiveness of sins for those who were locked in darkness and unable to help themselves. According to medieval theology, the purpose of the eucharist was to apply the merits gained by Christ on Calvary to those sinners who unite themselves to him in faith.
Little or nothing of this is found in the DIDACHE. The only assumption shared by these two systems is that a pure sacrifice can be offered only by one who is holy. Beyond this, the DIDACHE appears to know nothing of a catastrophic fall in the Garden which dooms the whole of humankind to being enemies of God. Quite to the contrary, the DIDACHE presumed that ordinary holiness pursued along the paths revealed by the Father in the Way of Life was pleasing to God. Accordingly, when the community gathered, the DIDACHE does not hesitate to acknowledge that here one has “the presence of the saints” (DIDACHE 4: 2). Not all who were assembled to offer the “sacrifice” of the eucharist, however, were fully perfected–otherwise there would be no need for fraternal correction (DIDACHE 4: 3), for the confession of failings (DIDACHE 14: 1), and, in severe cases, for shunning (DIDACHE 15: 3). One must surmise from this that the framers of the DIDACHE regarded those who offered the eucharistic “sacrifice” as worthy due to their striving toward perfection and sustaining each other in that quest (DIDACHE 6: 2, 16: 2). Only someone locked in “a conflict with his/her companion” (DIDACHE 14: 2) or maliciously “misbehaving against the other” (DIDACHE 15: 3) had to be excluded lest their “sacrifice be defiled” (DIDACHE 14: 2). In contrast to the medieval synthesis, the DIDACHE is entirely mute regarding the “sacrifice of Jesus Christ” and entirely vocal regarding the “pure sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14: 1, 3) that even gentiles on the Way of Life were capable of offering to the God of David.
Returning to the language of the DIDACHE, recall again that the language of the DIDACHE is entirely centered upon “sacrifice,” and the term “holocaust” nowhere appears. When the term “sacrifice” is properly distinguished from “holocaust,” then it appears quite natural that the confession of failings was directed toward insuring a “pure sacrifice” (as will be explained shortly). Nothing should be decided, therefore, on the mistaken assumption that the confession of failing was used by the framers of the DIDACHE to secure the forgiveness of sins or to gain the merits of Christ (Anderson: 204-12).
Spiritualization of Sacrifice within Judaism
To understand the pastoral genius of the DIDACHE, one has to leave aside our modernity for the moment and enter into an ancient horizon of understanding that is quite foreign to our contemporary modes of seeing and reflecting. All in all, when this essay is finished, we will have constructed a sturdy three-legged stool:
The first leg is already in place.
This is the widespread experience in the ancient world that every “sacrifice” involves and culminates in a festive meal. This pillar allows us to recapture how the framers of the DIDACHE found it entirely natural to link “breaking bread” and “giving thanks” with their notion of “sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14: 1).
The second leg.
This is the recognition that the confession of failings
involves a verbal acknowledgment of particular failings which has little or nothing to do with obtaining forgiveness and very much to do with insuring that the community can offer a “pure sacrifice” (DIDACHE 14: 1).
The Third Leg.
In just a moment, we will explore the spiritualization of sacrifice in the various Judaisms of the first century, and this will provide the background whereby the DIDACHE intuitively connects the confession of failings and preparing to offer a “pure sacrifice.” Then, we will have the third leg and the interconnecting braces which, when finished, will allow us to grasp how the “confession of failings” and “fraternal/soeurrel correction” joined together with the eucharist to ensure a pragmatic stimulus to holiness within a caring community of like-minded individuals.
When our sturdy three-legged stool is finished, we can then sit and contemplate or dance and celebrate the magnificent pastoral craftsmanship which went into the construction of the DIDACHE. Let’s go now and examine the second leg: the spiritualization of sacrifice.
Within Judaism, one finds a long-established tradition of offering suitable sacrifice to God. The Torah delivered to Moses gave great attention to the when, where, and how of offering sacrifice. Within the prophetic literature, however, a shockingly new voice was heard–for the first time, one heard stinging critiques of temple sacrifices based upon the perception that God had no patience with traditional sacrifices. This new voice represented, according to Karl Jaspers, an illustration of the epochal shift that swept through the progressive world cultures at that time (2-10). Acting justly and virtuously began to assert itself as the normative preparation for offering true sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah stunned his contemporaries with graphic images such as these:
“What are your endless sacrifices to me?” says the Lord. “I
am sick of holocausts of rams and the fat of calves. The
blood of bulls and of goats revolts me…. When you stretch
out your hands [in prayer] I turn my eyes away. You may
multiply your prayers, I shall not listen. Your hands are covered
with blood, wash, make yourself clean. Take your
wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do
good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the
orphan, plead for the widow” [Is 1:11, 15-17].
One notes here that sacrifices were taken for granted. Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, did not intend to abolish them but to drive home the fact that (whatever may have been the case earlier) God was no longer pleased with offering sacrifices unless the one approaching the altar was both ritually and morally pure and uptight of heart.
Philo ([dagger] CE 50), an Alexandrian Jew, demonstrates quite well how deep and how widespread the epochal shift had become when he writes as follows:
God is not pleased even though a man bring hecatombs [100
oxen] to his altar; for he possesses all things as his own and
stands in need of nothing. But he delights in minds which
love God and in men who practice holiness, from whom he
gladly receives cakes and barley, the very cheapest things, as
if they were the most valuable … [SPECIAL LAWS 1.270).
God looks upon even the smallest offering of frankincense
by a holy man as more valuable than ten thousand beasts
which may be sacrificed by one who is not thoroughly virtuous…. In
the eyes of God it is not the number of things sacrificed
that is accounted valuable but the purity of the
rational spirit of the sacrificer [SPECIAL LAWS 1.275, 277].
Nothing remotely like this can be found on the lips of Moses. Philo, speaking as though he knew the sentiments of God, uses great exaggeration in order to demonstrate again and again that the quantity means nothing to God and that the quality of a sacrifice increases in direct proportion to the holiness/purity of the one making the offering. In the same way as just judges refuse to receive gifts from those pleading a case before them, Philo argues, so the Judge of the whole world cannot be “corrupted by bribes” for he “rejects the gifts of the wicked” (SPECIAL LAWS 1.277)–an argument that finds almost an exact parallel in Plato (REPUBLIC 364-66).
Taking the matter to an extreme, Philo goes so far as to conclude the just person who loves God can offer to God “the smallest thing.” Indeed, such a one can even come into the temple empty-handed. At this point, Philo goes way beyond the prophets of Israel. Here is what he says:
And even if they [persons who practice holiness] bring
nothing else, still when they bring themselves, the most perfect
completeness of virtue and excellence, they are offering the
most excellent of all sacrifices, honoring God, their
Benefactor and Savior, with hymns and thanksgivings
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.272].
In this fashion, holiness of life becomes “the most excellent of all sacrifices.” Thus,
when they [the righteous] have no longer any materials left
in which they can display their piety, they then consecrate
and offer up themselves, displaying an unspeakable holiness
and a most superabundant excess of a God-loving disposition”
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.248].
The sacrificial language here is evident. Even when the temple still existed in Jerusalem, therefore, Philo attests to the fact that many diaspora Jews were entirely content to live their ordinary lives of holiness with the firm conviction that they were thereby offering true sacrifice to God without ever travelling to Jerusalem to offer an animal or grain sacrifice upon the altar.
Robert J. Daly carefully documents this “spiritualization of sacrifice” in his treatise, THE ORIGINS OF THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE or SACRIFICE. He defines the broad scope of this movement as follows:
We are using the word spiritualization in a much broader
sense than simply antimaterialistic. This sense includes all
those movements and tendencies within Judaism and Christianity
which attempted to emphasize the true meaning of
sacrifice, that is, the inner, spiritual, or ethical significance of
the cult over against the merely material or merely external
understanding of it. We include here such different things
as: the effort among pious Jews to make their material sacrifice
an expression of an ethically good life; the prophetic
criticism of the sacrificial cult; the philosophical influenced
doubts about the sense of offering material sacrifice to a spiritual
God; the necessity of finding substitutes for material
sacrifice when participation in the sacrificial cult of the
Jerusalem temple was not possible, as in Qumran, or in the
diaspora, or after the destruction of the temple .
“Sacrifice permeated the ancient world, and it was a fact of life with which any new religions had to reckon” (Stevenson: 11). In like fashion, the spiritualization of sacrifice made firm inroads during the first century among both Jews and gentiles. Paul, for instance, at one point, urged Christians “to present your bodies as living sacrifice (thusian), holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1) and, at a later point, he referred to his own “preaching the Gospel” as his “sacrificial/priestly service” (Rom 15:15).
The strongest instance of this is found in the Letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews argues that, since Jesus was not a Levite, “if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all” (Heb 8:4). In the heavenly sanctuary, however, Jesus is the eternal high priest, chosen by God as an exceptional case paralleling God’s former choice of Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-17). In the end, the author of Hebrews brings this revolutionary framework home by espousing a novel understanding of sacrifice:
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of
praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his
name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you
have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13:150.
The reference to a “sacrifice of praise” here can be interpreted as referring, among other things, to the eucharistic prayers; yet, the text is far from clear on this point. What Hebrews does make plain, however, is that “brotherly love” (Heb 13:1), “hospitality to strangers” (Heb 13:2), and many other aspects of Christian living (Heb 13:3-15) constitute “acceptable worship” (Heb 12:28).
Unlike Paul and Hebrews, the framers of the DIDACHE pioneered an alternative solution: the act of gathering together, taking a meal, and giving thanks (all named in DIDACHE 14: 1) was the true “sacrifice” pleasing to God. This meant that the festive eucharistic meal celebrating the election of Israel and anticipating the final ingathering constituted the “sacrifice” of the community. Hebrews focused upon “doing good” and “sharing resources” as those actions that God was pleased to receive as their sacrifices. Philo, in his turn, focused upon those moments when wisdom (knowing Torah) and holiness (doing Torah) came together in a person’s life. Each in his own way had redefined sacrifice in such a way as to entirely leave out the Jerusalem temple (see Milavec 2003: 786-95).
Each of these innovations entirely revamped the character of the traditional animal sacrifices. Each, in its own way, provided a way of spiritualizing sacrifice. Each highlighted distinctive operative values. Note, for example, that both the framers of the DIDACHE and Philo presume that the suitability of a person’s sacrifice is directly proportional to his/her holiness of life. For the DIDACHE, however, the focus is decidedly communal. Only “one sacrifice” is offered, and one would suspect that the suitability of this sacrifice might be directly proportional to the striving for perfection and the deepening of interpersonal bonding within the community. Philo, of course, would not exclude such elements; yet his metaphors reveal his emphasis. Sacrifice, for Philo, is first and foremost an individual affair dependent upon achieved perfection of life. Sacrifice, for the framers of the DIDACHE, is first and foremost a communal affair dependent upon interdependent forms of mutual support and bonding. This contrast will be seen more clearly in what follows.
Confession and Reconciliation as Enhancing Holiness
In what has already been said, it is clear that striving toward holiness represents the key preparation for offering the eucharistic “sacrifice.” Accordingly, the confession of failings and the discipline of reconciliation need to be explored in the perspective of sustaining and enhancing the interdependent holiness of individuals within the community.
Sustaining the Quest for Perfection after Baptism
According to the DIDACHE, the initial lure toward the Way of Life begins as an impulse of the Spirit (DIDACHE 4:10), which draws an outsider to know and admire one or more insiders. Yielding to this impulse, the community then assigns a mentor, possibly one of those whom the outsider already admires. Within the training period, the novice’s habits of feeling and judging are gradually transformed by “the one speaking to you the word of God” (DIDACHE 4:1). Progressively, the novice assimilates for him/herself the ability to walk in the Way of Life revealed by the Father through his servant Jesus. Even at the end of the training period, however, the process is not complete:
For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear the whole yoke
of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if, one the other hand, you
are not able, that which you are able, do this (DIDACHE 6: 2).
Given this fact of life and given the decisive importance of growing in perfection until the Lord comes (DIDACHE 16: 2), the framers of the DIDACHE undoubtedly designed the confession of failings to provide a weekly stimulus toward this perfection. The mention of specific failings by any individual reminded the entire community that such things were to be avoided. Thus, the scope of the Way of Life was renewed–and maybe even expanded–in the minds of all present. The mention of specific failings by each member also provided the occasion wherein persons close to them came to a deepened awareness of how these persons needed support in particular ways. Finally, while humiliation or self-abasement was not the primary goal of the confession, one can easily understand how a person locked in a particular sin would, after repeatedly confessing the same failing, either reform his/her life or leave the community.
Those who have had experience with the Chapter of Faults practiced within religious orders or who have witnessed the truth telling practiced within Alcoholics Anonymous will quickly grasp the impact of mentioning specific failings. It seems preferable, for this reason, to imagine that members of the community took their turns confessing specific failings wherein they deviated from the Way of Life during the preceding week. Remembering that the eucharist as portrayed in the DIDACHE was a full evening meal, there is no need to imagine that the number of participants impeded such individual confession. Furthermore, since the forgiveness of God was not the primary objective, there would be no reason to limit the confession to sins against God since, as one examines the Way of Life, one quickly discovers that it is nearly entirely occupied with how to love one’s neighbor.
Removing Obstacles to a Festive Meal and to the Final Ingathering.
Given the nature of the eucharistic “sacrifice” as a festive meal that affirmed the election of the participants in the promises made to Israel and which anticipated the final ingathering into the Kingdom, it becomes transparently clear that “everyone having a conflict with his/her companion” would be excluded “that your sacrifice may not be defiled” (DIDACHE 14: 2). As shown above, this exclusion had a practical aspect. How could a festive meal proceed with a convivial spirit if one or more of the members were “misbehaving against the other” (DIDACHE 15: 3)? The very character of the eucharist, consequently, imposed the discipline of reconciliation.
Within a group of strangers, the acknowledgment of specific deeds that caused pain for others would be of no great consequence. But within a community of intimates, the regular acknowledgment of small failures would become the vital means whereby resentments were defused, hidden conflicts were openly acknowledged (quieting down the rumor mill), and past hurts were smoothed over. In a word, no practice would be more conducive to restoring and to enhancing the bonds which keep an intentional community alive and growing. I myself have seen how unspoken problems, festering resentments, and backbiting can bring even an idealistic community to a standstill and destroy the dedication and joy of individuals therein.
The voluntary confession of failings had the effect of bringing closure to a painful incident which, otherwise, might have gone unattended. On the other hand, however, those persons who were offended or hurt by another member of the community were urged to bring this to the attention of the offender (as will be seen in the next section). When the offender, however, took the initiative by acknowledging his/her fault, the one injured had no further cause for confrontation. On pragmatic grounds, therefore, it can be surmised that the confession of failings served, in many instances, as a means of avoiding the pain of being reproved (Sir 20:3).
Publicly Ending a Period of Shunning.
When someone being reproved failed to acknowledge his/her fault or when the fault was very grievous, then the discipline of shunning and of exclusion from the eucharist would have come into play (DIDACHE 15:3). In the first case, shunning had the effect of forcing the offending party to take into account how s/he injured someone (even while not fully intending it). In the second case, grievous sins (like adultery) normally require an extended period wherein the innocent party and her allies grieve for and with the person injured. In both these cases, the readmission of the offending party after a period of public shunning (DIDACHE 15: 3) would normally have taken place through the public confession prior to a eucharist. The importance of this will be considered in what follows.
Reproving and Shunning as Complements to the Confession of Failings
When examined closely, the DIDACHE provided its members with a very well considered program for maintaining the bonds of unity among its members. Such training began when a novice was prepared in the following terms for becoming an active arbitrator and a courageous critic:
You will not make dissension but will reconcile those fighting.
You will judge justly; you will not take into account
social status when it comes time to reprove against failings
[DIDACHE 4: 3].
All three responsibilities are expressed in the second-person singular–a sign that each and every member was expected to take the initiative for these community maintenance functions and not just a chosen few. The DIDACHE community had the informality and lack of privacy that characterized an extended “family.” No complex procedures were established for “reconciling those fighting” (DIDACHE 4: 3), for instance, and neither the mentor-trainers nor the bishop-deacons were assigned any essential role in the process. Anyone could arbitrate between quarreling Christians.
The same thing held true for “reproving against failings” (DIDACHE 4: 3). Here again, one finds the informality and the lack of privacy that characterize a “family.” While reproving had to do with infractions against the Way of Life, it surely was not reserved to such things. Reproving, for the most part, had to do with the everyday hurts and disappointments which arise whenever committed persons eat, work, and live together. One can imagine, therefore, that reproof had to do with carelessly misplacing shop tools or inadvertently failing to properly vent a kiln. So, too, reproof had to do with “speaking badly of someone” or “holding grudges” (DIDACHE 2: 2)–infractions against the Way of Life, to be sure, but also ways in which the bonds of unity were fragmented and the respect and support of a Brother or Sister was withdrawn.
The DIDACHE empowered ordinary members with the tools for living in harmony most of the time and for living in joy much of the time. The overall interpersonal goal was stated as follows:
You will not hate any person, but some you will reprove, and
concerning others you will pray, and some you will love more
than your soul [DIDACHE 2: 7].
The insistence that hate could be entirely quenched was earlier explained as the flip side of loving your neighbor (DIDACHE 1:2, 3). At this point, however, the rule pertains to insiders (as also in Lev 19:17). Then, reproving enters the picture as the loving service whereby each member sustains the others on the Way of Life. Praying for others undoubtedly had to do with supporting others in their efforts but also with forgiving others for the grief caused. Whereas the earlier praying “for your enemies” (DIDACHE 1: 3) had to do with outsiders, the focus here is primarily on insiders. Three times each day, members prayed that the Lord would ultimately forgive “our debt as we likewise forgive our debtors” (DIDACHE 8: 2)–hence, prayer clearly was intended to soften the hearts of those who were scandalized, disappointed, or inconvenienced by the failings of others. The last category, loving “some . . . more than your own soul” (DIDACHE 2: 7) undoubtedly pertained to cherished mentors and others who shared the joys and the pains of their life journey. This category may also have included those who reproved others gently and forgave without any trace of vindictiveness.
The Way of Life defined the personal responsibility of reproving and reconciling. In DIDACHE 14:1-3 and 15: 3-4, the communal aspects were brought forward. In effect, DIDACHE 15:1-2 is a “digression” (Niederwimmer 1998: 203), which interrupts the flow of the text. DIDACHE 14:1-3 deals with the confession of failings and the exclusion of “everyone having a conflict with his/her companion” (DIDACHE 14: 2) relative to the eucharistic sacrifice. DIDACHE 15:3 expands this into a general rule for defining the discipline of reproving:
[And] reprove each other, not in anger, but in peace, as you
have [it] in the good news. And to everyone misbehaving
against the other, let no one speak[to him/her] nor hear
from you [about him/her] until he/she should repent
Again, for the third time, the importance of reproving has been brought forward. Again, the clear note is that everyone did this and that no special class of persons was assigned this responsibility. Here, however, the personal aspect is hinted at. Each reproved those who offended them. And, in such instances, where personal hurts were involved, the tendency was to allow anger and disappointment to drive the reproof. The DIDACHE cautioned against this. Even reproof was to be done “in peace” and out of love for one’s “Brother” or “Sister” (DIDACHE 1: 2). The reproof was thus easier to receive and to implement.
When reproving was ineffective, the community proceeded to shunning. Niederwimmer notes that “the next rule (DIDACHE 15: 3b) seems to apply to the cases of those who persist in sin despite brotherly or sisterly correction” (Niederwimmer 1998: 204). “Sin” may be too narrow a category here. Failings, as noted above, can refer to infractions against the Way of Life but also to the day-in and day-out grievances which those who live and work closely together were bound to feel. DIDACHE 15: 3b, therefore, might just as well signal the case of someone refusing to take responsibility for misplacing a shop tool–in a word, refusing correction. In any case, where the consequences were grave or the infraction was persistent, then the whole community entered into the action: “let no one speak to him/her nor let him/her hear from you until he/she should repent” (DIDACHE 15: 3b). Needless to say, there must have been some time and place wherein the whole affair could be deliberated before the community (as in the parallel instance of Matthew 18:15-17) so that it could arrive at a collective decision to employ shunning.
Shunning was directed toward “reconciliation.” Hence, it can be presumed that the community grieved the loss of one of its members at the next eucharist, and that the rule of DIDACHE 14:2 was now operative. Likewise, in the case where public shunning had been invoked, one can suspect that its removal required a public confession prior to the eucharist in which reconciliation was to be publicly effected. In the case of persons excluded for infractions which they failed to acknowledge, the open confession revealed to all that the needed resolution had been obtained. In the case of grave injuries (e.g., adultery), the open confession after an extended period of exclusion served to reveal to the community that the offended party or parties had finished their time of grieving and were ready to embrace the offending member who was now repentant. In both cases, the confession signaled an end to the publicly established and maintained period of shunning.
The Community Maintenance of Purity in the DIDACHE
Within the community of the DIDACHE, a certain holiness of life and avoidance of broken relationships was required for participation in the eucharistic sacrifice. To begin with, no one was to be baptized until he/she had been trained in the Way of Life. And no one who had not been baptized could be admitted to the eucharistic meal. The reason given: “Do not give what is holy to dogs” (DIDACHE 9: 5). Within the rabbinic literature, this saying is repeatedly used as a euphemism for the prohibition against giving the meat sacrificed upon the altar in the temple to gentiles for food (THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENt. 3.1102). Thus, some possibility exists that the community of the DIDACHE embraced this as their own logic for accounting how the saying of the Lord applied to those to be included from their eucharist. As such, one does not have to wait until DIDACHE 14 to discover that the eucharistic meal was regarded as a “sacrifice” that must be offered and eaten by those who are morally pure. Furthermore, the strong prohibition expressed earlier relative to refraining, in all circumstances, “from the food sacrificed to idols” (DIDACHE 6: 3) also points in this direction. Should one buy and prepare such food or eat of it when it is served by one’s host, the DIDACHE regarded the mere eating as the “worship of dead gods” (DIDACHE 6: 3) even when one had no part in the prayers or the pagan sacrifice as such. If mere “eating” was regarded as a participating in the worship of pagan gods, then it followed that the community of the DIDACHE must be prepared to regard its own “eating” as worship of the living God.
Offering sacrifice was not enough. According to the DIDACHE, the confession of failings was positively necessary to offer a “pure sacrifice,” and the exclusion of unreconciled members was necessary to prevent defilement (DIDACHE 14: 1-2). This practice indicates that failings were to be expected since one was admitting persons still partially addicted to pagan ways. Thus “confession in full” served not only to allow new members to examine their conduct and to freely acknowledge their errors; it also served to verify, in the eyes of all, that the Way of Life was being recognized and revered. Far from immediately excluding persons who had failed, therefore, the DIDACHE community opted to embrace the broken and the fallen as fit subjects to offer “pure sacrifice” to God.
Even in the DIDACHE, however, tolerance for progressive holiness had its limits. In one case, that of an unresolved interpersonal conflict, persons involved must be excluded, for their inclusion was perceived as risking the defilement of the community sacrifice (DIDACHE 14: 2). How so? First, one must try to imagine how a grave failing such as practicing divination, when confessed, offered no obstacle to a pure sacrifice while a petty quarreling, even should it be confessed, could not be tolerated unless reconciliation was effected. To begin with, one must call to mind my opening observation that we are dealing here with table fellowship wherein no anonymity was possible. When even one person at table was visibly upset or angry, everyone was immediately affected. Like it or not, in the face of any dispute, persons would be prompted to take sides–to favor one party as “in the right” and another as “in the wrong.” An unresolved dispute involving two persons, therefore, can potentially divide the entire community. But, even beyond this, the very eucharistic prayers include petitioning the Father to gather the members of the community together into his kingdom at the end of time (DIDACHE 9: 4, 10: 5). Such a prayer, however, would have to stick in the throat of those who know of someone who, for the moment, they do not want to see or encounter, much less to eat with. Since such persons could not properly join in this expectation of being united in the future, they risked rendering the sacrifice of the community “unclean” because, for some, their hearts denied what their words expressed.
This study began by noting that “sacrifice” was a common phenomenon within the ancient world and that the “spiritualization” of sacrifice was a widespread response to the traditional piety of offering animal sacrifices. Along the way, we discovered that the DIDACHE community was so bent upon offering suitable worship to God that they set up two distinct safeguards: no unbaptized or unreconciled person was admitted (DIDACHE 9: 5) and the confession of failings was to be held prior to the eucharist on the Lord’s Day (DIDACHE 14: 1). These practices had the effect of enforcing the standards of holiness cherished by the community members. No one could keep coming week after week and repeatedly confess the same failing. Thus, for a community out of step with the rest of society, the confession of failings served to recall both backsliders and forgetters to the perfection to which they were called at the time of their preparation for baptism.
Rather than be a pseudocommunity that avoided conflict, the community of the DIDACHE trained its members to supportively judge and to boldly reconcile (DIDACHE 4: 3 and 15: 3). No specific class of persons was exclusively assigned to these tasks. Functions vital to all were wisely set out as incumbent upon all. The DIDACHE community was not leaderless, but, if it was going to become a real community, it had to be a community in which everyone was prepared to supportively judge and to boldly reconcile. Thus every novice being trained for community living was trained to get ready: “You will judge justly; you will not take into account social status when it comes time to reprove against failings” (DIDACHE 4: 3).
Only a community that knows how to confront the evil within its own midst can be taken seriously. Only the community that knows how to stimulate and to enable its own members to be perfected in clearly defined standards of excellence can expect to permanently diminish evil without maintaining a police force. The eucharist of the DIDACHE, therefore, served not only to evoke the hope of the future Kingdom; it served also to stimulate practical processes whereby the holiness necessary for entrance into the Kingdom would be sustained and enlarged. The weight and the promise of the eucharistic meal thus overflowed into bringing the anticipated Kingdom closer at hand. The practical wisdom of the framers of the DIDACHE is that they knew how to light a small candle rather than to curse the darkness.
In the church, you
will confess in full
your failings, and you
will not go to your
prayer with a bad
DIDACHE 14:1-3[And] according to the divinely instituted day of the
Lord, having been gathered together, break bread and
eucharistize, having beforehand confessed in full your
failings, so that your sacrifice may be pure. [And]
everyone having a conflict with (his) companion, do
not let him/her come together with you until they be
reconciled, in order that your sacrifice may not be
defiled. For this is the thing having been said by the
Lord: “In every place and time, offer to me a pure sacrifice,
because a great king am I,” says the Lord, “and
my name is wondrous among the gentiles.”
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Aaron Milavec holds a doctorate in Systematic and Historical Theology, with a concentration in New Testament studies, from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA). He has been a seminary professor for twenty-five years, and currently serves as Chair of the new program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature, The Didache in Context: 50-90 CE. His resource and discussion board can be found at www.Didache.info
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