Saturday, April 11, 2015

How the early church judged those who sought membership

Apostolic Traditions was written by Hippolytus who feared the church was straying from tradition and falling into heresy and false doctrine, so he wanted to record the right way to ordain leaders like bishops and deacons and how to bring in new members. Nothing of the original Greek remains, but there are translations.  This simplified version by Kevin P. Edgecomb  is based on the work of Bernard Botte (La Tradition Apostolique. Sources Chretiennes, 11 bis. Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1984) and of Gregory Dix (The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. London: Alban Press, 1992)

15 Those who are newly brought forward to hear the Word shall first be brought before the teachers at the house, before all the people enter. 2Then they will be questioned concerning the reason that they have come forward to the faith. Those who bring them will bear witness concerning them as to whether they are able to hear. 3They shall be questioned concerning their life and occupation, marriage status, and whether they are slave or free. 4If they are the slaves of any of the faithful, and if their masters permit them, they may hear the Word. If their masters do not bear witness that they are good, let them be rejected. 5If their masters are pagans, teach them to please their masters, so that there will be no blasphemy.

6If a man has a wife, or a woman has a husband, let them be taught to be content, the husband with his wife, and the wife with her husband. 7If there is a man who does not live with a woman, let him be taught not to fornicate, but to either take a wife according to the law, or to remain as is.

8If there is someone who has a demon, such a one shall not hear the Word of the teacher until purified.

16 They will inquire concerning the works and occupations of those are who are brought forward for instruction. 2If someone is a pimp who supports prostitutes, he shall cease or shall be rejected. 3If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. 4If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. 5If someone teaches children (worldly knowledge), it is good that he cease. But if he has no (other) trade, let him be permitted. 6A charioteer, likewise, or one who takes part in the games, or one who goes to the games, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. 7If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. 8If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. 9A military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. 10If someone is a military governor,a or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. 11The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. 12The prostitute, the wanton man, the one who castrates himself, or one who does that which may not be mentioned, are to be rejected, for they are impure. 13A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. 14An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreamsb, or a charlatanc, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected. 15If someone's concubine is a slave, as long as she has raised her children and has clung only to him, let her hear. Otherwise, she shall be rejected. 16The man who has a concubine must cease and take a wife according to the law. If he will not, he shall be rejected.

17 Catechumens will hear the word for three years. 2Yet if someone is earnesta and perseveres well in the matter, it is not the time that is judged, but the conduct.

a Lit. has the authority of swords
b Other ancient authorities add or one who clips the fringes of garments,
c Lit., one who stirs up the people


Given the lax standards of today it is amazing that the persecuted and outlawed church of the third century would not accept people who would not change their lifestyle or profession in preference for sinning. And they needed witnesses—which many churches still recommend . . such as a god parent or sponsor. Military leaders were to defy orders. Political leaders were not welcome to take instruction. Gladiators had to give up their jobs. Slaves, however, could become Christians and by their witness might convert their masters, but not magicians or those in the occult who wouldn’t give it up. Sexual immorality (prostitute, wanton man, the castrated, and one “who does that which may not be mentioned”) was enough to cause rejection—and I don’t see an exception for giving up the practice. A faithful concubine, however, could be accepted in the fellowship, but the man had to give up his concubine or make her a wife.

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