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Question

What is the book known as Apostolic Constitutions?

Apostolic Constitutions
Answer


The Apostolic Constitutions is an early Christian instruction manual for worship, doctrine, and practice. It claims an illustrious constellation of authors—all twelve apostles (Matthias replacing Judas), James, and Paul—and tradition claims the work was compiled and edited by Clement of Rome. However, the Apostolic Constitutions is pseudepigraphal, written, compiled, and redacted by an anonymous author or authors, likely in the fourth century AD.

It is unclear how much the editor of the Apostolic Constitutions wrote himself and how much he borrowed from previous Christian writings, though large swaths of the Constitutions seem to be drawn from earlier sources. Many modern scholars believe that the fourth-century editor had Arian sympathies. The Council of Trullo in AD 692 invalidated most of the Constitutions due to the perceived heretical influence, reducing the work’s impact on the church.

The Apostolic Constitutions is divided into eight books. Books 1—6 seem to be drawn from an earlier work called the Didascalia, which itself was a manual on Christian practice. They issue guidance on a wide variety of moral and ecclesiastical issues. Part of Book 7 offers spiritual and moral guidance patterned after the Didache, and the rest is based on Jewish prayer and liturgy. The first part of Book 8 appears to be derived from works by Hippolytus (or works ascribed to Hippolytus). The second part of Book 8 contains the controversial Apostolic Canons, which may be an independent work integrated by the editor. These Canons lay down specific rules for Christian conduct and church organization. Some of the Canons were approved by the Council of Trullo for broad ecclesiastical use.

As a part of the pseudepigrapha, the Apostolic Constitutions is not canonical or authoritative. By misleading the reader as to the nature of its authorship, the Apostolic Constitutions invalidates its own spiritual authority. Its hints of Arianism are also a problem. However, since much of the material was derived from earlier, non-heretical sources, there still may be spiritual insight to be gleaned from the Constitutions. Additionally, the Apostolic Constitutions is of enormous historical value, as it represents some branches of Christian theology and ecclesiology in the third and fourth centuries. Ultimately, the Apostolic Constitutions should be read with the same healthy discernment as any other man-made work.

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What is the book known as Apostolic Constitutions?
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This page last updated: January 25, 2022