Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia

  Schwartz, Daniel L. 2013. Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia. Hellenic Studies Series 57. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

2. Approaching Catechesis

We have now considered Theodore’s life and the circumstances surrounding his education, ecclesiastical career, and writings. Subsequent chapters address three key components of Theodore’s catechesis, but first we must take a step back from Theodore to consider several important factors surrounding the way clergy framed catechesis and the rites of initiation. Many preachers catechized Christian converts and they did so within a cultural and religious context far wider than simply one preacher in one location. This chapter assesses the context in which full initiation into the church took place, the way clergy presented initiation to outsiders, and some of the variety of emphases the teachers of Christian faith presented to those pursuing initiation. [1]

We often hear of Christianity as a proselytizing religion that emphasized the spread of its message of salvation. While in some ways this is indeed an accurate representation of the missionary focus of Christianity, it can easily lead to false impressions of openness and transparency regarding Christian beliefs and practices. In reality, initiated Christians shrouded in secrecy some of their most important distinctive features. Those interested in Christianity but who had not yet been catechized and baptized would have encountered claims of secrecy on a regular basis. A close look at Christian secrecy, however, calls into question the validity of the claim to a well-maintained practice of secrecy. Nevertheless, the persistence of the claim raises important questions about why Christians went to such lengths to insist they kept secrets.

In claiming secrecy, the church fit itself into a broadly held set of expectations regarding religious truth and practice. Religious secrecy recurs as a common feature of a late antique culture in which many religious traditions guarded, or attempted to guard, the rites, myths, or beliefs that they did not want outsiders to know. These traditions regularly constructed dramatic rites of initiation designed to overawe initiates and produce lifelong devotees to the cult. Both these claims to secrecy and the dramatic educational and cultic mechanisms used to reveal these secrets served the purpose of maintaining boundaries and lending authority to the officials who presided over the rites. Christian attempts to appropriate secrecy and the dramatic revelation of secrets provide an important backdrop for the consideration of what it meant for a person to approach baptism and catechesis. It also provides critical context for understanding the various rhetorical approaches Theodore and other catechists used in revealing Christian secrets. While preachers crafted different strategies to disclose the beliefs and practices of the church, they all used catechesis as a dramatic liminal period in which to impart what they understood as uniquely Christian truths essential for proper insiders within the community.

The Disciplina Arcani

“Let none of the catechumens be present; none of the uninitiated; none of those who are not able to pray with us. Take note of one another! The doors!” [2] This exclamation of the deacon marks a turning point in the fourth-century version of the liturgy of St. James. With this cry, the public portion of the weekly service ended and, from that point on, only those who had been properly initiated into the church through catechism and baptism were allowed to remain. The Apostolic Constitutions urged the clergy to follow the proper procedure for insuring the secrecy of the service after the uninitiated left: “Let the sub-deacons stand at the door of the men and the deacons at the door of the women, so that no one may depart and the door may not be opened at the time of the offering, even if it is one of the faithful.” [3] In short, it was preferable to exclude fully initiated Christians from the secret portions of the service than to run the risk of disclosing the mysteries even to catechumens, some of whom may have regularly attended the public portion of the liturgy for years. What could motivate such a rigorous exclusivity? The question is particularly interesting given the frequency with which Christians and their scriptures spoke in universal and inclusive terms about the availability of Christian salvation. Insofar as fourth-century Christian authors give both the idea of secrecy and the idea of universality some of its fullest expression of the late antique period, they will provide the basis for the present analysis.

Early Christians developed this and other themes from Christian scriptures in articulating a rather extensive maintenance of Christian secrecy. [7] The Didache, already by the turn of the second century, cited the Gospel of Matthew as the impetus for preserving the secrecy of the eucharistic meal. [8] “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” [9] Here, the most cherished components of the Christian cult are the pearls and the swine are, of course, unbelievers. The author of the Didache expresses the concern that unbelievers will not only mistreat the holy things of the Christian liturgy but might also use the knowledge of these things against believers in some unspecified way. Likewise, Athanasius used Matthew 7.6 to critique his so-called Arian opponents, writing, “And they are not ashamed to parade the sacred mysteries before Catechumens, and worse than that, even before heathens … We ought not then to parade the holy mysteries before the uninitiated, lest the heathen in their ignorance deride them, and the Catechumens being over-curious be offended.” [10] Others focused more on the harm that might come to one who learns about the eucharistic meal without proper initiation. [11] They appealed to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11.29. In teaching about the Lord’s Supper, Paul warned, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” The implication drawn from this passage was that the clergy had an obligation to keep the elements of the sacred meal away from unbelievers, because if they were to eat without “discerning” the body, they would run the risk of divine judgment.

John Chrysostom struggled to explain the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15.29 to his congregation without divulging the creedal formula used in the baptismal rite:

Even the golden-mouthed preacher preferred this sort of inelegance to the premature disclosure of the church’s mysteries. Cyril of Jerusalem urged caution with respect to matters of Christian theology. He warned the catechumens that it was unsafe to discuss the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with unbelievers because such ideas ran the risk of causing them harm: “The sun blinds people suffering from poor sight, and those with weak eyes are distressed and blinded by its light; not that the sun of its nature is blinding, but because the human eye cannot look upon it. Similarly, unbelievers, whose sickness is of the heart, cannot look upon the splendor of the Godhead.” [
13] He even insisted that the baptismal candidates refrain from mentioning any of his instructions to the other catechumens. [14] Theodore preached at length about the power of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. He explained how these sacraments joined a person to God and the Christian community. If a person had not been properly catechized, he or she would fail to understand the deeper meaning of the sacred meal and miss its significance to his or her detriment. [15] Thus converts received warnings regarding the mortal danger associated with discussing secret matters with a person not properly prepared by catechesis.

How Secret were the Mysteries?

Julian again appeals to scripture in his critique of Christian practice. He simply mocks the idea that baptism removes sin. If its cleansing ability cannot even remove diseases that afflict only the surface of the skin, how could it possibly reach down into a person’s soul and cleanse the heinous sins that so stain it?

The eucharist also came under Julian’s attack. He touched on this Christian practice while critiquing Christians for their failure to maintain the ancient performance of sacrifices, whether pagan or Jewish. [28] The Christians had so rejected the Jewish cult that they even refused to observe the Jewish feasts:

Julian suggests that he keeps the ancient cultic traditions of the Jews better than do the Christians. How he does this is not entirely clear. Perhaps he refers to his attempts to rebuild the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem. He may also be suggesting that both he and the Jews follow their ancestral cult, whereas the Christians worship in a way that is unprecedented. He clarifies this point later, in the context of discussing Jewish sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem: “You have invented a whole new way of sacrificing that does not need Jerusalem.” [
30] Julian’s critique focuses on the charge of Christian innovation. However, in doing so, he mentions that Christians have a sacrifice of their own, one that does not need the temple of Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the council of Nicaea and the creed promulgated after 325 had become a hugely contentious matter affecting the whole empire. Numerous clergy were exiled and recalled repeatedly throughout the fourth century. The creed itself, particularly the precise terminology of the text, stood at the very heart of the matter. As we will see in chapter three, the recitation of the creed held an important position in the process of initiation and the teaching of the creed received considerable attention. Clergy often warned catechumens not to reveal it to outsiders, even to other catechumens who had not yet been accepted to receive baptism. However, a matter of such importance for imperial politics would not have escaped the attention of administrators for long. Interested parties could hardly have failed to know at least the basic issues at stake, the idea that the controversy dealt with the person of Christ and how Christians were to understand him in relationship to God.

Particularly relevant for the discussion of Christian secrecy, Themistius also showed an understanding of some of the issues at stake in the theological controversy over the incarnation. His Oration 1 was addressed to Constantius and delivered in Ancyra in the year 350. The oration took up the topic of philanthrōpia, the love of humankind. In the relevant passage, Themistius sought to explain how it could be considered good for either God or an emperor to condescend in showing love towards the mass of humanity. In this context, Themistius stated:

The idea that anything other than God derives from him and is, as a matter of necessity, lesser than God, coincides nicely with Constantius’ theological commitments. [
40] Furthermore, commentators agree that this passage very likely refers directly to the contemporary controversy over the Christian understanding of the relationship between God and Christ. [41] Themistius clearly had some understanding of the contentious theological issues that focused on the supposedly secret doctrines of the creed. This awareness is further evidenced by comments made in speeches to Jovian [42] in 365 and to Valens [43] in around 375. In each case, Themistius urged the emperor to adopt a policy of religious toleration in dealing with the various Christian factions within the empire. [44] Themistius clearly had substantial, even if not comprehensive, understanding of important points of Christian difference.

All of this strongly suggests that people, particularly those who would have cared to discover it, would likely have had access to much of the basic information about the secret matters of the church: a statement of faith regarding the divinity of Christ, a ritual bath meant to purify a person from sin, and a ritual meal or symbolic sacrifice. Nevertheless, calls for secrecy and the liturgical practice of secrecy were a regular occurrence in this period. In considering the motivation for maintaining this fiction, we must think about this Christian practice within the broader context of late antique religion.

Inspiring Awe in Late Antique Religion

Interestingly, this discussion follows a description of Lucius’ transformation from an ass back into a human in which Apuleius describes in some detail rites in honor of Isis that would have been part of a secret cult ritual:

This text depicts the ritual enactment of a theophany in which the devotees of the goddess minister to her needs. The description of the rite then rises to a crescendo with the entrance of the members of the cult:

He proceeds to describe these items: an ornate lamp in the shape of a boat, an altar, a golden palm branch, a deformed left hand, a golden fan, and an amphora. The significance of these objects remains unclear in most cases, but the scene obviously amounts to one of absolute sensory overload. The jostling surge of the crowd, the smell of perfume, the deafening rattle of the sistrums, all contribute to an intense atmosphere. Later, when Lucius refuses to disclose the details of his initiation into the cult, he encourages the reader to imagine even more elaborate rites.

This fictional account of a mystery cult in action clearly resonates with other practices of Greco-Roman mystery cults whose adherents participated in secret rituals not disclosed to outsiders. Among these are the Mithraic rites, carried out in dark man-made caves where worshippers encountered an elaborate set of cosmological symbols and the dramatic image of the god Mithras slaying a bull. [51] The rites that took place in these Mithraea led devotees through the grades of “raven,” “male bride,” “soldier,” “lion,” “Persian,” “sun-runner,” and “father,” with each successive elevation effecting a new personal transformation. [52] While the Mithraic rites arose toward the end of the first century AD, the cult of Demeter dated back to the eighth century BC. The Eleusinian mysteries were a fertility cult celebrated annually in the city of Eleusis, just west of Athens. A pair of powerful priestly families in Athens administered the cult, but anyone who was not ritually impure and could afford the fees could be initiated into the cult. [53] This would allow participation in the annual cult, which sought to ensure the return of fertility following the infertility of winter. The rites associated with initiation to the cult seem to have included the ritual search for the goddess Persephone. This act entailed a personal quest for the goddess with the results often described as dramatically transformative: “Blessed are earth-bound mortals who have seen these rites, but the uninitiated, who has no share in them, never has the same lot when dead in misty darkness.” [54] Blessed happiness, particularly in the afterlife, appears consistently in the claims of the initiated: “Beautiful indeed is the Mystery given us by the blessed gods: death is for mortals no longer an evil, but a blessing.” [55] Finally, there is the dramatic participatory rite of the taurobolium associated with the worship of Magna Mater. [56] In this rite, the celebrant was concealed in a pit in the ground covered with perforated boards onto which a bull was led: “When the beast for sacrifice has been brought into position here, they pierce his breast with a hunting spear consecrated to the gods; the vast wound pours forth a stream of steaming blood, and over the bridge of planks below a reeking river gushes out and seethes all around.” [57] The celebrant emerged from the pit, as from a grave, a transformed person, one born again into the world as a new man. The Christian Prudentius offers our only description of this rite. His derisive tone and even the details of the rite he describes call his account into question. Regardless of the specific form of the rite, the taurobolium is well attested in inscriptions, and fourth-century participants in the rites understood it as a ritual of rebirth. [58]

Christian sources also offer glimpses of the way catechesis could captivate a group of catechumens being initiated. The pilgrim Egeria noted in her travel log that those just baptized in Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century received their instruction in the mysteries with a great deal of enthusiasm: “The bishop relates what has been done, and interprets it, and, as he does so, the applause is so loud that it can be heard outside the church.” [59] This instruction, called mystagogy, entails an explanation of baptism and the eucharist to those who have just experienced these rites. Even if Egeria’s description contains some exaggeration, it strongly suggests a significant response, and likely a rather emotional response. Such a clamor surely requires a crowd, and the communal nature of catechesis must not pass unnoticed in this context. Chapter three deals more fully with the community, but suffice it to say here that catechumens underwent initiation in groups and with the assistance of a previously initiated layperson who helped lend credibility to these rites. In disclosing the rituals of baptism and the eucharist, Theodore and Chrysostom both showed a strong inclination toward the dramatic and the participatory. They repeatedly employed the term “awe-inspiring” (Greek phriktos or phrikōdēs; Syriac dḥl), which captures this emphasis nicely. [60] Theodore preached:

Theodore teaches here that the ritual of the eucharist virtually places the person partaking of it in heaven. The rites inspire awe, and Theodore urges his audience to imagine themselves in heaven with Christ through the act of partaking.

At this point, discussions of Christian worship and the mystery religions often turn towards comparison and the sticky questions of influence, genealogy, and syncretism. [62] The important thing to note, however, is that secrecy and the language of personal transformation exists across late antique religious groups. The expectation of an interaction that was both personal and efficacious provides the background for individual religious experience. Furthermore, the use of highly emotive language and rites to punctuate divine encounters has analogues across a broad range of religious traditions. We witness in this context a variety of phenomena emerging from a cultural milieu with an apparent consensus regarding religious secrecy. State and civic cults aside, guarding central religious secrets and employing ritual for disclosing those secrets pervaded late antique religion. Even when the mysteries did not remain entirely secret, an insistence upon secrecy allowed Christians and practitioners of many other cults to assert a claim to a unique status. It helped maintain a distinction between insiders and outsiders. Furthermore, it strengthened the position of the clergy who functioned as the keepers of the secrets and the only official mechanism through which one could receive the key to the divine mysteries. This habit could even serve a proselytizing function with religious communities attempting to increase their appeal by insisting that they have something worth hiding from outsiders. Secrecy was important enough that people pressed the claim to it even when that claim entailed a certain falsehood. As such, the disclosure of those secrets became equally important, and considerable effort went into creating a profound experience of the divine in the rites and even in the process of teaching the rites. It remains to note that these expectations extended to literary sensibilities, which demanded ornate language, [63] as well as public displays of state power presented in similar terms. [64]

This consideration of some of the features of late antique religious initiation more broadly helps us understand the context in which catechumens approached the Christian community for the purpose of being initiated. A certain level of secrecy surrounded Christian belief and worship, and catechumens approached initiation with the expectation of experiencing something profound. The catechists we know of used a wide variety of rhetorical strategies as they approached the task of meeting these expectations. The remainder of this chapter focuses on some of the variety of rhetorical strategies used in catechesis.

Rhetorical Strategies of Catechesis

As clergy negotiated the process of maintaining the boundaries of the community and initiating new Christians, they used the anticipation of the dramatic rites and the tradition of catechetical instruction to produce the maximal impact on the catechumens. These preachers insisted that converts needed more than to have their names placed on the rolls of the church. They needed education and orientation towards Christian worship. In the chapters that follow, we will analyze the catechetical curriculum of Theodore in depth, but here we consider various different approaches catechists took to their sermons.

While John Chrysostom also frequently instructed his catechumens in the doctrine of the creed during their catechetical training, he took a much less systematic approach to the presentation of this material. It seems that his primary strategy to approaching catechesis entailed enfolding the catechumens into a definitively Christian moral world. Chrysostom addressed in detail how Christians should perceive things such as jewelry, spectacles, oracles, drunkenness, leisure, and worldly goods, to name but a few topics of moral concern. In his tenth Baptismal Instruction, Chrysostom was about to instruct the catechumens in the mysteries of the Christian church when he broke off mid-thought to return to the theme that had dominated the previous sermon, the swearing of oaths: “Therefore, I wished to initiate you in all these matters today. But what is happening to me? My concern over your oaths—a concern that makes my soul waste away—does not let me go.” [70] His audience apparently found his concern tiresome; [71] nevertheless, he proceeded to warn them against the error of making oaths. A number of Chrysostom’s moral precepts would have been shared by his contemporaries outside the church, particularly Stoic philosophers. Whatever similarities may have existed between Stoic and Christian ethics, however, Chrysostom emphasized the uniquely Christian nature of proper behavior. The moral conduct of the believer ought to flow from Christian theology and a desire to relate rightly to the God of the creed. Thus he sought to present a thoroughly Christianized moral code without reference to any wider philosophical influences.

We see catechetical preachers using secrecy and emotional language to emphasize the boundary between insiders and outsiders. In doing so, these preachers sought to give their audiences a theological vision of Christianity and their future place within it. Not all of the imaginative tools passed on to catechumens through the catechetical process pertained to the disciplina arcani, and secrecy was not the only important strategy for integrating new initiates. Offering ways of thinking about the world and the place of the Christian within it also provided important means of integration. Two brief examples from catechetical contexts will help to elucidate this point.

The first comes from Augustine’s On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed. The text is actually a letter of Augustine to a young deacon in Carthage named Deogratias. He has been given the charge of teaching catechumens and expresses to Augustine considerable concern regarding his abilities. Although his reputation as a good teacher has already reached Augustine, he fears that he bores his students. Augustine offers a warm response full of encouragement and recommendations for how to approach the process of teaching those uninstructed in Christian doctrine. These were not baptismal candidates, but rather catechumens who wanted instruction in the faith as a way to help them make the decision to seek acceptance into the rank of the competentes, those immediately preparing for baptism. [74] Augustine offers two different ways to address the catechumens based on their level of education and their knowledge of pagan as well as Christian literature. Though the two approaches are distinct, they develop out of the same basic approach. Augustine urges Deogratias to begin the education of his catechetical students with biblical history. In each case, the scheme of creation, fall, God’s covenantal faithfulness, and the advent of Christ gives structure to the lessons he advocates. In this way, the catechumens will encounter all of human history as oriented toward God and, in particular, toward the coming of Christ for the purpose of redemption. [75] For Augustine, the biblical history necessary for teaching catechumens comprises an account of God’s redemptive work from the beginning of time. This story encompassed all of human history. If rightly taught and understood, Augustine believed it would make clear the right choice and urge the catechumen to seek baptism, to secure their position in God’s redemptive work. The aim was to present a powerful mental image of a thoroughly Christian past, present, and future.

Though slightly more modest in the expanse of its vision, a similar attempt to articulate a palpably Christian world can be found in Cyril of Jerusalem’s catechetical sermons. A theme that ties in with a major emphasis of Cyril’s episcopate emerges in these sermons. Jerusalem was ecclesiastically subordinate to its coastal rival Caesarea, and Cyril actively promoted the elevation of Jerusalem as the preeminent see of Palestine. To this end, he focused attention on the biblical history of Jerusalem, the fact that James the brother of Jesus became the first Christian bishop in Jerusalem and, most especially, the presence of the true cross in this city. [76] Cyril also promoted Jerusalem’s central role in the eschatological future of the church, as the place where Christ would come again. [77] Cyril imagined a Jerusalem that held a place of central importance in the Christian story, even to the point of being the center of the world. [78] His promotion of this image featured prominently in his catechetical homilies as well: [79] “Yet one should never grow weary of hearing about our crowned Lord, especially on this holy Golgotha. For others merely hear, but we see and touch.” [80] Cyril singles out the catechumens of Jerusalem as having pride of place. Their relationship to Golgotha and the cross of their messiah should act as a special reminder of the truth of their faith. Golgotha itself offered an apologetic for Christ’s death and resurrection against anyone who might doubt: “For if I should now deny it, Golgotha here, close to which we are now gathered, refutes me; the wood of the Cross, now distributed piecemeal from this place over all the world, refutes me.” [81] Cyril made every attempt to use the presence of the cross in Jerusalem and the spiritual topography of the city for the education of the baptismal candidates. Jan Willem Drijvers is right to point out the political motives of Cyril’s attempts to promote Jerusalem. [82] But that should not diminish our attention to the means he used to accomplish this goal. By stressing the holiness of sites around Jerusalem and their value as mnemonic devices, Cyril presented an image of his catechumen’s immediate surroundings that forcefully declared the validity of Christianity. The success of his approach can be discerned in the esteem given to Jerusalem at the Council of Constantinople in 381, where it was declared “the mother of all churches.” [83]

Each of these collections of sermons accomplished far more than simply furnishing baptismal candidates with information regarding Christological particularities, moral precepts, or the content of the liturgical mysteries. Rather, these preachers carefully crafted comprehensive curricula for initiation into the Christian church. These sets of sermons aimed at a holistic approach to catechesis and initiation. Any attempt to maintain a distinction between doctrine, cult, and ethics breaks down in this context. The preachers structured their catecheses to affect the entirety of the candidates. They aimed to instruct the thoughts, words, and actions of those seeking initiation into the church. They insisted that catechumens needed more than information about the mysteries, even more than the experience of the mysteries. They maintained that candidates needed the preacher to reveal to them, through catechesis, the nature of the Christian life in a controlled and systematic way. Maintaining the rhetorical efficacy of secrecy allowed the clergy to heighten the gravity and profundity of initiation, to punctuate the experience and the material taught, and to do all of this within the structured community of the church.

Nevertheless, whatever an individual might have heard from a disgruntled former Christian or a loose-tongued practitioner of the faith, he or she had not been incorporated into the church by the proper clerical authorities. In this way, it did not matter if the person coming for catechesis knew much or only a little about the mysteries of the Christian church. The clergy made every effort to present catechetical instruction, and the community to which it introduced a person, as a proper initiation and incorporation into a life centered on Christ in heaven and the church. Preachers did not primarily reveal to the catechumens the cognitive content of Christianity, but rather the approaching position of the catechumen in an idealized image of a body of Christians directing their lives towards Christ in the course of corporate worship. Creedal theology, ethics, renunciation of the devil, redemptive history, and sacred geography could each be used in different circumstances to engage catechumens and promote this Christianized image of the world. Catechesis permitted many approaches and, at this point, we turn to the consideration of Theodore’s catechesis and the context in which it took place, the Christian community.


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this material appears as D. L. Schwartz 2011.

[ back ] 2. The Liturgy of St. James 16: Μή τις τῶν καηχοθμένων, μή τις τῶν ἀμυήτων, μή τις τῶν μὴ δυναμένων ἡμῖν συνδεηθῆναι· ἀλλήλους ἐπίγνωτε· τὰς θύρας.

[ back ] 3. Apostolic Constitutions 8.11: Οἱ δὲ ὑποδιάκονοι ἱστάσθωσαν εἰς τὰς τῶν ἀνδρῶν θύρας καὶ αἱ διάκονοι εἰς τὰς τῶν γυναικῶν, ὅπως μή τις ἐξέλθοι μήτε ἀνοιχθείη ἡ θύρα, κἂν πιστός τις ᾖ.

[ back ] 4. For a summary of this literature, see Perrin 2008; and Stroumsa 1996. Stroumsa nicely treats the way in which scholars have focused on the ritual aspect of this secrecy and downplayed the doctrinal. In the first four centuries, a variety of so-called Gnostic groups claimed secret knowledge as an essential component of the way they understood salvation. Many mainstream Christians denounced this idea as an elitist restriction on the universal offer of salvation explicitly articulated in several esteemed Christian texts. Stroumsa traces the repetition of this idea into the modern period, arguing that scholars have often simply accepted the idea that secrecy of worship was an acceptable Christian position, while secrecy of doctrine should be seen as a pagan or heretical error. One of the main objectives of his book is to emphasize the secrecy of doctrine in the works of Christians within orthodox traditions. In doing so, Stroumsa maintains a division between cult and doctrine, always stressing, against the prevailing interpretive traditions, that mainstream Christian secrecy in Late Antiquity pertained to doctrine as much as to worship. Several times in his work, however, Stroumsa suggests that these two might not be very easy to separate from one another. This chapter develops Stroumsa’s suggestion through a discussion of liturgical secrecy and demonstrates how maintaining a close connection between doctrine and practice is important for understanding how late fourth-century catechesis functioned as a type of revelation of Christian mystery.

[ back ] 5. Mark 4.11–12, citing Isaiah 6.9–10: καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται, ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν, καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν, μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.

[ back ] 6. Cf. Wrede 1901; Kermode 1979; and Oepke on κρύπτω, TDNT 3:957–1000.

[ back ] 7. For a more comprehensive collection of second- to fourth-century texts assuming or advocating the maintenance of Christian secrecy, see Yarnold 1994:54–66.

[ back ] 8. Didache 9.5.

[ back ] 9. Matthew 7.6: Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.

[ back ] 10. Athanasius Defense against the Arians 11.2: καὶ οὐκ αἰσχύνονται ταῦτα ἐπὶ κατηχουμένων, καὶ τό γε χείριστον, ἐπὶ Ἑλλήνων τραγῳδοῦντες τὰ μυστήρια, δέον, ὡς γέγραπται, «μυστήριον βασιλέως καλὸν κρύπτειν», καὶ ὡς ὁ κύριος παρήγγειλε «μὴ δῶτε τὰ ἅγια τοῖς κυσὶ μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων». οὐ χρὴ γὰρ τὰ μυστήρια ἀμυήτοις τραγῳδεῖν, ἵνα μὴ Ἕλληνες μὲν ἀγνοοῦντες γελῶσι, κατηχούμενοι δὲ περίεργοι γενόμενοι σκανδαλίζωνται.

[ back ] 11. Origen Commentary on Matthew 10.25 and 11.14. Cyprian Letters 9.2 and 74.21 express similar concern although not without developing the idea.

[ back ] 12. John Chrysostom Homilies on I Corinthians 40.2: Πρῶτον δὲ ἀναμνῆσαι βούλομαι τοὺς μεμνημένους ὑμᾶς ῥήσεως, ἣν κατὰ τὴν ἑσπέραν ἐκείνην οἱ μυσταγωγοῦντες ὑμᾶς λέγειν κελεύουσι, καὶ τότε ἐρῶ καὶ τὸ τοῦ Παύλου∙ οὕτω γὰρ ὑμῖν καὶ τοῦτο ἔσται σαφέστερον. Μετὰ γὰρ τὰ ἄλλα πάντα τοῦτο προστίθεμεν, ὃ νῦν ὁ Παῦλος λέγει. Καὶ βούλομαι μὲν σαφῶς αὐτὸ εἰπεῖν, οὐ τολμῶ δὲ διὰ τοὺς ἀμυήτους∙ οὗτοι γὰρ δυσκολωτέραν ἡμῖν ποιοῦσι τὴν ἐξήγησιν, ἀναγκάζοντες ἢ μὴ λέγειν σαφῶς, ἢ εἰς αὐτοὺς ἐκφέρειν τὰ ἀπόρρητα. Πλὴν ἀλλ’ ὡς ἂν οἷός τε ὦ, συνεσκιασμένως ἐρῶ.

[ back ] 13. Cyril of Jerusalem Catechesis 6.29: Τυφλοῖ καὶ ὁ ἥλιος τοὺς ἀμβλυωποῦντας·καὶ οἱ ὀφθαλμιῶντες τυφλοῦνται, βλαπτόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ φωτός· οὐχ ὅτι τυφλωτικός [ἐστιν] ὁ ἥλιος, ἀλλ’ ὅτι ἡ ὑπόστασις τῶν ὀμμάτων οὐ βλέπει. Οὕτω καὶ οἱ ἄπιστοι, νοσοῦντες τὰς καρδίας, οὐ δύνανται ἐνιδεῖν τῆς θεότητος ταῖς ἀκτῖσιν.

[ back ] 14. Cyril of Jerusalem Procatechesis 12.

[ back ] 15. Theodore of Mopsuestia WS 6.21–26. Augustine makes a similar point in his Homilies on the Gospel of John 96.3–5; see also Apostolic Constitutions 7.25.

[ back ] 16. Michael Penn (2005) discusses the ways in which the ritual kiss created and reinforced community. Secondary functions of the ritual kiss, such as the demonstration of forgiveness given to a repentant sinner, served to add further meaning to the primary function of defining community. On ritual kissing in early Christianity, see also Phillips 1996.

[ back ] 17. Cf. Matthew 28.19; Didache, 8–10; the Apostolic Tradition 3–4; and the Old Roman Creed. The details of this development are rather difficult to tease out. For a general study of the relevant sources and what they have to say on the topic, see Noakes 1992; Cobb 1992:228; and Bradshaw 2006:101–102.

[ back ] 18. See, in particular, the catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Sermons of Ambrose and Augustine show these preachers falling silent about the details of the mysteries when they happened to come across the topic during a homily. For a more comprehensive collection of third- through fifth-century sources that speak to the matter of the disciplina arcani, see Yarnold 1994:55–59.

[ back ] 19. On rites of passage, see Van Gennep 1960 and Turner 1995.

[ back ] 20. Hall 1973. This presents the prescribed pattern, but deviations from this norm are attested in the sources. Allow a few examples to suffice. Cyprian advocates infant baptism in his Letter 64. Numerous fourth-century bishops comment on the baptism of infants. Their differing opinions of the practice confirm the fact that it was common enough to be a point of contention. Another baptismal option was the practice of baptism at a saint’s shrine or a pilgrimage site associated with a holy man. Theodoret (History of the Monks of Syria 26.13) referred to this practice in discussing the throngs of Arab nomads who received baptism in the presence of Symeon the Stylite. In such cases, catechetical instruction receives minimal attention in the sources.

[ back ] 21. Dix 1954:16–18; Yarnold 1994:55–66; Yarnold 1992:141–142.

[ back ] 22. See, in particular, Day 2001:270.

[ back ] 23. Pliny Letters 1.10.96–97.

[ back ] 24. Justin Martyr First Apology 61, 65–67.

[ back ] 25. Origen Against Celsus 40, 44, 46.

[ back ] 26. Against the Galileans 225: εἰ δὲ ἄλλος ἐστὶν ὁ μονογενὴς υἱὸς, ἕτερος δὲ ὁ θεὸς λόγος, ὡς ἐγώ τινων ἀκήκοα τῆς ὑμετέρας αἱρέσεως, ἔοικεν οὐδὲ ὁ Ἰωάννης αὐτὸ τολμᾶν ἔτι. Cf. also, Libanius Orations 18.178.

[ back ] 27. Against the Galileans 109: «μὴ πλανᾶσθε· οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι, οὔτε μοιχοὶ, οὔτε μαλακοὶ, οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται, οὔτε κλέπται, οὔτε πλεονέκται, οὐ μέθυσοι, οὐ λοίδοροι, οὐχ ἅρπαγες βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσι. καὶ ταῦτα οὐκ ἀγνοεῖτε, ἀδελφοὶ, ὅτι καὶ ὑμεῖς τοιοῦτοι ἦτε· ἀλλ’ ἀπελούσασθε, ἀλλ’ ἡγιάσθητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.» ὁρᾷς, ὅτι καὶ τούτους γενέσθαι φησὶ τοιούτους, ἁγιασθῆναι δὲ καὶ ἀπολούσασθαι, ῥύπτειν ἱκανοῦ καὶ διακαθαίρειν ὕδατος εὐπορήσαντος, ὃ μέχρι ψυχῆς εἰσδύσεται; καὶ τοῦ μὲν λεπροῦ τὴν λέπραν οὐκ ἀφαιρεῖται τὸ βάπτισμα, οὐδὲ λειχῆνας οὐδὲ ἀλφοὺς οὔτε ἀκροχορδῶνας οὐδὲ ποδάγραν οὐδὲ δυσεντερίαν, οὐχ ὕδερον, οὐ παρωνυχίαν, οὐ μικρὸν, οὐ μέγα τῶν τοῦ σώματος ἁμαρτημάτων, μοιχείας δὲ καὶ ἁρπαγὰς καὶ πάσας ἁπλῶς τῆς ψυχῆς παρανομίας ἐξελεῖ;

[ back ] 28. Resumption of sacrifices was one of Julian’s main aims. He actively promoted pagan sacrificial cults that he felt had been neglected and attempted to restore the Temple in Jerusalem. See Sozomen Church History 5.22; Socrates Church History 3.20; Theodoret Church History 3.15; and Bowersock 1978:88–89.

[ back ] 29. Against the Galileans 230: «τηρεῖν ἄζυμα καὶ ποιεῖν τὸ πάσχα οὐ δυνάμεθα» φασίν· «ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν γὰρ ἅπαξ ἐτύθη Χριστός.» καλῶς· εἶτα ἐκώλυσεν ἐσθίειν ἄζυμα; καίτοι, μὰ τοὺς θεοὺς, εἷς εἰμι τῶν ἐκτρεπομένων συνεορτάζειν Ἰουδαίοις, ἀεὶ <δὲ> προσκυνῶν τὸν θεὸν Ἁβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ, οἳ ὄντες αὐτοὶ Χαλδαῖοι, γένους ἱεροῦ καὶ θεουργικοῦ, τὴν μὲν περιτομὴν ἔμαθον Αἰγυπτίοις ἐπιξενωθέντες.

[ back ] 30. Against the Galileans 219: ὑμεῖς δὲ οἱ τὴν καινὴν θυσίαν εὑρόντες, οὐδὲν δεόμενοι τῆς Ἱερουσαλὴμ.

[ back ] 31. Gregory of Nazianzus Orations 4.52. “For no sooner had he inherited the empire than he publicly professed his impiety, as if ashamed of ever having been a Christian, and on this account bearing a grudge against the Christians in whose name he had participated: and the very first of his audacities, according to those who boast of his secret doings, into which details am I forced to enter! with unhallowed blood he rids himself of his baptism, setting up the initiation of abomination against the initiation according to our rite, ‘a swine wallowing in the mire,’ according to the proverb; and he unconsecrates his hands by cleansing them from the bloodless sacrifice by means whereof we are made partakers with Christ, both in His sufferings and in His divinity.”

[ back ] 32. Gregory of Nazianus Orations 4.23. For a fuller discussion of Julian’s education, see Bowersock 1978 23–30.

[ back ] 33. Julian Against the Galileans 76–77.

[ back ] 34. Libanius Orations 18.178: “As winter lengthened the nights, besides many other fine compositions he attacked the books in which that fellow from Palestine is claimed to be a god and a son of god.” There is a brief discussion of this in Julian Against the Galileans 75.

[ back ] 35. See Julian Letter to a Priest for the case of a former Christian bishop recruited by Julian to serve as a local pagan priest.

[ back ] 36. Ambrose lists four faults that result in the revelation of the mysteries: flattery, avarice, boastfulness, and incautious speech, Expositions on the Psalms 118.2.26: “Periculum itaque est non solum falsa dicere, sed etiam uera, si quis ea insinuet quibus non oportet. Quod uitium quadripertitum est, uel adulationis uel auaritiae uel iactantiae uel loquacitatis incautae, quia, dum adulari uult aliquis, ei cui loquitur effundit mysterium; nonnulli etiam studio lucri mercedem proditionis secuntur, ut tegenda silentio uendant loquendo; alii, ut plura nosse uideantur et scientiam suam iactitent, aperiunt quod celare deberent; plerique, dum sine praeiudicio locuntur, uerbum emittunt, quod reuocare non possunt.”

[ back ] 37. Vanderspoel 1995. On the role of rhetoric under Christian emperors, see Kennedy 1983.

[ back ] 38. For a discussion of these references, see Downey1957:262–263 and 1962a.

[ back ] 39. Themistius Orations 1.8b: ἀλλ’ ὅπερ ἔφην, ταῦτα μὲν ἀπαξιοῦμεν τοῦ θεοῦ τὰ ὀνόματα ὡς φαυλότερα καὶ ἐλάττω, φιλάνθρωπον δὲ αὐτὸν καλοῦντες οὐκ αἰσχυνόμεθα. αἴτιον δέ·πέφυκεν ἀνθρώπου διάνοια πᾶν ἔλαττον ἐκείνου νομίζειν, ὃ καὶ ἔν τινι τῶν ἀπ’ ἐκείνου δυνατὸν ἐξευρεῖν. οὕτως οὖν οὐσίαν τε ὑπερούσιον καὶ ὑπερδύναμον δύναμιν καὶ ὑπεράγαθον ἀγαθότητα προστίθησιν ἡ διάνοια τῇ πάντων πηγῇ, ὀκνοῦσα ὅμως καὶ ταῦτα καὶ εὐλαβουμένη τὴν κοινωνίαν τῶν ὀνομάτων. See, also, n34 above and the brief quotation of Libanius Oration 18.178. Even Libanius’ casual comment about Julian’s attack on the Christians indicates at least a vague understanding of the two affirmations that led to the disagreements regarding the person of Christ—namely, that he was understood as “god and the son of god.” Thus even Libanius, who is known for avoiding excessive references to Christianity, knew something about the theology of the new religion.

[ back ] 40. Barnes 1993:168–175.

[ back ] 41. Downey 1962a:484. See, also, Heather and Moncur 2001:85–86n115, as well as 57–68. All agree that Themistius references the Christian theological debates of the fourth century. However, where Downey concludes that Themistius is being sarcastic and effectively mocking the debate, Heather and Moncur see it as the sincere application of Themistius’ philosophical assumptions to the debate. I incline towards the latter interpretation. However, either reading substantiates the point advanced here.

[ back ] 42. Orations 5.69c.

[ back ] 43. This is the lost Oration to Valens. Socrates Church History 4.32 provides a summary of the speech. For the argument demonstrating that the Latin oration is a Renaissance forgery, see Foerster 1990.

[ back ] 44. For a fuller discussion of Themistius’ desired religious policy, see Daly 1971.

[ back ] 45. Yarnold 1994:59–66.

[ back ] 46. On mystery cults in general, see Burkert 1987 and Bowden 2010.

[ back ] 47. Beard, North, and Price 1998, 1:287.

[ back ] 48. Apuleius Metamorphoses 11.23: “Quaeras forsitan satis anxie, studiose lector, quid deinde dictum, quid factum. Dicerem si dicere liceret, cognosceres si liceret audire. Sed parem noxam contraherent et aures et lingua, ista impiae loquacitatis, illae temerariae curiositatis. Nec te tamen desiderio forsitan religioso suspensum angore diutino cruciabo. Igitur audi, sed crede, quae vera sunt.”

[ back ] 49. Apuleius Metamorphoses 11.9: “Mulieres candido splendentes amicimine, vario laetantes gestamine, verno florentes coronamine, quae de gremio per viam qua sacer incedebat comitatus, solum sternebant flosculis; aliae quae nitentibus speculis pone tergum reversis venienti deae obuium commonstrarent obsequium, et quae pectines eburnos ferentes gestu brachiorum flexque digitorum ornatum atque obpexum crinium regalium fingerent.”

[ back ] 50. Apuleius Metamorphoses 11.10: “Tunc influent turbae sacris divinis initiatae, viri feminaeque omnis dignitatis et omnis aetatis, linteae vestis candore puro luminosi, illae limpido tegmine crines madidos obuolutae, hi capillum derasi funditus verticem praenitentes—magnae religionis terrena sidera—aeries et argenteis, immo vero aureis etiam sistris argutum tinnitum constrepentes; et antistites sacrorum procures illi, qui candido linteamine cinctum pectoralem adusque vestigia strictim iniecti potentissimorum deum proferebant insignes exuvias.”

[ back ] 51. Beck 2006:102–104. For photographs of the cave of Mithras at S. Maria Capua Vetere, see Beard, North, and Price 1998, 2:89–90.

[ back ] 52. Beard, North, and Price 1998, 1:285.

[ back ] 53. Mylonas 1961:229–237.

[ back ] 54. Hymn to Demeter 480–482: ὄλβιος ὃς τάδ’ ὄπωπεν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων· ὃς δ’ ἀτελὴς ἱερῶν, ὅς τ’ ἄμμορος, οὔ ποθ’ ὁμοίων αἶσαν ἔχει φθίμενός περ ὑπὸ ζόφῳ εὐρώεντι.

[ back ] 55. Inscription found at Eleusis, translation in Angus 1925:140: ἤι καλὸν ἐκ μακάρων μυστήριον, οὐ μόνον εἶναι τὸν θάντοῖς οὐ κακὸν ἀλλ’ ἀγαθόν.

[ back ] 56. Rutter 1968. For a detailed discussion of the taurobolium with a particular interest in its evolution prior to this description by Prudentius, see Duthoy 1969.

[ back ] 57. Prudentius Peristephanon 10.1026–1030: “Hic ut statuta est inmolanda belua, pecatus sacrato dividunt venabulo; eructat amplum vulnus undam sanguinis ferventis, inque texta pontis subditi fundit vaporum flumen et late aestuat.”

[ back ] 58. Rutter 1968; he also discusses a separate civic function of the rite. See also Beard, North, and Price 1998, 2:162; McLynn 1996:325–328.

[ back ] 59. Travels 47.2: “Disputante autem episcopo singula et narrante, tantae voces sunt collaudantium, ut porro foras ecclesia audiantur voces eorum.”

[ back ] 60. φρικτός, φρικώδης both denote something that causes a person to shiver. Lampe 1961:1490; and Yarnold 1994:60. Various forms of the root ܕܚܠ‎ recur throughout Theodore’s catechesis where they refer to the awe associated with proper worship, Payne Smith 1879, 1:862.

[ back ] 61. WS 6.83; Homélies Catéchétiques 15.125r:

ܟܠ ܐܡܬܝ ܡܟܝܠ ܕܬܫܡܫܬܐ ܕܗܕܐ ܕܒܚܬܐ ܕܚܝܼܠܬܐ ܡܸܫܬܡܠܝܵܐ܆ ܕܓܠܝܐܝܬ ܕܘܡܝܐ ܐܝܼܬܝܗ̇ ܕܨ̈ܒܘܬܐ ܫܡ̈ܝܵܢܝܬܐ. ܗܝ ܕܡܐ ܕܐܬܓܫܪܸܬ ܒܝܕ ܡܸܐܟܘܠܬܐ ܘܡܫܬܝܵܐ܇ ܡܫܬܘܝܢܢ ܠܡܣܒܗ̇ ܥܠ ܐܦܝ̈ ܫܘܬܦܘܬܐ ܫܪܝܼܪܬܐ ܕܛܒ̈ܬܐ ܕܥܬܝ̈ܕܢ܆ ܙ̇ܕܩ ܠܢ ܕܢܨܘܪ ܒܬܪܥܝܼܬܢ ܐܝܟ ܕܒܫܪܓܕ̈ܓܝܬܐ܆ ܕܐܝܟ ܗ̇ܘ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܐܝܼܬܝܢ. ܘܒܝܕ ܗܝܡܢܘܬܐ ܚܙܘܐ ܕܨ̈ܒܘܬܐ ܫ̈ܡܝܢܝܬܐ ܢܪܫܘܡ ܒܡܕܥܢ. ܟܕ ܡܬܪܥܝܢܢ ܕܡܫܝܚܐ ܗ̇ܘ ܕܐܬܘܗܝ ܒܫܡܝܐ܆ ܗ̇ܘ ܕܚܠܦܝܢ ܡܝܼܬ ܘܩܡ݂ ܘܠܫܡܝܐ ܣܠܸܩ. ܗܘ݂ ܐܦ ܡܫܐ .ܒܝܕ ܛܘ̈ܦܣܐ ܗܠܝܢ ܡܬܢܟܣ.

[ back ] 62. See Smith 1990; though slightly dated, this work provides a thorough and helpful overview of many of the methodological problems that have recurred in the study of early Christianity since the Reformation.

[ back ] 63. Roberts 1989.

[ back ] 64. MacCormack 1981.

[ back ] 65. Cyril Procatechesis 6.

[ back ] 66. Cyril Procatechesis 16.

[ back ] 67. Cyril Catechesis 1.2, 5; 3.3.

[ back ] 68. Cyril Catechesis 2.1; 3.8.

[ back ] 69. Cyril Mystagogy 1.1.

[ back ] 70. John Chrysostom Baptismal Instructions 10.3.

[ back ] 71. John Chrysostom Baptismal Instructions 10.3. As if responding to a groan from the crowd, he replied, “And I know that many of you condemn the excess in my language, because you heard me say that my concern makes my soul waste away.”

[ back ] 72. John Chrysostom Baptismal Instructions 9.29. See, also, Kalleres 2002.

[ back ] 73. John Chrysostom Acts of the Apostles 1: Καὶ ἐκεῖνος δὲ πάλιν τότε ὀδυνᾶται πλέον, κἂν ἀνενέγκῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρρωστίας, χαλεπώτερον ἀλγεῖ ὡς ἐπηρεασθείς. Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ οὐ παρεσκεύαστο πρὸς ἀρετὴν, ὀκνεῖ λοιπὸν, καὶ ἀναδύεται πρὸς τοὺς ἀγῶνας τοὺς μετὰ ταῦτα.

[ back ] 74. Augustine On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed 26.50. See the Introduction for a fuller discussion of the terms used for those approaching baptism.

[ back ] 75. Augustine On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed 3.6.

[ back ] 76. Drijvers 2004:153–176.

[ back ] 77. Letter to the Emperor Constantius 6; Drijvers 2004:161–162.

[ back ] 78. Cyril Catechesis 13.28. For more on this topic, see Alexander 1994:104–119.

[ back ] 79. Baldovin (1987:15) counts sixty-seven references to the holy sites of Jerusalem in Cyril’s catechetical sermons.

[ back ] 80. Cyril Catechesis 13.22: καίτοιγε οὐκ ἔστι ποτὲ καμεῖν ἀκούοντας τὰ περὶ τοῦ δεσπότου στεφανουμένου, καὶ μάλιστα ἐν τῷ παναγίῳ τούτῳ Γολγοθᾷ. ἄλλοι μὲν γὰρ ἀκούουσι μόνον, ἡμεῖς δὲ καὶ βλέπομεν καὶ ψηλαφῶμεν.

[ back ] 81. Cyril Catechesis 13.4; translation slightly modified from McCauley and Stephenson 1969 2:6. κἂν γὰρ ἀρνήσωμαι νῦν, ἐλέγχει με οὗτος ὁ Γολγοθᾶς, οὗ πλησίον νῦν πάντες πάρεσμεν. ἐλέγχει με τοῦ σταυροῦ τὸ ξύλον τὸ κατὰ μικρὸν ἐντεῦθεν πάσῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ λοιπὸν διαδοθέν.

[ back ] 82. Drijvers 2004:157–159.

[ back ] 83. Drijvers 2004:176. Of course, Cyril’s catechetical material was simply one portion of this project. For a full account of Cyril’s efforts to elevate the position of Jerusalem, consult Chapter six in Drijvers 2004.

[ back ] 84. Rufinus Church History 11.11.

[ back ] 85. Apostolic Constitutions 2.58.1–3; Sandwell 2007:199; Maxwell 2006:120–121.