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Egyptian Church Ordinance

Early Christian collection of thirty-one canons regulating ordinations, the liturgy, and other main features of church life

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Egyptian Church Ordinance, an early Christian collection of thirty-one canons regulating ordinations, the liturgy, and other main features of church life. It is called Egyptian because it first became known to the Western world in languages connected with Egypt. In 1677 the Dominican Wansleben first gave a brief account of these canons, which were found in the “Synodos”, or what may be called the Ethiopic “Corpus Juris”. In 1691 Ludolf published a fragment of this Ethiopic collection and added a Latin translation. In 1895 a further fragment, i.e. to the end of the ordination prayer for deacons, was published in German by Franz Xaver von Funk. In 1848 H. Tattam published all the canons in Bohairic (Lower Egyptian) with English translation. In 1883 Lagarde published the same canons in Sahidic (Upper Egyptian) from an excellent manuscript of A.D. 1006. This text was translated into German by G. Steindorff and this translation was published by H. Achelis (Harnack, “Texte and Untersuchungen”, VI, 4). In 1900 E. Hauler discovered a very ancient Latin translation in a manuscript of the fifth or sixth century. This translation is of great value because it apparently is slavishly literal, and it contains the liturgical prayers, which are omitted in the Bohairic and Sahidic. The original text, though not yet found, was doubtlessly Greek.

The Egyptian Church Order is never found by itself, but is part of the Pseudo-Clementine Legal Hexa- or Octateuch in the form in which it was current in Egypt. In Hauler’s Latin “Fragmenta Veronensia” (Leipzig, 1900) the order is: Didascalia, Apostolic Church Order, Egyptian Church Order, Book VIII of the Apost. Constit; in the Syrian Octateuch, “The Testament of the Lord”, Apostolic Church Order, “On Ordinations” (by Hippolytus), Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Canons; in the Egyptian Heptateuch, Apostolic Church Order, Egyptian Church Order (or Ordinance), Book VIII Apost. Constit., Apostolic Canons. The Egyptian Church Order is one of a chain of parallel and interdependent documents, viz. (I) the Canons of Hippolytus, (2) the “Canones per Hippolytum”, (3) “The Testament of the Lord”, (4) Book VIII of Apost. Constit. For some time a scholarly duel has been fought between two eminent men as to the relation between these documents. Document No. 3, “The Testament of the Lord” only came into consideration after its discovery and publication by Rahmani in 1899. H. Achelis strenuously maintained that the “Canones Hippolyti” are the oldest in the series and were written early in the third century; on it, according to him, the other documents depend, the Eighth Book of the Apostolic Constitutions being the latest development. Von Funk maintained the same order of documents as Achelis, only inverting their sequence, beginning with Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions, and ending with the “Canons of Hippolytus”. Gradually, however, Funk’s thesis seems to be winning almost universal acceptance, namely that Book VIII of the Apostolic Constitutions was written about 400, and the other documents are modifications and developments of the same, the Egyptian Church Order in particular having arisen in Monophysite Egyptian circles between the years 400 and 500.


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