For the past month, I have immersed myself in the text and literature of the Didache (AD 70–100). Anticipating leading a group of men at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Click here and here for more details) through its teachings, ethics, and grammatical organization, I have forced myself to become familiar with its material. My fascination with Patristic literature continues to increase as I’m pressed with the thinking, compositional style, and liturgical usefulness of these early generations.
I have been a skeptic of church history and historical theology spawning from a sense of chronological and modernistic snobbery, but have now jettisoned my former ways. Reading primary literature of early Christians aid the interpretation of Scripture, compel us to modify hermeneutical presuppositions, and create a world much larger than we have ever imagined. Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, has provided three reasons why Christians should read early Christian texts, including the Didache, in The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians.
Members of every religious community are always engaged in a process of forgetting some aspects while simultaneously remembering aspects of their past (xiii)
Religious communities—either big or small—form together around a tradition of thought. Christian tradition is dependent upon the early Patristic communities in the recognition and formation of the Christian Canon (contrary to Kruger). We, however, forget aspects of our lineage. Furthermore, we forget the sociological, political, and cultural influences surrounding various Christian communities that helped shaped individual and sectarian traditions. Reading ancient texts aid us in remembering and seeing early communities and their imaginations that invite modern thinkers into their lineage.
History does not stand still (xiv)
New generations approach the texts with different questions, different sociological concerns, a different set of horizons, etc. which, inevitably, lead to change. Each generation seems more progressive than the previous generation because we ask different questions and have different concerns. However, reading church history, namely primary ancient texts, permits the reader to see their own tradition as it once was. They are given, so to speak, a “before” picture so that they can compare it with their current environment. The changes and drift of the modern church are not readily obvious unless compared with a different era in a similar tradition. There is something fascinating with maintaining tradition but there is always something compelling incremental shifts in thinking and philosophy. Studying history invites each reader to see progressive shifts to adequately interpret their own era.
(Why read the Didache as one of many ancient texts) Christianity is an explicitly historical religion (xv)
We are a community that is formed by and consumed with a person of history, Jesus. When we meet to gather, our comradery is centered around a common interest in Jesus and the Scriptures for virtue formation. The Didache is an ancient text depicting a group of second generation Christians. How did another group look to the Scriptures, primarily Matthew and a bifurcating Jewish ethic (i.e. “two-ways”), for their spiritual direction? The Didache helps answer these questions.
Therefore, we look down the line of our tradition to see how our other brothers and sisters formed their ethics, ecclesiological structure, and various theological matters. Christians and Catholics alike should view and read the Didache as a respite of tradition, fixing our progressive shift to an anchor of thought.