Apostolic Constitutions

For a kind of decree issued by the Pope, see Apostolic constitution.
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The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Latin: Constitutiones Apostolorum) is a Christian collection of eight treatises which belongs the Church Orders, a genre of early Christian literature, that offered authoritative "apostolic" prescriptions on moral conduct, liturgy and Church organization.[1] The work can be dated from 375 to 380 AD. The provenance is usually regarded as Syria, probably Antioch.[2] The author is unknown, even if since James Ussher it was considered to be the same author of the letters of Pseudo-Ignatius, perhaps the 4th-century Eunomian bishop Julian of Cilicia.[3]


The Apostolic Constitutions contains eight treatises on Early Christian discipline, worship, and doctrine, intended to serve as a manual of guidance for the clergy, and to some extent for the laity. It purports to be the work of the Twelve Apostles, whose instructions, whether given by them as individuals or as a body.

The structure of the Apostolic Constitutions can be summarized:[4]

The best manuscript[5] has Arian leanings, which are not found in other manuscripts because this material would have been censured as heretical.[3]

The Apostolic Constitutions is an important source for the history of the liturgy in the Antiochene rite. It contains an outline of an anaphora in book two, a full anaphora in book seven (which is an expansion of the one found in the Didache), and the complete Liturgy of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions, which is the oldest known form that can be described as a complete divine liturgy.


In antiquity, the Apostolic Constitutions were mistakenly supposed to be gathered and handed down by Clement of Rome, the authority of whose name gave weight to more than one such piece of early Christian literature (see also Clementine literature).

The Church seems never to have regarded this work as of undoubted Apostolic authority. The Apostolic Constitutions were rejected as canonical by the Decretum Gelasianum. The Quinisext Council in 692 rejected most part of the work on account of the interpolations of heretics. Only that portion of it to which has been given the name Canons of the Apostles was received in the Eastern Christianity. Even if not regarded as of certain Apostolic origin, however, in antiquity the Apostolic Constitutions were held generally in high esteem and served as the basis for much ecclesiastical legislation. The Apostolic Constitutions were accepted as canonical by John of Damascus and, in a modified form, included in the 81 book canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Even if the text of the Apostolic Constitutions was extant in many libraries during the Middle Age, it was almost unknown. In 1546 a Latin version of a text was found in Crete and published. The first complete edition of the Greek text was printed in 1563 by Turrianus.[6]

William Whiston in the 18th century devoted the third volume of his Primitive Christianity Revived to prove that "they are the most sacred of the canonical books of the New Testament; "for "these sacred Christian laws or constitutions were delivered at Jerusalem, and in Mount Sion, by our Saviour to the eleven apostles there assembled after His resurrection."

Today the Apostolic Constitutions are of the highest value as a historical document, as they reveal the moral and religious conditions, as well as the liturgical observances of 3rd and 4th centuries. They are part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection.

Canons of the Apostles

The forty-seventh and last chapter of the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions contains the eighty-five Canons of the Apostles, which present themselves as being from an apostolic Council at Antioch. These canons were later approved by the Eastern Council in Trullo in 692 but rejected by Pope Constantine. In the Western Church only fifty of these canons circulated, translated in Latin by Dionysius Exiguus on about 500 AD, and included in the Western collections and afterwards in the Corpus Juris Canonici.

Canon n. 85 is a list of canonical books:[7] a 46-book Old Testament canon which essentially corresponds to that of the Septuagint, 26 books of what is now the New Testament (excludes Revelation), the Didache, two Epistles of Clement, and the Apostolic Constitutions themselves, also here attributed to Clement, at least as compiler.

Epitome of the eighth book

It is also known an epitome usually named Epitome of the eighth Book of the Apostolic Constitutions (or sometime titled The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles concerning ordination through Hippolytus or simply The Constitutions through Hippolytus) containing a re-wording of chapters 1-2, 4-5, 16-28, 30-34, 45-46 of the eighth book.[8] The text was first published by Paul de Lagarde in 1856 and later by Franz Xaver von Funk in 1905.[9] This epitome could be a later extract even if in parts it looks nearer to the Greek original of the Apostolic Tradition, from which the 8th book is derived, than the Apostolic Constitutions themselves.

See also


  1. Bradshaw, Paul F. (2002). The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press. pp. 73ss. ISBN 978-0-19-521732-2.
  2. Bradshaw, Paul F. (2002). The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press. pp. 85–87. ISBN 978-0-19-521732-2.
  3. 1 2 Jasper, Ronald Claud Dudley; Cuming, G. J. (1990). Prayers of the Eucharist: early and reformed. Liturgical Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-8146-6085-0.
  4. Woolfenden, Gregory W. (2004). Daily liturgical prayer: origins and theology. Ashgate Publishing. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7546-1601-6.
  5. Vatican gr 1506
  6. "Apostolical constitutions". Encyclopaedic Dictionary Of Christian Antiquities. 1. Concept Publishing Company. 2005. p. 119. ISBN 978-81-7268-111-1.
  7. Michael D. Marlowe. "The "Apostolic Canons" (about A.D. 380)". Bible Research. Archived from the original on 29 August 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  8. Easton, Burton Scott (1934). The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. Cambridge. p. 13.
  9. von Funk, Franz Xaver (1905). Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum. 2. Panderborn.

External links

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Apostolic Constitutions". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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