A Church order, written originally in Greek. The complete text survives only in a Syriac version under the title The Catholic Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and Holy Disciples of Our Saviour. It must have been composed in the first part of the third century in northern Syria. Much of the Greek text can be reconstructed from the first six books of the apostolic constitutions, which embodied the Didascalia. The work is modeled on the didache, the prototype of all Church orders. The arrangement of the content is unmethodical. The author seems to have been a physician and a convert from Judaism. He betrays considerable medical knowledge, but a lack of theological training.
The first chapters are addressed to husbands and wives, and warn against pagan literature and promiscuous bathing (ch. 1–2). There follows canonical legislation for the election of bishops, the ordination of priests and deacons, and the instruction of catechumens (ch. 3). Lenient treatment of the sinner and care for the poor are especially emphasized among the duties of a bishop (ch. 5–8). Chapter 12 describes liturgical meetings and the place of worship: "Let a place be reserved for the presbyters in the midst of the eastern part of the house; and let the throne of the bishop be placed amongst them. Let the presbyters sit with him; but also at the other eastern side of the house let the laymen sit; for thus it is required … that when you stand to pray the rulers may stand first, afterwards the laymen, and then the women; for towards the East it is required that you should pray."
It cautions the Christian not to neglect attendance at the eucharistic service for work or shows. Regulations for widows, deacons, and deaconesses, and Christian charity are followed by an exhortation to bishops to take care of those who are persecuted or imprisoned for the name of Christ. The regular fastdays are set for Wednesday and Friday, but another fast is set from Monday to Saturday preceding Easter. The Didascalia contains more moral instruction and canonical legislation than dogma, though it deals in detail with penance. It teaches, against all rigoristic tendencies, that every sin, even that of heresy, can be forgiven. The writer explicitly numbers adultery and apostasy among the offenses that can be forgiven. There is a well-developed liturgy of public penance, but no private penance. Wherever the author enters into a doctrinal discussion, it is in refutation of Judaism, and especially its ceremonial law. He claims that the Didascalia was written by the Apostles: "When therefore a danger arose that heresies should be in all the Church, we, the twelve Apostles, assembled together in Jerusalem, and considered about what was to be. It pleased us all with one mind, to write the Catholic Didascalia for the assurance of all" (ch. 25).
Bibliography: p. de lagarde, ed., Didascalia apostolorum syriace (Leipzig 1854). m. d. gibson, ed. and tr., Horae Semiticae (London 1903), v.1 The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac, v.2 The Didascalia Apostolorum in English (London 1903). r. h. connolly, Didascalia apostolorum (Oxford 1929). f. x. funk, ed., Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum (Paderborn 1905) 1:1–384. j. harden, tr., The Ethiopic Didascalia (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1920). j. quasten, ed. Monumenta eucharista et liturgica vetustissima (Bonn 1935–37) 34–36, liturgical parts. e. tidner, Sprachlicher Kommentar zur lateinischen Didascalia Apostolorum (Stockholm 1938). p. galtier, Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 42 (Louvain 1947) 315–351, date. k. rahner, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 72 (Vienna 1950) 257–281. j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Md. 1950–) 2:147–152. w. h.c. frend, "Mission, Monasticism and Worship (337–361)," in L'Eglise et l'empire au IVe siècle: Sept exposés suivis de discussions, ed. a. dihle (Genève 1989), ch. 3. m. metzger, "The Didascalia and Constitutiones apostolorum," in The Eucharist of the Early Christians, ed. w. rordorf (New York 1986), 194–219.