Secret, Discipline of the
Secret, Discipline of the
SECRET, DISCIPLINE OF THE
Latin, disciplina arcani. A custom prevalent in the early Church, particularly from the 3d to the 5th century, forbidding the divulgence of information concerning the sacred rites and truths.
The term discipline of the secret was first used by the Protestant theologian Jean daillÉ in a work on the writings of pseudo-dionysius (Geneva 1666) and evoked a violent controversy between Canon Emmanuel van Schelstrate and the Protestant W. Ernest Tentzel. In the 19th century it was thought that this custom was prevalent in the primitive Church and was modeled on the pagan mystery religions whose rites and secrets could be shared only with the initiated. But other than a prudential circumspection, no secrecy was imposed; this practice actually began only later with the formal organization of the catechumenate.
The earliest martyrs publicly proclaimed the truths of the faith and the practices of their cult (Pliny, Epist. 10.96); the 3d-century pagan polemicist celsus was extremely well informed with regard to Christian beliefs and practices; and justin martyr unhesitatingly gave details of the Baptismal and Eucharistic Liturgy (Apol.1.61–67). It was in the 4th century that the ceremonies of Baptism were surrounded with an aura of secrecy; this liturgical development grew out of the fact that the Christian rites and beliefs were only gradually revealed to prospective converts. In the homilies of St. Athanasius, cyril of jerusalem, john chrysostom, theodoret of cyr, epiphanius of salamis, basil, and gregory of nazianzus, frequent mention is made of this secrecy that is found in the West with ambrose, zeno of verona, augustine, peter chrysologus, and Pope innocent i. They insisted upon the mysteries of the Christian faith, which do not pertain directly to this world. This discipline was extended to (1) Baptism and Confirmation, the Baptismal Symbol, and the Our Father, and other teachings that were to be communicated to the catechumens only gradually; (2) the rites and formularies of the Eucharist; (3) the sacred Scriptures; (4) the church, for during the ceremonies, the doors of the edifice were kept closed and non-Christians were excluded; and (5) the time, for the solemn initiatory ceremonies were performed during the night.
This practice was surrounded with a casuistry that increased the sensibility of the Church in exercising prudence in the communication of its beliefs and mysteries; but no law is known that enforced this silence on the neophytes, nor is there any indication of an oath or promise of secrecy exacted from the catechumens. After the 5th century only a rapid, perfunctory reference was made by the Fathers to secrecy or silence concerning the truths of faith.
The liturgy retains traces of this custom. In the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern churches, the deacon admonishes the catechumens to leave the church before the Offertory. In the West, this practice was reintroduced in the restored catechumenate.
Bibliography: h. gravel, Die Arcandisciplin (Lingen 1902). p. batiffol, Études d'histoire et de théologie positive. Deuxième serie, L'Eucharistie (9th ed. Paris 1930) 1–41. o. perler, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950–)] 1:667–76. a. zeoli, Storia della chiesa (Brescia 1959–) 1:49–50. h. i. marrou, ed. and tr., À Diognète (Sources Chrétiennes, ed. h. de lubac et al. (Paris 1941–) 33; 1951.