Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: Sec. VII.—On Assembling in the Church
Sec. VII.—On Assembling in the Church.
An Exact Description of a Church and the Clergy, and What Things in Particular Every One is to Do in the Solemn Assemblies of the Clergy and Laity For Religious Worship.
LVII. But be thou, O bishop, holy, unblameable, no striker, not soon angry, not cruel; but a builder up, a converter, apt to teach, forbearing of evil, of a gentle mind, meek, long-suffering, ready to exhort, ready to comfort, as a man of God.
When thou callest an assembly of the Church as one that is the commander of a great ship, appoint the assemblies to be made with all possible skill, charging the deacons as mariners to prepare places for the brethren as for passengers, with all due care and decency. And first, let the building be long, with its head to the east, with its vestries on both sides at the east end, and so it will be like a ship. In the middle let the bishops throne be placed, and on each side of him let the presbytery sit down; and let the deacons stand near at hand, in close and small girt garments, for they are like the mariners and managers of the ship: with regard to these, let the laity sit on the other side, with all quietness and good order. And let the women sit by themselves, they also keeping silence. In the middle, let the reader stand upon some high place: let him read the books of Moses, of Joshua the son of Nun, of the Judges, and of the Kings and of the Chronicles, and those written after the return from the captivity; and besides these, the books of Job and of Solomon, and of the sixteen prophets. But when there have been two lessons severally read, let some other person sing the hymns of David, and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses. Afterwards let our Acts be read, and the Epistles of Paul our fellow-worker, which he sent to the churches under the conduct of the Holy Spirit; and afterwards let a deacon or a presbyter read the Gospels, both those which I Matthew and John have delivered to you, and those which the fellow-workers of Paul received and left to you, Luke and Mark. And while the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters and deacons, and all the people, stand up in great silence; for it is written: “Be silent, and hear, O Israel.” 2831 And again: “But do thou stand there, and hear.” 2832 In the next place, let the presbyters one by one, not all together, exhort the people, and the bishop in the last place, as being the commander. Let the porters stand at the entries of the men, and observe them. Let the deaconesses also stand at those of the women, like shipmen. For the same description and pattern was both in the tabernacle of the testimony and in the temple of God. 2833 But if any one be found sitting out of his place, let him be rebuked by the deacon, as a manager of the foreship, and be removed into the place proper for him; for the Church is not only like a ship, but also like a sheepfold. For as the shepherds place all the brute creatures distinctly, I mean goats and sheep, according to their kind and age, and still every one runs together, like to his like; so is it to be in the Church. Let the young persons sit by themselves, if there be a place for them; if not, let them stand upright. But let those that are already stricken in years sit in order. For the children which stand, let their fathers and mothers take them to them. Let the younger women also sit by themselves, if there be a place for them; but if there be not, let them stand behind the women. Let those women which are married, and have children, be placed by themselves; but let the virgins, and the widows, and the elder women, stand or sit before all the rest; and let the deacon be the disposer of the places, that every one of those that comes in may go to his proper place, and may not sit at the entrance. In like manner, let the deacon oversee the people, that nobody may whisper, nor slumber, nor laugh, nor nod; for all ought in the church to stand wisely, and soberly, and attentively, having their attention fixed upon the word of the Lord. After this, let all rise up with one consent, and looking towards the east, after the catechumens and penitents are gone out, pray to God eastward, who ascended up to the heaven of heavens to the east; remembering also the ancient situation of paradise in the east, from whence the first man, when he had yielded to the persuasion of the serpent, and disobeyed the command of God, was expelled. As to the deacons, after the prayer is over, let some of them attend upon the oblation of the Eucharist, ministering to the Lords body with fear. Let others of them watch the multitude, and keep them silent. But let p. 422 that deacon who is at the high priests hand say to the people, Let no one have any quarrel against another; let no one come in hypocrisy. Then let the men give the men, and the women give the women, the Lords kiss. But let no one do it with deceit, as Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss. After this let the deacon pray for the whole Church, for the whole world, and the several parts of it, and the fruits of it; for the priests and the rulers, for the high priest and the king, and the peace of the universe. After this let the high priest pray for peace upon the people, and bless them, as Moses commanded the priests to bless the people, in these words: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, 2834 and give thee peace.” 2835 Let the bishop pray for the people, and say: “Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thine inheritance, which Thou hast obtained with the precious blood of Thy Christ, and hast called a royal priesthood, and an holy nation.” 2836 After this let the sacrifice follow, the people standing, and praying silently; and when the oblation has been made, let every rank by itself partake of the Lords body and precious blood in order, and approach with reverence and holy fear, as to the body of their king. Let the women approach with their heads covered, as is becoming the order of women; but let the door be watched, lest any unbeliever, or one not yet initiated, come in. 2837
Of Commendatory Letters in Favour of Strangers, Lay Persons, Clergymen, and Bishops; And that Those Who Come into the Church Assemblies are to Be Received Without Regard to Their Quality.
LVIII. If any brother, man or woman, come in from another parish, bringing recommendatory letters, let the deacon be the judge of that affair, inquiring whether they be of the faithful, and of the Church? whether they be not defiled by heresy? and besides, whether the party be a married woman or a widow? And when he is satisfied in these questions, that they are really of the faithful, and of the same sentiments in the things of the Lord, let him conduct every one to the place proper for him. And if a presbyter comes from another parish, let him be received to communion by the presbyters; if a deacon, by the deacons; if a bishop, let him sit with the bishop, and be allowed the same honour with himself; and thou, O bishop, shalt desire him to speak to the people words of instruction: for the exhortation and admonition of strangers is very acceptable, and exceeding profitable. For, as the Scripture says, “no prophet is accepted in his own country.” 2838 Thou shalt also permit him to offer the Eucharist; but if, out of reverence to thee, and as a wise man, to preserve the honour belonging to thee, he will not offer, at least thou shalt compel him to give the blessing to the people. But if, after the congregation is sat down, any other person comes upon you of good fashion and character in the world, whether he be a stranger, or one of your own country, neither do thou, O bishop, if thou art speaking the word of God, or hearing him that sings or reads, accept persons so far as to leave the ministry of the word, that thou mayest appoint an upper place for him; but continue quiet, not interrupting thy discourse, nor thy attention. But let the brethren receive him by the deacons; and if there be not a place, let the deacon by speaking, but not in anger, raise the junior, and place the stranger there. And it is but reasonable that one that loves the brethren should do so of his own accord; but if he refuse, let him raise him up by force, and set him behind all, that the rest may be taught to give place to those that are more honourable. Nay, if a poor man, or one of a mean family, or a stranger, comes upon you, whether he be old or young, and there be no place, the deacon shall find a place for even these, and that with all his heart; that, instead of accepting persons before men, his ministration towards God may be well-pleasing. The very same thing let the deaconess do to those women, whether poor or rich, that come unto them.
That Every Christian Ought to Frequent the Church Diligently Both Morning and Evening.
LIX. When thou instructest the people, O bishop, command and exhort them to come constantly to church morning and evening every day, and by no means to forsake it on any account, but to assemble together continually; neither to diminish the Church by withdrawing themselves, and causing the body of Christ to be without its member. For it is not only spoken concerning the priests, but let every one of the laity hearken to it as concerning himself, considering that it is said by the Lord: “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” 2839 Do not you therefore scatter yourselves abroad, who are the members of Christ, by not assembling together, since you have Christ your head, according to His promise, present, and communicating to you. 2840 Be not careless of yourselves, p. 423 neither deprive your Saviour of His own members, neither divide His body nor disperse His members, neither prefer the occasions of this life to the word of God; but assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lords house: in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day. And on the day of our Lords resurrection, which is the Lords day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent Him to us, and condescended to let Him suffer, and raised Him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection, on which we pray thrice standing in memory of Him who arose in three days, in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the Gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food?
The Vain Zeal Which the Heathens and Jews Show in Frequenting Their Temples and Synagogues is a Proper Example and Motive to Excite Christians to Frequent the Church.
LX. And how can he be other than an adversary to God, who takes pains about temporary things night and day, but takes no care of things eternal? who takes care of washings and temporary food every day, but does not take care of those that endure for ever? How can such a one even now avoid hearing that word of the Lord, “The Gentiles are justified more than you?” 2841 as He says, by way of reproach, to Jerusalem, “Sodom is justified rather than thou.” For if the Gentiles every day, when they arise from sleep, run to their idols to worship them, and before all their work and all their labours do first of all pray to them, and in their feasts and in their solemnities do not keep away, but attend upon them; and not only those upon the place, but those living far distant do the same; and in their public shows all come together, as into a synagogue: in the same manner those which are vainly called Jews, when they have worked six days, on the seventh day rest, and come together into their synagogue, never leaving nor neglecting either rest from labour or assembling together, while yet they are deprived of the efficacy of the word in their unbelief, nay, and of the force of that name Judah, by which they call themselves,—for Judah is interpreted Confession,—but these do not confess to God (having unjustly occasioned the suffering on the cross), so as to be saved on their repentance;—if, therefore, those who are not saved frequently assemble together for such purposes as do not profit them, what apology wilt thou make to the Lord God who forsakest His Church, not imitating so much as the heathen, but by such thy absence growest slothful, or turnest apostate, or actest wickedness? To whom the Lord says by Jeremiah: “Ye have not kept my ordinances; nay, ye have not walked according to the ordinances of the heathen, and you have in a manner exceeded them.” 2842 And again: “Israel has justified his soul more than treacherous Judah.” 2843 And afterwards: “Will the Gentiles change their gods which are not gods? 2844 Wherefore pass over to the isles of Chittim, and behold, and send to Kedar, and observe diligently whether such things have been done. For those nations have not changed their ordinances; but,” says He, “my people has changed its glory for that which will not profit.” 2845 How, therefore, will any one make his apology who has despised or absented himself from the church of God?
That We Must Not Prefer the Affairs of This Life to Those Which Concern the Worship of God.
LXI. But if any one allege the pretence of his own work, and so is a despiser, “offering pretences for his sins,” let such a one know that the trades of the faithful are works by the by, but the worship of God is their great work. Follow therefore your trades as by the by, for your maintenance, but make the worship of God your main business; as also our Lord said: “Labour not for the meat which perishes, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life.” 2846 And again: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” 2847 Endeavour therefore never to leave the Church of God; but if any one overlooks it, and goes either into a polluted temple of the heathens, or into a synagogue of the Jews or heretics, what apology will such a one make to God in the day of judgment, who has forsaken the oracles of the living God, and the living and quickening oracles, such as are able to deliver from eternal punishment, and has gone into an house of demons, or into a synagogue of the murderers of Christ, or the congregation of the wicked?—not hearkening unto him that says: “I have hated the congregation of the wicked, and I will not enter with the ungodly. I have not sat with the assembly of vanity, neither will I sit with the ungodly.” 2848 And again: “Blessed is the p. 424 man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law will he meditate day and night.” 2849 But thou, forsaking the gathering together of the faithful, the Church of God, and His laws, hast respect to those “dens of thieves,” calling those things holy which He has called profane, and making such things unclean which He has sanctified. And not only so, but thou already runnest after the pomps of the Gentiles, and hastenest to their theatres, being desirous to be reckoned one of those that enter into them, and to partake of unseemly, not to say abominable words; not hearkening to Jeremiah, who says, “O Lord, I have not sat in their assemblies, for they are scorners; but I was afraid because of Thy hand;” 2850 nor to Job, who speaks in like manner, “If I have gone at any time with the scornful; for I shall be weighed in a just balance.” 2851 But why wilt thou be a partaker of the heathen oracles, which are nothing but dead men declaring by the inspiration of the devil deadly things, and such as tend to subvert the faith, and to draw those that attend to them to polytheism? Do you therefore, who attend to the laws. of God, esteem those laws more honourable than the necessities of this life, and pay a greater respect to them, and run together to the Church of the Lord, “which He has purchased with the blood of Christ, the beloved, the first-born of every creature.” 2852 For this Church is the daughter of the Highest, which has been in travail of you by the word of grace, and has “formed Christ in you,” of whom you are made partakers, and thereby become His holy and chosen members, “not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but as being holy and unspotted in the faith, ye are complete in Him, after the image of God that created you.” 2853
That Christians Must Abstain from All the Impious Practices of the Heathens.
LXII. Take heed, therefore, not to join yourselves in your worship with those that perish, which is the assembly of the Gentiles, to your deceit and destruction. For there is no fellowship between God and the devil; for he that assembles himself with those that favour the things of the devil, will be esteemed one of them, and will inherit a woe. Avoid also indecent spectacles: I mean the theatres and the pomps of the heathens; their enchantments, observations of omens, soothsayings, purgations, divinations, observations of birds; their necromancies and invocations. For it is written: “There is no divination in Jacob, nor soothsaying in Israel.” 2854 And again: “Divination is iniquity.” 2855 And elsewhere: “Ye shall not be soothsayers, and follow observers of omens, nor diviners, nor dealers with familiar spirits. Ye shall not preserve alive wizards.” 2856 Wherefore Jeremiah exhorts, saying: “Walk ye not according to the ways of the heathen, and be not afraid of the signs of heaven.” 2857 So that it is the duty of a believer to avoid the assemblies of the ungodly, of the heathen, and of the Jews, and of the rest of the heretics, lest by uniting ourselves to them we bring snares upon our own souls; that we may not by joining in their feasts, which are celebrated in honour of demons, be partakers with them in their impiety. You are also to avoid their public meetings, and those sports which are celebrated in them. For a believer ought not to go to any of those public meetings, unless to purchase a slave, and save a soul, 2858 and at the same time to buy such other things as suit their necessities. Abstain, therefore, from all idolatrous pomp and state, all their public meetings, banquets, duels, and all shows belonging to demons.
Deut. xxvii. 9.421:2832
Deut. v. 31.421:2833
Deut. xxiii. 1. “And in the temple of God” is omitted in one V. ms.422:2834
One V. ms. inserts, “and pity thee: the Lord lift His countenance upon thee.”422:2835
Num. vi. 24, etc.422:2836
Ps. xxviii. 9; Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. i. 19, ii. 9.422:2837
[Note all this as bearing upon the ceremonial of the Latin Mass, which reverses these primitive precepts in divers points.]422:2838
Luke iv. 24; John iv. 44 .422:2839
Matt. xii. 30.422:2840
Matt. xxviii. 20. [Compare vol. i. pp. 185, 186, this series.]423:2841
Ezek. xvi. 52.423:2842
Ezek. v. 7, xvi. 47.423:2843
Jer. iii. 11.423:2844
One V. ms. inserts here, “and elsewhere through another.”423:2845
Jer. 2:11, 10.423:2846
John vi. 27.423:2847
John vi. 29.423:2848
Ps. 26:5, 4.424:2849
Ps. 1:1, 2.424:2850
Jer. xv. 17.424:2851
Job 31:5, 6.424:2852
Vid. Acts xx. 28; Col. i. 15.424:2853
Eph. v. 27.424:2854
Num. xxiii. 23.424:2855
1 Sam. xv. 23, LXX.424:2856
Lev. xix. 26; Deut. xviii. 10.424:2857
Jer. x. 2. [Slaves were bought to be baptized. Elucid., p. 425.]424:2858
Jer. x. 2. [Slaves were bought to be baptized. Elucid., p. 425.]
Next: Sec. VIII.—On the Duty of Working for a Livelihood
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