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L'Ancien Testament dans l'ecclésiologie des Pères: Une lecture des Constitutions Apostoliques (review)
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Reviewed by
Joseph G. Mueller L'Ancien Testament dans l'ecclésiologie des Pères: Une lecture des Constitutions Apostoliques Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia 41 Turnhout: Brepols, 2004 Pp. 634.

Anyone setting out to determine the positions peculiar to the Apostolic Constitutions has chosen a daunting task, as this long dissertation by Joseph G. Mueller demonstrates. The Apostolic Constitutions purport to be direct instructions on church order, worship, and belief proposed jointly by the apostles themselves. They integrate and build upon three major sources: the Didascalia Apostolorum, the Didache, and what is generally referred to as the Traditio Apostolica; therefore, in order to sort out what the position of the redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions is on any matter, one needs to distinguish the redactional material from the various source materials. This task is made more difficult by the fact that for the Didascalia and the Traditio, we do not possess a Greek text that we [End Page 111] can reasonably suppose matches what the redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions had before him; instead, we have texts in various languages that certainly correspond to the contents and order of the redactor's sources but cannot confirm their exact wording as he found it. Therefore, some of the differences between these sources and the Constitutions probably throw little or no light on the redactor's intent.

Mueller takes these problems on because he wants to understand the ecclesiology of the redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions as it may be distinguished from those found in their sources. He believes that he can show a significant though sometimes subtle difference in the way that the redactor uses the Old Testament in ecclesiological contexts, a difference that was intended to make the teachings of the Constitutions more adequate to the changed church situation of the late fourth century. In order to test and strengthen his overall thesis, Mueller examines two areas of church life in greater depth, areas in which his case can be made most clearly: the theology of the presbyterate is one, the discipline of penance the other. The main (but by no means the only) points which he finds are a greater distinction and subordination in the church hierarchy along with a loss of a sense of collegiality between presbyters and bishops, and a gentler, more judicious approach to penitence.

The various elements of Mueller's argument are inextricably linked. He shows that the redactor of the Apostolic Constitutions makes a much fuller use of Old Testament typology and examples than do his source documents. In particular, what Mueller calls the "typology of the tent" in Numbers 18 contributes to an ecclesiology of ministries that fits the late fourth century better than the simpler paradigm found in the redactor's source, the Didascalia Apostolorum. The redactor gives special treatment to the "second law," that given after the episode of the golden calf. Whereas earlier Christian texts had found little or no positive use for these prescriptions, the Apostolic Constitutions allow them to be validated for Christian use by the action of the incarnate Word of God. The Constitutions also make much greater use of both positive and negative examples from the Old Testament in connection with both ministry and penitential discipline. Mueller attributes this increased use of the Old Testament to the peculiar demands of the problem of updating church discipline in the absence of a strong role for the Holy Spirit, who, in the pneumatomachian theology of the redactor, is frankly a creature. (This was not evident in earlier editions of the Apostolic Constitutions but only came to light in Marcel Metzger's edition for "Sources chrétiennes"; Metzger showed the evidence for systematic correction of the manuscripts in favor of Nicene orthodoxy.) Without an active divine Spirit, one must find the authority for change in the constant will of the Father embodied in the Old Testament and transmuted for Christian use by the earthly Jesus.

This is a fascinating thesis that on its face makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I wished that other possibly relevant texts had been given more attention. 1 Clement, which forms part of the Apostolic Constitutions' canon of Scripture (like the Constitutions...