Revisiting the Didachē
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
The interesting lecture, beautifully delivered by Fr Johnatan Farrugia, which initiated the Lectio Augustini series of lectures for this accademic year 2015-2016 at the Augustinian Institute, on Friday 22 January, dealt with theDidachē (Διδαχή), commonly known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.
In this brief early Christian treatise, which the majority of scholars date to the mid late first century, even beforethe New Testament writings, there are some intriguing points that are worth mentioning and analyzing. The first chapter of the Didachē addresses the Two Ways.
In 1.1 we read: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways”. This verse echoes Jesus’ warning to us: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads tolife, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14). How informative is this title especially for our society where relativism is actually eroding the defining line between good and evil!
In 1.2 the Didachē encourages us: “The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbour as yourself; and all things whatsoever you would should not occur to you, do not also do to another”. Do we not here have the basis of what the Matthean Jesus will say: “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:38-39)? Am I, as a Christian, able to recognize the face of God in the people I encounter and live with?
The following line of the Didachē goes: “And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy”. In Matthew 5:44. 46-47 Jesus heartily exhorts us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even theGentiles do the same?” Am I really conscious that it is solely by loving and forgiving my enemies that I can truly say that I am a Christian?
In 1.4 of this early Jewish-Christian pastoral manual text, we find: “Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able”. Jesus tell us thesame in Matthew’s Gospel: “But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on theright cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:39-41. 48). Is my heart free from anger, aggression and revenge? Is it filled with humility, meekness, forgiveness and peace?
The Didachē concludes its first chapter by saying: “But also now concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give”. Before helping someone do I really discern if that person is in real need of help or if s/he is playing the part of the poor to make a living out of my generosity and that of others?
Is it not fruitful then to often revisit the Didachē to live my Christian life adequately?