Ante-Nicene Christianity: Order of Worship

The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their free will for orphans and widows, poor and needy, prisoners and strangers.

§ 65. The Order of Public Worship.

The earliest description of the Christian worship is given us by a heathen, the younger Pliny a.d. 109, in his well-known letter to Trajan, which embodies the result of his judicial investigations in Bithynia. 1  According to this, the Christians assembled on an appointed day (Sunday) at sunrise, sang responsively a song to Christ as to God, 2 and then pledged themselves by an oath (sacramentum) not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property intrusted to them.

Afterwards (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape).

This account of a Roman official then bears witness to the primitive observance of Sunday,

the separation of the love-feast from the morning worship (with the communion), and the worship of Christ as God in song.

Justin Martyr, at the close of his larger Apology, 3 describes the public worship more particularly, as it was conducted about the year 140.

After giving a full account of baptism and the holy Supper, to which we shall refer again, he continues:

"On Sunday 4 a meeting of all, who live in the cities and villages, is held, and a section from the Memoirs of the Apostles (the Gospels) and the writings of the Prophets (the Old Testament) is read, as long as the time permits. 5 

When the reader has finished, the president, 6 in a discourse, gives all exhortation 7 to the imitation of these noble things.

After this we all rise in common prayer. 8  At the close of the prayer, as we have before described, 9 bread and wine with water are brought.

The president offers prayer and thanks for them, according to the power given him, 10 and the congregation responds the Amen.

Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one, and partaken, and are carried by the deacons to the houses of the absent.

The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their free will,

and this collection is deposited with the president, who therewith supplies orphans and widows, poor and needy, prisoners and strangers, and takes care of all who are in want.

We assemble in common on Sunday because this is the first day, on which God created the world and the light, and because Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples."

Here, reading of the Scriptures, preaching (and that as an episcopal function), prayer, and communion, plainly appear as the regular parts of the Sunday worship; all descending, no doubt, from the apostolic age.

Song is not expressly mentioned here, but elsewhere. 11 

The communion is not yet clearly separated from the other parts of worship. But this was done towards the end of the second century.

The same parts of worship are mentioned in different places by Tertullian. 12

The eighth book of the Apostolical Constitutions contains already an elaborate service with sundry liturgical prayers. 13 

The president was not permanent and the funds were not given to preachers in the orthodox churches:

It is indeed by another kind of death that Montanus and Maximillia are said to have met their end. For the report is, that by the instigation of that maddening spirit both of them hung themselves; not together indeed, but at the particular time of the death of each as the common story goes.

And thus they died, and finished their life like the traitor Judas. Thus, also, the general report gives it that Theodotus-that astonishing person who was, so to speak, the first procurator Note 23 of their so-called prophecy,

Note 23 oi\on e0pi/tropon. Rufinus renders it, "veluti primogenitum prophetiae ipsorum." Migne takes it as meaning steward, manager of a common fund established among the Montanists for the support of their prophets. Eusebius (v. 18) quotes Apollonius as saying of Montanus,

that he established exactors of money, and provided salaries for those who preached his doctrine.


Defining the President Deaconess: Council of Laodicea (343-381)

Canon XI.

Presbytides, as they are called, or female presidents, are not to be appointed in the Church.


Ancient Epitome of Canon XI.

Widows called presidents shall not be appointed in churches.


In old days certain venerable women (presbu/tidej) sat in Catholic churches, and took care that the other women kept good and modest order. But from their habit of using improperly that which was proper, either through their arrogancy or through their base self-seeking, scandal arose.

Therefore the Fathers prohibited the existence in the Church thereafter of any more such women as are called presbytides or presidents.

And that no one may object that in the monasteries of women one woman must preside over the rest, it should be remembered that the renunciation which they make of themselves to God and the tonsure brings it to pass that they are thought of as one body though many; and all things which are theirs, relate only to the salvation of the soul. But for woman to teach in a Catholic Church, where a multitude of men is gathered together, and women of different opinions, is, in the highest degree, indecorous and pernicious.

1 Comp. §17, p. 46, and G. Boissier, De l'authenticité de la lettre de Pline au sujet des Chrétiens, in the "Revue Archéol., " 1876, p. 114-125.

2 "Quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire, Carmenque, Christo, Deo, dicere secum invicem."

3 Apol. l.c. 65-67 (Opera, ed. Otto III. Tom. I. P. I. 177-188). The passage quoted is from ch. 67.

4 th'/ tou' JHlivou legomevnh/ hJmevra/

5 Mevcri" ejgcwrei'

6 JO proestwv", the presiding presbyter or bisbop.

7 ·Th;n nouqesivan kai; paravklhsin.

8 Eujca;" pevmpomen, preces emittimus.

9 Chap. 65.

10 {Osh duvnami" aujtw'/ , that is probably pro viribus, quantum potest; or like Tertullian's "de pectore", and" ex proprio ingenio."Others translate wrongly: totis viribus, with all his might, or with a clear, load voice. Comp. Otto, l.c. 187. The passages, however, in no case contain any opposition to forms of prayer which were certainly in use already at the time, and familiar Without book to every worshipper; above all the Lord's Prayer. The whole liturgical literature of the fourth and fifth centuries presupposes a much, older liturgics tradition.

The prayers in the eighth, book of the Apost. Constitutions are probably among the oldest Portions of the work.

11 Cap. 13. Justin himself wrote a book entitled vyavlth".

12 See the passages quoted by Otto, l.c. 184 sq.

13 B. VIII. 3 sqq. Also VII. 33 sqq. See translation in the "Ante-Nicene Library, " vol. XVII., P. II. 191 sqq. and 212 sqq.



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