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The oldest catechism in Christian history dates from the 1st century


And it’s an anonymous treatise the Church Fathers held in the highest esteem.

According to most scholars, The Didaché (a brief, anonymous Christian treatise, considered to be the oldest Christian catechism in history) was written between the years 65 and 80. Also known as “the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or simply “The Teaching” (Didaché means “teaching” in Greek), the Didaché is a letter belonging to the very first Christian corpus of literary production. It is considered the first and oldest written catechism, and as such has been respected and preserved to this day.

Both the author and the place where the Didaché was written remain unknown. The original text of the Didaché survived in a single manuscript, known as the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Some scholars argue the text was put together by an editor (instead of an author) who might have also written down some teachings directly from apostolic preaching, either in Syria or Egypt. After the text was lost for years, the Metropolitan of Istanbul, Philoteos Bryennios, found a Greek copy in 1873 and published it in 1883. The copy the Metropolitan found dated to 1056.

This brief treatise provides us with extra-biblical data regarding the institutions and life of the earliest Christian communities. The Didaché codifies the moral, liturgical, and legal dispositions of the early Church that were considered convenient and necessary then. It almost exclusively consists of “practical” teachings, leaving aside any discussion concerning the dogmatic contents of faith, except for a single chapter.

There are hardly any quotations from the Old Testament in the Didaché; instead, the author speaks of the “Gospel of the Lord” (without specifying which of the Synoptics he or she might be referring to), and quotes and alludes to around 20 sayings or statements of Jesus Christ. The author seems to ignore the Gospel of John, and none of St. Paul’s epistles is formally cited.

The Didaché contains the first known instructions for the celebration of both Baptism and the Eucharist, as well as one of the three earliest known forms of the Lord’s Prayer. Considering the various translations of the work, the geographical dispersion of the fragments found and the list of later works that depend on it, the Didaché should be better known among Christians today.

If you want to read it, here’s a full version, in English.

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