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§ 67. Division of Divine Service. The Disciplina Arcani.


Richard Rothe: De Disciplinae Arcani, quae dicitur, in Ecclesia Christ. Origine. Heidelb. 1841; and his art. on the subject in the first ed. of Herzog (vol. I. 469–477).

C. A. Gerh. Von Zezschwitz: System der christl. kirchlichen Katechetik. Leipz. 1863, vol. I. p. 154–227. See also his art. in the second ed. of Herzog, I. 637–645 (abridged in Schaff’s "Rel. Enc.").

G. Nath. Bonwetsch (of Dorpat): Wesen, Entstehunq und Fortgang der Arkandisciplin, in Kahnis’ "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol." 1873, pp. 203 sqq.

J. P. Lundy: Monumental Christianity. N. York, 1876, p. 62–86.

Comp. also A. W. Haddan in Smith & Cheetham, I. 564–566; Wandinger, in Wetzer & Welte, new ed. vol. I. (1882), 1234–1238. Older dissertations on the subject by Schelstrate (1678), Meier (1679), Tenzell (1863), Scholliner (1756), Lienhardt (1829), Toklot (1836), Frommann (1833), Siegel (1836, I. 506 sqq.).


The public service was divided from. the middle of the second century down to the close of the fifth, into the worship of the catechumens,391391    Λειτουργία τῶν κατηχουμένων, Missa Catechumenorum. The name missa (from which our mass is derived) occurs first in Augustin and in the acts of the council of Carthage, a.d. 398. it arose from the formula of dismission at the close of each part of the service, and is equivalent to missio, dismissio. Augustin (Serm. 49, c. 8): "Take notice, after the sermon the dismissal (missa) of the catechumens takes place; the faithful will remain." Afterwards missa came to designate exclusively the communion service. In the Greek church λειτουργία or λιτουργία, service, is the precise equivalent for missa.91 and the worship of the faithful.392392    Λειτουργία τῶν πιστῶν, Missa Fidelium.92 The former consisted of scripture reading, preaching, prayer, and song, and was open to the unbaptized and persons under penance. The latter consisted of the holy communion, with its liturgical appendages; none but the proper members of the church could attend it; and before it began, all catechumens and unbelievers left the assembly at the order of the deacon,393393    Μή τις τῶν κατηχουμένων, μή τις τῶν ἀκροωμένων, μή τις ἀπίστων, μή τις ἑτεροδόξων, "Let none of the catechumens, let none of the hearers, let none of the unbelievers, let none of the heterodox, stay here." Const. Apost. viii. 12. Comp. Chrysostom Hom. in Matt. xxiii.93 and the doors were closed or guarded.

The earliest witness for this strict separation is Tertullian, who reproaches the heretics with allowing the baptized and the unbaptized to attend the same prayers, and casting the holy even before the heathens.394394    De PraescR. Haer. C. 41: "Quis catechimenus, quis fidelis, incertum est" that is, among the heretics); "pariter adeunt, pariter orant, etiam ethnici, si supervenerint; sanctum canibus et porcis, margaritas, licet non veras " (since they have no proper sacraments), "jactabunt." But this does not apply to all heretics, least of all to the Manichaeans, who carried the notion of mystery in the sacrament much further than the Catholics.94 He demands, that believers, catechumens, and heathens should occupy separate places in public worship. The Alexandrian divines furnished a theoretical ground for this practice by their doctrine of a secret tradition for the esoteric. Besides the communion, the sacrament of baptism, with its accompanying confession, was likewise treated as a mystery for the initiated,395395    Μύητοι, initiati=πιστοί, fideles.95 and withdrawn from the view of Jews and heathens.

We have here the beginnings of the Christian mystery-worship, or what has been called since 1679 "the Secret Discipline," (Disciplina Arcani), which is presented in its full development in the liturgies of the fourth century, but disappeared from the Latin church after the sixth century, with the dissolution of heathenism and the universal introduction of infant baptism.

The Secret Discipline had reference chiefly to the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist, but included also the baptismal symbol, the Lord’s Prayer, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and other fathers make a distinction between lower or elementary (exoteric) and higher or deeper (esoteric) doctrines, and state that the latter are withheld from the uninitiated out of reverence and to avoid giving offence to the weak and the heathen. This mysterious reticence, however, does not justify the inference that the Secret Discipline included transubstantiation, purgatory, and other Roman dogmas which are not expressly taught in the writings of the fathers. The argument from silence is set aside by positive proof to the contrary.396396    The learned Jesuit Emanuel von Scheistrate first used this argument in Antiquitas illustrate (Antw. 1678), and De Disciplina Arcani (Rom. 1685); but he was refuted by the Lutheran W. Ernst Tentzel, in his Dissert. de Disc. Arcani, Lips. 1683 and 1692. Tentzel, Casaubon, Bingham, Rothe, and Zetzschwitz are wrong, however, in confining the Disc. Arc. to the ritual and excluding the dogma. See especially Cyril of Jerus. Katech, XVI. 26; XVIIL 32, 33.96 Modern Roman archaeologists have pressed the whole symbolism of the Catacombs into the service of the Secret Discipline, but without due regard to the age of those symbolical representations.

The origin of the Secret Discipline has been traced by some to the apostolic age, on the ground of the distinction made between "milk for babes" and "strong meat" for those "of full age," and between speaking to "carnal" and to "spiritual" hearers.397397    Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 3:1, 2. So some fathers who carry the Disc. Arc. back to the Lord’s command, Matt. 7:6, and in recent times Credner (1844), and Wandinger (in the new ed. of Wetzer and Welte, I. 1237). St. Paul, 1 Cor. 14:23-25, implies the presence of strangers in the public services, but not necesarily during the communion.97 But this distinction has no reference to public worship, and Justin Martyr, in his first Apology, addressed to a heathen emperor, describes the celebration of baptism and the eucharist without the least reserve. Others derive the institution from the sacerdotal and hierarchical spirit which appeared in the latter part of the second century, and which no doubt favored and strengthened it;398398    So Bonwetsch, l.c., versus Rothe and Zetzchwitz.98 still others, from the Greek and Roman mystery worship, which would best explain many expressions and formulas, together with all sorts of unscriptural pedantries connected with these mysteries.399399    The correspondence is very apparent in the ecclesiastical use of such terms as μυστήριον, σύμβολον, μύησις, μυσταγωγεῖν, κάθαρσις , τελειώσις, φωτισμός(of baptism), etc. On the Greek, and especially the Eleusinian cultus of mysteries, Comp. Lobeck, Aglaophanus, Königsberg, 1829; several articles of Preller in Pauly’s Realencyklop. der Alterthumswissenschaft III. 83 sqq., V. 311 sqq., Zetzs chwitz, l.c. 156 sqq., and Lübker’s Reallex. des class. Alterthums. 5th ed. by Erler (1877), p. 762. Lobeck has refuted the older view of Warburton and Creuzer, that a secret wisdom, and especially the traditions of a primitive revelation, were propagated in the Greek mysteries.99 Yet the first motive must be sought rather in an opposition to heathenism; to wit, in the feeling of the necessity of guarding the sacred transactions of Christianity, the embodiment of its deepest truths, against profanation in the midst of a hostile world, according to Matt. 7:6; especially when after Hadrian, perhaps even from the time of Nero, those transactions came to be so shamefully misunderstood and slandered. To this must be added a proper regard for modesty and decency in the administration of adult baptism by immersion. Finally—and this is the chief cause—the institution of the order of catechumens led to a distinction of half-Christians and full-Christians, exoteric and esoteric, and this distinction gradually became established in the liturgy. The secret discipline was therefore a temporary, educational and liturgical expedient of the ante-Nicene age. The catechumenate and the division of the acts of worship grew together and declined to, together. With the disappearance of adult catechumens, or with the general use of infant baptism and the union of church and state, disappeared also the secret discipline in the sixth century: "cessante causa cessat effectus."

The Eastern church, however, has retained in her liturgies to this day the ancient form for the dismission of catechumens, the special prayers for them, the designation of the sacraments as "mysteries," and the partial celebration of the mass behind the veil; though she also has for centuries had no catechumens in the old sense of the word, that is, adult heathen or Jewish disciples preparing for baptism, except in rare cases of exception, or on missionary ground.



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