The Canons of Laodicea (364-365)

Canons of Laodicea…probably not the most interesting of topics except for a few (very few) but which I read through for a particular thing I am doing at the moment.  But, ah, such interesting particulars lie in the pontification of these clergy.  Listen to a few….with some, admittedly, irreverent (at times) comments attached.

Canon 15: No others shall sing in the Church, save only the canonical singers, who go up into the ambo and sing from a book.

No congregational singing.  And no singing except from a book (we want to make sure we sing the right stuff with sanctioned theology, I suppose). An “ambo” is an elevated desk, pulpit or area from which one reads/sings, in case you were wondering.

Canon 17: The Psalms are not to be joined together in the congregations, but a lesson shall intervene after every psalm.

I do like the fact that every Psalm should be explained rather than run together.

Canon 19: After the sermons of the Bishops, the prayer for the catechumens is to be made first by itself; and after the catechumens have gone out, the prayer for those who are under penance; and, after these have passed under the hand [of the Bishop] and departed, there should then be offered the three prayers of the faithful, the first to be said entirely in silence, the second and third aloud, and then the [kiss of] peace is to be given. And, after the presbyters have given the [kiss of] peace to the Bishop, then the laity are to give it [to one another], and so the Holy Oblation is to be completed. And it is lawful to the priesthood alone to go to the Altar and [there] communicate.

I’m glad I got that straight now.  The pecking order is real clear to me.  “Communicate” is to communion (the Eucharist).

Canon 25: A subdeacon must not give the Bread, nor bless the Cup.

A subdeacon may carry the wine to the altar, prepare the necessities for the Eucharist and read from the Epistles…but he cannot share the bread of God with the people of God, nor pray over the cup.  By the way, subdeacons serve under deacons.  Since there can only be a limited number of deacons, anyone else who wants to come close is a “subdeacon.”

Canon 28: It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord’s Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God.

If you have read this blog much, you know how this really bothers me.  No more tables (e.g., spreading couches for festive reclining at tables) in the church.  But then again we have tables we don’t sit at or even stand around.

Canon 29: Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

Sunday means rest, Sabbath means work.  And if you rest on Saturday, if you are a judaizer, well, you are going to hell.

Canon 44: Women may not go to the altar.

Well, of course. Since there are no tables either, then it seems they can’t go anywhere but stand in the audience.

Canon 52: Marriages and birthday feasts are not to be celebrated in Lent.

There are lots of rule for Lent; this is only one.  Too bad if you were born in March…no birthday parties for you….ever.

Canon 55: Neither members of the priesthood nor of the clergy, nor yet laymen, may club together for drinking entertainments.

This is my favorite, however.  No clubbing allowed!  I think we need a “Lipscomb University” canon–“neither members of the administration nor of the faculty nor yet students may club together for drinking entertainments.”  🙂   Actually, “club” here means to share the expenses.

Do you think these clergy had some control issues? Well, enough said.  Just doing a little “tongue-in-cheek” history but one with some pretty serious theolgoical issues lying underneath.

20 Responses to “The Canons of Laodicea (364-365)”

  1.   Adam Gonnerman Says:

    Thanks for going to the trouble of reading that and skimming out some interesting points. What an odd environment the post-apostolic era early church created for itself. Yes, of course, the same might be said of us in our times, for different reasons.

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    According to the web link you provided, the earliest possible date to this document is middle to late fourth centuty. That being said, I did not realize the doctrine of penance began that early.

    BTW…have you ever read “Christianity Rediscovered” by Vincent Donovan? It is a great book for its documentation of missiology in actual practice. One of the sub-niceties is reading how Donovan basically viewed the Vatican tradition as running off the tracks and to read then how he wrestles with the actual scriptures to allow simple Christianity to take hold in a truthful yet contextually organic manner – which is something I think people from a Restoration framework can both appreciate and be challenged with.

    Grace and peace,


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I have not read Donovan, but it sounds interesting.

      Penance has public procedures and consequences as early as Tertullian’s book on “repentance” ca. 200. There are penance dimensions present in the Shepherd of Hermas as well. It is an early practice.

      •   K. Rex Butts Says:

        I just sent you an email with a non-technical review of Donavan’s book…of the 3/4ths that I have completed so far. I have also been posting some reflections from quotes in his book on my blog titled “Who is (Your) God?” “What is (Biblical) Faith?” and the latest “Prayer, a Dangerous Thing” for anyone’s interest.

        Grace and peace,


    •   rich constant Says:

      oh rex! shame on you>>>>
      let,s figure out what we have to make you do,to REPENT….
      seems like a good word tome 🙂
      sorry guys m i am laughing as i type

      OH REX


  3.   John Kenneth King Says:

    Loved the humor. If we don’t laugh at some of this we will be overwhelmed by grief. Religious folks always seem to have “control” issues.

    I can vouch for Donovan’s book being a good read. You will have to buy it used since it is out of print, but it is a great read. There are CPM correlations. Van Robarts suggested it to me. Blessings.

  4.   Clark Says:

    I have searched my concordance in vain for “subdeacons.” Perhaps there is a translation problem with the Canons? 🙂

  5.   Randall Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. There is more than a bit of humor here.

    As you said “I do like the fact that every Psalm should be explained rather than run together.” I imagine there are some old favorites we wouldn’t sing anymore b/c of the clear theology taught there, (Amazing Grace, How firm a Foundation, Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing etc.) but hopefully there would be some others we wouldn’t sing anymore precisely b/c of the lack of any substantial theology taught in them – I suppose I could name a few Stamps – Baxter oldies but perhaps it be be best not to.


  6.   rich constant Says:

    before i even read….
    saw the comments title excitid i am.
    rich learning

  7.   rich constant Says:

    i read 🙂
    john mark better watch out we all might get a litte more close to God that might spell THE END…
    OH BOY????

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  13.   rich constant Says:

    oh well jammen on my head.,..

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