Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
“Epilogue. The Spirituality of the Didache: Modern Reflections” p. 839-909.
In his epilogue, Milavec attempts to draw overarching conclusions based on the closer analysis of the parts which he has already presented (Milavec 2003, 842). He notes that the Christians found in the Didache are very different from those in his own time. He will hope to prpose ways that modern Christianity could be closer to discovering “the familiar joy and the familiar pain in the heart of the first-century believer” (Milavec 2003, 842).
To begin, Milavec seeks a meaning of spirituality itself. The term has been applied with every imaginable religious group’s name as an adjective. In early Christianity, the term was regularly used to contrast the “spiritual” person from the “natural” person. The spiritual was characterized by application of scriptures and a consciousness of an inner life (Milavec 2003, 843) Milavec seems to expect that spirituality involves a certain, slightly undefinable, inner perception which is linked to emotive suffering in some way (Milavec 2003, 844). It is the factor he thinks underlies texts, rites, and movements.
To explore the actual spirituality behind the Didache community, Milavec looks for an all-encompassing question. He wants to know, at its root, what the Didache is about (Milavec 2003, 845). This is more easily said than done. The overall thrust would have been clear to the whole community so it is not explained in the text. It seems clear that the Didache walks through the training of a gentile convert joining the Christian community. But Milavec thinks there is a more significant underlying message (Milavec 2003, 845). The order of topics guides people through a process one step at a time. Milavec thinks the steps are important and that the interactions at each stage would be used to be sure “that not only the words but also the deep meanings of the Way of Life were being suitably assimilated and applied at every step of the way” (Milavec 2003, 846). At heart, Milavec finds the priority of loving God and neighbor (Didache 1:2). All the progammatic motion can be seen in terms of these two fundamental relationships.
Milavec finds several areas of special interest in the Didache, which he addresses in order. First is ‘The Genius of Mentoring” (Milavec 2003, 847). Because becoming a Christian was ot like other religious moves in the first century, it was important that converts have mentors. Christianity, unlike many other religions, called for a very thorough reorientation. Without mentoring, it could be very difficult to learn how to live as a Christian (Milavec 2003, 847). A learner would be assigned to a mentor and they would work in a systematic manner. The attitudes and desires of the convert required evaluation and guidance. Milavec notes this as being strikingly similar to the character development of a child under care of a parent (Milavec 2003, 848). Milavec notes further that some Christian catechetical materials to this day indicate that in baptism a change is made, moving someone through a transformation which extends to the inner person (Milavec 2003, 849). However, speaking of his own baptism and Christian upbringing, Milavec was led to understand that God would protect people and might communicate silently and mystically to humans, but did not seem as concrete as the real world (Milavec 2003, 849-850). Over time, Milavec came to see God as real, though largely speaking silently and mystically. On the other hand, some Christian see conversion as more of a result of their hard work to change (Milavec 2003, 851). In either case, the transformation normally involves an extended period of time absorbing the reality of the changed way of life. For this, a model of mentorship is normally used (Milavec 2003, 852). Milavec considers the idea of baptism actually washing sins as a late development, and, additionally, a “Pollyanna confidence” (Milavec 2003, 853). Rather, he looks for conversion through an adult decision followed by years of discipleship. This is the pattern he also sees throughout the Didache (Milavec 2003, 853). He does not find it treated as a sacrament or instituted by Christ.
Milavec does catalog ways in which the Didache has a different view of life than that held by Milavec. He notes a very sober view of Jesus, who does not appear in divine majesty or as the savior of the world (Milavec 2003, 855). The Didache also takes a very sober view of the church. It is, granted, the gathering of those called by the Spirit, but functions for the most part as a mentoring society rather than as God’s victorious people (Milavec 2003, 856). Further, the Didache does not imagine a life in which more prayer or spiritual disciplines will make one specially suited for a heavenly reward. In the whole, the community does not seem to emphasize progress in the faith (Milavec 2003, 857). Likewise, the Didache, though it does prescribe times for prayers and days of fasting, does not see those as burdensome duties but as joyful opportunities (Milavec 2003, 858).
Milavec further considers that the Didache describes a spirituality transmitted from person to person through oral means. The gospel is given not through a text but through speech (Milavec 2003, 859). This may well serve to make personal connections between the speaker and the hearer. Milavec considers the personal relationship to be the key. As proof he compares conversion rates of people to Eastern religions in the 20th century. Those which emphasized a mentoring relationship produced many more converts than those which simply presented written materials (Milavec 2003, 861).
Milavec compares the mentoring relationship with encounger grups he participated in while a graduate student in Berkeley. The trust and vulnerability he developed with others in his group was suprising to him. Later, he found a similar level of trust among some participants in a Christian group (Milavec 2003, 862). Milavec finds this same communal conversation in the Didache descriptions of gathering to pray (Milavec 2003, 863). It does not seem to occur to Milavec that his leaderless encounter groups had de facto leaders or that the Didache community would likely have looked to the mentors as leaders. Rather, he finds a radically egalitarian atmosphere where there would be no shows of authority such as preaching (Milavec 2003, 864).
Milavec has previously drawn a sharp distinction between the more normal members of the Didache communities and the prophets, whom he sees as being hurt and slightly dysfunctional. The Didache affirmed the rather mundane holiness which most people could practice (Milavec 2003, 864). It was in the routine of the Christian life that Christians would find rest and strength. The prophets and teachers were clearly present. However, they were not held up as the example to be emulated (Milavec 2003, 865). Milavec finds mch of the comfort associated with the idea that God is present for His people in the world. Didache 1:2 refers to “God who made you.” Milavec takes this to govern the community’s concept of God. He also reads this into various Old Testament passages to assert that God’s work in people is primarily in the realm of incarnation. God’s making and giving birth to his people is significant because all are made alike (Milavec 2003, 866). The personal address of God to each member of the community can also be seen as part of the creative work of the God who is present (Milavec 2003, 867).
Milavec notes that the Didache expects a coming of the Lord. He therefore asks if the community had a particular plan as they waited for the Lord. Many groups with a strong exchatology also have a plan of world influence. However, the Didache simply expects people to live in community, not necessarily to change it. The people were not sufficiently powerful to change society (Milavec 2003, 868). The exception was an expectation of giving to those who asked (Milavec 2003, 869)
Charity has regularly been a part of Christian piety. Milavec has a nontraditional view of giving, though. “Above all, however, charity has been tied in with the prospect of gaining leverage with the Lord in the life to come. For this, of course, Jesus’ parable of the final judgment (Mt 25:31-46) is normally cited for support” (Milavec 2003, 869). Milavec sees a contrast in the Didache, which endores care for the poor because of their humanity, as opposed to the view in Matthew that it is done in service to Christ (Milavec 2003, 870). Milavec issues a corrective to the interpretation of the passage in Matthew 25, observing that it is Jesus who views service as done for him. The people who are rewarded are surprised because they were simply helping people. This reader (Spotts) does not think Milavec’s first statement of a popular interpretation of Matthew 25 bears consideration by most Christians. His dichotomy appears false.
Milavec further comments that the sharing of resources from the Didache does not seem akin to the prosperity preaching often heard. The Didache does recognize a sort of giving which is expected to reap a reward (4:7) (Milavec 2003, 872). However, in general giving is viewed as a good deed done as a messenger of God who wants to supply needs.
The economy in the Didache is centered around a family worship, which Milavec contrasts to workshops staffed by slave labor in the first century (Milavec 2003, 872). The norm was to be profitable labor which allowed broad sharing of wealth.
Milavec does observe that the orientation toward sharing and giving was not a way of showing great business sense. Success in business is often related to persisting in amassing wealth and power to the detriment of others (Milavec 2003, 874). The Didache paints a polar opposite picture of success. The orientation of sharing is foreign to this concept of earthly power. Milavec notes that in modern economies mass production of crops or goods can normally put small producers out of business (Milavec 2003, 875). In developing econimies children have often been pressed into the work force. Milavec speaks of the injustice of such plans in detail, in the context of modern American policies (Milavec 2003, 877-878). He notes that many big businesses have no incentives to treat employees fairly. This is a parallel to the ancient world (Milavec 2003, 879). In their effort to remain in business, many business leaders will adopt practices which can result in what Milavec sees as oppression (Milavec 2003, 880). Rather than a forceful response against economic exploitation, the Didache simply assumes that God will care for the oppressors. Meanwhile, members of the community concentrate on doing what is good and right (Milavec 2003, 881). The causes of suffering are acknowledged but they are out of bounds only within the community.
Although the Didache communities have an element of forgiveness, Milavec notes they are not extravagant in this practice (Milavec 2003, 882). Milavec uses terminology of victimization, peaking of the community protecting those who have been victimized. He specifically denies the idea of a universal substitutionary atonement and salvation by grace through faith, not only in the Didache but also in any genuinely Christian community (Milavec 2003, 882). In Milavec’s view the idea of free forgiveness is simply preposterous. At the same time, the community does expect a world where the gentle will inherit the earth (3:7).
Milavec goes on to consider “Jesus’ atoning death and solidarity with victims” (Milavec 2003, 884). Some of the commentators with whom Milavec is fmiliar are uncomfortable seeing Christian suffering as a means by which we identify with Christ. These scholars would blame abuse in society on a desire to identify with Jesus (Milavec 2003, 885). Likewise, Milavec finds some voices of those who would commend the Holocaust as a way in which people could come to understand Christ’s suffering (Milavec 2003, 886). Milavec forcefully rejects suh ideas, observing that ultimately suffering is evil and contrary to God’s nature. Yet his affirmation of the mercy of the God who hates suffering denies and dnegates any historic Christian understanding of the death of Christ. He rejects the idea that Jesus’ death could accomplish anything but grieving God the Father (Milavec 2003, 887). He sees the rending of the veil of the temple (Matt. 27)51) as God’s tearing of his clothes in grief (Milavec 2003, 888).
Milavec considers whether the Didache “envisioned two key sacramental ries, baptism and eucharist, ‘just as we do today’” (Milavec 2003, 888). Yet the understanding and practice may not have been the same as ours today. Baptism, Milavec sees, is “a rite of passage” (Milavec 2003, 889). He does not find the baptism as a mystical or effectual act, but as a sign of one’s standing. The eucharist he sees as another sign of unity with the particular community (Milavec 2003, 890).
Milavec observes that the Didache doesn’t promise personal or social advantage. Rather, members of the community will face opposition (Milavec 2003, 891). Milavec sees this as a sort of powerlessness which must be embraced, because there is no hope given for change. Furthermore, he sees in the Didache indications that the church, in the end of days, would cease to exist and that people would be gathered into God’s kingdom (Milavec 2003, 892). The members of the community learn to endure wrong without taking vengeance. Milavec adds that the Didache community would expect God to refrain from taking vengeance himself, because he would act in a way consistent with what he reveals to his poeple (Milavec 2003, 893). Milavec simply finds no place in the Didache for punishment (Milavec 2003, 894).
Oddly enough, after his assertions against vengeance and punishment, Milavec continues, “The Didache championed an end-times scenario in which evildoers living in the final generation would be utterly destroyed (16:5), while dead evildoers imply remained dad and were exempt from eternal punishments (Milavec 2003, 894). The nature of punishment and vengeance in Milavec’s mind is left unclear. He goes on to provide some examples of other ancient descriptions of a fainal judgment. They tend to be more graphic in the descriptions of torments.
The vulnerability of the member of the Didache community would extend to his relationship with God. Milavec describes this vulnerability in terms of accepting divine commands and the plan of God to bring history to its conclusion in the end (Milavec 2003, 96). Milavec is clear that he finds no means by which the vulnerability or acts of obedience or faith would remove sins (Milavec 2003, 897). The Lord would save those he wished to save by grace.
Milavec finds that the early Christians lived in a world full of sorrow and disappointment. In response to it, they created a radically egalitarian community based on trust in God (Milavec 2003, 898). He sees the eucharistic celebration as not containing any sort of “bodily or sacramental presence of Jesus” (Milavec 2003, 898). Milavec expects that modern readers who endure economic and political oppression are likely to appreciate the eschatological views, while the oppressing class cannot. For more modern examples of a Didache community he therefore looks to liberation theology in Latin America (Milavec 2003, 899). Those who have found poverty increased by the commercial activities of others will readily relate to the eschatological hopes of the Didache or of Revelation (Milavec 2003, 900).
Milavec compares Western culture to a totalitarian machine of oppression which will trample everything in its way (Milavec 2003, 902). He sees this as the move of societal victors in every generation. The process of oppressing the planet, in Milavec’s lengthy diatribe, began to collapse in the 1960s when the negative effects of chemical pesticides came to light (Milavec 2003, 904). However, Milavec concludes it is too late to rescue the planet and its societies from the oppressive greed and victimization of the totalitarian industrial society (Milavec 2003, 905). The scarcity and social decline which this economic crisis will spur will push some people to rediscover a functioning community like the Didache describes (Milavec 2003, 908). This, in Milavec’s view, will bring the coming of the Lord who has rejected Western civilization and all its trappings (Milavec 2003, 909).