Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 8 “The Confession of Failings and Eucharistic Sacrifice” pp. 527-577
Didache chapter 14 returns to the idea of eucharist. Milavec notes that earlier chapters speak of a eucharist celebrated right after baptism but that chapter 14 has a time of confession and reconciliation (Milavec 2003, 530). Additionally, here we find the eucharist as a sacrifice celebrated weekly and that the confession and reconciliation necessarily accompany it.
In Didache 4 the novice was told that confession would be typical. Chapter 14 gives a more full description of the process, to be carried out “in the church” on the Lord’s day (Milavec 2003, 531). The practice promised reconciliation and therefore a pure sacrifice.
Milavec notes three phrases or words which are problematic in terms of translation. In 14:2, the term amphibolia seems to refer to an attack or dispute. The passage seems to assume one party as guilty, and that the guilty party will be excluded (Milavec 2003, 533). 14:2 also allows the possibility that the offended party is an outsider and that the community would side with the outsider against the community member. Thirdly, the identification of the “day” is not altogether clear. 14:1 does not state the word “day” but most commentators assume it to be the intent, as there is strong evidence of Christians habitually gathering on the Lord’s (day) (Milavec 2003, 533). However, some suggest the missing word is “rule” so that the practices of the Christians are according to the Lord’s prescribed practice (Milavec 2003, 534).
Milavec notes the distinction made both in Judaism and in Roman or Greek paganism between a sacrifice and a burnt offering. The Didache consistently uses the terminology of a sacrifice. Even though no animal is killed, the eucharist is a sacrificial offering meal, not simply a doing away with things to give them to God (Milavec 2003, 535).
Key to the idea of sacrifice in the Didache is purification. Milavec sees the idea of confession and absolution to be a late development, not until the sixth century (Milavec 2003, 536). He sees an idea of shunning and excommunication prior to this time. Forgiveness is not mediated by an elder. Rather, offerings may be seen (4:6) as a means of paying a ransom for sins (Milavec 2003, 537). Likewise, Milavec maintains that the idea of Jesus as the only acceptable offering to God is a medieval idea, not present in early Christianity. Because of this presupposition, Milavec sees only that the pure sacrifices are offered by pure people. He finds no fall into sin. Therefore, the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice would show that the one offering it was seeking perfection so would be received as pure (Milavec 2003, 537).
Milavec notes that people in antiquity generally had a cultural understanding of sacrifice. Across cultural boundaries there was a concept of a gift presented according to ritual to a superior. The presentation of the appropriate gift in the right way would create some sort of purity (Milavec 2003, 538). The worshipers would be ushered into friendly relations with one another as well. This may be what the Didache is referring to when it discusses reconciliation (Milavec 2003, 539).
The confession prior to the eucharist is important. Just what kind of failings (paraptomatos 4:14, 14:1) were to be confessed? Milavec mentions three: those against the Way of Life, those against one another, and those which would result in being shunned by the community (Milavec 2003, 541). Milavec questions whether the prayers were individual or communal in nature. He concludes that it is not clear but that most likely is “an audible and individual confession of specific failings when assembling prior to celebrating the eucharist” (Milavec 2003, 543).
Having stated that confession would not lead to forgiveness, but merely to making a pure sacrifice, Milavec seeks to demonstrate that the sacrifice was understood more as a spiritual act than as an act of physical obedience (Milavec 2003, 544). He does this through quotations of Isaiah and Philo, along with an assertion that Moses never considered the purity of spirit in those making offerings (Milavec 2003, 545). Milavec draws a dichotomy between the material and the spiritual. He then pursues the idea of communal spirituality as that devised by the framers of the Didache to subvert the idea of a temple sacrifice (Milavec 2003, 546).
The practice of confession may have been seen as a sign that the community member was serious about a pursuit of holiness (Milavec 2003, 547). According to Didache 4 the Holy Spirit would draw people to pursue the Way of Life. Those people in turn would submit themselves to training and disciplines, including confession. If the mention of specific failings continued and the person confessing didn’t seem to make progress, Milavec concludes it would lead to departure from the community (Milavec 2003, 548). The exclusion of those in conflict would futher purify the gathering (14:23). In cases where someone did not acknowledge his fault, the exclusion from the community would be used (15:3). Milavec considers this shunning as an important element of discipline (Milavec 2003, 549).