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The history of scholarship concerning the discovery and publication of Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition is one of ingenuity and great success.(1) Subsequent scholarship was able to establish the approximate setting and date for the composition of the great |church order' to be the Roman Church at the end of the second century.(2) Yet studies of the text have also tended to concentrate on its more formal liturgical aspects, though there is obviously also a wealth of interesting material to be studied from a social historical perspective. This brief study will examine the Apostolic Tradition from the latter vantage point. In particular, I will concentrate on the maze of social relations surrounding the description of privately sponsored Lord's Suppers (chs. 27-9), and especially the role and status of the sponsors of those suppers, local patrons of the Roman Christian community.(3) In doing so, however, I do not wish to strengthen any perceived dichotomy between the study of the ritual and the study of the social life of the early Christian communities, but rather to show convincingly how each informs the other.
The description provided in these chapters concerns the cena Dominica (Lord's Supper): dinners apparently provided for the local Christian community by its (presumably) wealthier patrons. In the Latin text this description is sandwiched between a partially preserved description of another meal (possibly connected with the lighting of the evening lamps),(4) and the description of a meal for Christian widows (cena viduarum). Hence the three chapters form an identifiable descriptive unit in the text, the subject of which is the cena Dominica.
That the early Christians held banquets as part of their ritual and social life is attested as early as Paul and constantly thereafter.(5) More important, recent investigations have shown the many ways in which this practice reflected the hierarchical structure of the social environment within which the early Christian movement found itself.(6) The role of local Christian patrons with their social dependents has been emphasized.(7) Indeed, the social context within which such patronage flourished is manifestly reflected in this section of the Apostolic Tradition.(8) The Christian community, like other groups within Roman society, was dependent on the generosity of its patrons to provide certain characteristic features of Roman social life (such as banquets) and even, at times, subsistence.(9)
The vivid reality of this situation appears to be specifically indicated in this part of the Apostolic Tradition by the repeated use of the term vocare (to invite), apparently referring to the dinner invitations granted by the local Christian patrons to members of the community:
Per omnem vero oblationem memor sit qui offert eius qui illum vocavit; propterea enim depraecatus est ut ingrediatur sub tecto eius.
At every oblation the one who offers is mindful of the one who invited him; for on this account he (i.e. the patron) has petitioned that he (i.e. the guest) might enter under his roof (Apostolic Tradition 27: 2-6).
aut tristetur, qui vocat vos (28: 4) qui vocavit VOS (28: i5) qui vocati sunt (28: i9)
Roman writers of the early imper'al period confirm for us just how fickle and arbitrary Roman patrons could be despite social conventions dictating generosity. Horace, for example, indicates that it was indeed proper for a patron to provide food for a client (Epistulae i. 7). Yet as Juvenal decries, in Rome one does not get |something for nothing'. The clientes were often forced to go to great lengths to secure their reward of a free supper from a patron:
Now at last has Trebius got the reward for which he must needs cut short his sleep, and hurry with shoe strings untied, fearing that the whole crowd of callers may have already gone their rounds, at an hour when the stars are falling, or when the chilly rain of Bootes is wheeling slowly round (Satires v. 18-23; cf. Martial, Epigrams xii. 26).(10)
In a narrative designed to heighten the pathetic image of a client, Martial relates how hope for a banquet invitation sprang eternal even amidst the far too many relationships in which the patron could not be counted on:
Marius invites no one to dinner and sends no presents, and is surety for no one, and is unwilling to lend - in fact, he has nothing. Yet a crowd is at hand to court so unprofitable a friend. Alas! what dolts, O Rome, your clients are (Epigrams x. 18).
Examples of the strained relationship between Roman patrons and their beneficiaries might be multiplied, relating the expectations and disappointments inherent in the hierarchical context of Roman social life.
Hence one can determine more clearly the reasons behind Hippolytus' emphasis on the status of ordinary Christians as vocati: they are invited guests whose status as such is subject to the whims of one or more patrons. Amidst the usual tentativeness in the relationships between patrons and clients, Hippolytus here represents the desire that such patronage continue. He intones that the Christians to whom the Apostolic Tradition is directed must help to insure the honor and generosity of the patron by being ever cognizant of their |invited' status and behaving |properly'.(11)
The relationship between Christian patrons and their |clients' in the Roman community is further defined by Hippolytus' reference to the apoforetum(12) in the context of Christian banquets:
Si communiter vero omnibus oblatum fuerit, quod dicitur graece apoforetum, accipite ab eo.
If, what is called in Greek, an apoforetum has been offered to everyone together, accept it from him (i.e. the patron) (Apostolic Tradition, 28: 9-11).
At first glance the imperative here (accipite ab eo) is curious. The term apoforetum appears three times in the cena Trimalchio of Petronius' fictional Satyricon (40, 56, and 60). There the apoforetum always refers to …