Disciplina arcani

Discussion in 'Theology' started by Thomas, Apr 2, 2009.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Sep 25, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Disciplina Arcani
    (The Discipline of the Secret ... notes for a work in progress, taken from NewAdvent)

    I thought it might be useful background. In an ongoing discussion with Netti-Netti on the Trinity elsewhere on IO, the assumption is that because it was not written, it was not known. From the evidence here, such is not the case, especially where the Mysteries are concerned ... and the Trinity is regarded as one of the Mysteries of the Mysteries. It was not written, because it was not for all to see.

    On the other hand, a Christian denomination that is founded only on what is written — even Scripture — is at a perilous and undeniable disadvantage: It lacks any commentary by which it might determine whether its interpretation is true or false.

    John Henry Newman (Anglican), Peter Kreeft (Calvinist) are just two examples of those who, studying the Fathers, realised their own traditions were defective, and converted to the 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church' — the Church that was professed in the credal statements from the very beginning.

    The disciplina arcani was the custom by which knowledge of the more intimate dimension of the Mysteries of the Faith were kept from the outsider, and even from the catechumen.

    The custom itself is beyond dispute, but the name derives from the seventeenth century.

    The Scriptural origins are clear: "Give not that which holy to dogs; neither cast your pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6), while St Paul speaks of the "little ones in Christ", giving them "milk to drink, not meat", because they were not yet able to bear it (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). And the author of Hebrews says: "But strong meat is for the perfect; for them who by custom have their senses exercised to the discerning of good and evil." (5:14).

    A convert could not be expected to assimilate the whole Faith at once, but must be taught gradually. For the non-Jewish convert, for example, Monotheism was the first great truth and not until this was sunk deep into his being could one dare to offer instruction concerning the Blessed Trinity — else tritheism would be the inevitable result.

    The doctrines to which this reserve was most especially applied were those of the Holy Trinity and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Even The Lord's Prayer was preserved from the knowledge of those who were not fully instructed.

    The earliest formal witness for the custom seems to be Tertullian. There is also St Basil (On the Holy Spirit 27): "These things must not be told to the uninitiated"; St. Gregory Nazianzen (Oratio XI) where he speaks of a difference of knowledge between those who are without and those who are within, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem whose "Catechetical Discourses" are entirely built upon this principle, and who in his first discourse cautions his hearers not to tell what they have heard:
    (Cat., Lect. i, 12).

    St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom in like manner stop short in their public addresses, and, after a more or less veiled reference to the mysteries, continue with: "The initiated will understand what I mean".

    The Lord's Prayer was in St. Augustine's time (5th century) taught eight days before baptism (Hom. xlii; cf. "Enchir.", lxxi, and the "Apostolic Constitutions", VII, xliv; St. Chrys. Hom. cc, al. xix, in Matt.).

    The Creed in like manner was taught just before baptism.

    So St. Ambrose, writing to his sister Marcellina (Epist xx, Benedict, ed.) says that on Sunday, after the catechumens had been dismissed, he was teaching the Creed in the baptistery of the basilica to those who were sufficiently advanced. (Cf. also St. Jerome, Epist. xxxciii, ad. Pammach.)

    More detailed teaching about the Holy Trinity and about the other sacraments was only given after baptism.

    Other passages which may be consulted are: Chrys., "Hom. in Matt.", xxiii, "Hom. xviii, in II Cor."; Pseud. Augustine, "Serm. ad Neoph.", i; St. Ambrose, "De his qui mysteriis initiantur"; Gaudentius, "Ser. ii ad Neoph."; Apost. Constit., III, v, and VIII, xi.

    The rule of reticence applied to all the sacraments, and no catechumen was ever allowed to be present at their celebration. St. Basil (On the Holy Spirit 27) speaking of the sacraments says: "One must not circulate in writing the doctrine of mysteries which none but the initiated are allowed to see." For baptism reference may be made to Theodoret (Epitom. Decret., xcviii), St. Cyril of Alexandria (Contr. Julian., i), and St. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. xl, de bapt.).

    The discipline with respect to the Holy Eucharist of course requires no proof. It is in involved in the very name of the Missa Catechumenorum, and one can scarcely turn to any passage of the Fathers which deals with the subject in which the reticence to be observed is not expressly stated.

    Confirmation was never spoken of openly. St. Basil, in the treatise already spoken of (On the Holy Spirit 25.11), says that no one has ever ventured to speak openly in writing of the holy oil of unction, and Innocent I, writing to the Bishop of Gubbio on the sacramental "form" of the ordinance answers: "I dare not speak the words, but I should seem rather to betray a trust than to respond to a request for information" (Epist. i, 3).

    Holy orders in the same way were never given publicly. The Council of Laodicea forbade it definitely in its speaking of the practice of begging the prayers of the faithful for those who are to be ordained, says that those who understand co-operate with and assent to what is done. "For it is not lawful to reveal everything to those who are yet uninitiated." So also St. Augustine (Tract xi. in Joann.): "If you say to a catechumen, Dost thou believe in Christ? he will answer, I do, and will sign himself with the Cross . . . Let us ask him, Dost thou eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink the Blood of the Son of Man? He will not know what we mean, for Jesus has not trusted himself to him."

  2. Nick_A

    Nick_A Interfaith Forums

    May 28, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Welcome to the world of esoteric Christianity. Exoteric Christianity tells people what to do. Esoteric christianity in contrast refers to the inner man that cannot be understood by the exoteric regardless of how insulting it appears. We must gradually become open to the impressions of new eyes and ears.

    It is insulting but these people in the past as well as some in the present understood the reality of this distinction.
  3. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist Staff Member

    Aug 30, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Indeed, even the Taoists were loathe to plainly write some things down in order to protect them from being twisted by opportunist legalists. {The Tao that can be Tao'ed is not the true Tao.}

    Some things just have to be experienced. (The difference between theory and practice, imo.) Fortunately, we have a helper in the Holy Spirit in this regard, to remind us of the things we have learned at the opportune time.
  4. Dream

    Dream New Member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Likes Received:
    That was a singularly helpful and resourceful opening post. Though I am often bewildered at the things that I find out that I did not know or suspect, Disciplina Arcani rocks the boat.
  5. Francis king

    Francis king New Member

    Nov 1, 2006
    Likes Received:
    yes, I enjoyed reading this, Thomas... yet... 99% of it has flown over my head, albeit in a fragrant way...

Share This Page