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E01902: The Apostolic Constitutions, of 375/380, recommend that martyrs be honoured, invoking the examples of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) and *James ('brother of the Lord', S00058). It also condemns the veneration of false martyrs, and prohibits belching, debauchery, singing, and various pagan practices, perhaps associated with Christian feasts. Written in Greek, probably in Syria.

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posted on 2016-10-10, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5

8. Περὶ δὲ τῶν μαρτύρων λέγομεν ὑμῖν, ὅπως πάσῃ τιμῇ ὦσιν παρ’ ὑμῖν, ὡς καὶ παρ’ ἡμῖν τετίμηνται ὁ μακάριος Ἰάκωβος ὁ ἐπίσκοπος καὶ ὁ ἅγιος ἡμῶν συνδιάκονος Στέφανος. Οὗτοι γάρ εἰσιν καὶ ὑπὸ Θεοῦ μεμακαρισμένοι καὶ ὑπὸ ὁσίων ἀνδρῶν τετιμημένοι, καθαροὶ πάσης πλημμελείας, ἄτρεπτοι πρὸς ἁμαρτίαν, ἀμετάπειστοι τῶν καλῶν, ἀνενδοίαστοι πρὸς ἐγκώμια, περὶ ὧν καὶ ὁ Δαυὶδ ἔλεγεν· «Τίμιος ἐναντίον Κυρίου ὁ θάνατος τῶν ὁσίων αὐτοῦ.» Καὶ ὁ Σολομών· «Μνήμη δικαίων μετ’ ἐγκωμίων.» Περὶ ὧν καὶ ὁ προφήτης ἔλεγεν· «Ἄνδρες δίκαιοι αἴρονται.»

9. Ταῦτα δὲ περὶ τῶν κατὰ ἀλήθειαν ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ μαρτυρησάντων εἴρηται, ἀλλ’ οὐ περὶ τῶν ψευδομαρτύρων, περὶ ὧν τὸ λόγιόν φησιν· «Ὄνομα δὲ ἀσεβῶν σβέννυται· μάρτυς γὰρ πιστὸς οὐ ψεύδεται, ἐκκαίει δὲ ψευδῆ μάρτυς ἄδικος.» Ὁ γὰρ ἐν μαρτυρίῳ ἐξελθὼν ἀψευδῶς ὑπὲρ τῆς ἀληθείας, οὗτος ἀληθινὸς μάρτυς, ἀξιόπιστος ἐν οἷς συνηγωνίσατο τῷ λόγῳ τῆς εὐσεβείας διὰ τοῦ οἰκείου αἵματος.

‘8. We [=the Apostles] talk to you about the martyrs, in order that they be held in the highest honour among you, just as the blessed James, the bishop, and our holy fellow deacon, Stephen, are honoured among us. For they have been made blessed by God, and honoured by righteous men. They are pure of all blame, free from sinful inclination, undistracted from good things, a safe subject for praise. About them David said: Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints. And Solomon: The memory of the righteous is with praise (Prov. 10.7). About them the prophet also said: Righteous men are taken away (Isaiah 57.1).

9. All this has been said about those who have suffered martyrdom for Christ, not about the false martyrs, about whom the quote says: The name of the wicked withers away (Prov. 10.7); a truthful witness does not lie, but a false witness spews lies (Prov. 14.5). For a true martyr is he who has come out of martyrdom without a lie for the sake of truth, worthy to be believed alongside those whom he joined in the struggle for the true religion by his own blood.

Chapter 10 contains a series of prohibitions against vain, shameful, and humorous talk, belching, debauchery, wrath, pagan and shameless singing, and invocations of idolatrous gods and demons.
Chapter 11 prohibits the veneration of idols.
Chapter 12 Prohibits the singing of pagan songs, various practices of divination and astrology.

Text: Metzger 1986
Translation: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

James the Brother of the Lord, also known as James the Just, ob. 1st c. : S00058 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Ἰάκωβος Στέφανος


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint


The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles is a collection of eight treatises of canonical character, offering prescriptions on moral conduct, liturgy and church organization. The work can be dated to AD 375-380, and is thought to have been composed in Syria, probably Antioch. The author is unknown. The text purports to have been written by the Twelve Apostles. Books 1 to 6 are a free re-wording of the 3rd-century Didascalia Apostolorum.


The 5th book of the Apostolic Constitutions is based on a chapter ‘on martyrs’ of the Didascalia providing instructions for the conduct of individuals and communities during persecution, pertaining exclusively to the subject of living martyrs and the realities of persecution. This 3rd-century text is liberally expanded by the late 4th-century author by the addition of the chapters discussed here, which pertain to the honour of dead martyrs, thus representing an updating of the original text with a view to making it relevant for a late 4th-century readership, and reflecting the rise of the cult of saints as a whole. In chapter 8, the purported author of the text, supposedly the whole group of the Twelve Apostles writing while still alive, names the two first martyrs of the apostolic era, Stephen and James the Brother of the Lord, as archetypes for the honour due to those who have suffered martyrdom. Chapter 9 contains a reference to false martyrs, which most probably reflects a preoccupation with the validity and veracity of the various cults and shrines appearing at various places in the 4th century. The piece may pertain to the veneration of martyrs from non-orthodox groups, or the veneration of tombs falsely ascribed to martyrs. Chapters 10 to 12 contain a set of prohibitions on belching and pagan practices, which, at first sight, appear unrelated to the rest of the book (they appear between nine chapters on the martyrs [1-9] and seven chapters on the festivals of Christmas and Easter [13-20]). However, these chapters seem to have been deliberately placed here in order to regulate excesses and abuses in Christian worship, especially during festivals. The practices condemned by the text readily recall contemporary references by the Cappadocian Fathers to excessive feasting, drinking, dancing and singing during feasts held at martyr-shrines, which, apparently, differed very little from other traditional religious feasts. Particularly interesting are chapters 11 and 12 of our text, which refer to a number of pagan practices, ranging from religious singing and invocations to divination, which were probably practised during Christian feasts.


Text, French translation, and commentary: Metzger, M., Les constitutions apostoliques II, (Sources chrétiennes 329). Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1986, 238-246. The texts of the Didascalia and the Apostolic Constitutions can be found juxtaposed in: Funk, F. X., Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum. Paderbornae: Ferdinandi Schoeningh, 1905.

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