One of the most well known document of apostolic times is The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or Didaché (“teaching”). According to some scholars, this short treatise was written in the first century, between 65 and 80. It was a document that was held in high esteem by the first Church Fathers. We may consider this document a sort of catechism.
Daniel Esparza so describes this document in Aleteia (“The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles: the Didaché,” July 12, 2016): “Both the author and the place where the Didaché was written remain unknown. The original text of the Didaché has survived in a single manuscript, the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Some scholars speak of a compiler instead of an author, who might have also written down some teachings directly from apostolic preaching, either in Syria or Egypt.
After the text was lost for years, the Metropolitan of Istanbul, Philoteos Bryennios found a Greek copy in 1873 and published it in 1883. The copy had been written 1056. The main value of this treatise is that it provides us with extra-biblical data regarding the institutions and life of the earliest Christian communities. The Didaché codifies the rules and moral, liturgical and legal dispositions of the early Church that were considered to be convenient and necessary at the time it was written. It is almost exclusively comprised of ‘practical’ teachings, leaving aside any discussion concerning the dogmatic contents of faith, except in Chapter 16.”
In the beginning of the document we are taught that there are two ways: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.”
So, as we can read, it is really a vulgarization of the teaching of the Gospels, which probably were already available to the first Christians, together with the writings of Saint Paul.
The teaching is quite clear, the purpose of the writer(s) of the Didaché was probably to offer some guidelines for those that were embracing the new faith. Indeed we may see in another passage the style of this catechism, a style we may call “you-shall-not”: “You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. You shall not covet the things of your neighbor, you shall not swear, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is a snare of death. Your speech shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.”
It is interesting to observe the pedagogy used by this document, where the prohibitions are net and precise. We should not think that is impossible to observe all this, though when we read this list we know that we have committed or we commit one or the other of the sins are presented there. But what the catechism is saying does not intend to discourage Christians, but just to show them the way of perfection, a way we know that for many of us is full of countless failings. But the important attitude is not to lose the right perspective and to have our eyes always trained on heaven.