Tradition

The traditions of the Coptic Orthodox Church include the works of its teachers and leaders, and the collections of canons. For the period preceding the Council of Chalce-don (451) there is a shared body of tradition common to the Coptic Orthodox, other Oriental Orthodox, Latins and Greeks. After 451, non-Chalcedonian writers and local collections of canons are added to the fund of traditions.

The collected canons (authoritative decisions) of the first three Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431) are combined with pre-451 canons of local councils. These canons are preserved in Arabic (and partially in Greek and Coptic containing somewhat different texts). Works believed to contain apostolic traditions are also important: the Didascalia, the 12 7 Canons of the Apostles (based on Apostolic Church Order, Egyptian Church Order, and Apostolic Constitutions), the Thirty Canons of the Apostles and the Letter of Peter to Clement.

The pre-Chalcedonian church fathers who became important in the Coptic Church - judging by translation in Coptic, then Arabic - are the bishops of Alexandria from the formative period: Athanasius (d. 373), Theophilus (d. 412), and Cyril (d. 444). Works of Basil the Great (d. 3 79) and Gregory of Nyssa (d. 390) are significant, along with the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) and John Chrysostom (d. 407). The degree of influence can be measured in Coptic and Arabic translations produced and pseudonymous writings ascribed to a particular figure.

The post-Chalcedon tradition rests on the work of early anti-Chalcedonian leaders such as Dioscorus (d. 454), Timothy Aelurus (d. 477), and Theodosius of Alexandria (d. 567). Theological leadership of the anti-Chalcedonians passed to Antioch, and the work of Severus of Antioch (d. 538), who spent time in exile in Egypt, became influential. Tradition was also passed on in collections of canons assembled by patriarchs of Alexandria at key points in the medieval period.

Yet, in a certain sense, Coptic Christianity rests on scripture more than on tradition. The works of modern Coptic Church leaders rely on a dense fabric of scriptural citations, rather than a patristic catena, to build an argument. It has been suggested that this is evidence of the influence of Protestant missionaries in Egypt; however, it may be actually evidence of the conservatism that has been present for centuries.

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