Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Book of Armagh - A Bible from the Early Irish Church

The Book of Armagh is the earliest surviving complete NT manuscript produced in Ireland. It dates from the beginning of the 9th century, offering a fascinating glimpse into the early Irish Church. The Manuscript contains the entire NT (plus the pseudepigraphical Epistle to the Laodiceans), the Confession of St. Patrick, several early histories (Vitae) concerning St. Patrick, the Life of St. Martin, and Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus (concerning his revision of the Vetus Latina). Like modern study Bibles, the Book of Armagh has introductions to the Biblical books, and a cross reference system (the Eusebian Canons).

As with all Irish Bibles (prior to the 17th century) it is written in Latin. The Biblical text itself reflects predominately the Vulgate, with Vetus Latina influences. This conflated textual basis is typical in Irish manuscripts. In terms of textual criticism the textual variants are largely insignificant. It contains the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) and omits the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7). The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 does not contain the addition, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen. The account of the angel stirring the water in John 5:4 is absent. Colossians 1:14 omits the clause through his blood. 1 Timothy 3:16 reads he who was manifest. It includes the longer ending to Mark.

The main scribe of this important manuscript was a scholar named Ferdomnach (d. AD 845), who was described in the Annals of Ulster as Sapiens et scriba optimus, i.e. a wise and excellent scribe. His penmanship is careful yet beautiful. At the foot of folio 79r he proudly wrote in the margin that he had completed the two preceding columns dipping his quill only three times. Several other scribes helped with the writing, with some adding Irish commentary in the margins to help explain the Latin text. For example in Acts the Latin phrase, contra stimulum, is explained in the margin with an old Irish gloss, frisin tomaltid, i.e. against the goads.

Over time the book itself was venerated as supposedly written by St. Patrick himself. An official keeper (in old Irish Maor) was entrusted with safekeeping the manuscript on behalf of the church of Armagh. This guardianship was passed down on a hereditary basis. The MacMaor clan (literally, son of the Keeper) guarded this manuscript until the 17th century when they pawned it for £5! It then passed into private ownership and eventually the possession of Trinity College Dublin, where it can be seen today.

What this manuscript contains is the early influences on Christianity in Ireland. The British certainly influenced Ireland; men like Patrick (and countless others) introduced the Christian faith to the pagan Irish. Roman culture and theology also played a major role in shaping early Christian Ireland. Men like St. Jerome were seen as authoritative voices in matters of theological dispute. The language of Rome, Latin, permeates the manuscript, from Patrick’s Confession to the NT text itself, and it was the language of the early Irish Church. By no means least, we must remember the profound influence the Bible itself had on Irish Christianity. The Irish studied it, memorized it, copied it, and illuminated it. It became the focal point of Irish artistic and theological expression.

However, as time passed some of these influences became stumbling blocks. Men like Patrick, who called the Irish to faith in Christ, became the object of veneration and worship. Men like MuirchĂș (fl. 697) wrote that Patrick was given the right to save the Irish on the day of judgement, the book of Armagh preserves his Vita Patricii. Prayer to Patrick and the saints became the norm. The Latin Bible gradually became irrelevant and incomprehensible to the Irish as Latin learning waned. No attempt was made to translate the Bible into Irish. The Bible became venerated as an object while its message became suffused with extra-Biblical tradition. Today the average Irishman probably knows less about the Bible than in the early medieval period. We need once more to open the Scriptures to the Irish. Patrick is sometimes disparagingly called by scholars, homo unius libri (a man of one book), because his writings were packed with extensive Biblical quotations and little else. That’s the kind of teaching we need, that is the correct use of the Bible. We must like Philip, open our mouths, and beginning with this Scripture tell the good news about Jesus (cf. Acts 8.35).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Beati Pauperes Spiritu

Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are you David son of Jesse, for you saw that you were the poor man who thirsted for the living God, as in a dry and weary land. Surely you found streams of living water.
Blessed are you Simon Peter, you recognised that you were a sinful man, you confessed but then denied your Lord, your boasts turned to tears, you were restored to him who prayed for you, to Christ the good shepherd.
Blessed are you blind men of Capernaum, you sit in darkness, you know there is no light in you, you called out to the Son of David, and he had mercy on you, and your eyes beheld the light of the world.
Blessed are you wise men, you have come from the east to bow before the Wisdom of God. You have seen the star come out of Jacob, the sceptre rise out of Israel. You rejoiced greatly, because you fell down and worshipped the One who is for us Wisdom righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
Blessed are you sinful woman of the city, you owed much, but you have been redeemed. You bid the Saviours call and came unto him with a broken heart, you kissed the feet of him who brought you good news of forgiveness. You anointed the Anointed One, your faith saved you, and you went in peace.
Blessed are you Paul, so zealous for your own righteousness you persecuted the Righteous One, blind to your need of a saviour. Happy was the day when in blindness you saw. You saw the wretched man you were, poor, naked and blind, and saw Him who is Lord over all. For by grace were you saved not through your own doing, you could boast in nothing but Christ.
Blessed are you thief condemned to die. You who stole to become rich, reaped the laws condemnation. Yet when others saw a man forsaken your eyes beheld the inexpressible gift of God, when the mocking voices called on the Saviour to save himself you called upon him to remember you. Casting yourself on him who justifies the ungodly, yours is the kingdom of God this very day.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Augustine on seeking the Word made Flesh

"I sought, therefore, some way to acquire the strength sufficient to enjoy thee; but I did not find it until I embraced that "Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus," "who is over all, God blessed forever,” who came calling and saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," and mingling with our fleshly humanity the heavenly food I was unable to receive. For "the Word was made flesh" in order that thy wisdom, by which thou didst create all things, might become milk for our infancy. And, as yet, I was not humble enough to hold the humble Jesus; nor did I understand what lesson his weakness was meant to teach us. For thy Word, the eternal Truth, far exalted above even the higher parts of thy creation, lifts his subjects up toward himself. But in this lower world, he built for himself a humble habitation of our own clay, so that he might pull down from themselves and win over to himself those whom he is to bring subject to him; lowering their pride and heightening their love, to the end that they might go on no farther in self-confidence--but rather should become weak, seeing at their feet the Deity made weak by sharing our coats of skin--so that they might cast themselves, exhausted, upon him and be uplifted by his rising." Augustine, Confessions 7.XVIII.xxiv

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Generous Wrestler

Wrestling was a common sport in the Greco-Roman world. The early Christians sometimes used the analogy of the wrestler for their great champions of the faith. Men and women who refused to deny Christ and call Caesar Lord. Champions like a second century Gallic Christian martyr who “though small and weak and contemptible, but yet clothed with the mighty and invincible wrestler Christ Jesus” overcame the enemy and testified of Christ as she was killed. The fourth century church historian Eusebius refers to men and women who displayed great courage in the face of hatred and persecution as being aided by, “the divine power of our Saviour [infusing] such courage and confidence into his wrestlers.”

Wrestling was a rough business. Not the sort of theatrical nonsense that we see on TV today. This kind of ‘wrestling entertainment’ is more entertainment that wrestling, however, it is not a new phenomenon. The classical period had their own version of WWE. It was used by Gregory of Nazianzus as an analogy to Christological heresy. He described those who denied the full deity of Jesus as like ‘the promoters of wrestling-bouts in the theatres...the sort which are stage-managed to give the uncritical spectators visual sensations and compel their applause’. All style no substance.

True wrestling was a contest, a fight. The early Church fought not with physical violence but with the testimony of Christ (Eph 6.12-20). Christ himself was described as the supreme wrestler (still undefeated). Athanasius of Alexandria (d. AD 373) called Christ ‘a generous wrestler’. Since Christ was not afraid to meet his opponents on their home turf. Leaving heaven and the privileges entitled to him, for our sake, and to defeat the enemy, he took on a fully human nature and met the ‘strong man’, man to man, not in heaven but on earth, not in his throne room surrounded by angelic choirs, but on the hill of Calvary surrounded by mocking voices. In his famous work De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, Athanasius remarks how even though the enemies of Christ considered the cross of Calvary a victory against Jesus, Christ the greatest wrestler, defeated death!
A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lord calls - we approach with awe

"They will go after Adonai, who will roar like a lion; for he will roar, and the children will come trembling from the west."
Hosea 11.10 (CJB)