Friday, April 15, 2011

Surrendering wholly to grace

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the most influential theological forces of the medieval period, his influence on monasticism led to the Cistercian order. The famous abbey at Clairvaux, where Bernard was Abbot, produced several distinguished leaders of the western church, including a Pope. Visitors to Clairvaux were frequent, including a man who came from ‘the uttermost parts of the earth’, namely the Irish bishop Malachy who struck up an abiding friendship with Bernard.

Among Bernard’s many works of Biblical commentary are several sermons on the Song of Songs. In the following excerpt Bernard contemplates the nature of God’s grace in the heart of the believer.

A little later the Bride uses the same words again, unless I am mistaken, but not in the same order. With exquisite subtlety, she follows the order of the Prophet and says: `I am my Beloved's and he is mine.' Why this? Surely that she may show herself more full of grace when she surrenders wholly to grace, attributing to him both the beginning and the ending. How indeed could she be full of grace if there were any part of her which did not itself spring from grace? There is no way for grace to enter, if merit has taken residence in the soul. A full acknowledgment of grace then is a sign of the fullness of grace. Indeed if the soul possesses anything of its own, to that extent grace must give place to it; whatever you impute to merit you steal from grace. I want nothing to do with the sort of merit which excludes grace. I shrink from whatever I possess, that I may truly possess myself, unless that which makes me my own is to some extent my own. Grace restores me to myself, freely justified, and thus sets me free from the bondage of sin. For where the Spirit is, there is liberty.

s. Bernard, sermon on Song of Songs no. 67, part vi.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Early Irish Commentary on Mark's Gospel

Qui omnes condemnaverunt eum esse reum mortis
"And they all condemned him as deserving death" Mk 14.64
A manuscript in Turin preserves an early commentary on Mark’s Gospel written by an Irish theologian  (s. Cummean c.610). In Mark 14:64 where Jesus is condemned to death by the Sanhedrin the commentary reads.
So that with his cross He might cancel our own crucifixion, and by his death He might destroy our death. With the form of a serpent He slays the serpent, because by the serpent made of wood the other serpents are swallowed up. Whence He said through the prophet: ‘I will be your death, O death, and your destruction, O Hell’ (Hosea 13.14 Vul.). His reproach has removed our disgrace. His bonds have set us free. By the crown of thorns on His head we have gained the diadem of the kingdom. With His wounds we are healed. By his burial we are resurrected. By His descent into Hell we rise to heaven. Foreseeing all this, the prophet said, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116.12).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Suspended Nun

In the book of Judges chapter eighteen verse thirty an idolatrous Levite who participated in idol worship is named as Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses. The NJKV and NASB read ‘son of Manasseh’ here instead of ‘son of Moses’ (ESV, NIV). Which is it? This is the interesting case of ‘the suspended nun’. The nun in question is not a woman who is part of a religious order but the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The base text used in the OT for the NKJV, NASB, ESV and NIV is the same, namely the Masoretic Text as preserved in Codex Leningradensis B19a. So why do some versions read Manasseh and some Moses? The reason is that the name Manasseh is written in Hebrew as (מְנַשֶּׁה) and Moses is written as (מֹשֶׁה), the only difference in the consonantal text being the letter nun. In the Leningrad manuscript the name in question is written as Moses (מֹשֶׁה) but with the letter nun suspended between the mem and the shin letters. Several Masoretic manuscripts have this peculiar orthography as can be seen in this picture from the Aleppo Codex (which is even older than the Leningrad manuscript). Thus Moses can be re-read as Manasseh using the suspended nun.

If one looks to the Septuagint (LXX) we also get a diversity of scribal opinion. For example Codex Alexandrinus reads Moses (Μωυσῆς) and Codex Vaticanus reads Manasseh (Μανασση), so clearly both variant readings were in existence prior to the later medieval Masoretic Text. Incidentally, the Vulgate reads Moses (Mosi) here.

The reason for the suspension of the nun is explained in the Talmud, (Baba Bathra f. 109b) observes: “Was he a son of Gershom, or was he not rather a son of Moses? As it is written, the sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer, but because he did the deeds of Manasseh, the Scripture assigns him to the family of Manasseh.”

The shame that a grandson of Moses could be an apostate was hard to read and so the scribes added the consonant nun to theologically show that Jonathan was spiritually the son of the chief apostate in the OT, the wicked Manasseh. Such euphemistic interaction with the text was characteristic of Jewish scribes. The suspension of the nun allows the text to be read without bringing reproach on Moses, yet at the same time preserving the name Moses in the text. That it originally read Moses is clear, as is the high regard the Jewish scribes held Moses.