|A ninth century copy of |
from the Irish monastery of s. Gall,
MS CSG 127
An Irishman, Cummian Fota from Co. Galway, wrote the earliest surviving commentary on Mark’s Gospel. He composed it in Latin around the year 610 and it became the most important commentary on Mark in the western church for the next 1000 years. Copies of it survive in nearly 100 manuscripts scattered all over Europe. A copy in Turin library is heavily glossed in old Irish, showing us the importance of the commentary to Irish exegetes.
Cummian’s commentary was later erroneously attributed to Jerome (which is a beautiful irony since Jerome once quipped his heretical foes were too ‘full of Irish porridge’!). The Latin speaking church, far from viewing this work as Irish porridge, incorporated it into the standard medieval reference work the Glossa Ordinaria and Aquinas cited from it in his Catena Aurea.
The commentary deals with all twelve chapters of Mark and its main themes are Christ, the virtuous Christian life, the unity of the church and asceticism. The exegetical method draws deeply from the Alexandrian allegorical school, and Patristic sources.
Clare Stancliff questioned Cummian’s authorship on internal grounds but Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Maura Walsh have defended it, (if your interested see Maura Walsh and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Cummian's Letter De Controversia Paschali, Toronto: PIMS, 1988). Several of the commentary's features point to an Irish author, for example;
- Use of the tres linguae sacrae
- Descriptions of Jesus and the disciples in a currach on the sea of Galilee (puppis mortius pellibus)
- Descriptions of the authors home land as ‘a western nation, wild and untamed’
- Interest in the correct Easter computus
- The Celtic inverted Eucharistic formula
- The Cross-Vigil method of prayer (crux-vigilia)
The late German scholar Bernhard Bischoff also pointed out that a manuscript in Angers, France (not a copy of the commentary) records that a new commentary on Mark was written by one Comiano, whom he argued was our Cummian (nouellum auctorem in Marcum nomine Comiano, Angers, Bibl. munic., 44). Angers library also contains what is generally seen as the best copy of Cummian’s commentary (ms 275).
There are so many great passages in this little commentary, here is a sampling from chapter 14, the trial of Jesus;
“Peter follows from a distance. Here is a man with two minds, inconstant in all his ways (cf. James1.8). Fear draws back but love draws forward. …some said we heard this man saying I will destroy this temple. It is the custom for heretics to extract an imperfect representation from the truth. He did not say what they claim, but a similar expression about the temple of his own body which after three days he reawakened. … The High Priest standing interrogates Jesus but he remained silent…The silence of Christ absolves the excuses of Adam…[Christ is declared guilty] This was so that by his guilt he might remove our guilt; that by the blindfold on his face he might take the blindfold from our hearts; that by receiving the spits, he might wash the face of our soul, that by the blows, by which he was struck on the head, he might heal the head of the human race, which is Adam… The high Priests stirred up the crowds so that they would ask for Barabbas and so that they might crucify Jesus. Here we have the two goats. One is termed ἀποπομπαίος meaning ‘the scapegoat’ (cf. Lev. 16). He is set free with the sin of the people and sent into the desert of hell. The other goat is slain like a lamb for the sins of those who have been set free. The Lord’s portion is always slaughtered. The portion of the devil, who is their master, is cast out, without restriction, into the infernal regions.”