Friday, July 27, 2012

Colcu Ua Duinechda's Scúap Chrábaid

The prayer of Colcu
RIA MS 23 P 16, p74

Colcu Ua Duinechda (d. 794) is recorded in the Irish Annals as a famous scholar at the monastery of Clonmacnoise in Co. Offaly. An old Irish prayer attributed to him is known as the Scúap Chrábaid, it is preserved in several manuscripts in Ireland, Britain and Belgium.

The prayer is in the form of a litany and contains several interesting insights into Colcu’s theological training (such as a succinct summary of the hypostatic union) and also some typically Irish idiosyncrasies, such as describing the OT prophets as manchu (monks) and the apostle John as the foster-son of Jesus (this related in typically Irish terms how John was the disciple that Jesus loved).

Interestingly he lists the Apostolic Sees in the order Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome and Antioch. The first bishops of Rome are listed by him as Linus, Cletus and Clement. This is probably traced back to Irenaeus who names Linus as the first Bishop of Rome (Adversus haereses 3.3.3). The first bishop of Jerusalem is said by Colcu to have been Iacob ngluinech (James of the knees). This tradition is taken from Jerome’s De Viris Illustribus 2, which says of James that he spent so much time kneeling in prayer, “that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.”

Overall the prayer stresses the need for God’s grace to live the Christian life and the impossibility to live without it. Here is an excerpt,

“Grant, give and bestow on me your holy grace and your Holy Spirit to protect me and shelter me from sins, present, past and future, and to kindle in me every righteousness, and to sustain me in true purity and in uprightness to the close and end of my life…for it is not possible for me unless it comes according to the word of Paul, who said, who will rescue me from this body of death? Only your grace, Jesus Christ, you who rule forever!”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Das Bibelwerk and Irish exegesis of the book of Joshua

Facsimile of early Irish map of the tribes of Israel
from MS BNF lat. 11561, f43v
Circa AD 750 the early Irish church produced a biblical reference work that covered the entire bible Genesis to Revelation (referred to by Bischoff as das Bibelwerk). It's purpose was to provide a teaching text of the major themes and outlines contained in the biblical canon. This handy volume proved to be popular with continental Christians and today several manuscripts in France, Germany, and the Vatican, preserve it either in whole or in part.

In the section on Joshua there is an interesting map of the Holy Land with the tribal allotments. This is the earliest extant example of the use of a biblical map as a means of understanding the biblical text, something that we take for granted today. In drawing this map the Irish author had to rely on the biblical data and extra biblical sources. This was no mean achievement without the aid of an atlas.

The map is entitled as terre repromissionis (promised land) which is drawn from Hebrews 11:9, revealing, as Thomas O'Loughlinn has pointed out, that the author is viewing Joshua through the lens of the NT. The location of Dan to the north, as opposed to where it usually appears in modern biblical maps to the west of Ephraim, is due to Dan's northern migration away from their allotted land in the west to take easier territory in the north (Judges 17-21). Another curious feature is the tongue like shape of the dead sea (mare mortuum) which is shown in a south-westerly direction. This anomaly is derived from the fact that the author had in all likely-hood never seen the dead sea portrayed on a map and the text of Joshua 15:2-3 describes the dead sea as the tongue that faces to the south.

The cities listed on the map are Jerusalem, Rama, Bethlehem and the cities of refuge. The early Irish church took a great interest in the concept of the city of refuge (de civitatibus refugii). They adapted the rules laid down in the OT and applied them to their churches, in order for a church to qualify as a city of refuge it needed a bishop, a scholar and a superior. Irish canon law set down the rights and privileges for a church that acted as a city of refuge (cathair attaig). This application of the OT city of refuge to ecclesiastical sites was unique in Europe to the early Irish church in this period.

The use of a map in the reference work on the bible shows an originality and confidence to early Irish exegesis. It was a bold attempt to present the often confusing biblical details relating to tribal inheritance into a coherent and easy to understand format. In this it paved the way for later exegetes to do the same. It also shows us the ability of Irish exegetes at this stage to move beyond a simple allegorical interpretation of the text (such as Ailerán viewing the seven Canaanite nations as the seven vices) into a more historically sensitive interpretation that sought to understand the text as it related to the history of Israel.