Monday, December 23, 2013

When the Word Safely Came

Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil was an Irish Franciscan scholar who lived in the 17th century (1571-1626). He studied in Europe and helped established the Irish colleges at Louvain and Rome. He wrote several Christmas poems in Irish that focus on the mystery and magnificence of the Incarnation. To his friends he was known as Aodh Mac Aingil (Aodh son of an Angel) and he adopted this as his nom de plume.

His poem entitled A Naoidhe Naoimh (O Holy Child) presents the author as a witness to the nativity of Christ. Here the mystery of the eternal Son of God and the Child of Mary are explored in this excerpt.


Dia do bheatha, a naoidhe naoimh                 [My greetings to you, o holy child,]
Isan mainséar cé taoi bocht                        [Though in your manger you are so poor,]
Meadhrach saidhbhir atá tú                        [In your happiness you are so rich.]
'S glórmhar id dhún féin anocht                    [You are glorious in your stronghold this night.]

Míle fáilte a–nocht i gclí                         [My welcomes tonight to the Incarnate]
Le mo chroidhe dom rígh fial                    [With all my heart to my generous king;]
In dá nádúir ó do-chuaidh                        [Since he now has two natures,]
Póg is fáilte uaim do Dhia                        [A kiss of welcome to my God. ]

A naoidhe bhig atá mór                           [O little child you are so great,]
A leanbáin óig atá sean                           [O young infant you are so old,]
San mainséar ní chuire a lán                                  [You couldn’t get a lot into that manger]
Cé nach bhfagha áit ar neamh                    [Yet all of heaven cannot contain you.]

Ar neamh dhíbh gan mháthair riamh             [In heaven you never even had a mother]
Gan athair 'nar n-iath a-nos                      [Nor a father down here below,]
It fhír Dhia riamh atá tú                          [True God for ever are you]
Is id dhuine ar dtús a-nocht                                  [Yet tonight is your first ever as man.]

His most famous Christmas poem was entitled Don oíche úd i mBeithil (That Night in Bethlehem). It has been put to music and is still a popular Irish Christmas carol (I remember learning it on the tin whistle in school as a child). The incarnation of Christ is described as the safe arrival of the Word (go dtáinigh an Briathar slán). The message and the person of Christ are connected by the title an Briathar (the word).

Don oíche úd i mBeithil,                                       [Of that night in Bethlehem]
beidh tagairt ar ghrian go brách,                           [There will be mention made forever under the sun]
don oíche úd i mBeithil,
                                        [Of that night in Bethlehem]
go dtáinigh an Briathar slán;                                 [When the Word Safely came]

Tá gríosghru' ar spéartha                                     [The skies are glowing]
'san talamh 'na chlúdach bán;                              [and a blanket of white on the ground]
Féach Íosagán sa chléibhín,                                 [Behold little Jesus in the manger]
'san mhaighdean á dhiúl le grá.                           [And the Virgin nursing him with love]

Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe                                  [On the bare mountain-side]
go nglacann na haoirí scáth,                               [Where the shepherds seek shelter]
nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire                           [When in the bright opening of the skies]
tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil:                                       [God's messenger appears]

Céad glóir' anois don Athair                              [A hundred glories now to the Father]
i bhflaitheas thuas go hard!                                [In the highest heaven]
is feasta fós ar talamh                                        [and henceforth now on earth]
d'fheara deamhéin' síocháin!                             [peace of men and goodwill]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Irish Scribal Habits: Scriptio Continua And The Need For Space

A fourth century Latin codex with Scriptio Continua
Early Latin and Greek manuscripts employed Scriptio Continuo, i.e. sentences were written as a continuous line of text without spaces between the words. Tothemodernreaderthisseemsdifficult. Early biblical manuscripts in Greek (and in Latin) were also written in Scriptio Continua. As Greek is a heavily inflected language it is normally easy to know when a word ends and a new one begins, even without spaces. However, on rare occasions Scriptio Continua did cause textual problems. For example at Mark 10:40 ἄλλοις could be read as ("for others"), or it could be divided into two words ἀλλʼ οἷς ("but for those"). Syntactical concord favors the second reading.

As Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire, Latin was a foreign language to the Irish. Their desire to learn and master Latin was driven by primarily theological and pastoral motives. Latin was the language of the western church, in her liturgy, theology, creeds, and scripture. The public reading of scripture in the early Irish church was an important part of theological training and also for the spiritual life of a monastic community.

According to Frederick G. Kilgour,  "For the Irish monk who did not have Latin as a native tongue and was not intimately familiar with its varying forms of declension, conjugation, and inflection, reading an unbroken string of Latin words out loud to others was a formidable task. To facilitate oral reading the Irish scribes used space between words to make them more readily visible. Irish monasteries introduced word separation to continental monasteries, but it was not until the eleventh century that the practice was generally accepted on the continent."

This Irish scribal habit, the use of spaces between words, is probably the most obvious influence of the Irish Scriptoria still in vogue today.


Detail from an Irish manuscript (Book of Kells) showing word division in the Latin text


For more see,

Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, eds. A History of Reading in the West. UMP, 1999.

Frederick G. Kilgour. The Evolution of the Book. OUP, 1998.

Edward M. Thompson. An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography. OUP, 1912.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ecce Homo at the old Ennis Friary

The old Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Ireland
During my last trip home to Ireland I visited the old Franciscan friary in my hometown of Ennis with my mother. The friary was established in the 13th century by the poweful O'Brien clan. It was a center for ecclesiastical study in its day with several hundred students studying theology in its schools. The town of Ennis later grew up around it. The old friary is mentioned in a 14th century Irish history - the Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh - which describes it as,


A new roof over the nave
"...diversely beautiful, delectable: washed by a fish-giving stream; having lofty arches, walls limewhited; with its order of chastity and their golden books, its sweet religious bells; its well-kept graves, homes of the noble dead; with furniture of both crucifix and illuminated tomes, both friar's cowl and broidered vestment; with windows glazed, with chalice of rare workmanship; a blessed and enduring monument which for all time shall stand a legacy and memorial of the prince that raised it.

The old friary was disestablished by Henry VIII during the English Reformation and later passed into Church of Ireland ownership. It fell into much disrepair in the following centuries, though it was still in use as a Protestant church as late as the 19th century. It is undergoing repair and preservation at the moment.

In the nave there is an interesting sculpted panel depicting Christ being presented by Pilate to the crowds. The famous Ecce Homo (behold the man!) scene of John 19:5. The panel depicts Christ stripped and bound. Around him the panel is filled with the instruments of His passion. Most of the symbols are obvious (the nails, the pillar, the dice, the seamless garment etc.). Some are less obvious. The top right panel depicts a hand holding a clump of hair (cf. Isaiah 50.6). 

The Ecce Homo panel at the old Ennis friary was intended to help the faithful reflect on the passion of Christ. It's an emotive scene replicated countless times in Christian art. D. A. Carson, in his commentary on John's Gospel gave the following reflection on Christ standing before his accusers,


The Ecce Homo panel at Ennis Friary

"Once more Pilate steps out of the praetorium to address the Jews. He delivers his verdict, and then dramatically presents Jesus—a sorry sight, swollen, bruised, bleeding from those cruel and ridiculous thorns. Aware as he is that it is the people who must choose the man who will receive the governor’s amnesty, he presents Jesus as a beaten, harmless and rather pathetic figure to make their choice of him as easy as possible. In his dramatic utterance Here is the man! (in Latin, Ecce homo!), Pilate is speaking with dripping irony: here is the man you find so dangerous and threatening: can you not see he is harmless and somewhat ridiculous? If the governor is thereby mocking Jesus, he is ridiculing the Jewish authorities with no less venom. But the Evangelist records the event with still deeper irony: here indeed is the Man, the Word made flesh. All the witnesses were too blind to see it at the time, but this Man was displaying his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, in the very disgrace, pain, weakness and brutalization that Pilate advanced as suitable evidence that he was a judicial irrelevance."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Per Fidem Solam: Romans 3:24 in the Würzburg Glosses


Romans 3 in the Würzburg Codex (f2r)
I have already written on the Irish Würzburg glosses here. I'm working through Romans 3 for school at the moment and so I thought I would examine the Würzburg glosses to see how an early Irish theologian interpreted the same text in the 8th century.

I've reproduced both the biblical text and the glosses here together. The glosses are italicized and were originally written in Gaelic and Latin.

"(23) For all have sinned and do need the glory of God. (24) Being justified freely by his grace [that is, by faith alone, i.e. the faith of belief in Jesus Christ], through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [that is, it is He that has redeemed and it is He also that is the ransom, i.e. by the blood] (25) Whom God had proposed to be a propitiation [that is, it has been set forth in the mysteries of the Godhead, to make atonement for those who believe his liberation would be in the blood], through faith in his blood, [that is, through the faith of every one who believes in his salvation through His blood] to the showing of his justice, for the remission of former sins."

The gloss 'Per Fidem Solam'
added in tiny a tiny hand over 'per gratiam ipsius'
What is interesting is the phrase 'by faith alone'. Our Irish scribe added this gloss in Latin (per fidem solam) over verse 24 'justified freely by his grace' (Iustificati gratis per gratiam ipsius) and then expanded it with a Gaelic gloss relating this justification by faith alone to faith in Christ.

Luther was famously criticized for adding 'alone' (allein) to his German translation of Romans 3.28, 'man is justified by faith [alone]', although it doesn't appear in the Greek (or Latin text). Of course Luther's 1522 translation wasn't the first vernacular translation to add 'alone' to Romans 3.28. Several earlier Roman Catholic editions did the same thing (e.g. the Nuremberg Bible of 1488, the Geneva Italian version of 1476). In a similar fashion our 8th century Irish theologian interpreted Romans 3.24 as teaching justification per fidem solam. Luther, it seems, wasn't alone.

... id est per fidem solam ...
... per gratiam ...
Ó Néill, Pádraig P., “The Old-Irish glosses of the prima manus in Würzburg, m.p.th.f.12: text and context reconsidered”, in: Richter, Michael, and Jean-Michel Picard (eds.), Ogma: essays in Celtic studies in honour of Próinséas Ní Chatháin, Dublin: Four Courts, 2002. 230–242.

Breen, Aidan, “The Biblical text and sources of the Würzburg Pauline glosses (Romans 1–6)”, in: Ní Chatháin, Próinséas, and Michael Richter (eds.), Irland und Europa im früheren Mittelalter: Bildung und Literatur / Ireland and Europe in the early Middle Ages: learning and literature, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1996. 9–16.


Ní Chatháin, Próinséas, “Notes on the Würzburg glosses”, in: Ní Chatháin, Próinséas, and Michael Richter (eds.), Irland und die Christenheit: Bibelstudien und Mission. Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and the missions, Veröffentlichungen des Europa Zentrums Tübingen. Kulturwissenschaftliche Reihe, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1987. 190–199.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Judas the Trógán

Book of Armagh f. 38a.
Trógán is added to the second column half way
down the page in the center margin.
In the Book of Armagh at Matthew 10:4, next to Judas Iscariot's name the Irish scribe wrote trógán in the margin (i.e. miserable wretch). Irish commentators like Cummian regarded Judas as one the chief heretics of the world, along with Simon Magus and Arius, "whose memory is deadly." 

A far more elaborate scribal attack on the enemies of Christ can be seen in a 14th century Greek-Latin diglot manuscript of the Gospels (Greg. & Aland no. 54). In that particular manuscript, possibly written by an Armenian scribe, four different ink colours are used for the gospel content.

For the general narrative he used vermillion, for the words of Jesus he used red, (some bible's still employ this tradition today), for OT quotes of the followers of Jesus (e.g. Mary, John the Baptist, the disciples) he used blue. But for Judas, the Pharisees, the devil and (strangely) for the shepherds in the nativity account, he used black ink.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Symbols of the Evangelists in the Irish Tradition

Book of Kells, f. 27v
A seventh century Irish commentary on the four Gospels (Expositio quattuor evangeliorum) explains the four symbols of the Evangelists; “There are four symbols which designate the four Evangelists: a man’s face for Matthew; a calf’s face for Luke; a lion’s face for Mark; and an Eagle’s face for John. All these our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled in Himself. He was a man in his birth, a calf in his sacrifice, a lion in his resurrection, and an eagle in his ascension.”

Another Irish writer applies the symbols to the Christian's life. The Lion represents the strong in faith; the Calf, the merciful; the Man, humility; and the Eagle stands for the mystic.

The ultimate source for these widespread symbols of the four evangelists is in Ezekiel 1.10 and Revelation 4.7. Next time you're in an old church keep your eye out for these four symbols, you're bound to see them somewhere.

(To my Corkonians, have you noticed them above the west front facade of St. Finbarr's Cathedral?)