9 January 2011

A Great Light

In the Matthaean account of the Lord's Baptism, which OF worshippers visit in Year A, there is a delicious varia lectio in a couple of manuscripts of the Vetus Latina. After S John Baptist permits the Lord to be baptised, these mss add: and when he was baptised, a great light shone around from the water, so that all who had come there were fearful.

This reminds me of Pseudo-Hippolytus (PG 10, 862), "The one who with faith goes down into this washing of rebirth ... returns from Baptism brilliant as the Sun, shining rays of righteousness". After all, we all know that the baptised are Illuminati; and perhaps that word is not intended in the merely subjective sense of having his understanding enlightened. I draw your attention also to the passage of S Gregory Nazianzenus which the Liturgia Horarum offers for the Patristic Lection on the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.

As Old Testament students, we recall the Pillar of Fire passing through the waters of the Red Sea. And as liturgists, we remember standing by the font at the Easter Vigil and plunging the candle into the waters of Regeneration. Our typological mathematic is that 1+1+1=a whole lot more than 3.

Uncharacteristically, I am not going to tell you a long list of things which you should be thinking. I would like to invite you to meditate upon ...
---the importance of Typology in our theologising - a typology which embraces Old Testament, New Testament, and Liturgy ...
---the question of what Scripture is. We all know the old arguments about "What is the Canon of Scripture?", at their fiercest when the 'Reformers', with their horrible legalism, wished to erect Scripture as a forensic engine for discerning true doctrine, and therefore needed to know what is Scripture*. But an awareness of the fluidity of the texts of the Scriptures has grown in the last century: the more early NT papyri we discover, the more we find a strange phenomenon. You might expect that, as we press earlier and earlier, backwards towards an 'authorial text', we might find that variants in the text get fewer. But we find the opposite is true (something similar could be said of the textual critcism of Homer). So scholars increasingly, and rightly, wonder if the concept of a stable monomorphic authorial text is in fact anything but a mirage in the desert. And when we turn to the Old Testament, mss from Qumran and elsewhere reveal to us the precarious status of the claim that the Masoretic text is in some sense normative for Christians.

So ... we know, for example, that the pericope de adultera is not part of the 'original text' of S John; manuscript evidence is here supported by stylometric and lexicographical evidence. "But that doesn't make it any less canonical" ... we say. But when we get down to details, things get murkier. If we are to select those readings in the Hebrew, Aranaic, and Greek texts which are supported by an authoritative Vulgate ... then Vulgate or neoVulgate? If Vulgate, then Sixtine or Clementine? There are differences. What about the Vetus Latina? What about the psalter reading "The Lord has reigned from the tree"? ... which left its mark, not least upon a hymn of Venantius Fortunatus.

Moi, I'm terribly liberal. I think that even that jolly little interpolation into Matthew with which I began this post is Part Of The Great Rich Wholeness Of Scripture. Like some Englit chappies, I believe that Reception is Part of Text. I am set free to take this view by the fact that I am not, like the Prods and the Liberals, bogged down by some grim need to discern some sort of entrenched minimum which some magisterium (Calvin's or the CDF's) enforces and guarantees. I bob along in a warm, welcoming, and enriching sea called Tradition.


*Entertainingly, of course, the ultra-fundamental question for the protestant of what constitutes the Canon of Scripture is not itself answered in the Scriptures except by a sort of canonised circularity. The Articles of the C of E amusingly introduce the prescription of S Vincent's Quod semper quod ubique quod ab omnibus ("of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church"), unaware that they are thereby assigning an infallible Magisterium to the Rabbis of Jamnia.


David said...

Fr H, Do you think that the Canon of Scripture is closed? The list of books given by the Council of Trent did not include all OT books that are in the Septuagint. Is it possible that they might all be canonical?

Pastor in Valle said...

Justin Martyr, I seem to remember, testifies that at our Lord's Baptism fire was kindled in the Jordan.
(Trypho, 88;3)

Albertus said...

The very odd thing about the Vulgata of St. Jerome, which is or was the official Scriptural text of the Catholic Church and recognised as ''authentic'', is that the Old Testament is a mixture of Septuaginta and Masoretic versions. Some books were left in their Septuagint version, others scrapped and replaced by translations of the Hebrew masoretic, other books became mixtures of the two. I am convinced that the Septuaginta is and should be recognised as the Old Testament of all Christians. Did Trent positively and infallibly exclude from the canon the couple extra OT books that the Greek Orthodox possess, and which are included in an appendix to our own Latin Vulgata editions? I don't know for sure, but i think not. The mixed text of the Vulgata is already an indication that the canon and contents of this text cannot possibly have been infallibly defined, being that it is differs from the Vetus Itala and the Septuaginta, both of which were in use before St. Jerom├ęs translation.

fieldofdreams2010 said...

I don't know about extra books, but the Biblical Commission seems to say that the Greek and Hebrew versions, where they differ, are equally canonical (Interpretation of the Bible in the Church pp50ff; The Jewish People and their sacred Scriptures pp39ff).

Figulus said...


Yes, the somewhat amusing notion of "tritocanonical books", as a supplement to the deuterocanonical, is a real possibility.