6 January 2024


Megaboringly, I often explain that "Textual Criticism" doesn't mean anything like what most people assume, but refers to the attempt to rediscover what an 'original ' text said, before the process of manuscript copying changed it.  

Today, I offer you another bit of 'textcrit'.

 During this Epiphany period, we consider tria mysteria, the Magi, the Wedding at Cana, and (possibly, most anciently) the Lord's Baptism. In S Matthew's account of the third of these, there is an intriguing addition between verses 15 and 16 of chapter 3. Some early witnesses add: "And when he was baptised, a gigantic light shone all around from the water, so that all who had come were full of fear".

Obviously not original ... it is to be dumped. But there is a little problem about the dumping.

The insertion is very old indeed. And it seems to receive some some support from a now-lost Jewish-Christian Gospel, the Gospel according to the Ebionites, and from S Justin. And vide the Homily at PG 10: 858-862.

Obviously, we have here a tradition which goes back to an early time when the distinction between Orality and Literacy was far from rigid; to a time when the traditions were fluid. 

With a keener eye, you will discern in our immeasurably ancient Roman Liturgy hints of this tradition, in which Light streams from Water. In our Mass for the Epiphany, we urge Jerusalem (Lectio et vide  Graduale) to be illuminated, because her Light is coming. And in the Preface, there is that wonderful phrase nova nos immortalitatis suae luce reparavit.  

I have sometimes wondered whether the Leading Star of the Magi became associated with the Festival of Baptismal Light so as to give us our combined Western Festival of Light.

At nearly every Mass, we Latins splendidly conclude with the Johannine prologue, which ... think about it, look at it ... intrigues us by playing with the the notion of the Life being the Light of men; the Light which shines in the darkness which cannot master it. S John instructs us who is not, and who is, the Light. The identity of the incarnate God is one of S John's greatest themes; perhaps we think too little about it. Barrett's Commentary on the Greek Text of John has been helpful to me. And I suspect that, just as S John teaches us about the Eucharist in chapter 6 rather than when the Last Supper is in our minds, so he explains about the Light at the beginning of his Gospel when those ancient traditions about the Lord's Baptism were still alive and fruitful.

1 comment:

Atticus said...

Three is a Magic number,
Beyond all mortal guessing;
And may our mansions be made hale
Through Christ and His kings' blessing.