The Codex Amiatinus and Northumbia

[ Among the many wonders of my years as a scholar at Durham was the opportunity to make several visits up to Jarrow and one trip to Monkwearmouth.  Many towns and villages and even city centers in England have managed to maintain their historic charm.  The same cannot be said for either Jarrow or St. Peter’s, Monkwearmouth.  The part of Jarrow in which the church of St. Paul sits is now an industrial park.  And St. Peter’s, Monkwearmouth, is surrounded by small businesses and the University of Sunderland, which is not even old enough to be among England’s Victorian “red brick universities.”  So, it is striking to think that the joint monastic foundation of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s were once a center for evangelization, culture, and learning for much of England and, indeed, for much of Europe.  (On a trip to Melk, Austria, I learned that their oldest manuscript is a transcription of a manuscript by St. Bede the Venerable.) 

The article linked here provides further information on the long-lasting importance of the work carried out by the monks of Jarrow and Monkwearmouth.  (And this is in addition to the fact that they simply prayed the Office day in and day out, which I would consider their most important work.)  (Hood-doff to Fr. Matthew Dallman for pointing out this article.)  No matter how important Sts. Benet Biscop, Ceolfrith, and Bede thought their work was, they certainly saw their most important work as living their vocations as faithfully as possible, in and out of season, and leaving the results in God’s hands.  If they had foreseen the Viking raids and their monastic lands given over to oil tankers and car parks, they might well have lost heart.  Instead, they faithfully labored on, and we are all the better for it.  Difficult to define though it is, this attitude of carrying on without expecting to make a splash is part and parcel of English spirituality.  John Henry Newman was later to express the same idea in a famous statement of his:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.]

What makes this big book [the Codex Amiatinus] so important? For one, scholars agree it is the text closest to Jerome’s Latin translation as it was most likely done from a manuscript brought directly from Rome by Benedict. As such, it was the principal text that shaped the Roman Catholic Church for more than 1,000 years. And, it remains the basis of the Bible for the worldwide church.

Further, the Codex Amiatinus connects today directly with the earliest translation of the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew. That alone is important to anyone studying a text that has shaped the Western World and now is a text shaping the growing Christian Church in Asia and Africa. For Christian believers, the Codex Amiatinus is a direct connection to the faithful across time.

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