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Acts 6:15 and the Face of Saint Kentigern (Mungo)

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  • james_snapp_jr
    At the very end of Acts 6:15, Codex Bezae has the phrase standing in their midst. D s Greek text here is ESTWTOS EN MESW AUTWN and the Latin text is
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 16, 2010
      At the very end of Acts 6:15, Codex Bezae has the phrase "standing in their midst." D's Greek text here is ESTWTOS EN MESW AUTWN and the Latin text is STANS IN MEDIO EORUM.

      This reading is not unique to D; something very similar is supported by the Old Latin copies h (Claronomtanus, from the 400's) and t (the Liber Commicus, a lectionary made in 1067), and by the Coptic "mae," i.e., the Middle Egyptian Glazier Codex a.k.a. G-67.

      J. Rendel Harris, in "Four Lectures on the Western Text," pages 70-75, proposed that this phrase is an integral part of the "Western" text, and that it was initially intended (and should be properly understood) not as if Stephen was standing in the midst, but as a reference to the high priest in the following verse (7:1).

      Harris offered several deductions following an analysis of the evidence: (1) the Bezan Latin is more archaic than the Bezan Greek, (2) the reading "of God" in it-h is an expansion, (3) the readings in D are less modified than the readings in it-h and the Leabhar Breac, (4) Bernard was wrong to praise the Greek of D as if it represented an earlier form than the Latin, (5) Blass was wrong in calling this phrase a part of the primitive text, (6) Chase was wrong in everything he said about this phrase, and (7) Harris is an idiot for not having seen all this sooner.

      Harris' basic idea is that the phrase is a gloss based on (or on a recollection of) Mark 14:60, where the high priest "arose in the midst" at Jesus' trial and proceeded to speak.

      Metzger, however, disagreed: "This explanation overlooks the fact that what is needed to describe the action of the high priest is not merely that he was standing, but that (as the Markan passage shows) he stood up in their midst and spoke; the gloss therefore belongs (as the Greek text of Bezae indicates) with what precedes." I disagree. First, the high priest *does* immediately proceed to speak in 7:1, asking a question (as is done in Mk. 14:60). Second, the contextual similarity to Mark 14:60 is close enough to tempt an embellisher to emphasize the parallels (some of which are already drawn by Luke) between Stephen's trial and the Sanhedrin-trial of Jesus, via the addition of this little phrase. Although copyists apparently misunderstood its significance later, I think the phrase initially was intended to refer to the high priest, not to Stephen.

      Metzger makes an additional comment in Footnote #9 on p. 342 of Textual Commentary, and again I disagree. Metzger mentions that Harris, in the Expository Times for 1927-1928, observed that in Capgrave's "Nova Legenda Angliae" – specifically in the "Life of Saint Kentigern" – the author states that Saint Kentigern's face, when he was praying, "sometimes appeared to bystanders as if it had been the face of an angel standing in their midst." The last phrase, in Capgrave's Latin text, is STANTIS INTER ILLOS. Harris stated, "Here there is an evident reference to the appearance of the face of Stephen when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin, and it is a reference made by way of a Western text, for it contains one of the famous Western glosses in the text of the Acts."

      Harris noted that in the Leabhar Breac, which he had already mentioned earlier in "Four Lectures on the Western Text" (on p. 71), there are the lines

      Metzger, however, objected: "Since, however, nothing is mentioned in the context which would connect the description of St. Kentigern with the account of Stephen in the book of Acts, the force of Harris' newly found "authority" for the Bezan text is mimimal."

      The alternative which Metzger prefers, it seems, is that in the Leabhar Breac and in the "Life of Saint Kentigern," this phrase appears fortuitously.

      However, I did a bit of digging in the "Life of Saint Kentigern" – a major saint of the 500's, active in Scotland, especially around Glasgow – which turned up something which may show that the author had a reason to describe him in terms that were also used to describe Stephen in the author's copy of Acts.

      Alexander Forbes helpfully translated Joceline of Furness's "Lives of Saint Ninian and Saint Kentigern" into English in 1874. (Btw, in the "Life of Saint Ninian" there is a clear use of Mark 16:20; it appears in Forbes' translation on page 15 on lines 12-13.) Forbes included an English translation of the same fragment in which Harris found the STANTIS INTER ILLOS phrase; it's on page 81, shortly after the beginning of chapter XXV:

      "Once upon a time, as the man of God continued longer and more intently occupied in prayer than usual, his face became as it were fire, so as to fill the bystanders with wonder and ecstasy. They beheld his countenance as the countenance of an angel standing among them, and as they saw his face shining like that of another Moses, astonishment and admiration seized them all."

      This sets the stage for a scene in which Kentigern is asked why his face was so intense as he prayed, and he explains that it was because he received a revelation of the death of Bishop Dewi, and because, in addition, it had been revealed to him that Britain would be overtaken by pagans, but would later thrive as a Christian place. Then the chapter closes:

      "It must be considered how great was the merit of that man in the sight of God, who, either with the eyes of the body or those of the soul, was deemed meet to behold such glory, and to deliver a prophecy concerning the Britons and Angles so true, which all England was able by a faith that was sight to verify."

      Now we should notice that almost immediately after the completion of the story itself comes this comment about the great merit of Saint Kentigern. It is almost as if the author wishes to establish that Kentigern deserved to be ranked very highly, as high as the martyrs, even though he died peacefully. In Joceline's account of the Life of Saint Kentigern, the same intention seems to be expressed: in a eulogy-like passage, in which Kentigern is called an angel, a confessor, and an apostle, we find also that the departed Kentigern is "mixed up in the ranks of those martyrs who are crowned by the purple of their rosy blood," and, in the same paragraph on page 116, "He deservedly is called martyr, who by constant and uninterrupted martyrdom mortified himself for Christ, and was proved to have had his heart prepared to sustain any kind of death, should the occasion require it."

      So, while Metzger is technically correct that there is nothing in the immediate context to connect Kentigern with Stephen the proto-martyr, there *is* an authorial agenda to depict Kentigern as a martyr-like individual, and by conforming Kentigern's image into that of Stephen, via the introduction of the phrase from Acts 6:15, that agenda was well-served.

      The "Life of Saint Kentigern" is practically effervescent with Scripture-quotations and allusions, and if this text has not been analyzed to see if it contains traces of Old Latin readings, someone should do so. It would make an excellent project. For if this "standing in their midst" phrase descends from a "Western" text of Acts, then where there is one such reading there are likely to be others. In the short span of the three pages (115-117) containing chapter XLIV, there is another interesting passage.

      Joceline relates that Kentigern died suddenly in a large baptistery which had hot water in it, as he was presiding over a group-baptism: "When the saint had been some little time in it, after lifting his hands and his eyes to heaven, and bowing his head as if sinking into a calm sleep, he yielded up his spirit." This may or may not be a conformation of Kentigern to the pattern set by Stephen in Acts 7:60, or to the pattern set by Jesus in Matthew 27:50.

      The baptistery-water in which Kentigern departed was considered particularly sacred: the author writes, "My judgment is that this bath is to be compared with the sheep-pool of Bethesda, in which, after the descent of the angel and the troubling of the water, one sick man was healed of whatsoever infirmity he had, but he was still liable to death . . . ." Two significant readings known to the author seem to come to the surface here: the name of the pool mentioned in John 5:2 is "Bethesda" rather than "Bethsaida," and the author clearly alludes to the angel of John 5:4. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the passage in Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliae, so I can't tell if "Bethesda" is a genuine reading here or if Forbes let his English rendering be conformed to what was, in 1874, the expected name of the pool.

      Then comes a use of Ephesians 2:17 (unless, on a much lower probability, it's Isaiah 57:19): Kentigern "announced to those who were far away, and those who were near, peace and safety in the blood of Christ."

      And soon after this is a use of Revelation 14:3-4: "From a virgin body he soared in white to the white-robed company of the virgins, that without stain he might stand by the throne of God and of the Lamb, and following Him whithersoever He goeth, might sing the new song which was only known to those who had not defiled their garments."

      It might be worthwhile to sift through the Leabhar Braec, too.

      On a light note: there is a connection between this text and the fictitious wizard-in-training Harry Potter! The hospital for wizards in the Harry Potter books is called Saint Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. In the books, the hospital's namesake is Mungo Bonham (1560-1659) but this make-believe individual's real namesake is almost certainly the real Saint Mungo – the nickname which was given to Saint Kentigern by his contemporaries.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.
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