In an exciting bit of news for those who care about such things, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland has recently put a new work on display: the Codex Usserianus Primus. May I introduce you to a seventh-or-possibly-fifth-century fragment of the Gospel?
The manuscript is fragmentary, but contains “one extant decoration in the shape of a framed cross marking the end of Saint Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Saint Mark’s” (source). Scholars debate the origin of the text and are not sure whether it was written inside Ireland or perhaps on the continent, but set the date from somewhere around the 5th to 7th century. You can view the digitized codex in its entirety here.
I always smile when I see something like this. I felt the same way in Rome when I stumbled into ancient churches or found rudimentary crosses carved into stone, evidence of believers long gone. Something about those places felt strangely home-like and comforting: a reminder of the enduring, eternal nature of the Gospel and how it continues to exist and transform over different ages and different cultures.
I’ve read several accounts of the monks and scribes who produced documents like the Codex: it was an elaborate and tedious, although meditative, job. I wonder if, at the time, those monks and scribes understood the full significance of what they were doing or understood what it might yet become. When they carefully inked crosses and elaborate borders, when they transcribed the word of God with great and deliberate care, could they possibly have imagined us? Believers, centuries removed, worshiping the same God and reading the same Word? Hauling it around on portable electronics and passing it out freely?
It’s easy for us to narrow our perspective of Christianity down to what our church is doing, or what our group of Christian friends is doing, or even what we are doing by ourselves. And in that frame Christianity can often feel “small” and even localized. But we serve a big God. And a glance at something like the Codex reminds me that God truly has raised a mighty army of believers, both in the past and the present and in the future, and that we cannot fully fathom the extent of what He desires His church to do under His grace by serving in love.
If you’re discouraged because what you do feels like not all that much, or if you’re suffering from drop-in-the-ocean syndrome – where everything you can do seems like nothing at all – then take heart. You’re not working alone. You’re not serving alone. Countless followers of Christ have come before you and exist alongside you and will come after you, and you have something important to offer at this historical moment, at this particular time. God’s plan and the great work of Christianity is so much greater than we can imagine: a love and a faith that encompasses all who willingly follow. We may never be able to make out the entire scope of it – surely it’s beyond our comprehension – but we are playing a part.
The faith-work of today can be the blessing for generations to come, even when we don’t realize it. Keep at it.
2 thoughts on “Walking In The Footsteps Of Those Who Came Before”
On another note, you know I’ve been to Trinity College too. It was hard to get good photos of the long room due to no flash, etc. Well, we were recently at a art festival and a professional photographer had GORGEOUS, STUNNING photos of the long room! Different sizes. We bought an average size one and oh, I love it in my den. He had huge ones, but we don’t have a wall/house situation to handle it – but it would have been near lifelike – really standing in the long room. Drool!
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Oh wow! What a fantastic get!
When we were @ Trinity they actually had photography prohibited in the long room entirely due to some displays in there and I was so disappointed because nothing quite captures the grandeur of being in that room. It is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. We saw the Book of Kells when we were at Trinity, too, but I’d love to return and get a look at some of the new displays like the Codex there…and just marvel at it all again.
We’re actually going back to Ireland in a few months – Donegal & Connemara. With a better camera I intend to make the photos count!
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