Sunday, 12 June 2011

St Barnabas's Day


Bountiful God, giver of all gifts,
who poured your Spirit upon your servant Barnabas
and gave him grace to encourage others:
help us, by his example,
to be generous in our judgements
and unselfish in our service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. AMEN.

The blessed apostle, on whose festa I was ordained Deacon 18 years ago, is given as the source of some funny ideas as this section from the "Epistle of Barnabas" attests:

"Barnabas 10:6-8 Moreover thou shalt not eat the hare. Why so? Thou shalt not be found a corrupter of boys, nor shalt thou become like such persons; for the hare gaineth one passage in the body every year; for according to the number of years it lives it has just so many orifices. Again, neither shalt thou eat the hyena; thou shalt not, saith He, become an adulterer or a fornicator, neither shalt thou resemble such persons. Why so? Because this animal changeth its nature year by year, and becometh at one time male and at another female. Moreover He hath hated the weasel also and with good reason. Thou shalt not, saith He, become such as those men of whom we hear as working iniquity with their mouth for uncleanness, neither shalt thou cleave unto impure women who work iniquity with their mouth. For this animal conceiveth with its mouth." (JB Lightfoot's translation)

Mad patristic metaphysics and dodgy biology are not really what I see as the  defining hallmarks of this good and holy saint. Grace, the gift of helping others to grow closer to god and a willingness to serve humbly for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom are.  I shall ignore the ancient loopiness others credited him with and honour the man in Acts.

Tertullian and other early Western theologians regarded Barnabas as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Which may have been the early Roman tradition, which Tertullian usually follows.  According to Photius (Quaest. in Amphil., 123), Barnabas wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Most modern scholars go for St Luke.

He is also traditionally associated with the Epistle of Barnabas, although modern scholars think it more likely that it was written in Alexandria in the 130s. The 6th century Decretum Gelasianum includes a Gospel of Barnabas amongst works condemned as apocryphal; but no certain text or quotation from this work has been identified.  Another book using that same title, the "Gospel of Barnabas", survives in two post-medieval manuscripts in Italian and Spanish. Contrary to the canonical Christian Gospels, and in accordance with the Islamic view of Jesus, this later states that Jesus was not the son of God, but a prophet and messenger. The book also says Jesus rose alive into Heaven without having been crucified. Allegedly, it also mentions by name, the Comforter, as Mohammad.

Happy St Barnaby's Day !

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