Yesterday, a Lutheran Seminary in Chicago presented Archbishop Demetrios with the 9th century Codex 1424, long missing from a Greek monastery.
A rare manuscript, known among biblical scholars as Codex 1424, has had quite a history. Not only are its contents historical, but so is the book’s journey home.
In the 9th century, a monk named Savvas transcribed a copy of the New Testament. The writer or person who assigned him the task is unknown. Concerned with the accuracy of his work – and the importance of his task – this “humble and lowly monk” notes at the end of the book that he hopes there are no errors.
Codex 1424 is the oldest complete miniscule manuscript (written in cursive script) of the Greek New Testament in the world. It presents a tremendous opportunity for multi-level study. Ralph W. Klein, curator of the rare book collection at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, described the value of the book.
“Manuscripts like Codex 1424 enable New Testament scholars to construct a definitive text of the Greek New Testament since none of the original texts has survived and ancient manuscripts contain thousands of variant readings. It represents the Byzantine family of manuscripts that became a backbone for the Textus Receptus in the 16th century and was the Greek edition used by translators of the King James Version.”
Codex 1424 is unique
Written in Koine Greek, Codex 1424 is a unique work, as there are purposeful omissions. The book also includes handwritten comments by Fathers of the Church — namely St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others — added three centuries later. There’s also commentary on those comments, making the book, a veritable “conversation between two covers.”
The order of the books of this New Testament is most unusual. The Book of Revelation, which today is located at the end of the New Testament, is included here before the Letters from St. Paul. Incidentally, there is no sidebar commentary in this transcription of the Book of Revelations, likely adhering to Revelation 22:18-19, which warns against that.
“For I testify together to everyone who hears the Words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add on him the plagues that have been written in this Book. And if anyone takes away from the Words of the Book of this prophecy, God will take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which have been written in this Book.”
Savvas wrote Codex 1424 in Constantinople, and it was later transferred to the Monastery of Panagia Eikosifoinissa, in the Paggaion mountain range, near Drama, Greece. In 1917, the manuscript and other religious items were stolen from the monastery. The book made its way to Germany, and ultimately to a European book dealer. Levi Franklin Gruber, who went on to become president of the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, purchased the book in 1920. He bequeathed the ancient manuscript to the seminary. When the seminary moved and became the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, the priceless book went with it.
Recently, the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew, directly and through representatives in the U.S., made a formal request for the return of Codex 1424. The response — yes.
On returning the manuscript
At a special presentation on November 15, Rev. Dr. James Nieman, president of LSTC spoke about the long journey the book has made.
“Many hands have read it and reflected on it with wonder at its Good News. Now it resumes its journey back home.”
He revealed why they decided to return the book.
“We don’t have to – we GET to, and we WANT to hand it on. It’s a gift we’re delighted to hand to you. But it comes with sorrow as well. Nothing can make up for its loss, which makes it a true gift, and knowing the joy it brings to you, our friends in Christ.”
The gift is a symbolic one.
“It’s a symbol of our mutual faithfulness. We’re returning the book to show others a new course for living with others. We are delighted, sad, and thankful. May its homecoming be joyful.”
Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America spoke about relations with the Orthodox Church.
“The Orthodox Church cultivates dialog, and has led efforts to restore unity among Christians. The Lutheran Church enjoys its relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church. We began our dialog in 1981. This historic moment initiates renewed theological dialog in the U.S. We return Codex 1424 to its rightful home. We pray for its safe return.”
Archbishop Demetrios receives the gift
LSTC held a special ceremony on November 15. Following prayers, the seminary faculty passed around the book, then handed it to the president. He presented it to Archbishop Demetrios, who accepted the gift on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
“This is an act of generosity of immense proportions, a remarkable act of ecumenical activity.”
He said he hopes others will follow the “fine example” of LSTC and voluntarily return manuscripts to their rightful home.
“Our gratitude to the LSTC is enormous indeed for adhering to the original spiritual intent and moral mandate of the manuscript itself.”
At the end of the ceremony, Archbishop Demetrios presented the seminary with a beautiful icon of Jesus holding the New Testament, made specially for the occasion. He will personally present the codex to the Holy Metropolis of Drama, Greece.
Watch video from part of the press conference