Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Early Christian Hymn to The Trinity

Oxyrhynchus was an ancient city in Upper Egypt, south of the ancient capital of Memphis. The city rose to prominence around the 1st century A.D., during which time the city was beginning to become a hubbub for all sorts of religious and literary activities. Oxyrhynchus was a Hellenistic city with its amphitheatres, gymnasia and colonnaded streets. When Egypt became gradually Christianized, the city became famous for its churches, basilicas and monasteries. It was, however, eventually abandoned sometime after the Arab conquests of Egypt around 641 A.D.

The city is notable today for the vast collection of papyrus documents that the archeologists have managed to uncover towards end of the nineteenth century. The documents ranged everything between tax receipts, legal documents, private letters, and literary fragments all of which were uncovered from the ancient garbage dumps where the inhabitants used to discard old and worn-out and unnecessary documents. Among the important findings were the plays of Menander and the Gospel of Thomas.

One of the papyrus fragments I'd like us to look at is P. Oxy. XV, 1786, or what's alternately called: The Oxyrhynchus Hymn. This is a precious early Christian document because it is the oldest recorded Christian hymn, along with its musical notations, in existence. I especially love the explicit testimony to the belief and worship of the Holy Trinity.

The fragment is tiny, but here is the complete recovered text along with an image of the papyrus document itself underneath:

“.. Let it be silent
Let the Luminous stars
not shine,
Let the winds (?) and all the noisy rivers die down;
And as we hymn the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Let all the powers add "Amen Amen"
Empire, praise always, and glory to God,
The sole giver of
good things,
Amen Amen” 

What a wonderful hymn in praise of all three members of the Trinity: "as we hymn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." The "powers," dynameis are the "principalities and powers" that Paul speaks of. The light of Jesus shines in all creation. Not even the glory of the stars could eclipse it.

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