Noncanonical Texts

Bolton Abbey and Mount St. Odile Script Fragments

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Origins of the Script of Peter And The Wolf

Extract from: Wilson, I. (1976) The Forgotten Text: The Gnostics of Ephesus (London: Blackie Publishing)

Disagreement amongst scholars as to the precise relationship between the so-called Peter And The Wolf script and biblical scripture is matched by the fierce debate regarding interpretation of the title. The initial 15th Century translation was derived from parchment copies of the original Ephesian script which, composed entirely in corrupted latin, was notorious for its ambiguity. The title 'Petrius eté Canius' was translated literally as 'the rock and the dog', but was subsequently amended by the Monks of Mount St. Odille. They believed the term 'petrius' referred to the name 'rock'or 'petra' (Πέτρος) , as given to the apostle by Christ (Matt.16:18-19:), and saw the term 'canius' as non-literal. The early church had invoked descriptions of 'wolfish' behavior and appearance to describe the vices of rapacious greed and the loss of God-likeness through separation from his spirit. In particular, Judas was frequently referred to as 'the Wolf', invoking the symbolism of the wolf's predatory disregard for life and establishing the division between damned sinners, as debauched animal entities, and Christians who bore the hallmarks of Christ's true humanity. For this reason there was a divergence in the early monastic translations of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Monks of Mount St. Odille favoured 'Petra et Lupus', whereas English translations such as those of Lindisfarne and Bolton Abbey replaced the metaphorical wolf, judging it misleading in the contemporary context, opting instead for 'Petre and Depravitie.' In the later 15th and early 16th century a further disagreement arose over the translation of 'petra' as a direct result of the Papacy deeming it distinct from 'holy scripture.' The Vatican had been uncomfortable with the ambiguity of the text, the absence of any actual reference to Saint Peter or his namesake within the script, and the unknown identity of its author/s. Hence it was designated an 'important corroborating historical document', causing considerable discontent among a number of Orders which had spent decades studying and translating its passages, prompting them to seek to restore its status as scripture. An explanation put forward to this end postulated that in much the same way as 'wolf' had been symbolic of spiritual weakness and depravity, 'rock' was symbolic of strength, dependence on God, and the role of Christ. The Monks of Mount St. Odille revised their translation so completely as to revive the use of 'petra' as a name, but with specific reference to Christ; 'Christi et Lupus'. A more widely accepted alternative was the translation 'Strength and Weakness', and it was this particular title that came to form the abbreviated subtitle still used today (this formulation had originally been used in the non-cannonical collection of the Avignon Papacy, circa 1358 AD).
With a rejection of its holy status the script was largely disregarded by the catholic and protestant clergy, but was maintained by various monastic orders under the second translation of 'Peter And The Wolf.' The growth of the 'Wolf Sect' among the Gnostic movement saw attention shift again to this important document, and scholars continue to dispute the accuracy of translation and the theological integrity of the text. The ambiguity of these ancient fragments of corrupted text is further emphasised by the employment of the word 'script', intended to avoid confusion with 'scripture' which might otherwise suggest some degree of biblical legitimacy. It is clear that whatever its status, this difficult text will continue to be an issue of contention.

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