In the Beginning was the Word
When Catholics study history, there is a tendency to pass through the early Church Fathers with a polite passing nod. Ancient history is usually seen as inaccessible and only slightly more real than myth; rarely is antiquity made tangible for those who study it. However, preserved in the Vatican library is something almost as foundational as the beginnings of the Church — a palpable object which confirms the firmness of the Faith — a collection of papyri which bring to life the vibrant fidelity of our forebears.
Tradition says that these papyri — known as P75 by biblical scholars, were hand-delivered by St. Athanasius to St. Pachomius in present-day Egypt. Less revered than St. Anthony of the desert, and St Benedict — St. Pachomius was nevertheless the founder of Cenobitical monasticism and one of the main fountainheads from which western monasticism sprung. The noble gift to St. Pachomius would pass into memory and be buried in the sands of Egypt, where it lay preserved before its discovery in the middle of the twentieth century.
Dating between 175 and 225 A.D., the papyri contain the oldest extant collection of the Gospels of Luke and John, indicating clear evidence of the ordering of the gospels as part of an ancient patrimony. While they pre-date the Codex Vaticanus (from which all modern bibles are derived) by anywhere from 100 to 150 years, their remarkable consistency with that text lends significant authenticity to the historical integrity of the current Bibles which Christians regard as Sacred Scripture.
Also contained within the papyri is the oldest written copy of the Lord’s Prayer, and the Prologue to the Gospel of John, wherein the essence of Christianity is summarized. P75 was obtained by the Vatican Library in 2007 through the efforts of Frank, Sally, and Elizabeth Hanna, along with the Solidarity Association. It has subsequently been renamed the Hanna Papyrus. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most well documented events of antiquity and the Hanna Papyrus serves as a reminder that the Faith is built upon an edifice of historical fact.