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The Biography of the Bible

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Author Topic: The Biography of the Bible  (Read 884 times)
Azrael
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« Reply #75 on: July 18, 2009, 10:00:29 pm »

p. 75
FOUR
The Bible under Medievalism

THE MISSIONARIES went forth to Christianize the Northern barbarians with the Bible in their hands. As later with the American Indians, its simple touching stories of piety and suffering won the hearts of the rude tribesmen as could no other appeal. Without the Bible, the medieval Church would have been powerless to accomplish its enormous task of bringing a thousand warring nations and subnations, of divergent stock and traditions, into some kind of spiritual unity. That the whole of Europe came at last to accept, not merely nominally but actually, the same religion, with the same general code of moral obligations for all, was a testimony primarily to the enduring efficacy of the Bible.

In the beginning, vernacular renderings of the Bible were encouraged, and wherever this occurred its fecundating influence was soon apparent. Especially was this the case in England where, aside from Beowulf and a few fragments, Anglo-Saxon

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Azrael
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« Reply #76 on: July 18, 2009, 10:00:40 pm »

literature began with paraphrases and translations of the Bible.

For the English-speaking peoples special interest attaches to these early Anglo-Saxon undertakings. Like the prophetical books of the Bible, they were born of men's need in time of turmoil and distress, when the few Christians in the British Isles stood in danger of being wiped out by the Danish invaders even as the Hebrews had been environed by the hostile Assyrians and Babylonians. Being special objects of attack from the looting Danes, the little centers of learning in the monasteries founded by the missionaries, such as those at Ely, Wearmouth, and Yarrow, on the isle of Lindisfarne, and at Lastingham in the North Riding, were one and all decimated by the great plague of 664 which took particularly heavy toll in the congested quarters of the monks. It was in this period of terror and in the exposed Yorkshire town of Streonshalh (later to be sacked by the Danes and renamed Whitby) that the work of Biblical translation was begun, calmly and serenely, in the Benedictine monastery founded by Saint Hilda.

The moving tale is told by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of how an illiterate cowherd named Caedmon, attached to the monastery,
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Azrael
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« Reply #77 on: July 18, 2009, 10:01:06 pm »




Characteristic page from the Gutenberg Bible (1450–55)
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Azrael
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« Reply #78 on: July 18, 2009, 10:01:44 pm »



Title page of the Coverdale Bible (1535)
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Azrael
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« Reply #79 on: July 18, 2009, 10:01:57 pm »

was discovered to possess such a native power of putting into verse the Biblical stories which he heard that the Abbess Hilda took him into the order and had him instructed until he was able to paraphrase in Anglo-Saxon verse a large part of the Vulgate as it was translated for him by the other monks. Of his work but a single manuscript remains, containing parts of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, together with original poems on the fall of the Angels and the temptation of Man. These fragments show Saint Hilda's cowherd to have well deserved her patronage.

The literary movement thus begun was continued in the religious poetry of the Northumbrian Cynewulf in the eighth century, during which England also produced one of the foremost scholars of the day in the person of the great Alcuin (Ealhwine in Anglo-Saxon). Invited to France by Charlemagne, Alcuin as abbot of Tours became the center of a new religio-literary movement in that country.

Charlemagne was an impatient Christian. When the continental Saxons scoffed at his religion, he gave them the choice of baptism or death, justifying his intolerance, as Augustine had done, by Christ's words, "Constrain them to come in" (Luke xiv. 23) in his parable of the slighted invitation.

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Azrael
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« Reply #80 on: July 18, 2009, 10:02:17 pm »

 Once the Saxons had accepted baptism, however, he sent them missionaries who taught so successfully that within a few years Saxon literature produced the long Christian epic of the Heliand.

In truth, Charlemagne was more enlightened than the official leaders of the Church at Rome. The text of Jerome's Vulgate, through incessant copying and recopying, had already become much corrupted, and Charlemagne, at the beginning of the ninth century, undertook the task of revision which the Church itself postponed until the sixteenth century. He sent for scholars from all over Europe, who under the leadership of Alcuin made one revision; then Theodulf, bishop of Orleans, dissatisfied with this, made, singlehanded, another; it was in one or the other of these revisions that the Vulgate was henceforth known in northern Europe.

Charlemagne considered himself the head of both Church and State. Not approving of the Papacy's attitude toward the worship of images and pictures, he composed, with Alcuin's assistance, a treatise on the subject. As he knew both Latin and Greek and had mastered the learning of the period, he was no mean polemicist. His legal code was fashioned on the Biblical model, with laws prohibiting

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Azrael
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« Reply #81 on: July 18, 2009, 10:02:30 pm »

the taking of interest on loans (Deuteronomy xxiii. 19) and enforcing observance of the Sabbath and the payment of tithes. In the church services he required the priests to translate the sermons and the readings from the Bible into the vernacular for the benefit of the common people.

Inspired by Charlemagne's cultural example, Alfred the Great of England endeavored to go still further in the way of familiarizing his people with the Scriptures and with later Christian literature. At the head of his legal code he placed the Ten Commandments, translated by him from the Book of Exodus, and he also found time amidst the cares of state to translate the Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory the Great, the History of the World by Orosius, and the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Finally, he gathered about him the ablest scholars of the realm to carry on this work of translation, in the magnificent hope that "all the freeborn youth of my people . . . may persevere in learning . . . until they can perfectly read the English Scriptures."

Under the stimulus of Alfred's influence and example, the writers of his and subsequent reigns produced an abundance of Christian literature. Aelfric the Grammarian, in addition to numerous religious homilies, made a paraphrase of the first

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Azrael
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« Reply #82 on: July 18, 2009, 10:02:57 pm »

seven books of the Old Testament known as "Aelfric's Heptateuch." Aldheim, Abbot of Malmesbury, and Guthrac, a hermit of Croyland, produced versions of the Psalms. Completed in this period, though begun earlier, were the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Rushworth Gospels, both of them glosses—that is, literal word-by-word translations without regard to sentence structure. By the time of the Norman Conquest there were also in existence translations of the Books of Kings, Esther, Job, Judith, and the Maccabees. In other words, the English people already possessed, in one form or another, most of the Bible in their own language, and only awaited some great Anglo-Saxon Jerome to make the complete translation.

The Norman Conquest eliminated all possibility of his coming. The Norman-French, at first imposed by the conquerors upon the language of the conquered and later assimilated with it, produced a new composite language so that the old Anglo-Saxon literature was no longer intelligible. By the twelfth century it was evident that new versions of the Bible were needed. But these did not appear, for the attitude of the Church toward the use of the vernacular had gradually changed.

To understand the indifference and even hostility

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« Reply #83 on: July 18, 2009, 10:03:13 pm »

of the medieval Church toward the popular reading of the Bible, a number of points must be borne in mind. The leaders of the Church considered the unification of Europe to be their all-important task, and they were not eager to foster national literatures to develop the spirit of local independence. Among a people too ignorant to understand the Scriptures correctly, the reading of them, it was thought, would merely lead to heresies and schisms. Far better to let the knowledge of them come through the priests who could tell as much or as little as the individual case required. Was it not better to give the people concrete help through the confessional and indulgences, through the exhibition of relics to heal their sicknesses, and through rich ceremonials appealing to their senses? So the Church was easily able to justify a course that gave it greater and greater power over the people.

The medieval period was torn as perhaps no other between the demands of the spirit and the flesh. To the former, the monks were specially consecrated, and after the great monastic revival of the sixth century under Saint Benedict learning and education were left primarily in their care. Well the Benedictines wrought in their early years;

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Azrael
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« Reply #84 on: July 18, 2009, 10:03:22 pm »

theirs was the leading part in the Christianization of Europe; in a world made up largely of robber barons and their serfs the monasteries were little islands of fraternity and peace in whose libraries the monks labored over their illuminated manuscripts and from which they went forth to carry their messages of human brotherhood. But they could not escape the fate that makes the spirit's triumph transient and breeds failure from success. They mingled with the world too much, too much with politics; their monasteries became too powerful to preserve their simple rules of life. By 1354 it is estimated that the order had acquired thirty-seven thousand monasteries and had numbered among its members twenty emperors, ten empresses, forty-seven kings and fifty queens, twenty-four popes, two hundred cardinals, more than one thousand canonized saints, seven thousand archbishops, and fifteen thousand bishops. No order could fail to be corrupted by such a superfluity of worldly glory.

As the system of feudalism developed, all care for the cultural development of the common people was abandoned. Popular reverence for the Bible was excessive, popular knowledge of its contents was abysmally small. More and more it was devoted

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Azrael
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« Reply #85 on: July 18, 2009, 10:03:32 pm »

to magical purposes, a practice that went back to the Roman Empire. One of the first uses to which parchment was put when it began to supplant papyrus in the fifth century was to furnish little strips, inscribed with verses from the Bible, to be fastened on chair backs or around the necks of babies as charms to keep away the demons. The Lord's Prayer and various Psalms were regarded as particularly efficacious spells. The Roman custom of consulting the Virgilian lots, that is, of opening the Aeneid and taking the first verse on which the eye lighted as a prophecy of the outcome of some contemplated enterprise was succeeded by a similar superstitious use of the Bible during the Middle Ages.

The worship of relics led to organized pilgrimages to famous shrines, such as that described by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales; of these, the most highly regarded was the difficult pilgrimage to the traditional Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Those who had accomplished it were known as palmers and enjoyed on their return double honors as specially sanctified beings and as explorers of strange lands who brought back marvelous tales with no possible check upon their stories. Only if one bears in mind the romantic place of the Holy Land in

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Azrael
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« Reply #86 on: July 18, 2009, 10:03:46 pm »

medieval imagination can one understand the two hundred years’ fanaticism of the Crusades.

Mohammedanism had been more successful than Christianity in civilizing the nations who accepted it. True, the religion of Islam had a somewhat easier task. Its peoples were all more nearly of the same stock, its lands were nearer to the sources of classical civilization, and its sacred book, the Koran, taught a more familiar ethics. Through these and perhaps other causes, the Moorish kingdom in Spain and the Saracen cities of the East had attained a higher level of learning and culture than existed at that time anywhere in Christendom. After the victory of Poitiers in 7 32 when Charles Martel turned back the Mohammedan invasion of the West, Christianity had felt secure. But in the eleventh century, its old foe, immensely wealthier and more powerful, menaced it from the East. Constantinople was endangered, and in 1095 Pope Urban II preached what was to be the first of seven Crusades for the rescue of the Eastern capital and the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

All the contradictions of medieval Christianity came to the front in the Crusades. A war in honor of the Prince of Peace, begun to tumultuous cries of "God Wills It!" was conducted in a manner that
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« Reply #87 on: July 18, 2009, 10:04:11 pm »



Title page of Tyndale's New Testament (1535)
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Azrael
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« Reply #88 on: July 18, 2009, 10:04:40 pm »



Title page of the Matthew Bible (1537)
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Azrael
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« Reply #89 on: July 18, 2009, 10:04:54 pm »

would have shamed the heathen races in the Old Testament. The Crusaders, wearing the Cross on their breasts, soon lost the memory of their original purpose in an indiscriminate bloodlust. Every successive Crusade was marked by horror and disaster.

Before the First Crusade could be properly organized, the common people, roused to frenzy by the preaching of Peter the Hermit and others, set out in undisciplined hordes, murdering and looting as they went, to be destroyed by the Christian Magyars, Slays, and Greeks before they ever reached the Turks. After the knightly armies that followed had captured Jerusalem, all the Jews in the city were burned alive in the synagogue and the rest of the population, estimated at seventy thousand, was massacred. Then the Crusaders returned home burdened with loot but left so small a force to defend Jerusalem that it was soon again endangered, when a Second Crusade was preached to secure the gains of the first. It failed utterly after two great armies had been defeated and the nobility had fled by sea, leaving the common soldiers to be slaughtered. Jerusalem was taken by the Saracens, and the Third Crusade was preached. It too failed: the death of one hundred thousand soldiers in the victory at

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