Friday, May 16, 2014

The Medieval Bible

I've mentioned Frans van Liere's Introduction to the Medieval Bible (Cambridge, 2014) several times before. As I finish reading this excellent book, I wanted to gather together some of the odd interesting bits.

I will say that ch. 5 on biblical interpretation is excellent, really excellent. But I didn't take good notes on it, so I'll have to read it again. That explains why none of the following is from ch. 5. Also ch. 7 on the vernacular Bible is fantastic, and some of the things points below are from that chapter.

(1) "An inventory of all parish churches within the archdeanery of Norwich in 1368 shows that only 6 of all 358 churches inventoried possessed complete bibles, whereas 12 more owned a glossed Bible book or Gospel book; however, all but 30 owned a lectionary" (p. 45).

(2) Nicholas of Lyra (ca. 1279-1349) on whether 1Sam 17 (David and Goliath) validates the practice of dueling. Nicholas' instincts are against dueling, because it involves killing, but, according to van Liere (p. 168):
he has to admit that even saintly kings such as Charlemagne and Louis IX at times permitted dueling. He concludes that under certain circumstances, rulers are permitted to allow such duels, to avoid a greater evil, just as "prostitution is allowed in cities, so that not all are disturbed by lust."
(3) Van Liere (p. 179) points to this great and fascinating paragraph by Einhard on Charlemagne's study habits:
Charles had the gift of ready and fluent speech, and could express whatever he had to say with the utmost clearness. He was not satisfied with command of his native language merely, but gave attention to the study of foreign ones, and in particular was such a master of Latin that he could speak it as well as his native tongue; but he could understand Greek better than he could speak it. He was so eloquent, indeed, that he might have passed for a teacher of eloquence. He most zealously cultivated the liberal arts, held those who taught them in great esteem, and conferred great honors upon them. He took lessons in grammar of the deacon Peter of Pisa, at that time an aged man. Another deacon, Albin of Britain, surnamed Alcuin, a man of Saxon extraction, who was the greatest scholar of the day, was his teacher in other branches of learning. The King spent much time and labour with him studying rhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy; he learned to reckon, and used to investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies most curiously, with an intelligent scrutiny. He also tried to write, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed under his pillow, that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters; however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but late in life, they met with ill success.
Van Liere's point is that even those who can read Latin with ease and who even might "compose" works do not necessarily have the skill of actually, physically writing.
(4) "[In 1313], the Council of Vienne also condemned certain antinomian doctrines held by Beguines and Beghards, among them the tantalizing idea that, although kissing among unmarried people constituted an act of unchastity, sexual intercourse did not, because it was an act of nature, not of the will" (p. 196).
(5) I was familiar with the ban on English translation issued in 1407/8 by the Oxford council presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel. But I had only read snippets of this ban. Van Liere cites the entire paragraph in English (p. 201), and I see now that as part of the justification for banning vernacular translation, Jerome is cited as admitting that translation is really hard and that he often makes mistakes, even though, Arundel says, he was inspired. An odd sentiment. You can read the Latin here; you want p. 317, paragraph 7: prout idem beatus Jeronymus, etsi inspiratus fuisset, se in hoc saepius fatetur errasse

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