Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Holy Bible in England Before and After the Reformation

Interesting that History Today has presented online two stories about the Holy Bible and how it was produced in England before and after the Reformation: illumination by monks in monasteries and on the printing press after Gutenberg:

"Secrets of Scriptoria" by Kate Wiles from June of 2014 begins:

The commonly accepted idea of a medieval scriptorium is of a low dark room dedicated to the purpose of producing manuscripts, with rows of highly trained scribes hunched over desks in alcoves working in serious silence. But the reality is that, while that set-up might be true of later medieval Britain, there is little evidence to support such a picture in the Anglo-Saxon or early post-Conquest period.

Instead the term ‘scriptorium’ encompassed a variety of situations, of which no two are the same. An early medieval scriptorium could be anything from a room or building in which scribes worked, a collection of scribes with a co-ordinated, organised structure or, more loosely, a general location where manuscripts were produced. At its most basic it might amount to two scribes working together on more than one manuscript. Very often this is the most we can confidently show to have existed at any so-called scriptorium.

And later states:

A different kind of scriptorium emerges from studying a group of manuscripts from 12th-century Malmesbury, produced by up to 54 different scribes, including the historian and chronicler William of Malmesbury (1115-c.1140). These manuscripts were made as part of a drive by Malmesbury’s abbot, Godfrey of Jumièges (1090-1105), to produce a complete library containing all the most important texts the abbey should own. While William himself started many of the books and evidently co-ordinated their production, the bulk of the work was by an array of different scribes. The ability of these men varies. William had three assistants who stand out as being well-trained, but most of them had limited skills and were probably not dedicated scribes. They worked in short stints, sometimes writing a few pages, sometimes only a few lines, occasionally coming back later to do more. It seems likely that William called on whichever monks he could find who were capable of copying a section of text and willing to do so in between carrying out other duties, but few stuck at it for long.

Please read the rest there. (Image credit: Saint Matthew in a mediæval scriptorium (Book of Prayers, 15th century)

The other article, "Gutenberg’s Bible: The Real Information Revolution" by Justin Champion, discusses the issues of authority and interpretation that arose after the Latin (Vulgate) version of the Holy Bible was printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1454:

The Catholic Church saw an opportunity in applying their textual erudition to claim that the written word of God might be fallible, without the supporting buttress of papal tradition. From the mid-16th century onwards a battle of Bibles was in full swing. The oppressed Protestants who fled the Marian persecutions produced a handbook of resistance in the form of the Geneva Bible of 1560. Replete with a full apparatus, especially an embedded marginal commentary, the godly were guided to a proper account of their duties as Christians. The Geneva Bible, itself a triumph of typological design, continued to be published into the late 17th century. James I and VI despised the ‘marginal notes that slight the text’ and encouraged the production of a ‘safe’ version, which instructed the laity to listen to their parish clergy rather than interpret revelation for themselves.

Alongside the authorised Bibles grew an increasingly sophisticated and profitable market in ancillary works: concordances, commentaries and annotations, which aided the reader’s encounter with the words of God. English Bibles came complete with instructions on how, when and why specific chapters and verses ought to be read. The printed format (the introduction of page numbers, chapter and verse divisions) enabled even the less learned to make sense of scripture. With this literary technology, readers could exchange and share their views of specific passages.

For those who could not read, domestic spirituality enabled collective understandings. Harnessing those encounters with the word of God enabled ministers, MPs and magistrates to justify their governments and rule. Oliver Cromwell ensured that his armies were sustained by a Souldier’s Pocket Bible(1642), legitimising their role in fighting ‘God’s Battles’.

The legacy of the Gutenberg Bible was a revolution in the relationship between reading and authority in the early modern period. This encompassed the practices of lowly men like Nehemiah Wallington, who experienced their world through the providential lens of the Bible, or at the other extreme, scholars such as Isaac Newton and John Locke, who owned multiple copies for forensic textual comparison and exchanged commentaries on their findings.

Please read the rest there. Image credit: (Early wooden printing press, depicted in 1568)

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