OUR BIBLE & THE ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS by SIR FREDERIC KENYON - formerly Director of the British Museum - © Sir F Kenyon 1895. First published Eyre & Spottiswoode 1895. - fourth edition 1939. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.

Chapter IX:

THE VULGATE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

HOME | Contents | Vulgate (V): | Importance | Simultaneous use of Old Latin & V | Consequent mixture of Texts | V in Spain & Ireland | Anglo-Celtic MSS | Texts of English MSS derived from Italy | Lindisfarne Gospels | 8/9th Cent-English Scholarship Pre-eminent | Alcuin's Revision | Alcuin's V | Charlemagne-Golden Gospels | Theodulf's Revision | St Gall | Deterioration | 13th cent Revision | Printed Latin Bibles | Sixtine Bible | Clementine Bible

IN the preceding chapters the attempt has been made to narrate the history of the Greek text of the New Testament. It is the history of the text of the New Testament in its original tongue, to which all translations into other languages must look back, and on which our knowledge of the life and teaching of our Lord and His disciples ultimately rests. But it by no means completes the story of the way in which the Bible reached our people. In the chapters that follow we have to explain how the Bible circulated in what was at first the western portion of the Roman Empire, and then was the western portion of Europe as transformed by the irruption of barbarians from the East; how it reached our distant corner of this European world; how it was translated into English and won its way into the heart of our English people; and how it has been retranslated in our own day in the light of the discoveries of new material and new evidence which we have been describing. So we shall link in one continuous chain the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures with the Bible which we read in our churches and homes today.
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Importance of the Vulgate.

The history of the Bible in Western Europe is for a thousand years the history of the Vulgate, and of the Vulgate alone. In the East the Scriptures circulated in Greek, in Syriac, in Coptic, in Armenian, in Georgian, in Ethiopic, in Arabic, in Persian. In the West, Latin was the only language of literature. The Latin language was carried by the Roman legionaries into Africa, into Gaul, into Spain, into parts of Germany, and even to distant Britain; and wherever the Latin language went, thither, after the conversion of the Empire to Christianity, went the Latin Bible. Throughout the period which we know as the Middle Ages, which may roughly be defined as from AD500 to 1500, almost all books were written in Latin. Latin was the language in which different nations communicated with one another. Latin was the language of the monasteries; and the monasteries were the chief centres of the learning which existed during those centuries. An educated man, speaking Latin, was a member of a society which included all educated men in Western Europe, and might be equally at home in Italy, in Gaul, and in Britain. We shall see in the next chapter that translations of parts of the Bible into English existed from a very early time; but these were themselves translations from the Latin Bible, and for every copy of the Bible in English there were scores, or even hundreds, in Latin. The same was the case on the Continent. Translations were made, in course of time, into French, Italian, and other languages; but the originals of these translations were always Latin Bibles. Every monastery had many copies; and the relics of these, the remnant which escaped from the vast destructions of the Reformation and all the other chances of time, fill our museums and libraries today. To the Latin Bible we owe our Christianity in England; and in tracing its fortunes during the Middle Ages we are but supplying the link between the early narrative of the spread of the Bible throughout Europe and its special history in our own islands.
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Simultaneous Use of Old Latin and Vulgate.

We have said that the form in which the Bible was first made known to the Latin-speaking people of the West was that of the Old Latin version. The African form of this version spread along the Roman provinces which occupied the north of the continent in which it was produced; the European variety of it was propagated throughout Gaul and Spain; while a revised and improved edition was current in Italy in the fourth century. But these different editions, if indeed they ever amounted to distinct editions, did not remain distinct long. They were so intermingled that nearly every MS. represents some different combination of influences. Then came the Vulgate, the revised Latin Bible of St. Jerome. Undertaken though it was at the express request of the Pope, it yet did not win immediate acceptance. Even so great an authority as St. Augustine objected to the extensive departures from the current version which Jerome had made in his Old Testament. For some centuries the Vulgate and the Old Latin existed side by side. Complete Bibles were then rare. More commonly, a volume would contain only one group of books, such as the Pentateuch or the Prophets, the Gospels or the Pauline Epistles; and it would very easily happen that the library of any one individual would have some of these groups according to the older version and others according to the Vulgate. Hence we find Christian writers, even as late as the eighth century, using sometimes one version and sometimes the other [Old Latin quotations are found in Aldhelm (late seventh century) and Bede.]; and when complete copies of the Bible came to be written, some books might be copied from manuscripts of the one type and others from those of the other. Special familiarity with particular books was a strong bar to the acceptance of the new text. Thus the Gospels continued to circulate in the Old Latin much later than the Prophets, and the old version of the Psalms was never superseded by Jerome's translation at all, but continues to this day to hold its place in the received Bible of the Roman Church.
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Consequent Mixture of Texts.

One unfortunate result followed from this long period of simultaneous existence of two different texts - namely, the intermixture of readings from one with those of the other. Scribes engaged in copying the Vulgate would, from sheer familiarity with the older version, write down its words instead of those of St. Jerome; and on the other hand a copyist of the Old Latin would introduce into its text some of the improvements of the Vulgate. When it is remembered that this was in days when every copy had to be written by hand, when the variations of one manuscript were perpetuated and increased in all those which were copied from it, it will be easier to understand the confusion which was thus introduced into both versions of the Bible text. It is as though every copy of our Revised Version were written by hand, and the copyists were to substitute, especially in the best known books, such as the Gospels, the more familiar words of the Authorised Version. Very soon no two copies of the Bible would remain alike, and the confusion would only be magnified as time went on.

So it was with the Latin Bible in the Middle Ages. The fifth and sixth centuries are the period during which the old and new versions existed side by side. In Italy the final acceptance of the Vulgate was largely due to Gregory the Great (590-604). In Gaul, in the sixth century, certain books, especially the Prophets, were habitually known in Jerome's translation; the rest were still current mainly in the old version. In the seventh century the victory of the Vulgate was general. But it was a sadly mutilated and corrupted Vulgate which emerged thus victorious from the struggle; and the rest of the Middle Ages is the history of successive attempts to revise and reform it, and of successive decadences after each revision, until the invention of printing made it possible to fix and maintain a uniform text in all copies of the Bible.
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The Vulgate in Spain and Ireland.

The truest text of the Vulgate was no doubt preserved in Italy. The worst was unquestionably in Gaul, which we may now begin to call France. But two countries, situated at different extremes of Western Christendom, preserved somewhat distinct types of text, which eventually had considerable influence upon the history of the Vulgate. These were Spain and Ireland. Each was, for a considerable period, cut off from communication with the main body of Christendom: Spain, by the Moorish invasion, which for a time confined the Christian Visigoths to the north-western corner of the peninsula; Ireland, by the English conquest of Britain, which drove the ancient Celtic Church before it, and interposed a barrier of heathendom between the remains of that Church and its fellow Christians on the Continent. The consequence of this isolation was that each Church preserved a distinct type of the Vulgate text, recognisable by certain special readings in many passages of the Bible. The Spanish Bible was complete, and its text, though of very mixed character, contains some good and early elements; witness the Codex Cavensis and the Codex Toletanus, mentioned on p.176 [Ch VIII]. The Irish Bible as a rule consists of the Gospels alone, and its text is likewise mixed, containing several remarkable readings; but its outward form and ornamentation had a special character and a peculiar beauty, the connection of which with the Bibles produced in northern England forms an intriguing problem.
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Anglo-Celtic MSS.

The seventh century is the most glorious period in the history of the Irish Church. Thanks chiefly to the efforts of St. Patrick, Ireland was not only itself mainly a Christian land, but was sending out missionaries into other countries. One of the most important of these missions was that of Columba, who settled at lona, off the coast of Mull, and thence evangelised the Picts of Scotland. Here the young prince Oswald, expelled from Northumbria by the heathen Britons under Penda, took refuge, and hence, on recovering his kingdom, he summoned missionaries to preach the Gospel in northern England from the centre which he gave them at Lindisfarne. Thus there grew up, under the leadership of Aidan and Cuthbert, a Northumbrian Church in close association with the Church in Ireland. Visible evidence of this community remains in the illuminated copies of the Scriptures which have come down to us from both Ireland and Northumbria. The special feature of this style is its extraordinarily intricate system of interlacing patterns, sometimes geometric and sometimes including animal forms, combined and continued with marvellous precision over a whole page throughout the pattern of a huge initial letter. Looked at from a little distance, a page of one of these manuscripts resembles a harmonious mosaic or enamelled pattern in soft and concordant colours. Examine it closely, even with a magnifying glass, and the eye wearies itself in following the intricacy of its pattern, and the hand strives in vain to reproduce its accuracy even for a few inches of its course. The use of gold gives to later illuminations a greater splendour of appearance at first sight; but no other style shows a quarter of the inexhaustible skill and patient devotion which is the glory of the Anglo-Celtic school.

Until recently it has been assumed that this school had its origin in Ireland, and was carried by the Irish missionaries through Scotland into Northumbria. But lately good authorities have argued that the influence was the other way; that it was evolved from Continental influences in northern England, and was thence carried back by the Irish to their own land, where it developed certain national characteristics of its own. The one fixed point is the great Lindisfarne Gospels, which, being written in honour of St. Cuthbert (d. 687), cannot be materially later than AD700. This (of which a fuller description is given below) is the finest example of the Anglo-Celtic school, and is certainly of English origin; and there is no MS. of definitely Irish origin which can be assigned to an earlier date. Book of Kells: Folio 5r - Section.The most notable example of Irish decoration is the famous Book of Kells, which is believed to have been produced at lona; but there is no reason to give it a date earlier than the eighth century. It is more barbaric in colouring than the English school, its reds and yellows contrasting with the soberer lilacs and pale greens of the Lindisfarne book; and its interlacements and figure-drawings are also more extravagant. Splendid as it is in its wealth of ornament, it lacks the restraint and good taste of the English style.
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Texts of English MSS. derived from Italy.

But whatever be the artistic relationships of the manuscripts of Ireland and North England, there is no doubt as to their textual characters. The Irish text is a considerably contaminated Vulgate, while the English texts are the best Vulgate texts extant. This they owe to their direct descent from Italian MSS. of the best quality. As we have seen (p.175), the Codex Amiatinus was copied at Wearmouth or Jarrow, shortly before the year 716, from a MS. or MSS. brought over by Benedict Biscop or Geolfrid, which apparently represents the text of the scholar-statesman Cassiodorus. With regard to the Lindisfarne MS., we have further evidence connecting it with Italy.
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The Lindisfarne Gospels.

It is a copy of the four Gospels, written in a fine and bold uncial hand, with magnificent ornamentation at the beginning of each book. The main text is that of the Latin Vulgate; but between the lines a later hand has written a paraphrase of the Latin into the primitive English which we commonly call Anglo-Saxon. Of this paraphrase more will be said in the next chapter; at present our concern with it lies in the fact that the author of it has added at the end of the volume a history of the manuscript.

He tells us that it was written by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, in honour of St. Cuthbert, the great saint of Lindisfarne and Northumbria, who died in AD687; that it was covered and "made firm on the outside" by Ethilwald; that Billfrith the anchorite wrought in smith's work the ornaments on its cover; and that he himself, Aldred, "an unworthy and most miserable priest," wrote the English translation between the lines. We know, therefore, that the volume was written shortly after the year 687. Now before each Gospel is placed a list of festivals on which lessons were read from that book; and, strange as it may seem at first sight, it has been shown that these festivals are unquestionably festivals of the Church of Naples. What is still more remarkable, this strange fact can be completely explained. When Theodore of Tarsus was sent by Pope Vitalian to England in 669 to be Archbishop of Canterbury, he brought with him, as his companion and adviser, one Hadrian, the abbot of a monastery near Naples. Theodore visited the whole of England, including Northumbria; and there can be no reasonable doubt that these tables of lessons were copied from a manuscript which Abbot Hadrian had brought with him from Italy. The text itself may have been copied from the same manuscript, or from one of those brought over by Biscop or Geolfrid. In any case it is practically the same text as the Amiatinus.

Plate XXVI is a much reduced copy of the first words of the Gospel of St. Luke in the Lindisfarne book; and even in this reduction the beauty and elaboration of the intricately interlaced design which composes the initial Q, can be fairly seen.

Between the lines of the original writing is the English paraphrase, in a minute cursive hand, without pretensions to ornament. The history of the MS. after its completion deserves a word of mention, for a special romance attaches to it. Written in honour of St. Cuthbert, it was preserved at Lindisfarne along with the Saint's body; but in the year 875 an invasion of the Danes drove the monks to carry away both body and book. For several years they wandered to and fro in northern England; then, in despair, they resolved to cross over to Ireland. But the Saint was angry at being taken from his own land, and a great storm met the boat as it put out; and as the boat lay on its side in the fury of the storm the precious volume was washed overboard and lost. Realising the Saint's displeasure, the monks put back, in a state of much penitence and sorrow for their loss; but at last the Saint encouraged one of them in a dream to search for the book along the shore, and on a day of exceptionally low tide they found it, practically uninjured by its immersion. The story is told by the chronicler Simeon of Durham, writing about 1104; and it need not be dismissed as a mere medieval legend. Precious volumes, according to the Irish practice, were carried in special cases or covers, which might well defend them from much damage from the sea; and it is certain that several pages of this book (which was regularly known in medieval times as "the book of St. Cuthbert which fell into the sea") show to this day the marks of injury from water which has filtered in from without. The subsequent history of the MS. may be briefly told. Always accompanying the Saint's body, it found homes at Chester-le-Street, Durham, and finally at Lindisfarne once more. At the dissolution of the monasteries it was cast abroad into the world and stripped of its jewelled covers; but was rescued by Sir Robert Cotton, and passed with his collection into the British Museum, where it now rests in peace and safety.
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Eminence of English Scholarship in Eighth and Ninth Centuries.

But this is a digression. The point which we have established is the formation of an excellent text of the Vulgate in northern England, by means of copies brought from Italy.

During the eighth and ninth centuries northern England was the most nourishing home of Christian scholarship in western Europe. The twin houses of Wearmouth and Jarrow were the headquarters of the school; and the great names in it are those of Ceolfrid, Bede and Alcuin. Ceolfrid's services in the bringing of manuscripts from Italy, and in the production of the Codex Amiatinus, have been mentioned above (p.175). Bede (AD 674-735), the first great historian of England, lived and died at Jarrow. Of him we shall have more to say in the next chapter, in connection with the earliest translations of the Bible into English. Alcuin (AD 735-805), on the other hand, is intimately connected with the most important stage of the history of the Vulgate in the Middle Ages.
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Alcuin invited by Charlemagne to Revise Vulgate in France.

While Ireland and England were taking the lead in promoting the study and circulation of the Bible, the Bible in France was sinking deeper and deeper into the confusion and corruption which have been described above. No one who has not worked among manuscripts can know the endless degrees of deterioration to which a much-copied text can sink, or realise the hopelessness of maintaining for long a high or uniform standard of correctness. Nothing but the strong hand of a reformer could check the progress of decay; and that was at last found in the great emperor Charlemagne. From the beginning of his reign this monarch manifested great concern for the reformation of the text of the Scriptures. He forbade them to be copied by inexperienced boys at schools; and when he cast his eyes round for a scholar who might undertake the revision of the corrupted text, he naturally looked to England, and there found the man whom he required in the person of Alcuin of York, the most distinguished scholar of the day. Alcuin was invited to France; was attached to the court at Aix and made master of the schools which Charlemagne established in his palace, with the title and revenues of the abbot of St. Martin of Tours; and subsequently retiring to Tours, inaugurated there a great school of copyists and scholars, and there received the commission of the emperor to prepare a revised and corrected edition of the Latin Bible.
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Alcuin's Vulgate.

Two families of texts were then widely represented in France, the Spanish and the Irish.  

These, coming respectively from south and north, met in the region of the Loire, and both were known to Alcuin. Probably he realised that both were more or less corrupt. In 796 we find him sending to York for manuscripts, showing how highly he valued the text preserved in the copies of northern England; in 801 the revision was complete, and on Christmas Day in that year a copy of the restored Vulgate was presented by him to Charlemagne. We have evidence of several copies having been made under Alcuin's own direction during the short remainder of his life, and, although none of these has actually come down to us, we yet possess several manuscripts which contain Alcuin's text more or less perfectly preserved. The best of these is the Codex Vallicellianus, containing the whole Bible, now in the library of the Oratory adjoining the Church of Sta. Maria in Vallicella, at Rome, but written at Tours in the ninth century, probably in or soon after the lifetime of Alcuin. Another fine copy (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 10546, sometimes known as the Bible of Charlemagne), likewise containing the whole Bible, may be seen in one of the showcases in the British Museum, and of this a reproduction is given in Plate XXVII. It is an excellent specimen of the style of writing introduced in France during the reign of Charlemagne, the special headquarters of which was the school of Tours, over which Alcuin presided. It marked a new departure in the history of Latin writing, and it was this style of writing that indirectly formed the model from which our modern printed types are taken. The MS. in question is written in double columns on a page measuring 20 by 14.5 inches. Here only part of one column can be shown (and that much reduced in scale), containing 1 John iv.16-v.10, and it will be seen that the famous interpolation in verse 8 relating to the Three Witnesses is here absent. As stated in the Variorum Bible, this text is found in no Greek manuscript, with the exception of two, in which it is manifestly inserted from the Latin. It is a purely Latin interpolation, though one of early origin, and it finds no place in Alcuin's corrected Vulgate.
There the text runs, "For there are three that bear witness, the spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are one."
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The Golden Gospels of Charlemagne.

The zeal of Charlemagne for the Bible was not manifested in his encouragement of Alcuin's revision alone. From his reign date a series of splendid manuscripts of the Gospels, written in gold letters upon white or purple vellum, and adorned with magnificent decorations. The artistic inspiration of these highly decorated copies is clearly derived from the Anglo-Celtic manuscripts of which we have spoken above, and it is probable that here again Alcuin was the principal agent in carrying the English influence into the Continent. It has at least been shown to be probable that the centre from which these "Golden Gospels," as they are sometimes called, took their rise, was in the neighbourhood of the Rhine, where Alcuin was settled as master of the palace schools before his retirement to Tours; and the earliest examples of this style appear to have been written during the time of his residence in that region. In any case they are a splendid evidence of the value in which the sacred volume was held, and they show how the tradition of the English illumination was carried abroad into France. The characteristic interfacings of the style are plainly evident, but the extent to which they are employed has diminished; and although the profuse employment of gold lends these books a gorgeousness which their predecessors do not possess, yet the skill and labour bestowed upon them cannot be ranked so high, and the reader who will compare the best examples of either class will probably agree that, while both are splendid, the Books of Kells and of Lindisfarne are even more marvellous as works of art than the Golden Gospels of Charlemagne. The texts of these Gospels differ from those of the Tours manuscripts in being closer to the Anglo-Saxon type, and this is quite in accordance with the theory which assigns their origin to the influence of Alcuin, but at a period earlier than that of his thorough revision of the Vulgate. Manuscripts of this class continued to be written under the successors of Charlemagne, especially in the reign of Charles the Bald (843-81); but after that date they disappear, and a less gorgeous style of illumination takes the place of these elaborate and beautiful volumes.
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The Revision of Theodulf.

It was not only under the immediate direction of Charlemagne that the desire for an improved text of the Vulgate was active. Almost simultaneously with Alcuin, Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, was undertaking a revision upon different lines. Theodulf was probably a Visigoth by birth - a member, that is, of the race of Goths which had occupied Spain, and from which the Spaniards are in part descended. He came from the south of France, and hence all his associations were with the districts on either side of the Pyrenees. Thus, while Alcuin represented the English and Irish traditions of the Bible text, Theodulf embodies the traditions of Spain. At Orleans, however, of which see he was bishop about the year 800, he stood at the meeting-place of the two streams; and his revised Vulgate, though mainly Spanish in type, shows also traces of Irish influence, as well as of the use of good Alcuinian MSS. His revision is very unequal in value, and its importance is by no means so great as that of Alcuin's work. Undertaken apart from the influence of Charlemagne, it was never generally adopted, and now survives in comparatively few manuscripts, the best of which is in the National Library at Paris. [The British Museum possesses a copy (Add. MS. 24124), known as the Bible of St. Hubert, which is at present exhibited in one of the showcases.]
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The School of St. Gall.

One other school of Biblical study at this period deserves notice. Not far from the Lake of Constance lies the monastery of St. Gall, now a comparatively obscure and unvisited spot, but formerly a great centre of study and of penmanship. At this day it is almost, if not quite, unique in retaining still in the twentieth century the library which made it famous in the ninth. At a still earlier period it was a focus of Irish missionary effort. Irish monks made their way to its walls, bringing with them their own peculiar style of writing; and manuscripts in the Irish style still exist in some numbers in the library of St. Gall. The style was taken up and imitated by the native monks; and in the ninth century, under the direction of the scribe and scholar Hartmut, the school of St. Gall was definitely established as a prominent centre of activity in the work of copying MSS. His successors, towards the end of the century, developed a distinct style of writing, which became generally adopted in the districts bordering on the Rhine. The text of these St. Gall manuscripts, on the other hand, looks southwards for its home, not north, and is derived from Milan, with some traces of Spanish influence, instead of from Ireland.
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Subsequent Deterioration.

Thus in the ninth century a healthy activity prevailed in many quarters, directed towards the securing of a sound text of the Bible. But permanence in goodness cannot be maintained so long as books are copied by hand alone. The errors of copyists undo the labours of scholars, and in a short time chaos has come again. The Alcuinian text was corrupted with surprising rapidity, and the private labours of Theodulf had even less lasting an effect. The decadence of the house of Charlemagne was reflected in the decadence of the Bible text which he had striven to purify and establish. The invasion of the Normans broke up the school of Tours, as the invasion of the Danes broke up the school of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumbria. In these wars and tumults scholarship went to the ground. A few individuals, such as our Norman Archbishop Lanfranc, tried to check the growing corruption of the Bible text, but with only temporary effect. It was not until four centuries had passed away that a real and effectual attempt was made to restore the Vulgate to something like its ancient form.
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The Revision of the Thirteenth Century.

England had led the way in the ninth century; but in the thirteenth the glory belongs almost entirely to France. It is to the influence of the French king St. Louis, and the scholarship of the newly established University of Paris that the revision of the thirteenth century is due. Those who are acquainted with the manuscripts of the Vulgate in any of our great libraries will know what a remarkable proportion of them were written in this century. The small, compressed writing, arranged in double columns, with little decoration except simple coloured initials, becomes very familiar to the student of manuscripts, and impresses him with a sense of the great activity which must have prevailed at that period in multiplying copies of the Bible. Very many of them are small volumes, evidently intended for private use; and their number is a proof of a great growth of the study of the Bible at this time. For us at the present day the principal result of the labours of the Paris doctors is the division of our Bible into chapters. Divisions of both Old and New Testaments into sections of various sizes existed from very early times; but our modern chapter-division was the work of Stephen Langton, then a doctor of the University of Paris, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the barons in the struggle which gave birth to Magna Charta. The texts of these Parisian Bibles are not, it must be admitted, of any very remarkable excellence; but they are very important in the history of the Vulgate, because it is virtually upon them that the printed text of the Bible of the Roman Church is based to this day.
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Printed Latin Bibles.

We are going ahead too fast, and shall have to retrace our steps in the next chapter;

It has been made evident that, so long as Bibles continued to be copied by hand, no stability or uniformity of text could be maintained. As with the Greek Bible, so with the Latin, the later copies become progressively worse and worse. Hence the enormous importance of the invention of printing, which made it possible to fix and stereotype a form of text, and secure that it should be handed on without substantial change from one generation to another. The first book printed in Europe, it is pleasant to know, was the Latin Bible - the splendid Mazarin Bible (so called from the fact that the first copy which attracted much attention in later times was that in the library of Cardinal Mazarin) issued by Gutenberg in 1456, of which a copy may be seen exhibited in the British Museum, and from which the first page is here given in reduced facsimile (Plate XXVIII). But this edition, and many others which followed it, merely reproduced the current form of text, without revision or comparison with the best manuscripts. Ximenes and Erasmus, the first editors of the Greek printed Bible, also bestowed much labour on the Latin text; but the first really critical edition was that prepared by Stephanus in 1528, and revised by himself in 1538-40. No authoritative edition, however, was forthcoming until the accession to the Papal chair of Sixtus V in 1585.
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The Sixtine Bible.

Immediately on his accession, this energetic Pope appointed a commission to revise the text of the Bible, and in the work of revision he himself took an active part. Good manuscripts were used as authorities, including notably the Codex Amiatinus; and in 1590 the completed work issued from the press in three volumes. The text resembles generally that of Stephanus, on which it was evidently based. But hardly had Pope Sixtus declared his edition to be the sole authentic and authorised form of the Bible, when he died; and one of the first acts of Clement VIII, on his accession in 1592, was to call in all the copies of the Sixtine Bible. The alleged reason was that the edition was full of errors, but Dr. White, the editor of the Oxford Vulgate, has shown that this charge is baseless. It is true that some errors in the prefaces have been corrected in hand-stamped type; but the Bible text is remarkably accurate.
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The Clementine Bible.

It is believed, however, that the Jesuits, whom Sixtus had offended, incited Clement to this attack on his predecessor's memory. In any case the fact remains that Clement caused a new edition to be prepared, which appeared towards the end of 1592. This edition was not confined to a removal of the errors of the press in the Sixtine volumes, but presents a considerably altered text, differing, it has been estimated, from its predecessor in no less than 3,000 readings. Here at last we reach the origin of the text of the Latin Bible current today; for the Clementine edition, sometimes appearing under the name of Clement, sometimes (to disguise the appearance of difference between two Popes) under that of Sixtus, was constituted the one authorised text of the Vulgate, from which no single variation is permitted.  

It cannot be pretended that the Clementine text is satisfactory from the point of view of history or scholarship. The alterations which differentiate it from the Sixtine edition, except where they simply remove an obvious blunder, are, for the most part, no improvement; and in any case, the circumstances of the time did not permit so full and scientific an examination of all the evidence as is possible now. The task of revising the Vulgate text in accordance with modern knowledge was for a long time left almost entirely to scholars outside the pale of the Roman Church. Of these the most conspicuous have been Richard Bentley in the past. Bishop Wordsworth, Mr. White, M. Berger, and Dr. Corssen in the last fifty years. More recently the Vatican has itself taken the matter in hand. Under the auspices of Pope Leo I a new critical edition of the Vulgate was planned, and search was made, especially in Spain, for manuscripts hitherto unexamined. The conduct of the work was entrusted by Pope Pius XI (himself formerly a librarian and a lover of manuscripts as well as of the Bible) to the English Cardinal F. A. Gasquet, under whose direction the main editorial labour was carried out by Dom Henri Quentin. The New Testament being already far advanced in the Oxford edition, it was decided to deal first with the Old Testament. The first volume, containing Genesis, appeared in 1926, and now the Pentateuch is complete. Dom Quentin, in an elaborate study of the MSS. of the Pentateuch (of which thirty-three were used for Genesis), came to the conclusion that they fall into three groups, headed respectively by the Tours Pentateuch (sixth or seventh century), the Ottobianus of the Vatican (an Octateuch, lacking Ruth and part of Judges, of the seventh century), and the Amiatinus (early eighth century, see p.175); and he forms his text by following the majority of these three, of which he regards the Tours MS. as the best.

Since the lamented death of Dom Quentin in 1935, the work has been entrusted by the Pope to a Benedictine community established in a monastery bearing the name of St. Jerome, on the Janiculan hill.  This will ensure the continuance of the work, under successive editors as may be necessary, until its completion. When the Vatican Old Testament and the Oxford New Testament are complete, scholars will at last have a scientifically established text of the Vulgate, secured by the permanence of print. top